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Villanova ready to open new season against Morgan State

A roster that includes four freshmen will debut at Finneran Pavilion. Wildcats coach Jay Wright said his team is "still fixing a lot of things" and that "we still have a lot to learn."

Phil Booth is the last remaining link to Villanova's two national title teams.
Phil Booth is the last remaining link to Villanova's two national title teams.Read moreMatt Rourke / AP Photo

For Villanova, it's a season opener like no other, and not just because it's the third time the Wildcats will start out as defending national champions, or because it's the earliest curtain-raiser in their history.

The Cats will play Tuesday night in the renovated Finneran Pavilion for the first time, going up against Morgan State. They'll do it with a new cast that includes four freshmen and yes, said coach Jay Wright, it's a different feel.

"I just said to the staff, that was the most unique day-before-a-game practice we've had in a long time," he said. "We're fixing a lot of things the day before a game. We still have a lot to learn. Still, every year is unique and it's as exciting as any year."

Wright said one of the things that's been fixed is finding a flow for his team "as opposed to earlier, when everything we did, one or two guys would be lost.

"I think we have an understanding of what we're doing when we're playing against each other," he said. "We haven't done that in a game situation against someone else yet. I'm sure it's not going to be pretty. We need this game to get it started and to learn from it."

Against the Bears, who finished 13-19 last season, Wright will start a bigger lineup, with 6-foot-8 Eric Paschall, 6-7 Jermaine Samuels and 6-11 Dylan Painter joining a pair of 6-3 guards, Phil Booth and Collin Gillespie.

"We know we're going to play a lot of people," he said. "I know to everyone else, the starting lineup's a big deal but to us it's not. We want to be able to play big but we're definitely going to play small. So we're just going to start big."

Another newcomer for the Wildcats is graduate transfer Joe Cremo, who will play with a mask to protect a broken orbital bone that he suffered about two weeks ago in practice.

Booth, the only Wildcat who will be playing in his fifth season opener, said he feels the team has done a good job to prepare for competition and will give a maximum effort.

"The energy to play hard and compete will be there," he said. "It's a young team, a different team, so we'll see how we are tomorrow. But I think we'll play hard enough and that we've prepared well enough to come out and play."

The Wildcats are ready to go. The only loose end Monday as they broke from practice was finding a way to come out of their new locker room.

"We're used to coming down out of the student section but we can't do that now," Wright said. "So we've got to come a different way and we want to include the students. We haven't done it yet so it's going to be an experiment the first few games."

Two Cats on watch lists

Paschall was named to two player of the year preseason watch lists, the Naismith Trophy and the National Association of Basketball Coaches Division I award. Booth also made the Naismith Trophy watch list.