Some initial observations from Wednesday night's Villanova's exhibition game against Drexel at Jake Nevin Field House to help raise funds for the hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico:
First let's remember that while Drexel will be improved this season under second-year coach Zach Spiker, this was still a warm-up against a Colonial Athletic Association team and March is a full four months away. Nevertheless …
Jay Wright started a lineup that included four guards. Three you kind of figured on — Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Donte DiVincenzo. The other was freshman Collin Gillespie, from Archbishop Wood, who came on as a big-time recruit late in his high-school career. Wright doesn't mind playing small. In fact, he probably prefers it. This might not be the way he goes in the official opener against Columbia on Nov. 10 in South Philly, or beyond. But the idea of bringing forwards Makil Bridges and Eric Paschall, two fourth-year juniors, off the bench is certainly interesting. And maybe even game-changing. Bridges and Paschall started the second half in place of Gillespie and Omari Spellman. The biggest thing for Bridges now is to grow/evolve at the offensive end.
Spellman, the highly recruited big man who sat out last year as an academic redshirt, looks like a guy who has lost 35 pounds and is eager to show what he's got at this level. He made a 3-pointer from the right corner on the first trip, which can't be a bad sign. And it wouldn't be his last. He was active. But this will be a work in progress, just because. In his case, though, the learning curve might be at least a bit accelerated. It's just way too early to know for sure.
Brunson continues to be one of those guys who know when it's his time to do something, and understands when it's better for him and the team to defer. That's what makes him such a valuable commodity to have running your team. We haven't seen the best of him yet. And what we've already been treated to was pretty darned potent.
Knock on wood, but Booth looks ready again after missing most of last season with knee issues. And that can only be a very good thing. His outside shooting alone can make a difference, but he does so much more. Just ask North Carolina. He made an alley-oop pass to Bridges cutting along the right baseline that was Brunson-like. He also gives you all that subtle stuff.
Another first-year man, 6-5 Jermaine Samuels, got in early. He's the member of this incoming class who many folks felt was most likely to have the biggest impact in the rotation. We'll have to see. But he's the kind of versatile perimeter player that Wright has gotten a lot out of through the years. And 6-9 Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, from Neumann-Goretti, will also get a chance early to earn minutes. But it won't be easy to crack much into the top seven. That's why they're ranked sixth.
The university should seriously consider playing one early-season game each season at Nevin. The Wildcats are playing Penn there in late November, the first time they've played there since 1986. That's what happens when your Pavilion is getting a makeover. But it might be an idea worth perpetuating in the future. Just saying. Yo, Rollie's teams played there on a regular basis. Worth noting, though, that the floor had to be wiped off more than normal.
The Dragons, as you'd expect, came out and played hard. They usually do. They were just out of their league, at least at this point. But sophomore guard Kurk Lee, who's 5-10, is once more going to be one of the most exciting guys to watch in the city. It's a good enough reason to make your way to the Daskalakis Center for a hoops fix. And 6-10 newcomer Tadas Karainas, from Lithuania by way of Findlay Prep in suburban Las Vegas, looks like a keeper who can give you something inside as well as the perimeter.
Oh by the way, the Wildcats won 87-68. See you again in nine days at the Wells Fargo Center for the start of the real thing.