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Winning with older players is the Villanova way

The Wildcats should win the Big East again. They will lose a Big 5 game again, but no way to know when.

Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo was playing his best basketball toward the end of last season.
Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo was playing his best basketball toward the end of last season.Read moreCLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

Unless your school's team is populated by one-and-dones like Kentucky, Duke or Kansas, you should not be able to sustain winning if you lose five starters over two seasons. Villanova's old-school model, which lost seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu off the 2016 national champions and seniors Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds off last season's 32-4 team, is the exception to that rule.

Jay Wright's teams feature that most endangered college basketball species: the high-quality senior player. Technically, Wright has no seniors on this season's team, but Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall are fourth-year juniors and junior Jalen Brunson acted like a senior when he stepped on campus.

That core four, along with ascending Donte DiVincenzo, highly touted redshirt freshman big man Omari Spellman and two true freshman from the Catholic League, Collin Gillespie (Archbishop Wood) and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (Neumann-Goretti), give Wright as much versatility and depth as he has had during a four-year run that included four Big East regular season titles and a 16-0 City Series record.

The advanced analytics site,, projects Villanova to have a 24-5 overall record, 14-4 in the Big East. The second and third games in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas are not included, but, given the quality of the competition that includes Arizona and Purdue, they should be serious tests.

Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden and a game at Connecticut in the middle of the conference schedule are the other highlights of the non-conference. The Big 5 games used to be highlights, but not only have the Wildcats won all those City Series games consecutively, none of the games has been decided by single digits.

Much can change over time, but, at the moment, kenpom does have the games at St. Joseph's and Temple projected as just eight-point Villanova wins.

Assuming Phil Booth is all the way back to his freshman form (before knee injuries over the last two seasons) and Brunson is as good as he has been, one can make the case Villanova has one of America's best backcourts. If Spellman is as much of an inside force as touted, the Wildcats will once again be just about an impossible team to guard.

Bridges , one of the best defenders in school history, rarely takes bad shots and hardly ever misses free throws. Paschall is a stone scorer. DiVincenzo is an incredible athlete who was playing his best at the end of last season.

What has made the Wildcats especially difficult to stop the last two seasons is how good they have been on two-point shots and from the free throw line. They just don't miss the easy ones, shooting 59.2 percent on twos last season (second nationally) and 79 percent from the free throw line (also second nationally).

The country's best teams generally are as good on defense as they are on offense. That has also been Villanova, top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency during its run. Last season, they were third on offense, 12th on defense.

With so little depth last season, Wright was forced to slow the game down for his team, often having them walk the ball up court and watching the shot clock tick into single digits. The Wildcats averaged just 64 possessions per game, 323rd nationally. That was by necessity because the coach was so worried about foul trouble.

Depth will not be an issue this season so expect Villanova to play faster. Wright promises his team will press more and take more risks, turning defense into offense and demoralizing opponents with rushes to the rim, lob dunks and kick-out threes.

The Wildcats should win the Big East again. They will lose a Big 5 game again, but no way to know when. And they will get a high NCAA tournament seed again. So how will they do in March? Let's all enjoy the season first and worry about that when the time comes.