Title Odds: +1600
Odds c/o Bovada
The Villanova Wildcats return to defend their improbable 2016 NCAA Title, and despite the losses of two key seniors, Nova will be there in March contending again. Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu graduated, but the Wildcats have a host of incoming talent and return six key rotation players from last year’s title team.
There is no saying the loss of Ochefu is not big. He had become a “must double” on the offensive end, and he was opening up a lot of offense for the Wildcats last season. His replacement will be freshman Omari Spellman, a big bodied 6’8” 280, and a guy capable of drawing some doubles in his own right. Spellman is very skilled and while not a guy who will jump out of the gym or switch well on to guards in pick and rolls, he does give the Wildcats an interior presence on offense that will adequately replace Ochefu.
Darryl Reynolds is also now a senior. He played just 17 minutes per game last season but averaged 3.6 points and 4.5 rebounds, and his steady uptick in time and role should inflate those figures greatly. He is a good rebounder, but as a senior he will now need to add some consistency to the package. Fordham transfer Eric Paschall was the 2014-15 Atlantic-10 ROY, and he will bring some scoring and offense to the team.
Dylan Painter is a project, but at 6’10” he has the length and gifts to make it worth it, but probably not this season necessarily. Villanova will hope Tim Delaney enters the picture at some point this season, but the 6’8” freshman is recovering from hip surgery and he may not even be able to play this season. Nova is counting on a lot from Spellman and some maturation from a four-year player in Reynolds.
The backcourt is where Nova shines, however. Josh Hart returns for his senior season and he posted averages of 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting 35.7 percent from three last season. He is a strong all-around player with some versatility at 6’5”. He could be the Big East player of the year, given his experience, scoring, and Nova’s overall success rate.
Jalen Brunson also had a nice freshman season and averaged 9.6 points and 2.5 assists per game in 24 minutes a night. Brunson was MVP of the Preseason NIT last season and had 25 points against Temple and 22 points against Pennsylvania. He will welcome the uptick in usage he is due to see this season, given that he is a major scorer who was trying to fit in on a talented team last season. He is made to shoot and score, and now he should be able to do plenty of that.
This should be a breakout season for Brunson, and that will offset the loss of Arcidiacono. Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges will add some depth, and Bridges is a major threat in transition. The same applies to redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo, who is coming off an injury plagued season last year, but adds yet more atlheticism to Nova’s backcourt.
Villanova lost two key performers, there is no dancing around that. The loss of Ochefu hurts the most, because of the lack of depth at the 4/5 spots, and his defensive skills may be most missed of all. The Wildcats have plenty of positional-versatility, but last season was lightning in a bottle. It is tough to imagine the Wildcats regaining that form given the inexperience of its best frontcourt option. The Hart/Brunson combo in the backcourt will still make this a tough team to contend with though, even if they don’t quite measure up to the powerhouses in the NCAA now.