The 2018-2019 season saw Villanova notch a 25-9 record on its way to winning both Big East regular season and tournament titles. Phil Booth and Eric Paschall were both named to the All-Big East first team, while Saddiq Bey surprised almost everyone by emerging as a consistent starter on the squad. Bey was by far the biggest contributor of Villanova’s freshmen this season, despite being the lowest ranked of the four coming out of high school, and was recognized by the conference as a member of the Big East All-Freshman team. Meanwhile, in his 18th season at the University, head coach Jay Wright was named Big East Coach of the Year for the 6th time, the most in the conference’s history.
MOST EXCITING GAME
Facing Xavier, the Wildcats appeared defeated in the semifinal round of the Big East Tournament. A frustrated offense was struggling to score and ‘Nova trailed by seven with just 3:16 left in regulation. Then, a three from Jermaine Samuels, which hit both rim and backboard before dropping through the net, followed by a tip in at the buzzer by Eric Paschall, sent a game which looked to be lost to an extra five minutes. In overtime, Phil Booth scored five of his 28 points while Paschall and Samuels each hit timely triples to propel the ‘Cats to a thrilling victory.
Jermaine Samuels had been quiet all year. There were whispers of concern amongst the Villanova faithful that the once promising four-star recruit may never be able to figure it out. Then, in what was essentially a must-win game to keep ‘Nova’s hopes of a Big East regular season title alive, Samuels broke out. With his 29 points and nine rebounds, Samuels almost singlehandedly carried the Wildcats over Marquette, 67 – 61. What made the performance even more impressive was that Samuels was able to match Big East Player of the Year, basket for basket, eventually surpassing Howard’s 25 points on the night. Following his career game, Samuels became a key contributor for the ‘Cats down the stretch of the season, especially in Big East Tournament play.
BEST TEAM PERFORMANCE
In the finals of the Advocare Invitational, Villanova secured the trophy with a, 66-60, win over a Florida St. team that was ranked 14th in the country at the time. Four of the team’s five starters scored in double figures on the day and the team shot 53.5% from the field. Defensively, the Wildcats held the Seminoles to just 43.1% shooting and forced 16 turnovers as every starter recorded at least one steal. The win held up throughout the season as one of the strongest on the ‘Cats’ résumé, and its significance was only bolstered by Florida State’s victory over UVA during their run to the ACC Tournament final.
The Wildcats earned the No. 6 seed in the South Region of this year’s NCAA Tournament. In its first game, Villanova will face the 11th seeded St. Mary’s Gaels on Thursday at 7:20 p.m.
This matchup will be anything but a cakewalk for the ‘Cats. St. Mary’s knocked off its rival #1 Gonzaga to steal the West Coast Conference Tournament Championship last Tuesday. This win over the Bulldogs propelled the Gaels into an automatic bid for the Big Dance, and gave them one of the best signature wins out of any tournament team. St. Mary’s may not be a household name, but head coach Randy Bennett knows he has a squad that has potential to make noise in the tournament.
“They are a really intelligent team, a really difficult style to play against, really well coached team… they do as a good a job at inside-outside as anybody,” head coach Jay Wright said about his future opponent. “When (our players) see (the Gonzaga game), and they see that style of play, they are going to be impressed…they are very, very well disciplined.”
Should ‘Nova survive and advance, they are looking at potential matchups with teams such as Purdue, Cincinnati or Tennessee on their half of the region. On the top half of the region, a potential Elite Eight matchup with Virginia, Kansas State, or Wisconsin could be in store in the near future.
While Villanova is the reigning national champions from last season, the team recognizes that this journey is very different from the one from a year ago.
“It is a lot different because you have a lot of guys going through it for the first time,” Wright said. “Phil (Booth) and Eric (Paschall) are really the only two that have significant experience.”
As mentioned, Villanova’s senior captains Booth and Paschall are the only two Wildcats with significant tournament experience, and both are ready for the task at hand.
“They are a very good team,” Paschall said about the Gaels. “I know their coach gets them ready to play every year, and Coach Wright is going to do the same for us.”
Booth, who has played the most games in Villanova Basketball history, is more than prepared for his final tournament run, and even offered some advice for his younger teammates.
“We just have to stay calm, come into the game focused and locked in,” Booth said. “There is a lot of stress that comes with the NCAA Tournament, just try to stay locked in as a team.”