Thanks to the NBA Draft, next season's Villanova team will look nothing like the record-setting championship squad of 2017-18.
And if history holds to trend, Jay Wright's program is due for its worst year since the Big East reshaped to 10 teams in 2013.
The Big Ragu, like Spellman,. Spellman averaged 10.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks last season. Villanova had the most efficient offense in college basketball, greased plenty by Spellman's 43.3-percent rate from beyond the arc. At 6-foot-8, he took 150 3-pointers and made 65 of them.
Few teams had a big who was as important from 3-point range as Nova did with Spellman.
So the best team in college basketball is losing four of its top six players to the NBA -- and all are underclassmen. This makes Villanova seem like the next coming of Kentucky or Duke. In fact, Villanova's like a lot of other programs too.
You'll see below why that is, and why it's a double-edged sword for the season forthcoming.
See, it's a lock that at least three of the four Villanova players who are leaving school get picked, and a strong likelihood that all four have their name called on June 21, the night of the draft in Brooklyn. As you might expect, national champions losing a significant fraction of their talent in the immediate months after cutting the nets is relatively common. Villanova makes for the eighth champ in the past 20 years to lose at least three players to NBA Draft selection.
Here's the list. All players named left immediately after winning a title in the year mentioned and were picked that year.
|2000||Michigan State||2||Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson|
|2002||Maryland||3||Lonny Baxter, Juan Dixon, Chris Wilcox|
|2004||UConn||2||Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor|
|2005||UNC||4||Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Marvin Williams|
|2007||Florida||5||Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Chris Richard|
|2008||Kansas||4||Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, Brandon Rush|
|2009||UNC||4||Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson|
|2012||Kentucky||5||Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague|
|2013||Louisville||2||Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva|
|2014||UConn||2||DeAndre Daniels, Shabazz Napier|
|2015||Duke||3||Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow|
|2017||UNC||2||Tony Bradley, Justin Jackson|
|2018||Villanova||4||Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman (projected)|
Losing four underclassmen makes this very feel un-Nova-like, and yet, perhaps this is where the program is headed. Wright would hardly complain; having players leave early means you're not only bringing in high-level talent, but you're also fostering it to big returns.
It's a problem every coach dreams of.
But unlike in 2015-16, when Villanova won it all and still brought back a lot of its roster, next season's clutter of Wildcats will have a tall task. Losing so many pros means a hole appears. Most teams fail to fill it. Of the six most recent schools to lose at least three NBA picks following winning a championship, here's how they fared the following season:
- Maryland in 2002-03: Went 21-10 overall and 11-6 against league opponents. Earned a No. 6 seed and made the Sweet 16.
- North Carolina in 2005-06: Went 23-8 overall and 13-5 against league opponents. Earned a No. 3 seed and lost in the second round of the NCAAs.
- Florida in 2007-08: Went 24-12 overall and 8-9 against league opponents. Failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.
- Kansas in 2008-09: Went 27-8 overall and 14-3 against league opponents. Earned a No. 3 seed and made the Sweet 16.
- North Carolina in 2009-10: Went 20-17 overall and 5-12 against league opponents. Failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.
- Kentucky in 2012-13: Went 21-12 overall and 12-7 against league opponents. Failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.
- Duke in 2015-16: Went 25-11 overall and 12-8 against league opponents. Earned a No. 4 seed and made the Sweet 16.
It's going to be plenty interesting to see if history repeats itself with Villanova. Not one reigning champion that lost at least three pros won more than two NCAA Tournament games the ensuing season. None of the champions won their league postseason championship, and only Kansas won a regular season title -- which is an automatic.
- The average record of the most talent-laden championship teams of the past 20 years in the season after winning it all: 23-11.
- Villanova's average record since the Big East went to 10 schools: 33-4.
- Villanova's record in 2016-17, after winning the title the year before: 32-4. But that roster boasted future NBAers from the 2017-18 team, in addition to First Team All-American Josh Hart.
So, in short, don't expect another 30-win season for Villanova next year. It's a lot to ask. Yes, the Wildcats have good pieces coming back, and a top-20 recruiting class, and a sophomore group that should break out. (Plus, Joe Cremo's addition is genuinely important, but at the time I wrote this, I was also thinking Spellman would be in the fold for 2018-19.) This isn't a rebuild, and it isn't a reload. It's something in between, something unique to Villanova.
The names to know: Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, the two best players from last season's team who will be back. The recruiting class is led by Jahvon Quinerly, a five-star point guard whose hoping to be cleared to play for VU after having his name and recruitment attached to Arizona in the FBI scandal. Also an inbound freshman: Cole Swider, a four-star power forward who will play alongside Paschall.
Villanova's season-long success might ultimately fall to sophomores Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels, sophomores who got spot duty as freshmen but will almost certainly be tasked with triple the minutes and expectation.
It's been a while since Villanova entered a season with this many question marks. And yet, still the Big East favorite? That's probably going to be the case not just because Wright and Nova have earned that respect but because Xavier lost its coach to Louisville and other contenders in the league (Seton Hall, Providence, Butler and Creighton) all lost critical senior talent.
But if the Wildcats can win the Big East -- again -- and earn a No. 1 or No. 2 seed -- again -- and break win at least three Big Dance games -- again -- then the 2018-19 season could be in many ways as impressive of a coaching job as what Wright did last season, which now seems like the peak of his career to date.