PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The calendar has flipped and Big East Conference play has begun, but Villanova coach Jay Wright continues to tinker with his rotation and combinations of players on the court.
After playing at least eight players in each of the Wildcats’ previous 13 games, Wright went with just seven in Wednesday night’s 73-68 victory over DePaul in the league opener, and kept 6-foot-7 sophomore Jermaine Samuels and 6-9 freshman Cole Swider on the bench for the first time this season.
Villanova (10-4, 1-0 Big East) will play its first conference road contest Saturday against Providence (10-4, 0-1) before an expected sellout crowd at Dunkin Donuts Center. Interestingly, the two players on the Wildcats roster who live closest to here are Swider (Portsmouth, R.I.) and Samuels (Franklin, Mass.).
Wright said the rotation “is something we’re going to have to play through during the season.”
“Our top six are pretty set, and then how deep we go really has to do with game situations,” Wright said Friday after practice at Finneran Pavilion. “As I look back at [DePaul], I wanted to go smaller against them and use our quickness, but it didn’t work.
“So now as I look back on it, I could have gone bigger with Cole and Jermaine. Sometimes, we’re going to have to make those adjustments during the game, try to go small, and if it’s not working, go big. But I definitely want to use those guys.”
Freshman Saddiq Bey, who had started the previous nine games, was the first player off the bench Wednesday for Villanova and wound up playing 36 minutes. Guard Joe Cremo started for the third time this season in Bey’s spot. Freshman guard Jahvon Quinerly was the only other Wildcat off the bench, getting 17 minutes of playing time.
The Wildcats started poorly in each half against DePaul, falling behind by 14 in the first half and 11 in the second. They didn’t take the lead until a little less than 8 minutes remained and they kept it, but it was tense all the way.
A slow start likely won’t work at the raucous Dunk, where the Friars won, 76-71, over Villanova last season. Providence also took the Wildcats into overtime in the 2018 Big East Tournament championship game before ‘Nova prevailed, 76-66.
Senior Phil Booth said that’s life in the Big East.
"There’s definitely more intensity than any other regular-season games, especially on the road,” he said. “When we’re playing at Providence, there’s more intensity. You can feel the competitive nature between both teams and how much they want to win.”
The Friars, who lost their Big East opener, 79-68, at home against Creighton, are led by 6-7 junior guard Alpha Diallo, who is averaging 17.4 points and 8.6 rebounds and leads the Big East with five double-doubles. He has attempted 102 free throws in 14 games (7.3 per game), and that’s a concern.