It wouldn’t be a stretch to describe top-ranked Villanova as somewhat vulnerable when Butler comes to town for a Big East matchup Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.
Before Wednesday night, the Wildcats’ only loss of the season had happened at Butler, 101-93. Now, coming off a 79-75 defeat at the hands of St. John’s, their rematch against the Bulldogs (17-8, 7-5 Big East) will take place with two fewer starters than they had Dec. 30 game at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Coach Jay Wright said forward Eric Paschall did not practice Friday and remains in concussion protocol, and that guard Phil Booth remains at least two to three weeks away while the broken bone in his right (shooting) hand heals.
So with just eight scholarship players available, look for freshmen to try to help the Wildcats (22-2, 9-2) snap a three-game losing streak to Butler.
Two of the freshmen, guard Collin Gillespie and forward Jermaine Samuels, had missed significant time because of injuries. Gillespie was sidelined for eight games and returned at Georgetown on Jan. 18. Samuels sat out 10 games and came back Wednesday.
“It’s not that Collin and Jermaine are young, they didn’t practice for six weeks,” Wright said Friday. “This is all good experience for them. It might not look good but it’s good experience in the long run for us. I hope that at some point during the season, we get the other guys back and now we have some experienced depth.”
On a night when the Wildcats weren’t hitting, Gillespie sank four of six three-point tries and scored 12 points against St. John’s.
Paschall, who Wright said is “probably our most valuable player because he gives us versatility,” fell hard on his back Sunday against Seton Hall but sat out only about two minutes of playing time before he returned. Wright said the team’s medical staff monitored him Monday and Tuesday but that Paschall said he felt fine.
However, on Wednesday, he complained of a headache and went into concussion protocol.
“I just know he’s in a part of the process that’s going to take a while,” Wright said.
Butler connected on 68 percent (15 of 22) from three-point range in December against ‘Nova, and has knocked down 24 threes in its last two games. Wright said the Bulldogs are similar to St. John’s in their defense and their ability to beat opponents off the dribble.
He said the common thread in the three losses is that the Bulldogs “played more disciplined for 40 minutes” than the Wildcats, that “we had stretches but they were more consistent for 40 minutes.”
It figures to be a difficult game for the short-handed Wildcats but Jalen Brunson, who almost rallied his team to a victory over St. John’s, said it’s no time for the team to feel sorry for itself.
“We try not to really get down because someone is out or if something happens to someone who is unable to play,” he said. “Obviously it’s sad, we want them to play, but we’ve got to find a way to move on. We can’t dwell on it.”