Villanova's Jay Wright needs depth to strengthen defense

Villanova Butler Basketball
Butler forward Kelan Martin (30) shoots between Villanova defenders Donte DiVincenzo (10) and Mikal Bridges (25) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Indianapolis, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017.

In a season that already has no undefeated teams left and has had three No.1 teams in nine weeks, it’s evident that there is no clearly defined super team.

No. 3 Villanova, which fell from No. 1 after losing at Butler last Saturday, is one of several teams that could make a run to the NCAA championship but could also be tripped up at any time.

Looking at ‘Nova (13-1, 1-1 in the Big East), injuries to freshmen Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels appear to be the most serious impediment, as they hurt the ‘Cats’ depth.

In reality, however, Villanova coach Jay Wright has never relied on an exceptionally deep bench.

Even without the injuries, the Wildcats’ “big six” of Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall were always going to log heavy minutes.

Those six each are averaging at least 26.3 minutes per game.

Last season, the ‘Cats had eight players average more than 21 minutes.

What’s interesting is that the returning players – Bridges, Brunson, DiVincenzo and Paschall – have not seen a dramatic increase in minutes.

Last year’s redshirts – Booth and Spellman – each are averaging more than 26 minutes.

The Wildcats have five players scoring in double figures and are 10th in the nation in scoring average at 88.1 points per game.

Last season when Villanova finished 32-4, the team only had three double-digit scorers. That team averaged almost 10 fewer points per game (77.2).

So, if Villanova hasn’t dramatically increased minutes to its top players and is actually getting more offensive production, why is depth such a concern moving forward?

That would be defense.

“We’re not a great defensive team yet,” coach Jay Wright said after the Wildcats’ 101-93 loss at Butler last Saturday. Butler became the first team to score 100 against Villanova in Wright’s tenure.

Through 14 games, the Wildcats have given up 70 points six times. Last season they gave 70 points nine times in 36 games. Opponents have averaged 68.4 points – nearly six points more than last season.

All 10 teams in the Big East have averaged more than 73 points a game.

Villanova has the offensive firepower to put up a lot of points, but shootout games are risky. Playing aggressive defense expends a lot of energy. How much wear and tear would Villanova suffer if it had to go through a tough Big East schedule with a six-man rotation?

The Wildcats don’t want to find out.

‘Nova can hope that Gillespie and Samuels, who broke bones in their hands, will recover in time to contribute later. For now, it will force-feed minutes to freshman Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and redshirt sophomore Tim Delaney.

From the start of the season, Villanova knew it was going to need to develop some of its younger players to lengthen its bench. The injuries to Gillespie and Samuels haven’t changed that.

The ‘Cats don’t need a lot of minutes, but they do need a few more productive ones to help keep others fresh.