Revamped No. 10 Villanova tips off vs. Army
The new-look Villanova Wildcats will open their 2019-20 season Tuesday when Army visits the Main Line for the first time ever on Tuesday.
The No. 10-ranked Wildcats, who have won two national championships since 2016, will be challenged to replace forward Eric Paschall and guard Phil Booth. Paschall is playing for the Golden State Warriors, and Booth gave Villanova major leadership as a fifth-year senior last season.
Villanova will turn to junior guard Collin Gillespie and junior forward Jermaine Samuels to anchor the team this season. Gillespie averaged 10.9 points and converted 37.9 percent of his 3-pointers while Samuels averaged 13.3 points and 7.6 rebounds over his last eight games when he became a starter.
"Attention to detail is something you are always thinking about with a young team like this one," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "One of the things I've learned being away (with USA Basketball) is that I really wasn't missed that much. Our assistant coaches did a really good job in the two weeks they spent with them before I returned. I can see a big difference between when I last was on the court with them and now."
As usual, the Wildcats will feature a strong recruiting class led by Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who was selected the preseason Big East Freshman of the Year in a vote by the league's coaches.
Wright is often hesitant to play freshmen early in the season, but he may have to alter that trend this year with such a young group.
"Unfortunately, they're going to be real important," Wright said of the freshmen. "We'd prefer them not to be so important. We'd rather ease their way into it, but we're going to need them to contribute."
Army was picked sixth in the Patriot League preseason poll.
The Black Knights will be led by guard Tommy Funk and forward Matt Wilson. Funk, the program's single-season leader in assists, has compiled more than 1,000 career points and 500 assists. Wilson averaged 13.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last season.
Funk and Wilson, the team's co-captains for this season, will receive assistance from Alex King, who averaged 7.1 points last season, and Lonnie Grayson (7.3), their top bench scorer.
This year's Black Knights will be in for a daunting challenge in the opener against Villanova, last year's Big East regular season and conference tournament champions.
Army head coach Jimmy Allen said that he will rely on his veteran leaders, anchored by Funk.
"He's one of those guys that does what we need him to do," Allen said. "He's just a really cerebral player."
Funk was Army's most consistent player all of last season and became the 35th player in program history to eclipse the 1,000-point plateau. He scored 22 points in the team's final game last season, a 75-70 loss to Lehigh in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. The Black Knights finished 13-19.
Despite Army being selected to finish in the middle of the Patriot League pack, Funk is optimistic about this year's group.
"We have the talent and the depth," Funk said. "We have guys with experience who are going to drive this team."
--Field Level Media
Updated November 5, 2019