For most of last season, it looked like Villanova had two stars in Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson. Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo were competent role players, perhaps even more. But they wouldn’t get the chance to truly shine until 2018-19, conventional thinking went.
Spellman and DiVincenzo blew up those plans in March and April. They showed out in the Big East and NCAA tournaments and bolted for the NBA.
But Villanova always seems to recover. No loss feels too damaging. Jay Wright is the best in the game at molding reserves into starters, and starters into superstars in the span of an offseason.
So who’s next?
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It has a great chance to be Eric Paschall, perhaps the least-touted starter on Villanova’s title team. Paschall isn’t great at anything, but he does everything at about a B+ level. Add all of that up, and you have the ideal fifth starter on a championship team.
At 6-9, 255 pounds, Paschall is immovable in the post and can subtly bump ball-handlers off their path without fouling. He’s able to switch ball screens against most guards, a massively valuable skill for a modern big. If you can protect the perimeter and the paint as a power forward or center, you’re golden. Paschall can do both.
Here's Paschall completely swallowing NBA lottery pick Collin Sexton on a drive:
His role isn’t going to change much on defense. But Villanova is going to rely on him more on offense.
Paschall has a well-rounded offensive game, but was the fifth or sixth option last year. His counting numbers were still impressive: he averaged 10.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game on 53.3 percent shooting while making 35.6 percent of his 3s.
Paschall’s playmaking and overall efficiency are the main reasons to be bullish on his 2018-19 hopes. Despite being Villanova’s fifth leading scorer, he ranked only behind Brunson and Bridges in offensive rating; the Wildcats’ offense just ran smoother with him out there.
He’s excellent on the short role and in the two-man game. Dimes like this were a regularity:
Villanova is going to have a freshman point guard in Jahvon Quinnerly. Phil Booth should shoulder some playmaking responsibilities, too, but Wright loves to use post-ups as a vehicle for ball-movement. He often used Brunson there last year. Paschall seems to be a logical candidate to seize that role, and if he does, he could average about four assists per game – a lofty total for a big man.
The biggest question is shot creation. We know Paschall is going to shoot more, but will he be able to maintain his efficiency with higher volume? Or come close?
He probably won’t shoot 53 percent again, but it’s fair to expect Paschall to land somewhere in the high ‘40s. As a freshman at Fordham, Paschall averaged 15.9 points per game. That was against lesser competition, sure, but it was also in 2014-15. He shot 31.5 percent from 3 that season; he’s a much better shooter now.
But Paschall’s offensive prospects will always come back to this: he’s not just some stiff. Most big guys can’t do this:
Expect Villanova to use Paschall far more as a ball-screener this year, because he’s excellent with a head of steam. Wright can use Paschall as something of a point center and expect quality offensive possessions as a result. Think of him as the Paul Millsap of college basketball.
Paschall still probably won’t lead the team in scoring. That will likely be Booth, who will have the ball in his hands more based on his position.
But considering the defensive value he brings, he could be Villanova’s best player. And while the Wildcats don’t stack up to Duke, Kentucky, Kansas or North Carolina on paper, Wright’s teams always seems to outperform expectations.
If Paschall elevates his game, Villanova will consistently be in the top 10. From there, anything can happen in the NCAA tournament.