The Wildcats Are Back


Ben Selbach

The 2019-2020 season of the Villanova Wildcats came to an abrupt halt back in March, with the cancellation of the Big East Tournament during half time of the first game at Madison Square Garden due to the pandemic. But the Wildcats still finished strong, tying for first in the Big East and ranked as the 10th​ best team in the nation with a 24-7 record.

Although COVID cases are on the rise again, the college basketball season has started and is expected to continue.  The Wildcats began their season by playing two tournaments in Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun “Bubble.”  They won the first tournament, the 2K Empire Classic, over the Thanksgiving holiday after defeating both Boston College and Arizona State.

The Cats went on to participate in the Air Force Reserve Tip-Off Tournament where they lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Virginia Tech. However, the Cats finished strong with an 87-53 win against the University of Hartford that featured several bench players: redshirt freshman Eric Dixon, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds in the last minute, and juniors Brandon Slater and Cole Swider, who each had 13 points.

The Wildcats then traveled for the first time as a team by plane to Austin, Texas, to face off against the University of Texas on Saturday, December 6.  Luckily, the team arrived safe and healthy and prevailed in a close 68-64 win against the Longhorns.  Sophomores Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore each had 19 points and senior Jermaine Samuels had 8 points and 12 rebounds while playing with a sprained finger on his right shooting hand.  

Villanova will begin its Big East regular season on December 11 against the Georgetown Hoyas in Washington, D.C.  The Cats’ season will move quickly after that even though their December 14 home-opener against DePaul has been postponed due to several DePaul players testing positive for the Coronavirus.  The Cats instead are expected to open their season at home on Wednesday, December 16 against Butler.  On December 19, the Cats will travel to Madison Square Garden, to play off against the University of Virginia. 

All of last year’s Wildcats are proving their worth this season.  Senior guard Collin Gillespie leads the team, having ranked seventh in the nation at the beginning of the season according to CBS Sports and averaging 15.1 points per game last season. The team also includes Robinson-Earl, a 6-9 forward who was ranked 21st​ in the nation by CBS sports.​ Most importantly, coach Jay Wright, who has led the Wildcats to two national championships in the last four years, will continue to guide the team.

Villanova is predicted to win the Big East title again this season, but it will not be easy. Creighton and Seton Hall, both of which tied with Nova for first place in the Big East last season, also are expected to be top contenders. Although Creighton no longer has key player Shon Alexander, they have several strong young players as well as preseason Big East player of the year, junior guard Marcus Zegarowski, who averaged 16.1 points last season. Seton Hall is led by forward Sandro Mamukelashvili and Bruce Aiken, a transfer guard from Harvard. ​The UConn Huskies also have returned to the Big East conference with 7-foot freshman Javonte Brown.

Although stadiums may be empty and games are sure to be postponed as players test positive, fans stuck at home are sure to watch the college basketball season closely. Nova fans also have reason to be excited as the Wildcats seem to have the talent and experience to be a highly competitive team yet again this year.