Villanova Prevails Over Columbia in Season Opener

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Villanova 75, Columbia 60 – Box Score

Thanks to a renovation taking place on the Pavilion back on campus, the Villanova Wildcats are essentially basketball vagabonds this season. Jay Wright’s squad is making the Wells Fargo Center its de facto home court and tipped off the year there Friday night against the Columbia Lions. While it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t the dominant performance Villanova fans have come to expect over non-power conference opponents in recent years, the result also wasn’t a surprise. For a Villanova team that hopes to play well into March, a workmanlike victory that keeps their tournament resume pristine will work just fine.

Wright was quick to credit Columbia for keeping things close, saying his “first thought when we watched film of them was this was bad scheduling.” Really though, Villanova was in complete control throughout the evening. The only reason the Wildcats never blew things open was a cold shooting night. Villanova shot just 7-32 from behind the arc, predominantly on wide open looks that they will knock down more often than not.

It’s also a bit of unusual roster construction for the Wildcats, with four freshmen playing significant minutes in the nine-man rotation. Wright pointed out that while his team might experience some growing pains early, development for those freshmen will pay dividends down the road.

“We’ve gotta get those young guys experience. It might look bad early, it might hurt us early, but there’s potential at the end to be a good team.”

The highest profile player among that freshman group is starting center Omari Spellman. Playing for the first time in two years after sitting out last season due to an academic issue, Spellman racked up a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. The freshman had a slow start, but really picked things up in the second half by dominating on the offensive glass (grabbing 6 offensive rebounds total). His coach credited Spellman for hanging in there and not forcing the action.

“He has a really good basketball IQ. Like I mentioned, in the second half, he really hadn’t had a lot of touches. When we went into him, he got into a little traffic, kicked it out opposite. That’s rare for a young kid.”

In all, four Wildcats finished in double figures, led by Eric Paschall’s 15 points and 9 rebounds. They’ll need Paschall to maintain that energy on the boards going forward with the graduation of Daniel Ochefu and Spellman’s relative inexperience. Jalen Brunson recorded 14 points and 3 assists, looking very calm and collected as the primary ballhandler with Ryan Arcidiacono collecting game checks in Chicago.

The guy getting some buzz as a potential first round pick in the NBA draft, Mikal Bridges couldn’t hit the mark from the outside Friday (0-5 from three), but still finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds while playing his usual brand of versatile defense. Unlike years past, the Wildcats ran some offense through Bridges, especially out of the post. The redshirt junior had a couple nice passes from that position, including one to a cutting Paschall on the baseline for a slam. Bridges also showed off his athleticism by posterizing a poor Lion under the basket.

Nicholls State is up next for the Wildcats Tuesday night, a foe that should provide even less resistance than Columbia. Right now, with the amount of youth on the roster, the Wildcats are far from a finished product. But like their usual home court right off Lancaster Avenue, when they’re finished, they should be quite the sight to behold.

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