Past, Present and Future



Larry Flynn

Villanova’s 108-67 win over St. John’s fits nicely into the record books. The 51-point victory tied the Big East Tournament record for the largest margin of victory; the 108 point total is the most points scored by Villanova in a tournament game.

Yet something about the Wildcats’ first round blowout felt pedestrian. How many times had Jay Wright’s veteran team annihilated an inexperienced opponent? When was the last time St. John’s beat Villanova? (Answer: Feb. 26, 2011)

The ‘Cats have flexed their paws so often, in fact, that Villanova’s record-setting win over St. John’s appeared to be a routine blowout. Dig deeper, however, and you’ll find a game that was both a reflection of the past and emblematic of the Wildcats’ future. 


3.3 seconds isn’t quite 4.7 seconds, but it’s just enough time for Jay Wright to call a timeout and draw up a final play call to finish the first half. He pulls out his whiteboard, starts pointing at several of his players, and then the chorus of Wright’s disciples sing its song: in unison – “attitude.”

94 feet away from the hoop stands Josh Hart – the inbounder. He slaps the ball to orchestrate the motion and Jalen Brunson flashes from the right side of the court to the left. Kris Jenkins, standing near halfcourt, moves in the opposite direction; he cuts from the left to right. Hart throws the ball to Jenkins who catches the ball on the right side of the court. He takes three dribbles, stops, and lets it fly just steps away from the spot where he hit “The Shot” on April 4, 2016.

The ensuing swish is a blast from the past.

“There’s no better practice than the game,” Wright said. “You can do that in practice all you want and its works. But you have to run that against another team and get that experience.”

In fact, Jenkins’ entire game was an encore for one of the team’s senior maestros. He scored 11 of the Wildcats’ first 14 points and finished the game with 24 points on 8-18 shooting from the field and 5-13 shooting from beyond the arc. Jenkins and his ‘Cats played what Wright called a “mature game,” coming “very prepared and rested.”

While Jenkins’ virtuoso performance was reminiscent of “Big Smoove” of years past, so was Hart’s complete, two-way game. 15 points falls just below his season average, but 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals illustrate his consistent impact on the game.

“Hart just set the tone defensively on the boards, getting shots for his teammates, not trying to prove he’s player of the year,” Wright said. “Just going out there any playing for his teammates.”

In short, Wright said it best – “look, we have seniors.”


In the postgame press conference, Wright is flanked by his senior captain on one side, his star freshman on the other. While Jenkins has answered most of the questions, Donte DiVincenzo watches the media frenzy surrounding his team.

“For all of you,” begins the next question, and DiVincenzo looks over to Jenkins, who’s looking back at his teammate, smiling. Who should answer the question first? Wright intervenes, pointing to his left.

“Well, you are the elder statesman,” he says, and Jenkins proceeds to answer the question.

Jenkins assumes a leadership role, yes, but throughout the course of the season Villanova has become more comfortable with deferring to its youngsters. Even as Villanova enters its biggest stage with the brightest lights, Wright is not afraid to turn to players like DiVincenzo and ask them to assume more responsibility.

The result? Inadvertently, the Wildcats have become a deep team yet again.

“When we didn’t have Omari [Spellman] we thought, okay, we can handle that,” Wright said. “Then we didn’t have Phil [Booth] and it got a little shaky. We said it’s going to take time to develop this. [DiVincenzo] and Eric Paschall and Dylan Painter have really developed this rotation for us.”

To call DiVincenzo a role player is perhaps to overlook his impact. The freshman guard led the Wildcats in scoring against St. John’s, erupting for a career-high 25 points on efficient 7-8 FG, 5-6 3FG shooting splits. After setting a career-high (19) last time he played St. John’s in Madison Square Garden, DiVincenzo looks primed to take over as a primary option for the ‘Cats.

DiVincenzo’s development looks something like Hart’s. Known for excelling in “The Mecca,” Hart began his career as an overachieving complementary player who added layers and texture to his game over the course of four years. He would feed off the attention drawn by players like James Bell and Darrun Hilliard, producing at efficient and proficient rates.

Four years later, Hart is the one opening the gates for DiVincenzo to develop.

“The only thing I can say about the 25 is it’s all because of the seniors,” DiVincenzo admitted. “When there’s so much attention to players as good as [Hart] and [Jenkins], you find yourself open.”

DiVincenzo was hardly the only freshman to contribute. Although redshirting Dylan Painter was an option for Wright early in the season, a rash of injuries forced the big man to step into the spotlight.

After showing flashes for several weeks in limited minutes, Painter put together a complete performance Thursday afternoon, recording career highs in points (10) and rebounds (6). Most impressive, however, was his efficiency, shooting 3-3 from the field and 4-4 from the free throw line.

Painter’s skyrocketing comfort was noticeable against St. John’s. Often, Villanova big men are tasked to catch the ball in the corners when breaking the press. In the past, Painter has looked nervous in these situations; on Thursday, his catches and passes were executed fluidly and with ease.

Not only was the minutiae of Painter’s game more technically sound, but he also elicited raucous cheers from the crowd with a two-handed slam mid-way through the second half and after scoring the team’s 100th point on a layup with just over three minutes left to play.

“Our guys are ready,” Wright said. “It means more minutes for [Paschall], more minutes for [DiVincenzo], more minutes for [Painter] who played great for us today, gave us great minutes.”

If DiVincenzo’s development mirrors that of Hart, Painter’s might bring back memories of another Villanova legend: Daniel Ochefu. Although often awkward and used sparingly his freshman year, Ochefu became the backbone of an elite Villanova defense as he gained confidence. Painter, similarly, will benefit from any moments in a meaningful game, even in the waning minutes of a blowout.

Of course, more improvement is on the way for Painter and so, too, for DiVincenzo. They will continue to make freshman mistakes, no doubt, but progress often bears its ugly warts before it blossoms.

After all, didn’t Villanova lose in the second round in back-to-back years? Yeah, no one remembers that either.