The last time most people saw PHIL BOOTH play basketball was nearly 19 months ago, in the biggest and best game of his life, when the guard scored 20 points off the bench to keep Villanova afloat before Kris Jenkins's buzzer-beating three gave the Wildcats the win in the 2016 national championship. Since then Booth has had more surgical procedures on his left knee (two) than he's played minutes in Big East conference matchups (zero). "That game," Booth says of the '16 championship, "feels forever ago."
With Booth unavailable and freshman big man OMARI SPELLMAN ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA last season, the Wildcats' rotation shrank to just seven players. Villanova was 320th in the nation in bench minutes, which led to the team's tempo falling to 324th, easily the slowest of coach JAY WRIGHT'S 16-year tenure. "We couldn't press, and we walked the ball up a lot because we were trying to conserve energy," Wright says. "I think we'll go back to our normal style of play this year. We'll have the depth to do that."
That depth is strongest in the backcourt, where Booth, a combo guard who prides himself on stifling defense, joins blossoming scorers JALEN BRUNSON and DONTE DIVINCENZO. The three may see the floor together at times, with versatile wing MIKAL BRIDGES floating between the two, three and four. It's the sort of flexibility Wright hasn't had in—well, if not forever, then at least too long.
PROJECTED TEAM STATS
BIG EAST RECORD
With 2017--18 projections for the top six scorers
COACH JAY WRIGHT (17TH SEASON)
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
Jalen Brunson [Starter] 6'3" Jr.
Donte DiVincenzo [Starter] 6'5" Soph.
Mikal Bridges [Starter] 6'7" Jr.
Omari Spellman [Starter] 6'9" Fr.
Eric Paschall 6'9" Jr.
Phil Booth [Starter] 6'3" Jr.
He's a big-bodied banger on the blocks and a promising shot blocker, and that means OMARI SPELLMAN has the same kinds of skills inside that made Darryl Reynolds and Daniel Ochefu fit so well into the Wildcats' system in recent years.