Ty Daubert (@TyDaubert)
VILLANOVA -- Prior to tip-off of the annual Blue-White scrimmage on Thursday night, Villanova held a reception for season ticket holders to celebrate the return of fans to the Finneran Pavilion for the first time in two seasons.
Head coach Jay Wright was almost caught off-guard by the pre-game excitement in the building, which carried on throughout the night.
“I wasn’t thinking about it until I walked in there, and you could just feel the energy,” he said. “Then out there on the court, you really felt the energy. When you’re here night after night after night, year after year with that energy, you kinda take it for granted. And when you’re not and you feel it again, you really appreciate it again.”
Here are some observations from Villanova:
Collin Gillespie made his return from an MCL injury in Villanova's Blue & White Scrimmage. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
1. Gillespie back on track
If it wasn’t for the bulky black brace on his left knee, you never would’ve known Collin Gillespie was seeing “game” action for the first time since suffering a major injury last season. Tearing his MCL in March, which forced him to miss the entire postseason, Gillespie decided to come back to Villanova for a fifth season. And if this scrimmage was any indication, it’ll be another strong one for the 2021 Big East Co-Player of the Year.
The 22-year-old guard flashed a little bit of each part of his game for the Wildcats. Gillespie scored 22 points and went 4-for-11 from the 3-point line over the four quarters of the scrimmage. He pulled a few shots from super long range, set up teammates, got to the paint as the ball-handler and had no problem stopping on a dime for pull-up jumpers on his drives. Most importantly, Gillespie looked and felt confident in his knee.
“I’m more worried with him (about) looking at his physical stamina, … just where his legs are,” Wright said. “And he looked really good. I asked him right after, ‘How’d you feel?’ and he said it felt great.
“He’s mature enough to know he doesn’t need to kill it in this or prove himself, but he was sticking within what we do to try to help the other guys understand what we do.”
2. Freshmen miss scrimmage
Two freshman players missed out on their first chance to play in front of Nova Nation, as forward Nnanna Njoku (Sanford School, Del.) and guard Jordan Longino (Germantown Academy, Pa.) did not play in the Blue-White scrimmage due to injury.
Njoku was not in attendance at all for the scrimmage. He’s in concussion protocol, according to Wright, and needs one more day of full practice without issue to be cleared.
“He’s right there,” the coach said. “We just thought tonight -- lights, all that -- it wasn’t gonna be good, and then it could set him back a day or two.”
Longino is dealing with a bone bruise after hyperextending his knee. Wright said he expects him back this upcoming Tuesday or Wednesday. He’s been doing individual workouts, but wasn’t quite ready to ramp it up for the scrimmage.
Junior guard Bryan Antoine also missed Thursday night with an injury. The Wildcats announced Monday that he injured his right patella and would miss six weeks.
Eric Dixon (above) scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds over the course of the scrimmage. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
3. Dixon is key to frontcourt questions
The biggest question mark for Villanova this season is undoubtedly its frontcourt, and the team could look first to forward Eric Dixon to be the answer. Thursday was sort of a mixed bag for the 6-foot-8 redshirt sophomore. He finished with 14 points and eight rebounds while putting together some nice moves in the post, but did not look super aggressive going up against his fellow Wildcats, who lack another strong post presence on the court. Still, Wright is pleased with the progression he’s seen from Dixon so far.
“He is gradually improving,” Wright said. “I think he’s got the ability … to make a lot of progress during the season. I just like the path he’s on...He looked like he knew what he was doing out there. He’s still got a lot of improvement to make, but he’ll work at it.”
Dixon making strides as the regular season begins and solidifying himself as a solid contributor could be a key in taking Villanova to another level. The Wildcats have a big hole up front thanks to the departure of Jeremiah Robinson-Earl for the professional ranks, taking his 15.7 ppg and 8.5 rpg with him.
With Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree’s career over due to injuries, the Wildcats need Dixon, an Abington grad, to improve upon the 3.0 ppg and 1.6 rpg he averaged last year, his first on the court after redshirting in 2019-20. Dixon’s best game last year was a 14-point, 10-rebound effort against Harford in December, and he topped out at six points in Big East contests.
Note: Most players split time between two teams; these statistics are combined for the evening
Arcidiacono: 10 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist; 3-9 FG (2-8 3PT), 2-2 FT
Brizzi: 5 points, 6 rebounds, 4, assists, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, 1-12 FG (1-9 3PT), 2-2 FT
Daniels: 22 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 2 turnovers; 7-12 FG (6-10 3PT), 2-2 FT
Dixon: 14 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 turnovers; 6-10 FG (0-1 3PT), 2-2 FT
Moore: 18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 turnovers; 6-13 FG (3-8 3PT), 3-7 FT
Gillespie: 22 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists; 8-19 FG (4-11 3PT), 2-2 FT
Patterson: 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnover; 4-9 FG (1-3 3PT), 0-0 FT
Samuels: 8 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 2 steals; 4-10 FG (0-2 3PT), 0-0 FT
Slater: 16 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 turnover, 6-12 FG (2-7 3PT), 2-2 FT
Voigt: 2 points, 3 assists, 1 turnover; 1-4 FG (0-3 3PT), 0-0 FT