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Villanova/Drexel Exhibition Thoughts (Nov. 1)

11/02/2017, 1:45am EDT
By Zach Drapkin & Josh Verlin

Jalen Brunson (above) and Villanova dispatched Drexel 87-68 in an exhibition game on Wednesday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Zach Drapkin (@ZachDrapkin) &
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

The NCAA has allowed Division I basketball programs to play a third scrimmage/exhibition game this year in order to benefit disaster relief efforts for the various major hurricanes that struck the Gulf Coast and Caribbean this fall.

Drexel and Villanova took full advantage of that to play a City 6 exhibition game on Wednesday night at ‘Nova’s Jake Nevin Field House, which saw the host Wildcats run away early and hold on for an 87-68 win over the Dragons.

Here are our takeaways from the game:


1. Villanova’s starting lineup surprise
Jay Wright could have gone with a number of different starting lineups on Wednesday night that would have been expected. Instead, he went with one that basically nobody saw coming.

Junior Jalen Brunson, redshirt freshman Omari Spellman and redshirt sophomore Donte DiVincenzo were all in the starting five as expected, but they were joined by redshirt junior Phil Booth and true freshman Collin Gillespie. That meant ‘Nova started the game with three point guards (Booth, GIllespie, Brunson), one shooting guard (DiVincenzo) and a true big man in Spellman.

Was it a bit of gamesmanship from the Wildcats’ 17th-year head coach? A punishment for expected starters Mikal Bridges and Eric Paschall? Some experimentation in an exhibition formation?

As it turns out, none of the above.

“We found out after we scheduled the game, we found out that guys couldn’t miss class for the game and Eric and Mikal had a test tonight,” Wright said. “I didn’t know if they were going to get there in time for the game, so we just said we’ll start the other guys.”

In Villanova’s season opener just nine days away, against Columbia at the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 10, the Wildcats’ starting lineup won’t look like it did on Wednesday night. But that doesn’t mean the coaches know exactly what those first five players introduced before a home crowd will be.

“[In a scrimmage] at Pitt [last weekend] we had Omari come off the bench, we started with the five upperclassmen and Omari came off the bench,” Wright said, referencing a lineup of Bridges, Booth, Brunson, Paschall and DiVincenzo, all at least in their third year in college. “Tonight (Omari) started. We’ll see. We’re not sure really what we’ll do yet.” -- Josh Verlin

2. Wildcats’ bigs dominate
Villanova doesn’t have an enormous amount of height on the roster this season, with the 6-9 Spellman and the 6-8 Paschall being the tallest regular minutes getters, but the duo made the most of their size on Wednesday against a Drexel team missing big man Austin Williams. Though only Spellman got the start, Paschall played 25 minutes compared to Spellman’s 20, and both excelled in their roles.

Spellman knocked down a three on the first possession of the game, one of just four shots he attempted all night. Although he made another three later on and finished with nine points, his main contributions were in the paint, both grabbing rebounds and contesting shots. He led the game with 12 boards, including five on the offensive glass, and made Drexel’s life miserable in the lane, blocking three shots and affecting many more while picking up zero fouls.

“There’s going to be some games where he’s going to rebound and other guys get it going, there’s going to be some games where he’s really effective offensively,” Wright said. “On a night like that where he only gets four shots but gets 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in 20 minutes, that’s really good.”

Paschall made the more eye-catching plays of the two, however, showing explosiveness running the floor and finishing in transition. He made all of his two-point attempts, just missing a pair of three-point shots, and finished with a line of 15 points and nine boards in 25 minutes. The 2014-15 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, Pascall put up 7.2 points and 3.8 boards per game last season, and his role should expand heading into this year after performances like these.

Wednesday night’s performance certainly made a strong case for Paschall’s place in ‘Nova’s starting lineup, and with the way both big men played, they could see a lot of time playing alongside one another, not just against bigger teams. -- Zach Drapkin

3. ‘Nova turnovers out of character
One of the major reasons behind Villanova’s recent stretch of dominance over the Big East and Big 5 -- as well as most of the rest of the teams the Wildcats have played over the last four seasons -- has been its offensive efficiency. ‘Nova has been at worst the fourth-most efficient offense in Division I basketball in the last three years, averaging around 1.22 points per possession each year.

In addition to Villanova’s terrific shooting numbers during that time, the Wildcats have also generally done a good job in the turnover department as well. Last year, Villanova turned it over on 17 percent of its possessions, according to KenPom; that was the 72nd-best mark in Division I hoops. That was the third straight season Villanova had been in the top 75 in the country in that statistic.

Though Wednesday night was just one game, it saw Villanova turn it over 21 times in 76 possessions, or a 27.6 percent mark that would have been the worst in the country a season ago. Last year, Villanova only surpassed the 20-turnover mark twice.

Freshman wing Jermaine Samuels turned it over five times in 15 minutes to lead the way. Bridges, DiVincenzo and Gillespie turned it over three times apiece.

“It’s always a concern, but it’s easier to deal with earlier in the season,” Wright said. “Definitely a concern. We did have guys in different spots, and (Drexel) was really quick, they did a great job in the second half with their quickness, really getting after us.”

There’s probably not much cause for panic at this point. Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth combined for 10 assists against three turnovers, and Villanova had 24 assists as a team. -- Josh Verlin

4. Dragons not quite healthy as season approaches
Drexel entered the contest shorthanded, with seniors and probable starters Miles Overton (calf) and Austin Williams (jaw) sidelined. Head coach Zach Spiker would have liked to have their experience on the floor against Villanova, as well as some more reps with first-team players, he said, “but they had injuries going in and they have injuries going out.”

Point guard Kurk Lee Jr. didn’t have any publicly disclosed injury going into Wednesday’s game, but he pulled up after a shot attempt in the first half and hurried over to the bench holding his back.

“He’s had something,” Spiker said. “I think he’ll be fine, we have a great [training] staff, and I’m not concerned about him in the long term.”

Lee got checked out on the sideline and returned to play a few minutes later, but he was off for the rest of the evening, finishing 4-16 from the field, 0-6 from deep, and 0-2 from the line in 31 minutes of action.

Spiker was hopeful that everyone will be healthy for Drexel’s season opener against Bowling Green on Nov. 10, but with nine days to go, there are no guarantees. It shouldn’t affect the Dragons too much in the long run, but being at full strength would have been helpful in a tough scrimmage like this one. -- Zach Drapkin

Freshman bigs Omari Spellman (left) and Tadas Kararinas both impressed for their respective teams. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

5. Drexel’s Kararinas shines in second half
With Williams sidelined, Drexel had to go with a rather different look inside.

Senior Tyshawn Myles got the start, but he was held to two points and four rebounds in 17 minutes of action. Sophomore Alihan Demir, a junior college transfer, came off the bench to chip in four points in 17 minutes of action. But stealing the show in the Dragons’ frontcourt was Tadas Kararinas.

A 6-10 native of Lithuania, Kararinas was a late get for the Drexel coaching staff, and after playing sparingly in an exhibition win over West Chester on Saturday, he showed a lot more of what he can do in this one. Kararinas finished with 16 points in 19 minutes off the bench to lead his team in scoring. He knocked down all three of his 3-point attempts and six of his seven shots overall, including a nice right-hand hook in the lane. Despite his size, he only grabbed two rebounds and committed four fouls.

“Tadas showed everybody what we’ve seen him do, so that’s less of a secret,” Spiker said. “I thought we had a lot of young guys that came and competed.”

Much of Kararinas’ production came against Dylan Painter after Villanova’s Spellman had sat down for the evening, but Painter is more akin to the bigs that Kararinas will see in league play as compared to Spellman, a potential NBA prospect.

Kararinas was one of three true freshman bigs who saw time for Drexel on Wednesday night. Jarvis Doles scored five points in 12 minutes of action, hitting a 3-pointer and grabbing two boards. Timmy Perry Jr. was scoreless and grabbed a rebound in four minutes. -- Josh Verlin

6. Drexel’s point guard chemistry
Lee ran the show last season as the Dragons’ floor general, but things might be slightly different this season. Junior transfers Tramaine Isabell (Missouri) and Troy Harper (Campbell) are both capable of handling lead and combo guard roles, and they are likely to see a good chunk of minutes alongside Lee. When the three -- and Lee and Isabell in particular -- were on the floor together against Villanova, however, it was problematic in a number of ways.

Lee and Isabell had trouble getting on the same page, one player’s command of the ball oftentimes overshadowing the other. They looked better individually when not on the court together; though neither had a good night offensively, Isabell seemed to get things going at the end of the game, with Lee sidelined for the for the final minutes.

“When we practice, we go against each other to compete, so sometimes we haven’t had the luxury of [playing Lee and Isabell together],” Spiker said.

Lee, Isabell, and Harper combined to shoot 0-12 from 3-point range and 9-of-38 overall. Villanova is a tough defensive team. But size also played a big part in that. Having any two of the three on the floor created a height discrepancy for Drexel, who struggled all night to get clean shots up and pull down boards against the Wildcats. It’s something the Dragons will definitely work on heading into the season, and Spiker thinks that with time, “they can be very, very good together.”

“I think those are three guys that hopefully can get in the paint whenever they need to and it’s a matter of them finishing or making a play for a teammate,” he said. -- Zach Drapkin

7. ‘Nova-Penn will be nuts
Describing the prominent features of the Jake Nevin Field House, one might think the Palestra is being described: built around 1930, rival banners and lights hanging from arched steel beams on the ceiling, black row numbers lining the cement-based bleachers, three glass windows and an American flag plastered on an otherwise bland baseline wall. It’s practically a replica of the Cathedral of College Basketball, just a heck of a lot smaller, and five years younger.

The Field House was decommissioned by Villanova’s men’s basketball team in 1986 after 54 years, but it will see action once again this season, as the Wildcats host Penn there on Nov. 29. Pack all the energy of a Big 5 game into a hot, 1,500-seat Palestra, and you’ve got yourself a must-see game. For the atmosphere alone, that’s one game worth getting tickets to, if you can get your hands on any. -- Zach Drapkin

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