Villanova Is Building Another Elite Core as Duke, UK Grab Recruiting Headlines

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 13, 2018

Jay Wright doesn't bring in flashy recruiting classes, but he consistently targets players who fit properly.
Jay Wright doesn't bring in flashy recruiting classes, but he consistently targets players who fit properly.Associated Press

Duke and Kentucky deserve their places at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the 2018 recruiting rankings. The level of talent in those classes is unmatched around the college basketball world.

As the blue-blood programs stock up on valued NBA-caliber prospects, though, Villanova is quietly doing the same thing it's always doneand at a higher level than it recently has.

Jay Wright and Co. entered the April signing period holding the No. 13 class in the country. That's pretty good, right? After all, basketball fans probably expect it from a program with two national championships in the last three years and is perennially a top-ranked team.

However, this is Villanova's highest class standing since 2009. In fact, the Wildcats haven't previously held a top-20 mark in that span.

That's set to change with 5-star point guard Jahvon Quinerlythe No. 25 player in the countryleading a terrific three-man class. Power forward Cole Swider (No. 39 nationally) and shooting guard Brandon Slater (No. 47) round out the group.

Villanova is a case study in prioritizing fit over talent. The possibility of a prolonged dynasty only grows while the grade of incoming talent increases, which should be a scary thought for the rest of the nation.

The "why" is simple.

Thanks to the 36-win 2017-18 team, the Wildcats set a Division I record with the most combined victories (136) over a four-year span. The national champions also broke a single-season NCAA record with 464 three-pointers made, and their 655 assists surpassed a school mark.

And the incoming class is perfectly suited to help continue the trend of high-scoring, efficient Villanova offenses.

Quinerly averaged at least 18.5 points and 5.4 assists in each of his last two high school seasons. In four total varsity years, he posted a combined 45.6 three-point percentage. Stylistically, he's an ideal replacement for Jalen Brunson, who declared for the NBA draft after his National Player of the Year campaign.

Swider will be a perfect fit in Villanova's four-out attack. He should be a similar player to Eric Paschall, who averaged 10.6 points last season despite only attempting 7.1 shots per game. According to Brendan Kurie of South Coast Today, Swider averaged around 30 points per game as a senior; he also doesn't need to be a focal point to contribute because of his quick release and great range.

The Wildcats are bidding farewell to Mikal Bridges, a knockdown shooter whose defensive versatility was largely underappreciated nationally. It's a good thing the 'Cats are bringing in Slater, a guard labeled a "jack of all trades" by his high school coach, Glenn Farello, per Jacob Bogage of The Washington Post.

There's a clear emphasis on recruiting to fill a role, not loading up on talent and trying to figure it out eventually. Sometimes the latter works wonderfully; other times it fails miserably. Villanova, on the other hand, has engineered a system cultivating success year after year.

Furthermore, provided Wright opts to stay at the school rather than pursue the NBA—and he recently told Dana O'Neil of The Athletic he doesn't want to give up working with his players—there's no end in sight.

Most importantly, there won't be expectations for the freshmen to seamlessly replace Bridges or Brunson in 2018-19.

That's a testament to Wright and Co. signing players who stay for multiple yearsand potentially redshirtso they're experienced when moving from a reserve spot to the starting lineup.

"A year can change your life," guard Phil Booth told Roman Stubbs of the Washington Post. "Healthy or not, because you're going to get better. You still get to practice every day against everybody. You get to work on your game more than usual. It's a very productive year. People don't realize. It's not easy, but it's a very productive year."

Booth was a key member of both the 2016 and 2018 championship teams.
Booth was a key member of both the 2016 and 2018 championship teams.Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Because of that experience gained prior to players leading the team, the impact of roster turnover is mitigated.

Versatile guard Josh Hart and stretch forward Kris Jenkins led the 2016 squad to a championship and 2017's group to a No. 1 seed. Last year, Brunson and Bridges carried VU. National title hero Donte DiVincenzo and stretch center Omari Spellman are expected to be the leaders of the 2018-19 roster, pending NBA draft decisions.

And it's easy to foresee Quinerly, Slater and Swideras experienced sophomorescontinuing the Villanova dynasty along with Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels after that.

The incoming players aren't the recognizable faces of the 2018 cycle. But while Duke and Kentucky make yearly runs at championships with big-name freshmen, Villanova is happy to quietly replenish a roster built to contend for multiple seasons.

                  

Recruiting information and rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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