No. 3 Villanova ready to open season vs. Boston College

NCAA Basketball

Villanova was among a number of teams hoping to make a deep run in last season’s NCAA Tournament.

But when COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the postseason, the ultra-talented Wildcats and their 24-7 record were forced to change their plans along with every other program.

However, Villanova this season returns the bulk of its contributing players from a season ago with the exception of Saddiq Bey. The Wildcats will likely be a national power once again as they open the season against Boston College on Wednesday.

The No. 3-ranked Wildcats are participating in the 2K Empire Sports Classic at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The winner between Villanova and Boston College will face No. 2 Baylor or No. 18 Arizona State in the consolation or championship game on Thanksgiving night.

“You’re just holding your breath trying to get to the first game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “The opener can’t get here fast enough. We’re not prepared for it like I’d like us to be. But if I had a choice, I’d rather get there and start it. You’re just so worried about somebody testing positive. It’s in the back of your mind all the time.”

Bey was drafted No. 19 overall by the Detroit Pistons, but the Wildcats will feature a plethora of talent such as guards Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore, and forwards Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Jermaine Samuels.

“It’s going to be interesting to play on Wednesday and Thursday,” Wright said. “Just to see, we can’t scrimmage anybody. We don’t have any feel, usually I’ve been through a scrimmage that I can tell you what we look like. Wednesday is going to be so educational for us.”

Gillespie is the leading returning scorer at 15.1 points per game for the Wildcats, who finished 13-5 in the Big East last season.

Boston College, which will be looking for its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2009, will be faced with a daunting challenge in its opener.

Last season, the Eagles finished 13-19 overall and 7-13 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The projected starting five looks to be formidable, led by guard Jay Heath, who averaged 13.1 points per game. Junior Wynston Tabbs missed all of last season with a knee injury but appears to be ready to step back into the lineup. Tabbs averaged 13.9 points per game during the 2018-19 season.

“I feel really good. It’s just so good to get back out there with my teammates.” Tabbs said. “Just showcase my results in practice.”

Boston College coach Jim Christian revamped the roster with a number of graduate transfers to bolster the Eagles’ depth. Rich Kelly, a guard from Quinnipiac, will likely make an immediate impact, as he shot just below 40 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and averaged 16.7 points last season.

“Rich is an efficient playmaker, an underrated scorer, and one of the elite shooters in college basketball,” Christian said. “He will be able to step in and contribute at both guard spots for us.”

Finding cohesion and chemistry amid COVID-19 has been difficult for the Eagles, who are thrilled to finally have games to play.

“It’s just excited to see the guys competing and ready to play,” Christian said.

The teams last met in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 2006, when Villanova won, 60-59, in overtime.

–Field Level Media

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