Josh Hart

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Looking Forward: Josh Hart’s Draft decision changes the course of Villanova’s season

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CHICAGO — Villanova’s unlikely run to the 2016 national title captured America’s attention and solidified Jay Wright’s program as a national power. Nobody expected the Wildcats to be champions. In one prominent bracket challenge last March, more people picked Villanova to lose in the first round to a No. 15 seed than win the national championship.

Kris Jenkins’ legendary buzzer-beater helped change the public perception of Villanova. People respect them now, which makes sense considering that Villanova is potentially in position to be the team with the best chance to repeat as national champions since Florida took home back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.

“Potentially” being the key word.

Because they just have to wait on the NBA decision of junior Josh Hart.

If the 6-foot-6, do-it-all guard decides to return to Philadelphia for his senior season, then Villanova returns approximately 70 percent of its scoring and rebounding from last season’s title team. Since Florida went back-to-back, no defending champion in the “one-and-done” era outside of Louisville in 2013 comes even close to those returning totals. Of the eight defending champions since Florida, none have made it past the Sweet 16. Three defending champions missed the tournament completely — North Carolina in 2010, Kentucky in 2013 and UConn in 2015, to say nothing of the fact that Florida went to the NIT in back-to-back years after their back-to-back titles.

And all but two of those eight defending champions were ranked in the preseason top five.

Villanova will likely find itself in the top five of preseason polls for the 2016-17 season, but it will be based on a roster that has already succeeded at the college level. It won’t be half respect and half recruiting hype; Villanova is returning a ton of players who just won on the sport’s biggest stage.

Most defending champions since Florida had to completely re-tool rosters that were filled with future NBA lottery picks and one-and-done freshmen, but Villanova only has to deal with the loss of seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu if Hart decides to come back.

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Hart knows all of the factors involved in his decision, and he’s weighing them all accordingly. But how do you decide between chasing your dreams and chasing history?

“I’d probably say [I’m] 50-50. My dream is to play in the NBA and I definitely want to pursue that but I love Villanova,” Hart said at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. “I love the program. I love the people that we have. I love the school and the support that we have there. Torn between two good situations. Obviously, you want to have this choice, a choice of having two good situations. But it’s a tough one.”

While Nova Nation sits and waits on Hart’s next move, ironically, he’s one of the only students currently left on Villanova’s campus. Like many NBA Draft hopefuls who didn’t hire an agent to go through this process, Hart is staying at school to work out for the draft as he will likely decide his future on the final day, May 25th.

And on that final day, Hart will go over his options with a support system that includes his parents, Jay Wright and Villanova assistant Baker Dunleavy. Until then, most of the other students on Villanova’s campus — including Hart’s teammates — have left for break, so Hart is left to working out on his own and playing XBox in his dorm room. When he’s not getting up shots or working out for a NBA team, Hart is a self-described “homebody”, a national champion who would be recognized all over Philly that opts to keep his competitive juices flowing during the offseason via XBox — Call of Duty: Black Ops III or NBA 2K16 are his go-to games.

“My walls are taking a beating between me hitting it and me throwing my controller around,” Hart said.

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Between working out and games of 2K, Hart hears the lobbying from Villanova fans and deciding what the future may hold. Losing Arcidiacono and Ochefu will undoubtedly hurt the Wildcats next season. But Jalen Brunson, a former McDonald’s All-American point guard, will help mitigate the loss of Arch while the Wildcats also add forward Eric Paschall, a transfer from Fordham, and bring in a talented recruiting class that includes five-star big man Omari Spellman. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth should all be expected to improve from last season, when they were counted on as role players for the most part.

“I think they could be stars at different programs,” Hart said. “The way we play, we don’t look like we have a star.”

And if Hart decides to return to Villanova, the Wildcats will again be a matchup nightmare, as Jenkins is also returning to school after flirting with the NBA Draft.

“We were very young last year. We’re only losing two guys. Granted, they were huge leaders on our team. But it’s the guys that are there. The guys that are coming in are very talented and dedicated to playing Villanova basketball and being all-in to that system,” Hart said. “Obviously if I come back that goal is to repeat, but with or without me, they’re going to make a deep run.”

If he decides to close out his college basketball career with one final season, Hart knows that making a repeat run will be tough. If you bring up that Florida team to Hart, he’s also quick to downplay any sort of comparison. In talking to media at the NBA combine, Hart said he models his game after players like Tony Allen, Danny Green and Courtney Lee — role players who were all picked at least No. 22 or later in the NBA Draft.

Without missing a beat, Hart could name three members of the Florida national championship teams.

“[We’re] not really like them,” Hart said. “I think they had three lottery guys come back with Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Joakim Noah. They had three guys that could go in the top 14 come back. So it’s a little bit different situation. But that would be the goal if I were to come back. The goal would be to repeat so I would look after that team.”

Villanova will have different roster makeup than Florida did for those championship seasons, but they’re also in the best position of any team since that Gator group to make a deep NCAA tournament run after winning a championship.

The Wildcats won’t have a roster littered with future lottery picks and they’ll probably get passed over for younger teams with more future NBA talent when people pick a preseason national champion. But if Hart returns, it would be wise to keep the Wildcats in mind for the 2017 national championship. With Hart back, Villanova isn’t even close to a sure thing, but it’ll be intriguing to see how they bounce back after the national title.

“At the end of the day, there’s no guarantees in anything. There’s no guarantee that I go back next year and we have a great year,” Hart said. “I could go back next year, have a good year and be in the same position that I am now. That’s something I have to think about. There’s no guarantees in this process.”

Kris Jenkins continues to emerge as No. 3 Villanova holds off Providence

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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During last season’s Big East tournament, Villanova guard Josh Hart played well enough over the course of three days to earn tournament Most Outstanding Player honors after the Wildcats won the title. Hart, who was a supplementary piece on that team, is now a star and the Wildcats’ leading scorer as they look to win a second straight Big East tournament title.

So who moves into that supplementary role that became vacant thanks to Hart’s progression? Down the stretch of this season that player’s been junior forward Kris Jenkins, and in the Wildcats’ 76-68 win over Providence in Friday’s Big East semifinals he produced another quality performance.

In 34 minutes Jenkins scored a team-high 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting from the field while also dishing out four assists. The 6-foot-6 Jenkins is capable of scoring both inside and out, be it by way of catching passes off of dribble penetration or by putting the ball on the deck himself and driving to the basket. That full array of skills was on display against a Providence team that did not have an answer for him. The Friars had to deal with Ben Bentil being limited by foul trouble, but even with that being the case Jenkins was able to find the spots where he’s most effective.

Having an effective Jenkins on the court makes Villanova that much more difficult to defend, as it gives them a player at the four who can force a mismatch offensively. That was one reason why the Wildcats, who rank among the nation’s best in two-point field goal percentage, scored 40 points in the paint. With more room to operate it becomes easier to find high percentage shots.

Since accounting for just four points and one rebound in a home win over St. John’s February 13 Jenkins has averaged 20 points and nearly four rebounds per game, shooting 53 percent from the field and 45 percent from beyond the arc. And if he can continue on this path while also chipping in defensively, an area in which he’s made strides as the season’s worn on, Villanova will benefit.

This group is capable of not only winning another Big East tournament title, but also progressing deep into the NCAA tournament and the emergence of Jenkins is one reason why. Jenkins wasn’t the only reason why the Wildcats took care of Providence, but he was a major factor in the outcome.

Hart leads Villanova past Hoyas 81-67 in Big East quarters

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NEW YORK (AP) Josh Hart scored 25 points, Ryan Arcidiacono added 19 points and six assists, and third-ranked Villanova pulled away from Georgetown in the second half to open its bid for consecutive Big East Tournament titles with an 81-67 quarterfinal win Thursday.

Kris Jenkins added 15 points for the top-seeded Wildcats (28-4), who made 13 of their 21 3-point attempts.

The eighth-seeded Hoyas (15-18), whose first-round game ended about 15 hours earlier, led 47-46 midway through the second half before Arcidiacono and Hart led Villanova on a game-breaking run.

Georgetown had 16 offensive rebounds to just four for the Wildcats but converted them into only 12 second-chance points. Villanova, meanwhile, took full advantage of the Hoyas’ mistakes, turning 11 turnovers into 20 points.

The Wildcats had been 0-5 against Georgetown at the Big East Tournament.

L.J. Peak led the Hoyas with 19 points.

Villanova meets Butler or Providence in Friday’s semifinals.

With his team down a point with just over 10 minutes left, Hart knifed through the defense for a layup that put Villanova ahead for good. Arcidiacono hit two 3-pointers then dished to Hart in transition off a turnover for a three-point play that made it 60-48 with 7 1/2 minutes remaining.

Villanova big man Daniel Ochefu, playing on a sprained ankle, had no points and no rebounds in 13 minutes. But the taller Hoyas weren’t able to take advantage enough inside. Center Bradley Hayes, who returned Wednesday night with 10 points after missing six games with a broken left hand, wasn’t able to get many touches other than one stretch at the start of the second half.

Neither team scored for nearly five minutes late in the first half before Jenkins hit a 3-pointer with 8 seconds remaining to give Villanova a 28-27 lead at the break.

FOULS OUT

There were just eight fouls called and no free throws shot in the first half, with the referees allowing physical play more reminiscent of a 1980s Big East game. It was a complete reversal from the tournament’s previous game that ended about 12 hours earlier, when Marquette and St. John’s combined for 53 fouls and 66 free throws Wednesday night.

There were 27 fouls and 37 free throws in the second half, though many of those came when Georgetown was playing catch-up.

TIP-INS

Georgetown: Leading scorer D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was poked in the eye with just under four minutes left in the first half. He returned in the final seconds. Georgetown failed to score in his absence. Smith-Rivera finished with eight points on 4-of-11 shooting, missing all four 3-point tries. … Hayes had 13 points and nine rebounds.

Villanova: Arcidiacono twice went diving into the stands, once in each half. … Darryl Reynolds had four blocks and three steals.

UP NEXT

Villanova plays Butler or Providence in Friday’s semifinals.

Georgetown’s season likely ends with a 15-18 record.

No. 5 Xavier beats No. 1 Villanova, displays tools needed for deep tourney run

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Since joining the Big East in 2013 No. 5 Xavier amassed a record of 34 wins and 16 losses against teams other than No. 1 Villanova. Their record against the Wildcats: 0-6, with an average margin of defeat of 17.2 points per game. For as much as was made about the impact of Wednesday’s game on NCAA tournament seeding, this was more about Chris Mack’s team getting over the hump against the program that has set the standard in the Big East since realignment.

Xavier got the job done at the Cintas Center, winning 90-83 in a game that changed when reserve guard JP Macura checked into the game.

Macura provided the Musketeers a spark on both ends of the floor, going on a personal 7-0 run in a contest that went back and forth for the game’s first eight minutes. Xavier’s ability to attack offensively from multiple areas, be it from the guard spots, the wings or the post, proved problematic for a Villanova team that’s been better defensively this season than they were in either of the two seasons prior.

Edmond Sumner and the rest of the Xavier guards took better care of the basketball than they did in the first meeting, a 31-points Wildcat victory (Sumner left that game after just two minutes due to injury). Sumner’s had issues with turnovers at times this season, but that wasn’t the case against a Villanova perimeter rotation that can get after teams with its 3/4-court pressure. Sumner turned the ball over just three times, and with nine assists (not to mention 19 points and six rebounds) to his credit that’s a good number for the redshirt freshman.

As a team Xavier committed just ten turnovers, nearly half the number they racked up New Year’s Eve (19). Overall the Musketeer guards outplayed Villanova’s backcourt, with Macura adding 19 points and Myles Davis 16 as Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono got off to slow starts. Villanova received a high-level performance from forward Kris Jenkins, who scored 19 points in the first half. But once he ran into foul trouble in the second stanza, by way of having to deal with the likes of Jalen Reynolds and James Farr inside (Daniel Ochefu struggling didn’t help, either), Villanova lost the one player who managed to make things happen offensively.

Some may look to use this result as an “I told you so” opportunity in regards to Villanova. Sure they won’t be able to do much about the recently formed perception of their program, which is viewed with skepticism as their last two NCAA tournament appearances have taken precedence over Jay Wright’s past achievements (Sweet 16 in 2005 and 2008, Elite 8 in 2006 and Final Four in 2009), until the NCAA tournament. But this is still a team, especially in this particular season, capable of playing deep into March given their experience and talent.

Wednesday night was more about Xavier, which showed the attributes of a team capable of going where no prior group of Musketeers have gone before. Chris Mack’s team is talented, and it is deep as well. Xavier played unselfishly against Villanova, with 24 of their 30 made field goals being assisted and six players scoring in double figures. Add in a defense that took away many of Villanova’s primary scoring options, thus forcing the Wildcats to call upon Jenkins, and Xavier managed to do enough to not only make a statement of its national capabilities but also keep their Big East title hopes alive.

And even though Xavier didn’t need much of a confidence boost, if there’s a “Round 3” at Madison Square Garden in a couple weeks they now have concrete evidence that they can get over the hump that is Villanova.

Hot-shooting No. 3 Villanova takes down Creighton 83-58

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VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Kris Jenkins scored 22 points, Jalen Brunson had 16 and No. 3 Villanova rolled past Creighton 83-58 on Wednesday night.

Josh Hart added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats (19-3, 9-1 Big East), who have won 11 of 12. With senior center Daniel Ochefu missing his second straight game with a concussion, Villanova relied on its pinpoint outside shooting. The Wildcats shot 16 for 29 (55 percent) from 3-point range with Brunson and Jenkins each shooting 4 for 6.

On the hunt for their third straight Big East title, Villanova remained a game up on Xavier for first place.

Playing just outside his native Philadelphia, Maurice Watson Jr. led Creighton (14-9, 5-5) with 16 points and five assists. The Bluejays have lost three straight for the first time this season.

The 16 3s were the most Creighton has ever given up and the most Villanova has made this season.

Creighton, the league’s top shooting team, attempted 25 3-pointers but only made eight against the Wildcats, who own the conference’s top-ranked defense.

After Creighton opened a four-point lead midway through the first half on consecutive 3-pointers from Watson and Toby Hegner, Villanova reeled off the next 10 points to take the lead for good. The Wildcats closed the half on a 13-4 run to go up 45-32. The spurt was highlighted by five points apiece from Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges.

The Wildcats went ahead 60-38 with 15 minutes left. They led by as many as 31 points and closed the game on a 63-34 run.

Booth added 10 points for Villanova and Ryan Arcidiacono and Bridges chipped in nine apiece.

Creighton center Geoffrey Groselle didn’t start because of an ankle injury but came off the bench and scored six points.

TIP-INS

Creighton: The Bluejays have lost four straight to Villanova but their last win over the Wildcats was a memorable one as they eclipsed 100 points in a 101-80 triumph on Feb. 16, 2014. . Creighton dropped to 22-131 all-time against nationally ranked opponents, including a 1-5 mark this season. The Bluejays have never beaten a team ranked in the top three.

Villanova: The Wildcats have won 37 straight games at the Pavilion, its campus gym. . Villanova made all 12 of its free throws in the first half. . Villanova’s all-time leading scorer, Kerry Kittles, was sitting courtside for the game.

UP NEXT

Creighton: Hosts DePaul on Saturday

Villanova: Visits No. 11 Providence on Saturday

This version corrects that the 16 3s were the most Villanova made this season.

SUNDAY’S SNACKS: No. 6 Villanova, No. 8 Maryland earn road wins

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Boston University 75, Lehigh 73

The matchup between two teams in the middle of the pack in the Patriot League wasn’t decided until time expired, as BU’s John Papale tossed in a shot after nearly turning the ball over. Cheddi Mosely scored 18 points and Eric Fanning 16 for the Terriers, who had five players in double figures. Lehigh’s Tim Kempton led all scorers with 24 points while also grabbing 11 rebounds.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 8 Maryland 66, Ohio State 61: Melo Trimble scored 20 points and Jake Layman added 16 and ten boards as Maryland completed a season sweep of the Buckeyes. The Terrapins managed to gut out the win in Columbus thanks to some timely shots late from Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon, and a defense that limited Ohio State to 35.6 percent shooting from the field. With the win Maryland remains a game behind No. 3 Iowa and No. 19 Indiana in the Big Ten standings.

No. 6 Villanova 68, St. John’s 53: This game was noteworthy because the Wildcats played without starting center Daniel Ochefu, who didn’t make the trip due to a concussion suffered in practice. Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins picked up the slack as both posted double-doubles, with Hart finishing with 16 points and 11 rebounds and Jenkins 14 and ten. The Wildcats struggled offensively, shooting less than 37 percent from the field and committing 20 turnovers, but they were still too much for a St. John’s team that has now lost 12 straight.

Colorado 70, California 62: The Golden Bears have won one game away from Berkeley this season: at Wyoming. That remains the case as they lost to the Buffaloes in Boulder. Colorado rebounded from a slow start, as they made just two of their first 20 shots, to move to 6-3 in Pac-12 play. Josh Scott led three Buffs in double figures with 18 points, while Cal’s Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 21 points.

STARRED

Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: VanVleet scored a career-high 32 points in the Shockers’ win at Evansville. He also limited Jaylon Brown, who scored 18 in the first meeting, to seven points and five turnovers.

Chris Boucher, Oregon: 26 points, ten rebounds and seven blocks in the Ducks’ win at Arizona State.

Dion Wright, St. Bonaventure: 19 points and 14 rebounds in the Bonnies’ 16-point win over Richmond.

STRUGGLED

A.J. Davis, UCF: Davis made just one of his 11 shot attempts, scoring seven points and grabbing seven rebounds in the Knights’ 67-41 loss to UConn.

Leo Vincent, Southern Illinois: Vincent shot 1-for-7 from the field, scoring three points in the Salukis’ 67-58 loss at Northern Iowa.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 3 Iowa rebounded from its first conference loss by beating Northwestern, 89-71. Peter Jok scored 26 points and Jarrod Uthoff, who failed to reach double figures for the first time this season in Thursday’s loss at Maryland, added 23 for the Hawkeyes. Tre Demps led all scorers with 30.
  • No. 12 Michigan State won its third straight game, this time blowing out Rutgers 96-62. Denzel Valentine scored 20 points and Bryn Forbes 18 for the Spartans, who made 17 three-pointers. Four players scored in double figures for the Spartans and two, Matt Costello (14) and Deyonta Davis (11) reached double digits in rebounds.
  • If anyone in the Valley was going to catch No. 22 Wichita State, Evansville needed to beat the Shockers today. They didn’t as Wichita State won 78-65 with Fred VanVleet scoring a career-high 32 points to lead the way. Wichita State’s now 10-0 in league play, three games ahead of the Purple Aces (who they’ve swept the season series from) and Southern Illinois.
  • Chris Boucher produced the best game of his Oregon career in the 23rd-ranked Ducks’ 91-74 win at Arizona State. The 6-foot-10 senior finished with 26 points, ten rebounds and seven blocked shots. With the win Oregon became the second Pac-12 team to get a road sweep this season, joining Utah.
  • Demetrius Jackson returned to the lineup for No. 25 Notre Dame, which took care of Wake Forest 85-62. Jackson finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and six steals, and Zach Auguste scored a team-high 21 points to go along with 12 boards.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • After winning ten of 11 games, Wright State has now lost two straight after falling 75-68 at Detroit Sunday afternoon. The Raiders now trail Valparaiso, who they beat January 22, by two games in the Horizon League standings.
  • There’s still a four-way tie atop the Summit League standings, as IUPUI beat North Dakota State 73-72 in Indianapolis. Jordan Pickett scored 20 for the Jaguars, who are 7-2 in league play (as are South Dakota State, Omaha and IPFW).
  • George Washington avoided a bad loss, as they got going offensively in the second half of their 76-70 win at George Mason. Having already lost at Saint Louis, the Colonials could not afford to fall in Fairfax as well.
  • Also 5-3 in Atlantic 10 play is St. Bonaventure, which took care of Richmond 84-68 in Olean Sunday afternoon. Marcus Posley scored 26 points and Dion Wright added 19 and 14 boards for the Bonnies.
  • Amida Brimah made his return from a broken finger in UConn’s 67-41 win over UCF. Brimah scored six points and blocked two shots, and Shonn Miller led the way offensively with 11 points.
  • William & Mary erased a 12-point halftime deficit, beating James Madison 68-62. Prior to the defeat the Dukes were undefeated on the road this season.
  • Wisconsin held off Illinois, 63-55, moving their win streak in the series to nine games. Nigel Hayes scored 17 points but the key for Greg Gard’s team was their defense, as Illinois shot just 36 percent from the field.