2022-23 Big East Women’s Basketball Preview: Villanova Wildcats

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Crew: Villanova Wildcats

2021-22 review: 24-9, 15-4 Great East

Arrival Big East 2021-22: Second, one game ahead of Creighton in the loss column.

Her Hoop 2021-22 Final Stats Rankings: #71 out of 356 teams.

Post-season: A loss for UConn in the Great East Tournament the title game wasn’t enough to keep the Wildcats off the NCAA field. Villanova picked up a No. 11 seed that gave them a first-round game against No. 6 BYU, and they took the win 61-57. The second round, not so fun, as VU lost a road game to No. 3 seed Michigan, 64-49.

Key departures: Just two, but both are quite remarkable, and one is bigger than the other because one was expected due to eligibility and the other was not. Brianna Herlihy was a loss Villanova always expected to suffer after the end of last season, as the 6-foot-tall forward was in his sixth year of college thanks to a redshirt year in 2016-7 and a bonus year of eligibility due to COVID relief. The Massachusetts native appeared in 31 of VU’s 33 games last season, starting in all of them. She finished third on the team with 10.7 points per game and one of only three players to average in double digits, but that wasn’t even her biggest contribution. Herlihy finished second on the team in rebounding at 8.2 per game, but that makes her one of only two players with more than four rebounds per night. His ability to shoot misses was crucial to making the entire Wildcats system work. She also led the team in assists at 3.1 per game, so her absence will be felt in just about every facet of the game.

The other miss is the unexpected, like Lior Garzon chose to transfer to Oklahoma State following the end of the season. As a sophomore, Garzon was No. 2 on the team in scoring at 13.1 per game and third in rebounding at four per night. While starting in all 32 games she appeared in, the 6’1” Garzon led the Wildcats in long-range attempts with 215…but she only completed 31%.

Key returners: What place should we dedicate to Maddy Siegrist here? The 6’1” forward was named Big East Player of the Year after averaging 25.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, which led Villanova, and just for fun, she added 1.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game, too. The only question of whether or not she will be a pre-season POY in October comes down to whether or not the coaches vote for last year’s POY or simply assume that a healthy Paige Bueckers is the best player in the league….because it is.

We could probably continue here, but to get things going, we’ll do this instead. There’s no other way around it: Villanova doesn’t pay off much else in the way of scoring. Lucy Olson is the second-leading return scorer behind Siegrist … and she’s averaging 7.0 per game starting every game and averaging nearly 30 minutes of running a night. Yeah things are this terrible. Brooke Mullin played in all 33 games and started 32 of them….and only contributed 4.8 a night. Bella Runian33 games played with eight starts, 22 minutes per game on average… 3.6 points per game.

I think we should mention Kaitlyn Oriel and Anahi Lee Cauley here because they have played 32 and 30 games respectively. The Wildcats wanted them on the floor every night, or almost every night at least, so there’s value there. Not much, mind you, as they averaged 14.4 and 8.0 minutes respectively, but when you’re a rotation player of every game as a rookie like the two women, no matter how big the role, it stands to reason that there are greater things ahead of you.

Key additions: There are four freshmen on Villanova’s roster, and none of them are mentioned by Blue Star’s recruiting page. I will say that Megan Olbrys was the 2022 Massachusetts Coaches Association Player of the Year, which seems to indicate she’s pretty good at it. Also, although this is not a judgment of any kind, I would like to point out that Maggie Grant is the head coach’s niece, and so if she sounds like something right off the bat, we’re gonna hear this tidbit forever and ever. Take all the precautions you deem necessary.

Maddie Burke is the only transfer addition to the squad, and it’s worth noting that she went to high school about 30 miles from the VU campus. The 6’0” guard was at Penn State the past two seasons, earning Big Ten All-Freshman team honors in his first campaign. Great year, 8.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, just over 26 minutes per game, hit 35% of his threes. Second year? I don’t know what happened, but her minutes dropped to just over 14 per contest, as did her chances to start for Carolyn Kieger from 11 to zero. Burke also couldn’t hit the wide side of a barn behind the arc, connecting on less than 20% of his attempts on nearly three per game.

Coach: Denise Dillon, entering her third season at Villanova and her 20th as Division 1 head coach. She (obviously) is 41-16 with the Wildcats and 370-220 overall.

Outlook: It’s a simple metaphor to explain the upcoming Wildcats season. They have a terrific engine, perhaps the best in the Great East, but even the best engine in the world will just sit on the ground without a few wheels, both rolling and steering, to get it going somewhere.

Last year, Villanova had the props to run Maddie Siegrist as the engine. Herlihy and Garzon were the #2 and #3 options/pieces/as you want to explain, and everyone else fits into that trio. Now that they’re both gone, and while Denise Dillon has a lot of experience on her roster, she’s going to need literally everyone outside of Siegrist to play a new role if they’re going to be successful.

Even though everything is going exactly to their advantage this season, one wonders exactly what success looks like for this team. To be fair to everyone involved, Villanova’s year-end Her Hoop Stats ranking and their #71 NET pick Sunday are a little worse than they were and/or should have been. being. Maddie Siegrist missed six games early in the year, and the Wildcats went 3-3 in that streak, losing to Temple and Providence. That loss to the Friars ended up being their worst loss of the entire season (#170 in the NET during Sunday Draft)…and Temple’s loss (#118) was their second-worst loss. So you can throw them away, and in theory the selection committee did when evaluating Villanova as they are not indicative of the team they were in March…..

…..and they still found themselves the No. 11 seed, just a few points from the cut line. If they haven’t handed UConn their first regular season conference loss since before the Huskies left for the AAC, let alone on the road, I’m not sure Villanova will make the NCAA Tournament, and c is with a 20-5 record on Sunday’s selection with Siegrist in the lineup.

Can they get better than that and end up with a second consecutive appearance at an NCAA tournament, something the program hasn’t done since 2002 and 2003? Yeah, I think it’s possible. Dillon has clearly shown that she knows what she is doing as a coach and gets the most out of Siegrist. The question will be whether or not she can rally the supporting cast around her star of all conferences. If the Lucy Olsens and Bella Runyans of the world step in, then things look good for the Wildcats. If they don’t…it could be a long season on the main line.

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