At Big East Media Day this past October, Jay Wright confirmed that seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall as well as sophomore Collin Gillespie were the only players locked into the starting lineup. Grad transfer Joe Cremo, sophomores Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, and freshman Saddiq Bey have all cracked the starting lineup at some point this season but one lineup stands out. Samuels and Bey joined Booth, Paschall, and Gillespie in the starting lineup early in Big East play and it has resulted in Villanova playing their best basketball of the season.

Coming off of a disappointing 9-4 non-conference record to begin the season, the Wildcats were hoping to bounce back in Big East play. In their first two home games against DePaul and St. Johns’s, the ‘Cats got off to slow starts in which they had to dig themselves out of big holes in order to win. This poor play resulted in Coach Wright inserting Jermaine Samuels and Saddiq Bey into the starting lineup over Joe Cremo and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. Let’s see how Samuels and Bey have affected the game since their time as starters.

Sophomore forward Jermine Samuels has turned into a defensive monster since entering the starting five. In Big East play, Samuels has averaged only 5.3 points but his main impact has been his 5.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. Highlights include a 16 rebound and 2 blocks performance against Georgetown and 13 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks against Creighton.

Samuels took Cosby-Roundtree’s spot in the starting lineup and has been a more versatile player in this extended run. The table below compares Samuels and Cosby-Roudtree’s averages in Big East play.

Samuels has been putting up better statistical numbers while also doing things that the box score won’t show. When it comes to defense, DCR is a strong defender in the paint who struggles to defend guards on the perimeter. Samuels is able to play tough defense down low against bigs while being athletic enough to stay in front of guards in the open court. On offense, DCR is limited to pick-and-roll action and post moves while Samuels can do both those things as well as hit the three-ball on occasion. When Samuels is shooting the ball, it causes his defender to play on the perimeter, opening the offense for others to drive to the unoccupied paint.

The second switch Jay made to the starting lineup was benching Joe Cremo for Saddiq Bey. Cremo, the grad transfer from Albany, was supposed to be a sharpshooter who spread the offense while Bey was a late addition to the Class of 2022 who wasn’t guaranteed to receive significant minutes this season. Below is a comparison of their stats so far through Big East play.

Saddiq Bey is statistically a much better player than Cremo through the first 12 Big East games, so it makes sense that Jay made the switch. Bey has been all around phenomenal this year compared to his preseason exceptions. The opposite can be said of Cremo’s season as he was supposed to be Donte DiVincenzo’s replacement after Donte left for the NBA draft. After shooting 41.8% from three-point range in three seasons at Albany, Cremo has shot 37.8% from deep overall and a dreadful 25% in Big East play. Multiple experts believe the Big East has been too fast for him compared to the AEC he played in before.

Due to Cremo’s lackluster performance, no one can argue the switch to Bey. The two best games for Bey were 16 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals against DePaul on the road and 17 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals against Creighton. Bey has a knack for hitting big three-pointers in critical situations as well as getting a steal to stabilize the Wildcats’ defense. He passes the eye test compared to Cremo who seems to get beat on the dribble drive almost every game.

Overall, this lineup has been money for Jay Wright. They have led the ‘Cats to a 8-1 record with the lone loss being the 1-point road loss to #10 Marquette. This also allows Cosby-Roundtree to play in shorter stints which Jay says is necessary based off of his conditioning right now which needs improvement. It also allows Cremo to bring some senior leadership and experience to the second unit. Expect the starting lineup of Booth, Paschall, Gillespie, Bey, and Samuels to continue for the rest of the season as the ‘Cats continue to show improvement this season.

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