Over the course of the last 5 seasons, the Villanova Wildcats have been nationally known for cycling in a new class of upperclassmen who are ready to take over the leadership role from the previous season’s captains. In past it has been Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu in 2015-16, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds in 2016-17, and this past season was led by Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. This years’ Wildcats are led by two fifth-year seniors in forward Eric Paschall and guard Phil Booth. After losing four of the top six players in last season’s rotation, Paschall and Booth were expected to carry the load as the rest of the roster was made up of mostly question marks prior to the season.
Eric Paschall came to Villanova prior to the 2015-16 season as a transfer from Fordham University after winning the A-10 Freshman of the Year. Since then, his role on the team has grown each season concluding with Paschall averaging 14.5 points and 5.7 rebounds on an efficient 55.3 field goal percentage last season. After dropping 24 points on 10-11 shooting against Kansas in the Final Four, Paschall was considered nationally to become the next Villanova superstar when he was put on the preseason All-Big East team and the Karl Malone Award watch list for the top power forward in the country.
Through 11 games, Paschall has had an up-and-down campaign. Eric started the season off on a good note against Morgan State with 26 points and 7 rebounds on 63.6% shooting. However he hit a rough patch over the next 4 games where he averaged 9 points on 30.9% from the field and a dreadful 15% from three point range resulting the a Wildcats 2-2 record. Over the next 3 games, Paschall backed the preseason hype by averaging 21.3 points on 53.8% from the field and 52.9% from deep. In Philadelphia Big 5 play, Paschall has averaged 15.3 points highlighted by his best game of the season where he dropped 27 points on the road against La Salle. It was good to see Paschall come up big in a hostile road environment in the Palestra as he will be leaned on through out the season in close games.
Overall, Paschall has the talent to live up to his preseason expectations but he needs to play smart basketball consistently. When the offense hits a cold patch, it seems Paschall has a tendency to play “hero ball” and tries to do everything himself which has resulted in offensive fouls and turnovers multiple times this season, leading to his streaky scorer reputation. Paschall will be the main target of the opponents defense more times than not, so he needs to adjust to the double teams that will be thrown at him consistently. Once the younger players start to grasp Villanova’s offense, the focus will be less on Paschall which should result in a dominant rest of the season for the dynamic scorer.
The other captain for the Villanova is guard Phil Booth who has become a steady rock for the Wildcats over his college career. Playing as a role player for his first 3 seasons, Booth was known as Villanova’s “glue guy” who kept the team together when he was on the court but the team would struggle without him. Even though his stats, 10 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists, were not very notable, Booth had a major impact on the team. Proof of this was seen last season when Booth suffered a broken hand which kept him out for 7 games and limited for 2 more upon his return. In those 9 games, the Wildcats were handed 3 of their 4 losses showing Booth’s value.
This season, Booth has become a focal point of the offense as his scoring has increased to 15.8 points while shooting 41.8% from the field and 36.1% from three but also maintaining his 3 rebounds and assists from last season. What is remarkable about this is that Booth is shooting the same percentage from the field and three while taking 5 and 3 more shots per game in each category. Booth had his breakout game against Kansas while playing in Allen Fieldhouse, one of the toughest places to play in the country. Phil dropped a career high 29 points on 11-21 shooing as well as 4-11 from deep. Even though the ‘Cats came up short, Booth showed the grit he possesses and almost gutted it out for the team.
In my opinion, Phil Booth is the smartest basketball player on Villanova’s roster. He knows where his teammates are when running the offense and only takes a bad shot when the shot clock is running down. Jay Wright is leaning on Booth as the veteran guard to run the offense when the main ball-handler, sophomore Collin Gillespie, comes off the court. This was also seen at the end of the UPenn game when the ‘Cats were trailing. Even though Gillespie was the leading scorer for Villanova, Coach Wright trusted Booth to take the shots as time was winding down to try and bring the Wildcats back. Through 12 games, Booth has risen to the next level and don’t expect that to change for Villanova’s most consistent player.