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Donte DiVincenzo is Villanova’s secret weapon

The sophomore guard has turned into a microwave scorer for ‘Nova.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Villanova Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It starts with Jay Wright’s collection of finely tailored suits and stoic expressions on the sideline. Jalen Brunson grabs your eye next as a fearless scorer and consummate floor general who just might be college basketball’s new frontrunner for national player of the year. Then there’s Mikal Bridges’ sudden emergence into an NBA lottery pick and Omari Spellman’s development into a legitimate stretch center.

By the time you get to Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova’s embarrassment of riches really starts to set in.

DiVincenzo is the 6’5 scoring guard who feels like he’d be the man almost anywhere else. On ‘Nova, he’s just another part of the machine for the No. 1 offense in the country. This is what it’s like to play for a program that prides itself on selflessness and patience, the idea that Villanova will work for you as much as you work for it in due time.

DiVincenzo has seen it happen with Josh Hart and he’s seen it happen with Bridges. Next season, that could be him. For now, he’s the overqualified third- or fourth-option whose instant offense could play a big role in helping the Wildcats avoid another early NCAA tournament exit.

He’s been called “The Big Ragu” for his red hair. He’s been called “the Michael Jordan of Delaware.” More than anything, DiVincenzo is Villanova’s secret weapon.

DiVincenzo can give you buckets in a pinch

DiVincenzo moved into the starting lineup on Jan. 28 after Phil Booth went down with a hand injury. He responded by dropping 23 points on Marquette. A week later, he dropped 30 on Butler and then nearly posted a triple-double (21 points, nine rebounds, nine assists) against No. 4 Xavier.

There simply aren’t many holes in DiVincenzo’s offensive game. He has a smooth, compact shooting stroke, which has helped him hit 40.5 percent of his threes on 5.5 attempts per game. He doesn’t have blow-by quickness, but he’s strong enough to finish in the paint when he gets there. When he doesn’t, DiVincenzo has a variety of tricks to get a clean look at the basket with a pull-up jumper.

On the season, he’s reached double-figures in scoring in 22 of Villanova’s 28 games while posting a 61 percent true shooting percentage.

DiVincenzo isn’t just a scorer, he’s also made strides as a passer. He’s second on the team in assists behind Brunson and gives Wright another player who can be trusted to run side pick-and-roll and make the right decision with the ball in his hands.

Having a supplemental scorer like this is simply a luxury very few teams have. If Bridges goes cold from three or Brunson is having an off night, Villanova knows it still has a chance if DiVincenzo gets hot.

He’s tough as nails on defense

Mikal Bridges’ is Villanova’s stopper. His length (7’0 wingspan), quickness and anticipation is a major reason why he’s become a projected lottery pick after four years in school. What makes ‘Nova scary is that they have a player like DiVincenzo they can put on your No. 2 scorer.

DiVincenzo has been described as a “bulldog” on defense for his willingness to fight over screens, absorb contact and dish out a hard foul. He’s has the locked in mindset Wright preaches. He’s not a gambler who is going to pile up big steal numbers, but he’s a dogged man defender who cares deeply about denying his assignment buckets.

It’s a bit odd that Villanova’s team defense is so underwhelming this season given their talent. The Wildcats are only No. 41 in defensive efficiency right now. That’s completely out of whack with previous seasons: in the last four years, ‘Nova has finished no worse than No. 12 on the defensive end.

The bet here is that Villanova’s defense will figure it out when it matters. Once again, the presence of DiVincenzo is a big reason for that belief.

Is Donte DiVincenzo the next Josh Hart?

Jay Wright thinks so. He said as much early last season, when DiVincenzo was just barely inching his way into the rotation as a redshirt freshman.

Maybe that wasn’t a coincidence. DiVincenzo’s numbers were identical to Hart’s as a freshman, and they compare favorably to him as a sophomore.

As freshmen

Freshmen year Points per game Rebounds per game Assist rate Minutes FG% 3P% Steal percentage Block percentage
Freshmen year Points per game Rebounds per game Assist rate Minutes FG% 3P% Steal percentage Block percentage
Josh Hart 7.8 4.4 8.1 21.4 50 31.3 1.5 1.4
Donte DiVincenzo 8.8 3.8 12 25.5 46.6 36.5 2.2 1.3

As sophomores

Sophomore year Points per game Rebounds per game Assist rate Minutes FG% 3P% Steal percentage Block percentage
Sophomore year Points per game Rebounds per game Assist rate Minutes FG% 3P% Steal percentage Block percentage
Josh Hart 10.1 4.5 11.7 25.5 51.5 46.4 2.7 1.7
Donte DiVincenzo 14 4.7 18.2 29.5 49.1 39.7 2.5 0.6

Hart worked himself into a first round pick after four years in school, and now he’s having a nice rookie season for the Lakers after getting drafted at No. 30.

Guess what? DiVincenzo is currently projected as the No. 30 pick in the 2019 draft by ESPN. That would make it four years in school for him, too.

The one major difference, in terms of path, is that DiVincenzo was hit with a redshirt after suffering a foot injury at the onset of his true freshman year. That makes his route the norm at Villanova: while most of the rest of college basketball’s contenders bank on one-and-dones, ‘Nova has six redshirt players on the roster.

DiVincenzo isn’t ‘Nova’s star yet, but it’s easy to imagine him assuming that mantle next season next to incoming point guard Jahvon Quinerly will be soon. It’s also easy to imagine his microwave scoring ability playing a big role in the Wildcats’ tournament run this season.

Patience is the ultimate virtue at Villanova. Even as Donte DiVincenzo waits, he’s ready to produce in the moment.