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April 06, 2016

If Hart and Jenkins return, Wildcats could make another Final Four

About 30 hours before winning possibly the greatest national title game in the history of the NCAA Tournament, Jay Wright was asked a question about the lack of one-and-done players on Villanova’s roster. Specifically, is it part of his recruiting philosophy to stay away from guys that won’t stick around for long?

Wright said that he tries to identify players that want to be part of Villanova University for life, but it’s hard to ignore that almost all of his guys stick around for four years. Whether or not the lack of one-and-dones is a conscientious decision on his part, it’s working out alright.

Then, Wright got around to talking about his current players.

“I think Josh has a decision to make after this year,” Wright said about the NBA. “Jalen was coming in, everybody was talking about it. He was just concentrating on playing at Villanova.”

When Wright mentioned Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, who didn’t know what was in store for him the next day, looked at his teammate and grinned wide. It looked like Big Smooth was teasing Hart, but whatever his motivation, three days and one historic shot later, Jenkins is going to be making that same decision:

This is important, because if Hart and Jenkins both return, here is where the Wildcats stack up in the ridiculously early (and fun) 2016-17 polls. Duke and Kentucky are the only teams ranked ahead of them:

•    CBS Sports: 3
•    ESPN: 2
•    The Big Lead: 2
•    USA Today: 3
•    SB Nation: 3
•    Yahoo: 3

(Before we get any further, 'Nova fans should still be soaking in the title. I get that. If you don’t want to hear about next year, stop reading.)

Neither player has hired an agent, so they can come back. I would guess that both players will return for their senior season/victory lap (Jenkins particularly, Hart is more up in the air), but you never know. For argument’s sake, let’s say they do return to the Main Line.

Villanova would be goooooooood next year.

'Nova is losing its two all-time winningest players (well, at least for a year) in Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. No way to sugarcoat it, those are two massive losses. After considering the state of the program when they stepped on campus in 2012, you can make the argument that Arch is most important player in the history of the program. I can’t imagine that the number 15 won’t get retired at some point.

Ochefu is no slouch, either. For so many years, 'Nova was known as “Guard U” and he played a major part in changing the culture. 'Nova doesn’t win a national title without a low-post threat who can rebound and score one-on-one against any frontcourt in the country. He can mop a little bit, too.

Still, Wright would be bringing back three starters and six rotation members from the national champs: Jenkins, Hart, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges, and Darryl Reynolds.

To that rotation, 'Nova is adding:

•    Donte DiVincenzo, 6’5” G: Athletic wing who played in a few games this year before fracturing his foot. He’ll be looking for a redshirt from this year.

•    Tim Delaney, 6’8” F: South Jersey native was sidelined as a freshman due to injury. Four-star recruit.

•    Omari Spellman, 6’9” F: 16th-ranked player in the country who turned down the likes of Arizona, UConn, Indiana, Florida, and Ohio State for 'Nova. There is speculation that Spellman could break the one-and-done trend:

•    Dylan Painter, 6’9” F: Three-star recruit from Hershey.

•    Eric Paschall, 6’7” F: Transfer from Fordham. The 2014-15 Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year (15.9 PPG) redshirted and sat out this season due to NCAA rules.

Wright won the title with an eight-man rotation this season, and you would imagine that the Wildcats will have more depth next year if Hart and Jenkins return. Both of those guys have a chance to be All-Americans.

Booth, the hero of the title game, should slide into the starting lineup alongside Brunson in the two point guard setup. Brunson and Bridges, who might be the best NBA prospect on this year’s team, could make major leaps as sophomores. Spellman will team up in the frontcourt with a rising senior in Reynolds who played a ton of high stakes minutes this season. And keep an eye on Paschall. Fordham isn’t a powerhouse, but I saw him play a lot as a freshman and he’s very good.

'Nova will still have plenty of talent regardless of Hart and Jenkins’ decisions, but if those two stick around, the Wildcats should pick up right where they left off.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann