VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Defending national champion Villanova will open the 2018-19 season against nonconference foe Morgan State Tuesday night at the refurbished Finneran Pavilion.
The new-look Wildcats begin the season ranked No. 9, but they'll be a different team with the loss of four key players - guards Donte DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson and forwards Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman. DiVincenzo, Bridges and Spellman were selected in the first round of the NBA Draft while Brunson went in the second round.
Villanova, which has won two national titles in the last three years, will rely heavily on senior forward Eric Paschall and senior guard Phil Booth. Paschall was named to the First Team preseason All-Big East while Booth was named to the Second Team.
"This is a rare situation for us, I'd rather have at least two of those guys back, and that would be more of a normal transition for us," said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, who is entering his 18th season with a 421-165 record on the Main Line. "But it's also kind of refreshing because there is a lot of new roles except for Eric and Phil. It kind of reminds me when Allan Ray, Randy Foye and Jason Fraser and those guys were freshmen. I hope some wisdom has sunken into our coaching staff and we have some more patience with these guys than we did back then, so it is a whole different perspective for us this year."
Paschall scored 24 points in the national semifinal win against Kansas last season.
"We got a young team, a lot different team but I like it a lot," Paschall said. "It's a different journey, a different season. I'm excited to see where we're going to be at the end of the year."
The other projected starters are sophomore guard Collin Gillespie and sophomore forwards Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels.
Morgan State finished 13-19 last season and were picked sixth in the preseason Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference poll.
The Bears return only two starters from last year's team - senior guards Martez Cameron (8.6 points per game) and Antonio Gillespie (3.8 ppg). Other key players coming back include senior guard Tyler Streeter, junior guard Stanley Davis and junior forward David Syfax.
Davis improved steadily last season and averaged 7.4 points in only 21 minutes of action per game.
"I'm looking for him to grow a little bit more and he's going to have a little bit more freedom," Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman told the athletic program's Web site about Davis. "He can really score the ball. He started to think as much toward the end of the season, and that'll be key for us."
Morgan State will open the season with a stiff test against Villanova and it's the start of a very challenging schedule which also includes Virginia.
"I want this team to be able to grow and form its own personality," Bozeman said. "I just want our guys to work hard. The rest of it will take shape from there."
This will be the first meeting between these two programs.