"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Villanova Preview 2023-24

Villanova Wildcats

January 15, 2024 at Fiserv Forum and January 30, 2024 at Finneran Pavilion

Head Coach: Kyle Neptune (33-33 overall, 17-17 at Villanova)

Three-Year NET Average: 30.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 24.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 11

Projected Starters: PG Mark Armstrong (6'2" So), SG Justin Moore (6'4" 5th), SF Hakim Hart (6'8" 5th), PF Tyler Burton (6'7" 5th), C Eric Dixon (6'8" Sr)

Justin Moore looks to lift Villanova back to the top of the Big East

Photo by Mike Sheridan | villanova.com

Kyle Neptune replacing Jay Wright couldn't have started much worse, as the Wildcats began his tenure 2-5 in both non-conference and Big East play, finding themselves just 8-10 in mid-January. Justin Moore's return led to a stretch where the Wildcats went 6-1 over a three-week stretch in February and had a few people wondering if they might be able to earn an NCAA Tourney bid, but ultimately they came up short and lost at Liberty in the first round of the NIT. They lost three starters in the offseason and have had to rebuild through the transfer portal.

A lot will be placed on the shoulders of Mark Armstrong, the sophomore point guard led the USA FIBA Under-19 team in scoring over the summer but needs more consistency if this team will reach some of the lofty projections pundits have for them. Justin Moore will hope another offseason brings him back to full health. He was one of the stars of the 'Nova 2022 Final Four team before injury, and was effective late in the year, averaging 16.4 ppg/3.4 apg over his final 8 games. Hakim Hart is a grad transfer from Maryland who was the Terps most efficient starter, but is better known for his defense on the wing. Tyler Burton could be the wildcard for this team. He averaged 19.0 ppg/7.4 rpg for Richmond in the A-10 and garnered some NBA buzz before transferring to Villanova. Eric Dixon is the other notable Jay Wright recruit still on the roster. He has the size to bang down low, but on the offensive end is the model of consistency and is not only an effective scorer in the post but is also an excellent three-point shooter. Off the bench, T.J. Bamba will likely get minutes like a sixth starter. He's another transfer, this time from Washington State, and can provide guard/wing depth. Kentucky transfer Lance Ware is a former top-40 recruit and will be the next option in the front court. Brendan Hausen and Chris Arcidiacono provide additional back court depth.

Kyle Neptune is a Jay Wright disciple and it shows. Offensively, they teach concepts and it's more about how to play rather than running set plays. They are deliberate, slowing the pace, protecting the ball, and looking for the best look from three. It will be interesting to see how they integrate Hart, Burton, and Bamba, all of whom are players that like to attack the rim. They are capable shooters, but their historic tendencies don't match Villanova's typical offensive focus. Ultimately, will Neptune change the offense to accommodate them, or will they have to adapt their play to fit in at 'Nova? The defensive end at Villanova has been a secondary focus for the better part of the past decade. They protect the paint, defend without fouling, and are more than happy to get into shooting contests. That's great when you have a bevy of great shooters, but this team might not be quite as well equipped as Wright's Final Four teams were.

Kyle Neptune took a lot of big swings in the transfer market, and the consensus is that he hit home runs. However if you're rebuilding after the first Villanova season to not finish above .500 since 2012, it seems like loading up with fifth year seniors that can't return is a risky way of doing that. Is this a top-15 team like Torvik and Field of 68 think? I'm skeptical. Neptune has never had a winning record as a coach and the Wright tree isn't exactly a bastion of success, with Pat Chambers (207-193 in 12 seasons, 1 NCAA appearance) likely the most successful Wright scion. Villanova's success was always predicated on a star point guard, but Armstrong has yet to show he can fill those shoes and Moore is best suited off the ball. With the talent on the roster, it's hard not to imagine they're a tourney team, but contending for a league that is as loaded as the Big East is at the top seems like maybe a bit too tall a hill to climb for a coach this unproven.

One Man's Opinion: I have Villanova 6th in the Big East, which is why I think the T-Rank projection of #11 and the numerous outlets touting this as a top-15 team is absolutely wild. Last year Villanova was #61 for the full year in T-Rank. If you remove November when they started 2-5, they were #48. If you look only at the time Justin Moore was there, they're still just #38. So at their best, they played like a bubble team. I think this is a tourney team, but they don't have the top-end talent even a team like Providence has and Neptune has yet to prove he has the coaching chops to take a team to the next level. Not only that, but Villanova's system is built on consistency. When they won at the highest level, it was with multiple players who had been in that system for years. It seems unlikely that a Villanova team with more transfers than original recruits in the top-7 of the rotation will have the kind of chemistry needed to be a top-15 team. They'll flirt with the rankings and dance in March, but this doesn't look like a Big East contender.

No comments: