Team: Villanova Wildcats
2022-23 Record: 17-17, 10-10 Big East
2022-23 Big East Finish: Tied for sixth place with Seton Hall, won the tiebreaker for the conference tournament by way of a 2-0 season series sweep.
Final 2022-23 KenPom.com Ranking: #51, down from their preseason ranking of #19
Final 2022-23 T-Rank Ranking: #61, down from their preseason ranking of #17
Postseason? After losing to Creighton by 13 in the conference tournament quarterfinals, the Wildcats qualified for the NIT…. And disgraced the entire league by losing a road game to Liberty. Yes, Cam Whitmore and Justin Moore sat out. Yes, Liberty went 15-3 in the ASUN. No, I am not giving Villanova a pass for losing to Liberty.
Key Departures: The Wildcats are losing three starters from last year’s squad. Highly touted freshman Cam Whitmore missed the first seven games of the season due to injury, came off the bench for the next six, and then started the next 20 games before sitting out for the NIT. He averaged 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game in 27 minutes a night. That ended up being good enough to land him as the #20 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, going to the Houston Rockets, but we do have to note that Whitmore was the topic of conversation for a long time on draft night as he was projected to go much higher than that. Brandon Slater and Caleb Daniels both started all 34 games for Villanova, with both men playing in their fifth and final seasons of eligibility. Daniels was the #2 scorer on the team, going for 14.2 points a night along with 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Slater just barely missed double digits in scoring at 9.7 per night, but he added 4.7 rebounds.
Key Returners: Villanova returns their top rebounder and top assists man last season, and that gets them two of their top three scorers along the way. Eric Dixon finished the year leading the team in scoring and rebounding at 15.4 points and 6.6 caroms per game while starting every single contest. The 6’8” big man also knocked down 38% of his 3.3 long range attempts per game, and that’s always a good thing to have from the guy who’s playing center for you. Justin Moore is the chap who led the team in assists at 3.2 per game, and there’s a long conversation to be had about Moore playing in just 13 games after ending the 2021-22 season with an Achilles tear in the Elite Eight, but still leading VU in assists per game. Moore chipped in 13.5 points and 3.5 rebounds as well.
Chris Arcidiacono is the guy who lost his starting lineup spot when Moore was cleared to return to game action after his injury. It was a career best year for the younger brother of Villanova legend Ryan Arcidiacono just because of the 20 starts and 22 minute per game, but other than that, his stats aren’t much to talk about. Jordan Longino began the season in the starting lineup, but when the team was 2-5 and on a four game losing streak, the deck got shuffled and he was sent to the bench. Longino also missed a nine game stretch in the middle of the year and finished averaging 5.0 points and 2.1 rebounds in 21 minutes a night. Mark Armstrong saw even less playing time on average, even though he did appear in all 34 games and started seven times. In just under 20 minutes a game, the top 60 freshman added only 5.3 points and 2.0 rebounds per game.
What do we think about Brendan Hausen as a key returning player? On one hand, he played in 32 of their 34 games. On the other hand, his minutes were all over the place all year long, ultimately averaging just 8.9 per game to go with 3.1 points. Feels like he could go either direction in terms of contributions this coming season, although the backsliding direction has more to do with the new faces on the team than anything else.
Key Additions: Villanova has just one freshman coming in, and since 247 Sports doesn’t feel it’s necessary to give Jordann Dumont (6’8”, 200 lb., Forward, Montreal, Quebec) a rating or a ranking, we’re just going to keep moving on.
There are two new transfers on this team who are on their fifth and final seasons of eligibility and two who are listed as seniors and on their fourth season. Let’s start with the guys who will only be on the Main Line for one year. Tyler Burton (6’7”, 215 lb., Forward, Uxbridge, Massachusetts) might have the edge on being the more notable of the pair, as he’s been a three year starter for Richmond. This past season, he averaged 19 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, but his three-point shooting did take a noticeable tumble as he went from 37% as a junior to just 29% as a senior while attempting 1.5 more shots per game. Hakim Hart (6’8”, 205 lb., Guard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) has a bit more experience at playing high major hoops after four years at Maryland and starting for all but one appearance over the past two seasons. He chipped in 11.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game for the Terrapins last season, and he’s never had a supremely successful season shooting the three, finishing at 33% each of the past three campaigns.
TJ Bamba (6’5”, 215 lb., Guard, Bronx, New York) had a breakthrough year at Washington State last season, his third as a Cougar. He averaged 15.8 points along with 3.7 rebounds and hit 37% of his long range attempts while playing over 32 minutes a night. Lance Ware (6’9”, 235 lb., Forward, Burlington, New Jersey) was a top 50 prospect coming out of high school, but that never turned into big minutes over the past three seasons at Kentucky. Rotation playing time, sure, but that’s about it in 77 career appearances. Last year, he averaged just 2.0 points and 2.0 rebounds in 9.8 minutes per game.
Coach: Kyle Neptune, entering his second season in charge at Villanova and third as a Division 1 head coach. He has an overall record of 33-33.
Outlook: I think it’s safe to say that last year was disappointing for Villanova. It’s hard to say different than that when the team was coming off their third Final Four since 2016 and the algorithms said that they were a top 20 team going into the year.
However, I think it’s also to fair to point out that Kyle Neptune kind of never had that top 20 team on the floor at any point. After all, Cam Whitmore missed the opening few games of the season, and while Justin Moore eventually did play for them, he still sat out VU’s NIT game for physical health reasons.
Let’s put the Villanova season in pieces, thanks to BartTorvik.com’s wonderful data sorting tools, shall we?
First Seven Games, no Whitmore or Moore: 2-5, #145 in the country, #42 offense, #292 defense.
Next 13 Games, Whitmore, but no Moore: 8-5, #62 in the country, #54 offense, #91 defense
Next 13 Games, Whitmore and Moore: 7-6, #34 in the country, #40 offense, #48 defense
I don’t think I’m getting out of pocket when I say that 1) when Kyle Neptune had the team he thought he was going to have and 2) when Kyle Neptune got settled in to coaching his first Villanova team, they were a pretty good basketball team. Not a world beating basketball team, but an NCAA tournament caliber basketball team at the very least. It was kind of too late for them in terms of qualifying for the field of 68 at that point, as they were 10-10 overall when Justin Moore made his season debut and had taken debilitating losses to Portland, DePaul, and Butler. But their caliber of play across that final 13 game stretch with the roster intact was good enough to qualify, even if they did only go barely over .500 in that time. Apply that top 50 on both ends of the court team to their first 20 games, and they’re almost assuredly in a much better position when Selection Sunday rolls around.
With that in mind, do you feel a lot better about where Villanova is going in 2023-24 with Neptune manning the helm? I do, to be honest. My brain spent most of the last several months saying “that Portland loss was inexcusable, he might not be good at this.” The reality of the situation is that Neptune got it going in a good direction by the time the season ended once he had the team he was expecting to coach. While dealing with the losses of Whitmore, Daniels, and Slater is going to be a notable challenge for this roster, as long as nothing whacky happens between now and November, Neptune is going to be able to mold the roster he has into something that can win basketball games for the Wildcats, and that’s all you can really ask.
With that said, I don’t think I’m ready to install Villanova as a top 15 team like the Torvik algorithm is. #12 in the country? Projected to be better than Marquette, a team returning four starters from a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament? Who are we kidding here? If Tyler Burton was that great, Richmond wouldn’t have gone 15-18 last year. If Hakim Hart was that great, Maryland would have been better than 11-9 in the Big Ten and a #8 seed in the NCAA tournament. If TJ Bamba was that great, Washington State wouldn’t have needed to win six straight to head into the Pac-12 tournament at 16-15 and they sure as hell wouldn’t have lost to an Eastern Washington at home in the first round of the NIT..... after beating the Eagles by 26 on a neutral court in November.
Maybe I’m the idiot here, that’s clearly possible. I believe Villanova will be a tournament team this coming season, at the very least a contender for a tournament bid. National Championship contender, like you might expect from a team projecting as a top three seed in the field? That seems like a lot to expect here, at least before we see what the team actually looks like on the floor.
By the way, because I brought it up earlier: What do you want to make of the buzz around Cam Whitmore’s slide in the draft? If it’s true that teams were getting bad vibes on Whitmore because of what Neptune was telling NBA teams..... how does that affect Neptune’s ability to coach his team going forward? If the returning players don’t agree with Neptune’s assessments of what was going on last year... that’s bad. But if the returning guys have The Alonzo Mourning Shake/Nod Reaction to what happened..... that might actually be beneficial to Neptune, because the players would see Neptune as willing to tell the truth to them, no matter what.