The #12 Villanova Wildcats defeated the Hartford Hawks 87-53 on Tuesday evening in their fourth game in Bubbleville. The ‘Cats were dominant from tip to whistle and will leave Bubbleville (God willing...) with a 3-1 record heading into this weekend’s battle with the #17 Texas Longhorns.
Now, this entire recap is written with the caveat that, yes, it was Hartford. Hartford isn’t expected to crack the 200’s this year in KenPom so, as far as opponents go, this game was not billed as much of a challenge for the Wildcats. However, after opening the season with tough games against Boston College, Arizona State, and Virginia Tech, Villanova was in desperate need of a “cupcake” game to get back on track and expand their rotation a bit.
The main takeaway from today’s game was strong minutes from the deeper end of the Villanova bench, particularly from Eric Dixon and Brandon Slater. Eric Dixon finished the night with 14 points and 10 boards. During the middle of the first half, Dixon scored seven straight points, including a 3-point play on a tip shot and a nifty reverse lay-up after reading a mismatch. He showed good footwork under the basket and a level of athleticism most did not anticipate seeing this early. At a minimum, despite the opponent, Dixon showed he can likely provide valuable minutes to spell Jeremiah Robinson-Earl as the season goes progresses.
As for Brandon Slater, the junior was finally able to put up some numbers in the offensive column. Slater, who has struggled throughout his ‘Nova career to establish himself on the offensive end, ended the game with 13 points and went 3-3 from deep. He continued to show energy on the defensive end in strong minutes off the bench.
As for the usual suspects, Justin Moore started strong with 13 first half points before going a little cold in the second half. He finished with 15 points on 5-12 shooting. Cole Swider, coming off the bench, poured in 13 of his own on 5-10 shooting from the floor. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had a quiet game finishing the night with just 2 points but pulling down 10 rebounds. Caleb Daniels chipped in 11 points on an efficient 4-5 from the floor including 3 threes. Collin Gillespie finished with 10 points.
The Villanova offense as a whole was much more balanced today and the team finished the game with 21 assists - a season high. The Wildcats assaulted the Hawks from deep, going 15-36 (41%) and had 6 players in double digits (Jermaine Samuels finished with 9 points). Nearly half (40) of Villanova’s 87 points came from the bench.
Overall, this game came at the right time for the Wildcats. Opening the season with two top-30 KenPom teams and tough Boston College team prevented Jay and the staff from getting some early minutes for their extended bench. While Jay will likely continue to play a short rotation (at least until Cosby-Roundtree and Bryan Antoine return), tonight was a great opportunity to get a look at what some guys can provide in a pinch.
The Wildcats face the #17 Texas Longhorns this Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. on ESPN.