It looks like the Villanova Wildcats are leaving Bubbleville, for real this time, but not before picking up an 87-53 victory over the Hartford Hawks.
While it was an opportunity to recalibrate themselves after a tough overtime loss to Virginia Tech, against an opponent they were heavily favored to beat, here are three takeaways from Tuesday night before this weekend’s road trip to Texas.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright admitted that he probably could have utilized his bench more after the Virginia Tech loss. With the Wildcats were heavy favorites entering their matchup with the Hawks, it looked like Wright had the perfect opportunity to allow his reserves get some extended playing time, and he did just that. The bench responded with 40 points as a unit, the most from the Wildcat reserves since they accounted for 49 points in a lopsided win over Middle Tennessee State back on Nov. 21, 2019.
We got to see Eric Dixon and Brandon Slater especially relish on the floor. Dixon rumbled his way to a double-double, with 14 points and 10 rebounds. He’s got the physicality to thrive down low, but also solid footwork and athleticism, with a nice passing ability to boot. At one point he scored seven straight points, and he even grabbed six offensive rebounds for the entire game. This might be the performance Wright needed to see to trust Dixon with a bit more minutes to back up Jeremiah Robinson-Earl while Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree is out with a shin injury.
As for Slater, he chipped in a career-high 13 points. He has the ability to contribute as a defender, but maybe this can be a turning point for where he’s able to translate his athleticism to provide a scoring punch as well. He has the physical tools, it just seemed like a matter of time before it clicked for him on the scoring end. Maybe this is the game that gives him confidence to shoot down the line against bigger, badder opponents. He shot 5-for-7 overall and was a perfect 3-for-3 from long range. He had the same amount of made threes on Tuesday, as he did for the entire 2019-20 season. Can he build off of this moving forward?
While those were the two big standouts, Cole Swider also had a solid outing, splashing a few threes en route to a 13-point game, and we even got to see Chris Arcidiacono have some first half minutes, before closing out in the second.
Back on Track
If there’s one thing that Villanova is good at, it’s rebounding from a tough loss. Hartford didn’t exactly pose as an upset threat, nor is it a high-tier opponent, but it was good for the ‘Cats to end their time in the bubble with a lopsided win. The mental aspect of the game is still very much a part of it, and it’s good to see the ball go through the net, especially for the reserves that didn’t get to see too much time early on. This may serve as a confidence boost for Slater to trust himself more to shoot or look to score. Although Dixon having to guard a perimeter player after a couple of switches might be tough, he can certainly hold his own and fight on the glass.
Overall, it was a good, balanced team win, with six Wildcats scoring in double figures. Justin Moore led the way with 15 points, followed by Dixon (14), Slater (13), Swider (13), Caleb Daniels (11), and Collin Gillespie (10). Even though Jermaine Samuels and Robinson-Earl didn’t break the double-digit mark, they contributed in other ways.
Samuels got his scores when he could, finishing with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, but he also chipped in four boards and three assists, and continues to take good care of the ball. While it’s still early in the year, he has a turnover rate of just 8.2% through four games.
Robinson-Earl had a quiet two-point game, but didn’t force it or look to score too much. He grabbed 10 boards.
As a team, the Wildcats posted an early season-high of 21 assists on 34 made shots. They also went 15-of-37 (40.5%) from long range.
The Wildcats are finally leaving the bubble (were they excused from finals week?). 3-1 to start the year. Wright said the team was headed back to campus and after two scheduling surprises, it doesn’t appear that a third one will appear before this weekend’s top 25 showdown with the Texas Longhorns.
Onward to Texas.