We are less than two weeks away from the start of the 2022-23 Villanova basketball season and college hoops overall, so it’s time we take a break from analyzing our ‘Cats and look at the opponents ahead.
The ‘Cats will get started this year with two Big 5 opponents followed by games against a mid-major and Big Ten powerhouse before heading to Oregon for the PK85 Invitational over Thanksgiving.
Projected third in the Big East preseason poll, an unfamiliar place, the Wildcats will start their season in the non-conference with a pair of local rivalry games along with a trip to a hostile environment in East Lansing.
Fans will have to wait to see the highly anticipated debut of 5-Star Cam Whitmore (thumb) but will see the first action of the careers of Mark Armstrong, Brendan Hausen, and Angelo Brizzi along with an increased role for Jordan Longino, Nnana Njoku, Trey Patterson, and Chris Arcidiacono.
La Salle Explorers
Head Coach: Fran Dunphy (1st Season)
Previous Season Record: 11-19, 5-13 A10 — Lost to St. Louis University in the second round of A10 Tournament
Key Returners: Josh Nickelberry (11.2 ppg), Jhamir Brickus (8.9 ppg), Khalil Brantley (8.0 ppg)
Key Departures: Clifton Moore (Providence), Christian Ray (Delaware), Jack Clark (N.C. State)
Key Transfers/Newcomers: Hassan and Fousseyni Drame (St. Peter’s)
Date: Monday, Nov. 7, 6:30 p.m. at Finneran Pavilion, (FS1/Fox Sports Go)
Most recent Matchup: Nov. 28, 2021: Villanova, 72-46
Outlook: Former Villanova assistant Ashley Howard is out as La Salle’s head coach and is succeeded by longtime Temple head coach Fran Dunphy. No stranger to Big 5 play, Dunphy is looking to turn around an Explorer team that has struggled to gain momentum over the past few seasons. The Explorers lose their top two scorers Clifton Moore and Jack Clark to the transfer portal, but return a nucleus of young guards including Josh Nickelberry and Jhamir Brickus. In last season’s matchup, the ‘Cats were victorious by a score of 72-46 in a game played at The Palestra, where the then Freshman Brantley scored a game high 17 points for the Explorers. La Salle was picked to finish 14th in the preseason A10 poll and is ranked 185th in the preseason KenPom rankings.
Starting the season against a Big 5 opponent will be an early test for the new era of Villanova Basketball under the reins of Kyle Neptune. Throw the preseason rankings out the window for this game, as the Explorers are turning a new page under a coach who has faced off against ‘Nova plenty of times. This game will be a learning experience for Nova fans to see the change between the team from Jay Wright to Kyle Neptune and to see who takes the leadership and control on the floor without Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, and Justin Moore (for the time being). The Finneran Pavilion will be rocking and the 2022-23 season will look to start off on the right foot with a victory over a scrappy La Salle team.
Head Coach: Aaron McKie (4th Season)
Previous Season Record: 17-12, 10-7 AAC — Lost to Tulane in the second round of AAC Tournament
Key Returners: Khalif Battle (21.4 ppg), Damian Dunn (14.9 ppg), Zach Hicks (8.3 ppg)
Key Departures: Jeremiah Williams (Iowa State), Taj Strickland (Georgia Southern), Jake Forrester (St. Louis)
Key Transfers/Newcomers: Kur Jongkuch (Northern Colorado), Jamille Reynolds (UCF), Shane Dezonie (Vanderbilt)
Date: Friday, Nov. 11, 7:00 p.m. at the Liacouras Center (ESPNU)
Most Recent Matchup: Feb. 16th, 2020: Villanova, 76-56
Outlook: After not playing the last two seasons due to COVID-19, the Wildcats will face off against a Temple Owl team with high praise coming into the 2022-23 season. Under Aaron McKie’s fourth year at the helm, the Owls are coming off a successful season where they finished above .500 overall and in the American Athletic Conference. The biggest key to this season is the return of guard Khalif Battle. Before a season-ending foot injury, Battle was averaging 21.4 points per game and he is fully healthy heading into his Redshirt-Sophomore campaign. Battle entered his name into the 2022 NBA Draft but retained his eligibility and decided to come back to Temple. Alongside Battle, the Owls return Damian Dunn (14.9 ppg) and leading rebounder Jahlil White (6.0 rpg).
The Owls were projected to finish fifth in the AAC preseason poll, headlined by the number three-ranked team in the nation, Houston. Dunn was named to the preseason first-team All-AAC, while Battle garnered second-team honors. A team with a returning nucleus of core players along with a coach who is receiving high praise nationwide will prove a tough test on the road for the Wildcats. The Owls ranked eighth in the nation in free throw attempts per game (22.5) last season. The Liacouras Center should be packed on a Friday night when ‘Nova makes the trip into the City of Brotherly Love, renewing a Big 5 rivalry that has been put on pause for the past two seasons. Expect a slightly tighter game than usual against Temple, as the sophomore-led Owl squad will prove to be a strong early season road test for the Wildcats and new head coach Kyle Neptune.
Delaware State Hornets
Head Coach: Stan Waterman (2nd Season)
Previous Season Record: 2-25, 0-14 MEAC — Lost to Norfolk State in 1st round of MEAC tournament
Key Returners: Martaz Robinson (7.1 ppg), Corey Perkins (5.7 ppg)
Key Departures: Myles Carter, Dominik Fragala
Key Transfers/Newcomers: Ray Somerville (Cal State Bakersfield), Cameron Stitt (Florida Southeastern), Brandon Stone (Robert Morris), Jevin Muniz (Fr.), Aaron Lemon-Warren (Fr.)
Date: Monday, Nov. 14, 6:30 p.m. at Finneran Pavilion (FS2)
Most Recent Matchup: Dec. 28, 2001: Villanova, 67-44
Outlook: The Hornets are coming off a season where they failed to record a Division 1 victory. They’ll travel to the Finneran Pavilion for the Wildcats’ third game of the season. Similar to last year’s early season matchup against Howard, the Wildcats are hosting another HBCU in the 2022-23 season early on. Delaware State coach Stan Waterman is eager to get into the season with a new roster that includes a mix of returners, transfers, and impactful freshmen. Transfers Ray Somerville (6-11), Brandon Stone (6-11), and Cameron Stitt (6-8) bring more height to the Hornets roster which lost their two leading scorers from last season.
The Hornets were tabbed in a tie for seventh out of eight teams in the preseason MEAC polls and Corey Perkins was selected to the conference preseason third team. Local products Jevin Muniz (Executive Education, Allentown) and Aaron Lemon-Warren (Archbishop Ryan) are freshmen on the Hornets’ roster after each doing a prep year. The teams have only met once before, 21 years ago when the ‘Cats took care of business in a 67-44 victory.
Michigan State Spartans
Head Coach: Tom Izzo (27th Season)
Previous Season Record: 23-13, 11-9 Big Ten — Lost to Duke in 2nd round of NCAA tournament
Key Returners: Malik Hall (8.9 ppg), Joey Hauser (7.3 ppg), Tyson Walker (8.2 ppg), A.J. Hoggard (7.0 ppg)
Key Departures: Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham III, Max Christie (NBA), Julius Marble (Texas A&M)
Key Transfers/Newcomers: Jaxon Kohler (4-star freshman), Tre Holloman (4-star freshman)
Date: Friday, Nov. 18, 8:00 p.m. at Breslin Center (FS1)
Most Recent Matchup: Nov. 29, 2002: Villanova, 81-73
Outlook: Similar to last season’s matchup with UCLA, the ‘Cats will hit the road early to take on another power conference opponent in Michigan State. Under longtime head coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans are looking to get back to a championship caliber after a few disappointing seasons compared to their hopes. Spearheading that attack will be the return of four key contributors from last year’s team that reached the round of 32. Those players include Joey Hauser (who seems like he’s been around forever since his Marquette days), Malik Hall, A.J. Hoggard, and Tyson Walker. The Spartans lose playmaker Max Christie, who decided to go one-and-done and declared for the NBA Draft. Michigan State brings in two four-star recruits in Tre Holloman and Jaxon Kohler to help with this year’s depth. Many are projecting Kohler to start at center for the Spartans as well.
We will know more about the Spartans before the ‘Cats face off against them, as they will already have games against Gonzaga and Tennessee under their belt. It is safe to say that Izzo will have the Spartans ready for Villanova when they roll into East Lansing. Malik Hall is a preseason all-conference selection and Michigan State is projected to be in the middle of the pack of a deep Big Ten Conference.
This game will be a massive test for this Villanova team and will serve as a great predecessor of the PK85 Invitational and the caliber of teams that the ‘Cats will face off with there. Also, this game will be important come Selection Sunday, when the voters are looking at strength of schedule and nonconference opponents. The scheduling of this game will overall help both teams prepare for the gauntlet of the PK85 Invitational and conference play following in December. Expect a dogfight in this game where one of the ‘Cats’ veterans step up in a big way.