After suffering the first loss of the Kyle Neptune era, the No. 16 Villanova Wildcats will return home today to face the Delaware State Hornets at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Villanova comes back to the Finneran Pavilion with a 1-1 record following a wire-to-wire win over La Salle and a disappointing road loss to Temple. While falling to the rival Owls for the first time in 10 years was troubling, a new-look ‘Nova team will have the perfect opportunity to respond against Delaware State.
Like the Wildcats, the Hornets split their first two games. Virginia Tech beat them by 35 points but Delaware State followed the big loss up with a 37-point trouncing of Division III Immaculata. Whereas Villanova is disappointed by its start, Del. State is on a quest to earn another victory to match its two-win total from last season.
Given the fact that the Hornets haven’t had a winning season in 11 years, Villanova should see this matchup as a tune-up game before it faces tougher teams like Michigan State and Iowa State. The Wildcats cannot underestimate any opponent this early in the season, but let’s delve into what ‘Nova can do to get back in the win column:
In order for the Wildcats to get back on their feet, they’ll have to open up the game with a solid start. Ideally, every team wants to do this, but it’s especially important for a Villanova squad that lacks the experienced scorers it’s relied on for so long.
Against Temple, Villanova was overwhelmed by the tough road environment and put itself in a hole. With 11:53 remaining in the first half, the ‘Cats were down 13-5 and had to spend the rest of the game fighting to shrink the deficit. Conversely, Villanova was up 17-5 against La Salle with 11:57 to go in the first half. With that cushion, they were able to keep the Explorers at bay and settle into a great shooting rhythm early.
For Monday night’s matchup, Villanova has to start strong so it can get its footing quickly and feel comfortable and in turn put the ‘Cats in a spot where some younger guys can get some in-game minutes. Although the Wildcats have veteran players who know how to play from behind, they can’t default to Collin Gillespie or Jermaine Samuels to get them out of difficult spots anymore. They’ll need Caleb Daniels, Eric Dixon, and other less experienced players to lead the charge.
Essentially, this ‘Nova squad is largely young and unaccustomed to ample playing time. If the ‘Cats get off to a solid start and avoid a big deficit, the younger players will feel less pressure and in turn make fewer mistakes. The Wildcats still have the talent to fight their way back into a game, however it’s going to be much easier for them to establish their style of play if they open strong.
Re-establish the three-point line
In recent years, Villanova basketball has lived and died by the 3-pointer. Yet during the upset loss to Temple, the Wildcats attempted just seven triples, making only two of them. This is a gigantic dropoff from a great 3-point shooting program, and a huge departure from a team that opened up the season by converting on 13-of-20 shots from deep.
In the first half, Villanova shot a brutal 1-of-5 from beyond the arc. This poor performance seemed to draw the Wildcats away from the 3-point line, as they only attempted two 3-pointers during the second half. When the Temple defense was stout and shots from deep weren’t falling, Villanova abandoned the long ball.
From the La Salle game alone it was clear that Villanova can hit triples with regularity, so it’s not that the team isn’t capable. Rather, the ‘Cats have to remain confident in their shots and realize that the 3-point arc is where they can excel. Plus, Delaware State has two 6-foot-11 defenders in La Salle and Robert Morris transfer Brandon Stone and Raymond Somerville, making it crucial that Villanova focuses on perimeter shooting and not solely paint play.
Win the bench battle
Past iterations of Villanova have found lots of success in relying on starters. But this season, with Justin Moore injured for the time being, bench contribution has to be equally important.
During their loss on Friday, the Wildcats had just five bench points to Temple’s 23. And in their opening night win, Villanova’s bench was outscored 28-8 by La Salle. Of course, few teams boast a starting lineup like ‘Nova’s, however it’s unwise to think they’ll never have off nights.
Villanova needs someone like Mark Armstrong or Angelo Brizzi to make the most of limited minutes, sort of like how Jordan Longino did last season. A little offensive contribution from one of those guards can go a long way for ‘Nova, especially in these early games without Moore and Cam Whitmore. Against a non-power conference team like Delaware State, the Wildcats might be able to get by without bench scoring, but points from the young guys will relieve Brandon Slater and other starters of a lot of pressure.
Lastly, in Villanova’s long history, it’s only squared off against Delaware State once. In 2001, the Wildcats took down the Hornets 67-44, and 21 years later Villanova should aim for a similar result. Coming off a disappointing loss, the Wildcats can hopefully take out their frustration on Delaware State and get back on track before the non-conference schedule toughens up.