Well, that was ugly.
Nevertheless, a win is a win, and there were plenty of things to be hopeful for following the latest Villanova win, as we hit the mid-point of the week.
If there were ever a game to shoot as poorly as the Wildcats did in the first half, it was certainly on Monday. At halftime, Villanova was an ice-cold 0-for-16 from deep and trailed Delaware State by three.
Finally in the second half Brandon Slater took the lid off the rim and Villanova found its groove.
In typical Hornet fashion, Delaware State was not going away. At least, not until Mark Armstrong went on his own 7-0 run in the second half, and new fan favorite Brendan Hausen chipped in a pair of timely threes himself. That will perfectly segue us into our first point that...
The Freshmen Are Here
Would you believe me if I told you a year ago that you would be sitting here reading about how two true freshmen (and neither of them is not Cam Whitmore) put the game away for the Wildcats in just their third collegiate game? Well that is exactly what happened.
Mark Armstrong, a borderline top-50 recruit coming out of high school, showed a sold out Finneran Pavilion what he could do on Monday night. Armstrong was the first substitute off of the bench for either team on Monday night, replacing Chris Arcidiacono with just over three minutes elapsed in the first half.
What was most impressive about Armstrong was his ability to facilitate as the primary ball handler. In high school, Armstrong was a combo guard, and played off-ball most of the time. Villanova seems to be keeping the tradition of the ever-interchangeable point guard by committee and Armstrong proved that he is more than ready for that responsibility.
That brings us to the most delightful surprise of the evening, Brendan Hausen. With the lid firmly cemented on the rim, Kyle Neptune called on his big gun, the Amarillo Assassin, to get the job done. Before he could check in, Brandon Slater loosened the lid on the rim before Hausen absolutely torched it.
Hausen was pegged as a three-point specialist by a lot of reports over the summer, which is fair to some extent, but Hausen showed us on Monday night that he is a whole lot more than being just a sniper from beyond the arc. Hausen’s ability to move without the ball is already at a high level, and when you pair that with his extremely high motor and natural instincts, you get a prototypical Villanova guard. Hausen has a infectious energy that he brings off of the bench, plays hard, and will soon be a fan-favorite at The Finneran Pavilion (if he isn’t already).
The Slow Starts Continue
All summer, in talking with players, coaches and people around the program, everyone has preached that the Villanova culture is unchanged. While that is true, Kyle Neptune has carried on some of the traditions that Jay Wright had left him that may have been better off staying with Jay.
Take a look at some of these scores:
- 1H 14:39 DSU - 12 | Nova - 3
- 1H 7:09 TU - 24 | Nova - 11
Omitted was the La Salle game because Villanova went wire-to-wire there, but it was a two point game near the first media timeout. The point is, Villanova is frankly a better team than Temple, and a much better team than Delaware State. There is no excuse for coming out as flat as they do and having to fight an uphill battle the rest of the way.
How do they fix it? No idea, but I’m sure we will see some colorful ideas in the comment section down below.
Kyle Neptune is in his first year at head coach at Villanova, inheriting his second team in as many years. It takes days, weeks, sometimes months to find the perfect lineups and rotations to roll with. Take your hand away from the panic button, especially while the team isn’t at full strength, and let Kyle Neptune sort it out, for now at least.
Brandon Slater is an X-Factor
There is currently no timetable on Justin Moore and I would not expect him back before the new year at the earliest. What we do know however is that there are three leaders on this team who are more than capable of winning a couple of these big games until Moore is 100% healthy.
This team will only go as far as Brandon Slater will take them until everyone is back.
Like his coach, Slater is also adjusting into a new role at Villanova. In his early years Slater was used in a complimentary role, doing the things that may not show up on the stat broadcast, but shine brightly in the win column. Those days are over now, as Slater, Eric Dixon and Caleb Daniels have stepped into leadership roles on this roster.
One of the duties that comes as a leader in basketball is being able to pick your teammates up when they need it. Sometimes its literal, sometimes its emotional, and sometimes it is as simple as putting the ball in the basket. Slater is doing a great job of that so far, especially from the free throw line where he is a perfect 17-for-17. Foul shots were a major reason the ‘Cats were even able to stay close to Delaware State while they were trying to thaw out on the floor.
Slater’s body is NBA ready right now, and he has the physicality and athleticism to go with it. If he can make opposing teams keep him honest around the arc and continue drawing fouls and making his free throws, it would take a massive burden off of Daniels and Dixon. Those three have a chance to be special in their own right, but Slater simply needs to be more aggressive on the offensive end.
On Monday, Slater only took two shots and they were both threes. He still ended up with 15 points thanks in part to his timely ability to get to the line and perfect execution from the aforementioned charity stripe. Rankings do not matter, especially this early in the season, but if Villanova wants to have a shot at a higher seed in March, the trend has to turn quickly and it starts with Brandon Slater.