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Three takeaways from Villanova’s win over La Salle

There might be a new coach, but it was more of the same so far for the Wildcats.

NCAA Basketball: La Salle at Villanova Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats opened the season with a convincing 81-68 win over La Salle Monday night.

There may have been a new head coach on the sideline, but the ‘Cats looked similar to what the fan base is accustomed to. The team shared the ball, made 13 3-pointers and hustled for loose balls. It’s a good sign that the habits Jay Wright worked hard to install have continued under Kyle Neptune’s lead.

Not everything was the same however, Neptune went with nine players in his rotation. He was not afraid to play the freshmen guards in critical situations, with Mark Armstrong, Brendan Hausen and redshirt freshman Angelo Brizzi combining for 38 minutes.

Upperclassmen will have to lead the way

Like in previous years, this team will rely heavily on the upperclassmen. Caleb Daniels is going to be required to both score and facilitate while Justin Moore is out. It’s a challenge he was up to on Monday, scoring 24 points while dishing out four assists.

Eric Dixon has a vital role, as he anchors the defense and is a vocal point within the offense. He played well in his 33 minutes, and how he handles the increased workload will be interesting.

Brandon Slater showed his improved shooting touch, a swing skill that really opens up the offense, if he’s able to hit shots consistently. We know what Slater brings in other areas like defense and rebounding, so the increased offensive load will be a good test for him.

Jordan Longino has been dealing with some knee soreness recently, if he is healthy he deserves to be mentioned with this group. He gave a glimpse of what he can add with a nice driving dunk and a step back three and he was efficient with his shots before fouling out. Hopefully this progression continues and he is able to be a major contributor for the ‘Cats.

Willingness to go deeper into bench when needed

The last few seasons the Wildcats have rolled with a short rotation. For the most part it worked, the downside of that approach was only revealed after late season injury’s struck, as the players asked to fill the void lacked experience.

With Justin Moore and Cam Whitmore out, Coach Neptune had to go to some of the less experienced players early, but it may also be in part to experimentation to see what different players bring. He deserves credit, having confidence in freshmen guards is not easy, because like for rookie point guards in the NBA it’s a difficult position to learn and play. There will be mistakes, but the experience gained now will be invaluable later in the season.

There’s no guarantee Neptune will play four players off the bench in future games. However, Monday’s game showed he can when needed. If he is able to get the underclassmen minutes throughout the year it should pay off in the long run.

Familiar play style

The ‘Cats played a familiar style of basketball in their first game back. They moved the ball, posted up, stopped in the lane with ‘jump stops’ and knocked down threes. There was even an Eric Dixon cutting dunk reminiscent of Donte DiVincenzo’s dunk versus Michigan in the 2018 title game.

Playing a similar style isn’t a bad thing, especially since there are nine returning players. The players are already comfortable and experienced playing that way. So, it didn’t make sense to completely overhaul the system. With that being said It will be interesting to see what flair the coaches bring in this new era.

After the first day of games the teams tempo and pace was 320th in the nation (albeit a very small sample size). This is not abnormal for a Villanova basketball team, last season the team was one of the slowest in the nation.

However, despite the preseason comments, one could be surprised there wasn’t more emphasis on getting out in transition. Whitmore should help in this area once he is available. Being an elite athlete he should be able to both start the break and finish alley-oops around the basket, adding a dimension the team hasn’t had in a while.