That win still feels good!
The Villanova Wildcats were able to care care of business in front of a crowd of 17,079 at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon.
The contest between the Wildcats and Oklahoma Sooners started out much the same as the majority of games played so far this year by Villanova. Before the first media timeout, Oklahoma had already connected on three of their first four attempts from beyond the arc.
Before anyone knew it, the Sooners had jumped out to an early 11-point advantage just six minutes and change into the first half.
This had the making of a blowout in South Philadelphia, before the loudest crowd eruption the student section has manufactured all season. At the first media timeout, freshman Cam Whitmore checked in for his first action in a Villanova uniform.
Riding the momentum of the student section’s second wind, Villanova would put on their best defensive display of the season and use a late second half surge to defeat the best team they have faced all season.
Whether it be his actual talent or just the presence he brings to the floor, it was undeniable the impact Cam Whitmore had on this team in this game, which will bring us to our first takeaway..
“He’s here and he’s perfect!”
Ladies and gentlemen, find somebody who looks at you the same way associate head coach George Halcovage III is looking at Cam Whitmore in the photo above. To coach Halcovage’s credit, we were all looking at Whitmore like that the first time we saw him in the blue and the white, so it makes sense.
In all seriousness, having Cam Whitmore back for the remaining non-conference games is massive. After a turbulent (to say the least) start to the year, the Wildcats will have a chance to finish the non-conference slate with a winning record, if they can notch wins in their three remaining games (University of Pennsylvania, Boston College, Saint Joseph’s).
All week, leading up to the game and even in his post-game press conference, Neptune was preaching to anyone that had ears that Whitmore had not played basketball in seven weeks leading up to this game against Oklahoma.
‘Mind boggling. Mind boggling,” said Neptune “I mean, listen this guy has not played basketball, hasn’t picked up a basketball and couldn’t shoot with his right hand for seven weeks.”
Whitmore’s shot surely did not look like he had not picked up a basketball in almost two months. His first collegiate points came from this smooth as silk step-back jumper that he connected on with just under five minutes to go in the first half.
Welcome to the Big East Cam Whitmore! pic.twitter.com/xVWlNvJQEB— Ryan Cassidy (@ryancassidycbb) December 3, 2022
In addition to a confident and silky jumper, Whitmore’s bag of tricks was on full display to the nine NBA scouts on hand on Saturday afternoon. Whitmore is built like a linebacker with the feet of a ballerina.
Almost getting overlooked is how good Whitmore was on defense. In just 20 minutes, Whitmore led both teams in steals with three, and made some outstanding plays like the one in the cover photo of this article, blowing up a dribble hand-off en route to another steal. His ability to cover all five positions on the floor paired with his elite offensive skill set is going to make Whitmore a lot of money in the very near future. His scoring calmed down in the second half, but if there was any rust in his game, get excited to see what it looks like when it is polished.
Armstrong joins the starting five, and more changes to come?
A true freshman starting for Villanova? Yes, you heard that right.
Not only any true freshman but the Big East Freshman of the Week. Armstrong earned freshman of the week honors after a 10-point outing in his first collegiate start netting ten points on 3-of-4 shooting and connected on his only attempt from beyond the arc.
After playing just seven minutes in the opening game of the Phil Knight Invitational, Armstrong cracked the starting rotation, replacing Jordan Longino minutes before tip-off. Kyle Neptune hinted at a lineup change when asked about it earlier this week, and we saw it come to fruition on Saturday.
Don’t expect this to be the only lineup change either.
“Honestly, we’re still figuring it out,” said Neptune. “We got a really unique team this year, I expect to see more unique lineups as we go. It is just going to be that kind of year”.
Armstrong being the first to crack the starting five is not too surprising. He has looked good in the limited action we have seen him, like in the Delaware State game where he went on his own 7-0 run to really put the Wildcats up for good, and the athleticism and energy to provided off the bench at the Phil Knight Invitational.
But with Armstrong and the rest of the freshman alike, everything is going to take time to figure out. Lineups, rotations and adjustments will come with time, but the one thing we know for sure is that the talent is there and there is a lot to be excited for moving forward.
The defense showed up in crunch time
Imagine reading this after the first 10 minutes of that game, huh?
But yes, the defense is here and it looked solid against a very good Oklahoma team. A three point jumper by future Head & Shoulders model Bijan Cortes put the Sooners up 20-9, with 13:19 to go in the first half. Oklahoma would not net another field goal until seconds before the five-minute mark.
That’s 8:10 of game time between baskets. Oklahoma ranks 43rd in offensive efficiency and 39th in effective field goal percentage according to KenPom, but the Sooners couldn’t buy a basket.
Whitmore was definitely a factor in the defensive showing, but the whole team’s effort was outstanding.
Two plays that stuck out are the Chris Arcidiacono loose ball under the Oklahoma basket, where he gained a pivotal possession late in the game, as well as an Eric Dixon steal which all but sealed it for the Wildcats.
These are just two examples in a plethora of great individual and team defensive effort, which they will look to build on Wednesday against Penn.