Melancholy, that was my feeling watching Justin Moore go down. Minutes before seeing Moore’s calf nearly pop out of his skin, my feeling was elation. Here Villanova was, a few safe possessions away from another Final Four. This would be the third in the last six NCAA Tournaments, the fourth of Jay Wright’s career, and the sixth in program history.
Here they were, a few safe possessions away, from a Final Four berth in a season where they lost by at least 20 points in consecutive games in December. They were making a run to the Final Four in a season where depth and size was yelled about abundantly.
Villanova was on this run with Justin Moore starting all 36 games he played in this season. They were on this run with Justin Moore practically in his 3rd full season as a starter. They were on this run with him as their second leading scorer, their toughest shot maker, and often times as their primary defender for the opposing team’s best perimeter player.
Villanova was on this run with Justin Moore...until they weren’t.
Injuries are an awful aspect of reality in basketball and that is an aspect Villanova lived this past season yet again. They lived a reality where their best all-around player ruptured his Achilles tendon with less than 40 seconds to play in the Elite Eight, less than 40 seconds away from him playing in his first career Final Four.
Villanova would hang on and defeat the Houston Cougars to advance to the Final Four but melancholy, that’s how I felt. I think that’s how much of the VU Hoops staff felt too as we exchanged messages among ourselves as the injury happened. From what I read and heard, that’s how a lot of Nova Nation felt as well.
The ‘Cats get to the Final Four but yeah, there’s that noticeable absence both in feeling and in player.
In the totality of the season, both for Villanova as a team and Justin Moore as a player, it was great, it was an A or A- on the report card but ah…melancholy.
Appreciation goes a long way especially in times of grief. While it may be an entire season without Justin Moore, let’s dive in and see what made Moore’s past season so vital to Villanova.
Justin Moore’s Career Stats
Justin Moore began the season by draining six 3-pointers en route to dropping 27 against Mount St. Mary’s in the opener. Moore wouldn’t be that lethal from three the rest of the season, but he would comfortably be Villanova’s second-best shooter. Villanova’s 3-point shooting effectiveness was heavily contributed to by three players and Moore was one of the three.
Moore’s ability to be a reliable 3-point shooter this season was huge for Collin Gillespie. Villanova prides itself on spacing and a lot of times taking the first look and Gillespie’s first looks were made easier with Moore on the floor.
The highlight offensively for Moore may have been his terrific stretch of performances during a six-game win streak for Villanova that immediately followed the 20-point losses to Baylor and Creighton. Villanova obviously needed to play better, and Moore did his part during the six-game win streak by averaging 17.8 points, shooting 47% from the field and shooting 89% from the free throw line on almost 5 attempts per game.
This six-game win streak was the beginning of a 23-4 finish for Villanova and it’s safe to say that the ‘Cats don’t get those six in a row without the great play of Moore.
Moore often demonstrated the ability to hit catch and shoot 3-pointers even if the defender was covering him well. We saw many times this year where Moore knocked down a tough jumper with a hand right in his face. He doesn’t have a quick release or a particularly high one. His transition after he catches the ball is smooth and when he does catch it, he keeps the ball high ready to launch which is a trait that Jay Wright has preached to his players.
Moore also has an advanced post game similar to what we’ve seen from Jalen Brunson and what we saw from Collin Gillespie in his career as well. He’s not as graceful a finisher in the paint as those two are but he is still comfortable enough playing with two feet in the paint and that throws guards off. As we know, guards aren’t really versed in stopping a player from bullying them down low and when you factor in Moore’s elite strength as a guard, he’s difficult to body up down low.
Moore’s best individual game was likely the road win at The Dunk against Providence. Moore came out on absolute fire and hit four 3-pointers on his way to 18 first half points. He finished the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds for his only double double of the season.
Moore’s defense was huge in this win as well as he helped put Al Durham in claps limiting the Friar super senior to a cold 5/15 from the field and a freezing 0/5 from distance.
Moore had one of his other best defensive outings against Tyrese Martin in the late road loss at UCONN. Moore held Martin to 3/11 shooting including contributing to Martin’s 0/4 effort from inside the arc.
Durham and Martin had good seasons but Moore has plus strength for a guard and if the refs are allowing some contact it’s hard for a guard without a huge speed advantage to beat Moore off the dribble with enough space to get a good look.
Moore also has great defensive positioning and was probably Villanova’s best defender in this aspect, really showcasing his growth on this end of the court. He really seemed to be in the right place most of the time for Villanova’s defense. When you add in his fairly fluid foot movement, he is a plus defender.
Moore was integral in completing removing Houston’s three headed perimeter attack from the Elite Eight game. Kyler Edwards, Taze Moore, and Jamal Shead had combined for 43 points in Houston’s Sweet 16 win over #1 Arizona. Those three from Houston would go on to shoot a combined 11/46 from the field and 1/18 from beyond the arc as Houston scored only 44 points total. Moore was able to lock up his matchup with Kyler Edwards and held the leading scorer for Houston to 1/12 from the floor.
How do you look ahead in this context? I’m not sure anybody, including Moore, knows if he’s playing next season. We’ve heard that he and his family want to make a decision before the season begins whether to sit out all year or possibly return at some point during the ‘22-’23 season.
Only time will truly tell. An Achilles tendon rupture is definitely a strong candidate for the most serious injury for an athlete. We’ve seen athletes who have suffered this injury decide to indeed take a full season off.
A silver lining is that Moore’s game isn’t predicated on rapid or explosive movements. He’s a below the rim, high skill player and those are qualities that a torn tendon will not touch.
Two things that we do know is that Justin Moore wants to play at the collegiate level again and when he does Nova Nation will be on their feet in appreciation for what he’s already done and being able to get back on the court while excited for what is to come.
Get well soon Justin.