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2023 Villanova Blue-White Scrimmage takeaways, new player impressions

When there hasn’t been any college basketball in months, you bet it’s time to go all-in on our first look at the ‘Cats through Villanova’s preseason scrimmage, especially with many new players.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament First Round - Villanova vs Georgetown Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats held their annual blue and white scrimmage, which gave us our first look at the 2023-24 team. Like last year, the Wildcats came into this scrimmage banged up, missing Justin Moore (ankle), Jordan Dumont (knee soreness) and Lance Ware (hamstring). All three players are listed as day-to-day and none are considered to be serious injuries.

Due to the unforeseen ailments plaguing the Wildcats in the early going the scrimmage was condensed into four six-minute quarters with teams reshuffling players after each simulated quarter.

The first game was kicked off with a Mark Armstrong crafty midrange jumper which gave fans their first taste of Villanova basketball since Armstrong’s 12-point outing in the NIT last season. The proverbial lid was off the rim in the following games and one thing became abundantly evident, this team can shoot.

Our first look at the new-look Wildcats was really impressive. It is important to take these intrasquad scrimmages with a grain of salt in the early going, but the difference from last year to this year was glaring. The shooting, defense and rebounding across the board was improved and there are a lot of reasons to be cautiously optimistic following Thursday’s showing.

My full breakdown:

New Kids on the Block

The new kids on the block (that participated tonight) TJ Bamba, Hakim Hart and Tyler Burton all made dazzling first impressions in front of the Wildcat faithful. Let’s start with Tyler Burton.

Burton, who was the University of Richmond’s leading scorer last season averaging 19 points per game, is my pick for most outstanding player of the evening (although there are few wrong answers for that accolade tonight).

Burton did it all, whether it be flying high for rebounds, switching on all five positions on the defensive end or making the right pass, he was up for the challenge. Burton wasn’t particularly known for being a shooter at Richmond, shooting a tick below 30% last season, but you never would have known that Thursday night. His confident stroke from deep forced defenses to come out and respect his shot, opening up the floor beautifully for others to benefit. Don’t be surprised to see Burton run a little point this year, either.

One of those beneficiaries, TJ Bamba, is another strong candidate for most outstanding player of the evening. During the broadcast, Villanova’s Justin Moore had some complimentary words for Bamba about how he has been impressed this offseason and it looks like we just found out why.

Bamba, who hails from the Bronx, New York, is a tough nosed guard who excels inside and out due in part to his exceptional strength. That was on full display tonight as Bamba was a walking bucket giving defenses fits with his off-ball movement and ability to score inside out. Bamba was just as good on defense, jumping passing lanes and getting multiple deflections on the night.

Lastly, Hakim Hart used his size to create a lot of spacing and mismatches on both ends of the floor. While Hart had the quietest night on the stat sheet of the three, he still had a very impressive showing, doing all the things that don’t appear on there.

When transfers come into Villanova, they have historically been great culture fits, and these four are no different. The three that played tonight played for each other and gave us a lot to look forward to.

The Returners

The returners, headlined by Eric Dixon, Jordan Longino, Nnanna Njoku, Brendan Hausen and Chris Arcidiacono, all put in solid outings as well. We’ll get to Mark Armstrong in a minute.

The big men, or MacFit men, came into the game looking physically much stronger than last year. Eric Dixon did what Eric Dixon does which at this point should come at no surprise to anyone in this fan base. He is bound to have another stellar season on the main line. Nnanna Njoku however looked like a man on a mission. Njoku was active on the boards and in the post, imposing his newfound strength on whoever came by his zone. A highlight dunk capped off an impressive night as Njoku figures to compete with Lance Ware for backup minutes to Eric Dixon this season.

Brendan Hausen started the first game hot and kept it going through the night. Hausen has one of the quickest and smoothest releases I have ever seen at any level and it looked no different tonight. Hausen did however seem more confident, which we can only hope carries into the regular season.

Chris Arcidiacono also looked more confident, hoisting and connecting on a deep ball in the second game played tonight. Arcidiacono figures to be a “coach-on-the-floor” veteran leader again this year much like he was last year. Arch’s contributions to this team go far beyond what we see on the floor. Thursday’s scrimmage was another example of his veteran presence making it easier for his teammates.

Jordan Longino was impressive on Thursday night, finally functioning at 100%. Last season Longino dealt with multiple lower body injuries that hindered his production all season long. On Thursday night Longino looked much more like the player we saw towards the end of his freshman year, rather than the version we got last year. The Wildcats are looking deep.

Collin O’Toole was the first player out for warmups and the last player in the locker room at the end of the game. His dedication to his teammates is unrivaled and appreciated by all who observe. The ultimate team player.

Mark Armstrong

Yes, Mark gets his own section, that is how impressive he was on Thursday night. Last season during the NIT it was evident that the metaphorical keys to the sportscar were given to Armstrong, and it looks like he has taken the leap we were looking for in the early parts of the season.

Armstrong opened the scoring with a shifty mid range jumper and continued his scoring barrage all night. His speed, explosiveness, IQ, and now even his shooting are improved from what was already an impressive repertoire last season.

Kyle Neptune mentioned after the scrimmage that he does not know what the starting five is going to be (and even if he did, he probably would not tell the media), but it is going to be hard to keep Armstrong out of it. A thunder-and-lightning backcourt of Moore and Armstrong would give opposing teams fits, and their games play very well off of each other.

Villanova plays positionless basketball but having Armstrong become the guy who can be the primary ball handler as well as an “x-factor” will be something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

It is still early October, but there is a lot to be excited for this season, and it all starts with Mark Armstrong. This team is significantly better than the team that competed in this same event just about a year ago.

Stay tuned for more updates including team and conference media day later this month!