What a difference a year can make. Last season, Villanova went 0-3 in the PK85 Invitational. Not only did they go home winless, but one of those losses was against the Portland Pilots.
That is a distant, distant memory now. Villanova spent the Thanksgiving week in the Bahamas yet again, playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis. They beat both previously undefeated Texas Tech and Memphis by 16 points each. Kyle Neptune got his biggest signature win yet as Villanova’s coach by taking out No. 14-ranked North Carolina in the semis.
Throughout the tournament, Villanova looked fast, athletic, and strong. All these traits were on display as Villanova played high level defense in each game.
Coach Neptune’s Time
The first takeaway to me has to be Kyle Neptune getting three marquee wins in the biggest stretch of his Villanova coaching career. A lot has been made about Neptune’s time as head coach here so far, but we have to remember he’s developing just like the players. We know he’s early into his third season as a collegiate head coach, early in his second season with the ‘Cats and first with a healthy Villanova roster. The high expectations are understandable, but losing a Hall of Fame coach who was still at the top of his game will leave a hole. Any program would have some kind of dip in quality.
A positive aspect of Neptune coaching Villanova to another Battle 4 Atlantis is he did it with some of “his,” guys, guys that he brought in. Hakim Hart, Lance Ware, TJ Bamba, and Tyler Burton all chose to transfer to Villanova. These guys were sought after but believed in Neptune enough to play for him. The four transfers were huge on the defensive side of the ball. Villanova’s defense has shown some good chemistry and rhythm so far this season and Neptune deserves some credit for meshing in new players and younger guys like Mark Armstrong and Brendan Hausen, who continue to develop as sophomores.
Could we look back on this Battle 4 Atlantis title run as one of the significant signs that Neptune is growing as a coach?
Eric Dixon, the All-American?
Eric Dixon played like an All-American against top 15-ranked North Carolina and an All-American last season, Armando Bacot. He had been doubled throughout the early parts of this year and it was evident why.
Not only did he limit Bacot’s effectiveness, but Dixon single-handedly carried the ‘Cats through the first half of that game against North Carolina and he impressed throughout the remainder of the game.
It was more than a one-hit wonder performance, as Dixon was named Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament MVP.
He showcased his expanded inside/outside game. He finished shots with his right in the post which is huge considering he’s a southpaw. Most of all, he showed that he’s the latest in a long line of players who have developed greatly in a Villanova uniform. You could read more about him and I could write more but let’s enjoy watching this career 34-point, 10-rebound performance again.
While his outing against the Tar Heels was the pinnacle, Dixon was consistent and finished the tournament averaging 21.3 points and 8.0 rebounds over the three-game stretch. He was a combined 21-of-40 (52.5%) overall on the floor and 5-of-12 (41.7%) from long range.
Level = All-American
Depth is Real
Depth isn’t always how many guys are playing but also how much game do the guys that do play actually have. Nine players got at least 14 minutes in the first round game against Texas Tech. Bench guys Jordan Longino and Hakim Hart played more than everybody besides Justin Moore and Eric Dixon. Villanova won by 16 and five different players had five boards.
Contributions without scoring...every great team has various guys who can do this and as of right now it looks like this Villanova team has this too.
The week in the Bahamas showed that Villanova, especially on the wing, has guys who contribute in many ways.
Jordan Longino had five assists against Memphis and had five boards in the Texas Tech win. Tyler Burton averaged seven boards in the Bahamas. Even leading scorer Justin Moore had six boards and five assists in the win over Tech.
Villanova’s depth shined the most on the defensive side of the ball. Tyler Burton, Hakim Hart, Jordan Longino, and TJ Bamba make for great defensive depth. The way they swarm and switch denies a lot of paint touches for opposing offenses. They do a great job of cutting off the dribble drive and denying entry passes and cuts.
Offensively, the ‘Cats also got to enjoy a very balanced scoring approach in the title game, in addition to their suffocating defense. All five starters scored in double figures, but no player scored more than 13 points in the winning effort, while eight different players chipped in six or more points overall.
However, my favorite thing about this year’s depth is the way a lot of the guys compete even if they’re not getting looks on offense. Some of these transfers were leading scorers in another jersey, but being atop the stat sheet is not the prime concern. These guys aren’t shorting themselves and the team is benefiting because of this.
What about Villanova’s depth stood out to you in Battle 4 Atlantis championship run?