The 2023-24 college basketball season is ready to begin!
Villanova is tipping off the season in the comfort of the Finneran Pavilion. The Wildcats are hosting the American University Eagles, who went 17-17 overall and 7-11 in the Patriot League last season.
American is looking to start a new era under former George Mason assistant Duane Simpkins. Monday night’s game is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET.
A step forward for American
While Villanova is eager to bounce back from last year’s up-and-down season, American is also feeling hopeful with a fresh start. Not only does it have a new coach at the helm, but it returns a majority of its top contributors from last season, while welcoming a couple of transfers and new freshmen.
Although it lost standout rim protector, leading rebounder and stretch big man Johnny O’Neil to the transfer portal, the Eagles return four out of their five top scorers from last season, including 6-foot-9 forward Matt Rogers, who will be at the top of Villanova’s priority list.
Rogers was selected as the preseason Patriot League Player of the Year, after a breakout junior season where he averaged a team-high 14.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, while shooting an efficient 61.3% overall and 40.8% from long range.
Slasher and pass-first point guard Elijah Stephens is also back in the mix, after averaging 9.8 points, 4.0 assists and 1.9 steals per game.
Outside of Rogers, American doesn’t have too much overwhelming size. There are two other 6-foot-9 or taller forwards. New Zealand native Mason Whittaker stands in at 6-foot-9 and is back after being sidelined all of last year due to injury. Denmark native Jermaine Ballisager Webb is a towering 7-foot center, but is very raw.
The Eagles were tabbed to finish third in their conference, with many coaches confident in the amount of returners they have.
Scouting the Eagles
Last year, American was one of the slowest-tempo teams in all of Division I. While we don’t know if Simpkins will switch things up, George Mason operated more of a half-court game.
Overall, American struggled to defend the three-point line last season, and this could be a great game for Villanova to let it fly and gain some confidence and start building consistency from beyond the arc — an area the Wildcats were up and down in.
The Eagles allowed opponents to shoot 38.5% from deep last season, which ranked 353rd in the country.
American also had an issue when it came to taking care of the ball, coughing it up on 22.0% of possessions (the 349th worst turnover rate in the Division I).
Uncovering the Wildcats’ rotation
Villanova will be the favorite for Monday night, and while it’s important to give some information on the Wildcats’ opponent, this will be a game where it will be much more interesting to see the new-look ‘Cats.
How will the new pieces fit in? What will the rotation and pecking order look like? Eric Dixon and Justin Moore are the obvious starting five locks, but who will get to join them?
Kyle Neptune’s kept his cards close to his chest and there haven’t been any hints at all. He claims to not have his starting five set yet, but even if he did, it would remain a secret until opening day. While some Big East teams were glad to bring some of their new transfers into Big East Media Day, Villanova has erased any speculation and kept it to its two veterans in Moore and Dixon — so there are no hints for who else is on their level.
Also, with the positive buzz regarding the likes of Nnanna Njoku, Mark Armstrong, Brendan Hausen and Jordan Longino, this will be the first real glimpse to see how much improvement they’ve made throughout the offseason. The Blue-White scrimmage was nice, but hardly a real barometer for the Wildcats.
It’ll be time to shake off some rust and get pumped once again, as the basketball season is finally back.