The Villanova Wildcats (1-0) will kick off the weekend with another home matchup at 6:30 p.m. from the Finneran Pavilion to host the Le Moyne Dolphins (0-1).
Villanova is fresh off an impressive opening win against American University, where a balanced rotation saw 10 players score – including five in double digits.
On the other hand, Le Moyne will be playing their second Big East team in this opening week. The Dolphins were in our nation’s capital a few days ago, and they lost to Georgetown by 37 points.
This game should give Kyle Neptune and staff another 40 minutes to work through the rotation as next week kicks off the Big 5 and the Gavitt Games.
Let’s dive into some background knowledge and expectations for Friday night:
Welcome to the Big Leagues
The 2023-24 season will be a historic one for Le Moyne, regardless of what the win-loss column says. The Dolphins are now playing in the Northeast Conference, which will be their first year in Division 1. Last season they went 15-15 and lost in the 2nd round of the NE10 Championship.
Le Moyne’s non-conference schedule contains a handful of power conference and high-major teams including Army, Dartmouth, Penn State, and Fairfield – but to open against two teams in the best conference in college basketball is quite the introduction to Division I.
The Dolphins’ roster is largely the same as last season in Division II – nine players (four starters) return, with the leaders being three grad students: Isaiah Slater, Luke Sutherland, and Mike DePersia. The remaining starters include Darrick Jones Jr – a senior who played two years at Towson and Kaiyem Cleary – a grad student who transferred from Ball State.
You Can’t Teach Size
A common takeaway from Monday’s game was the physical maturity the ‘Cats showed. The group of transfers are physically built for the college game, the sophomore duo has bulked up, and the inclusion of Njoku into the rotation adds an imposing body to match up against.
If there’s one thing that Le Moyne lacks at the moment, it’s size.
While watching the Le Moyne-Georgetown game, their lack of size jumped off the screen immediately. I looked through the roster and confirmed my eyes didn’t deceive me:
The Dolphins’ rotation contained mainly nine guys – four of which are listed at 185 pounds or below and two of them are 160.
Also, their two largest guys are Luke Sutherland at 6-foot-7, 220 pounds and Ocypher Ownes at 6-foot8, 200 pounds – compared to Eric Dixon at 6-foot-8 and 255 pounds and Nnanna Njoku at 6-9, 260 pounds.
The box score against Georgetown backed this up as they were out-rebounded by the Hoyas in a lopsided 52-29 margin.
To be clear – size is not always the determining factor in basketball games. Just last year, we saw one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history with Fairleigh Dickinson beating Purdue despite the massive gap in size.
However, Le Moyne doesn’t appear to be equipped to overcome the size gap as they had a putrid shooting night against the Hoyas – 32% overall, 23% from deep, and just 50% at the free throw line. The Dolphins also should expect to have fewer possessions as Georgetown committed 17 turnovers in their opening game, while Villanova only had seven against American.
The Cats should look to take advantage of their size – Justin Moore posting up small guards, switching 1-5, dominating the glass, etc.
Barring something drastic, it’s widely expected that this game will not be close. Friday night will give the Cats an opportunity to iterate on the rotation and lineup combinations.
One thing to look out for is what kind of adjustments we see in the rotation and how Neptune plays around with the roster configuration. Monday was the staff’s first time with real game footage from this group to break down, so we’ll see what changes Friday brings.
With next week kicking off the Big 5 (UPenn) and the Gavitt Games (Maryland), it’ll be crucial for Friday’s matchup to not be a “trap game”. Given the experience and maturity on this Villanova team, I highly doubt we’ll see anything that resembles it.
Let’s hope Justin Moore & co can execute the game plan efficiently and we can all enjoy a stress-free evening into the weekend.