Busting Brackets

Villanova Basketball: Key storylines to watch for Wildcats 2023-24 season

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /
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Villanova Basketball Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Villanova Basketball Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s fair to say that Kyle Neptune’s first season at the helm of Villanova Basketball did not quite go to plan. But will 2023-24 mark a change of the tides?

After taking the reins from Jay Wright following his 21-year run as head coach, Neptune was looking to build off the team’s 2021-22 Final Four run. Instead, the team struggled to find their identity out of the gates, with key injuries limiting the rotation early on. Returning senior guard Justin Moore was sidelined with an Achilles injury, while top-ranked freshman Cam Whitmore’s debut was also postponed due to a thumb ailment.

Starting out shorthanded, the offence was powered by returning senior Eric Dixon. His presence in the paint, paired with his ability to keep defenses honest around the perimeter, allowed Dixon to feast early on in the year. Alongside the big man was fellow returning upper-classman Caleb Daniels. The guard gave the ‘Cats a much-needed efficient scoring threat, using his quick step and crafty off-ball movement to exploit the early non-conference schedule.

Despite their best efforts, the team ended up dropping five of their first seven out of conference matchups, including a shocking 83-71 loss at the Phil Knight Invitational against Portland. The Big East portion of Villanova’s schedule did not do them any favours either, as the group once again faltered, dropping eight of their first 13 games with the conference.

Now for most teams, having two separate lengthy losing skids would be a death wish for a chance at the Big Dance. But the Wildcats didn’t throw in the towel. Freshman Cam Whitmore started to emerge as a pure scoring threat from anywhere on the court. After starting the season from the sideline with a nagging thumb injury, Neptune’s confidence in Whitmore began to grow as the season went on. Before long, Whitmore was a staple for the Wildcats’ starting five and clutch-time lineup.

As the calendar rolled over into 2023, Justin Moore made his long-awaited return. Kyle Neptune and Co. wasted no time getting Moore back into the starting rotation, and once the senior found his footing, the ‘Cats suddenly had a burst of life. The team managed to win six of their final eight contests of the regular season, including a pair of statement wins over Xavier and Creighton, to pull within a sniff of the Madness.

However, the team’s poor start to the season eventually came back to haunt them. The selection committee could not look past Villanova’s ugly record, resulting in a trip to the dreaded National Invitation Tournament rather than the Big Dance (sorry, NIT enthusiasts). Early exits in both the Big East tournament and the NIT closed the book on this past season for Villanova.

When looking back on the year, it’s difficult to get an accurate representation of Villanova’s true potential. It was a season marred with injury trouble and uncertainty about this team’s identity, leaving things very unclear which direction this team was headed in. However, as a new season approaches, there seems to be a renewed sense of optimism surrounding this squad.