Busting Brackets

Eric Dixon, Villanova demolish DePaul in anticlimactic Big East Basketball matchup

DePaul v Villanova
DePaul v Villanova / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages
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Preview against Marquette

Coming-off of four days’ rest, Marquette’s legs will be fresher, springier than ‘Nova’s oughta be; and it wouldn’t be wise to overlook the fact that the Golden Eagles will be playing with (more of) a chip on their shoulder. In vintage Marquette fashion, this season’s Golden Eagles are very well-coached by the 2023 AP Coach of the Year, Shaka Smart, whose hard-nosed defense has held a number of high-flying offenses to modest point-totals; including that of the 12th-ranked (now 25th-ranked) Texas Longhorns (65) and the (now) 3rd-ranked Kansas Jayhawks’ (59). Thru 16 games, not a single Marquette-opponent has reached the 80-point mark.

Assuming the wallowing of the Golden Eagles is behind them, Villanova has to be ready for the early haymaker that’s coming in the game’s opening ten minutes. Dating back to January 19th, 2022, Marquette has won each of its last four games against Villanova; and while this ‘Nova roster hardly resembles those of past years, it’s worth remembering (for Neptune & his staff) Shaka Smart’s tactics in his victories over the Wright-&-Neptune led Nova-squads. While the Wildcats’ transfers may not be familiar with Marquette (yet), Justin Moore and Eric Dixon certainly are.

As we’ve seen in recent matchups, Marquette’s defense does a great job not biting on the Cats’ shot-and-ball fakes. Having that understanding, it would be wise of Neptune to mix up his offensive looks by leaning on Hakim Hart, Mark Armstrong, & TJ Bamba as drivers/scorers; in the sense that these three players aren’t as methodical, deliberate, and slow-paced as Longino, Moore, and Dixon tend to be. With Moore still making his way back from injury, placing him off-the-ball & on the wing may seem like the prudent choice for the time being (to limit his workload); but the fact that Marquette’s D is top-notch may change that. To start the game, I’d try to get Moore going early; by freeing him up for a corner/wing 3-ball or a dribble-drive.

At this point, Kyle Neptune has to know that Shaka Smart’s ready for “Villanova basketball”. In other words, Marquette isn’t going to allow Hausen to catch-&-shoot, Moore/Dixon to pump-fake their way to the charity stripe, and ‘Nova to out-work them on the glass or in any facet of the game. Basically, if ‘Nova wants to succeed on the offensive end; they’ll need to inject some additional pace into its offensive sets and keep Marquette’s defense guessing by utilizing different ball-handlers and getting a guy like TJ Bamba to ferociously attack the basket.

For a great coach like Shaka Smart, game-planning for the kinds of players/systems he already knows is easy. Unfortunately, Smart knows Villanova; like the back of his hand. But, with four transfers being used consistently, Neptune has to see what these guys can do. While handing the keys to Tyler Burton on the offensive end probably isn’t the best idea, Neptune does need to show faith in someone that Smart isn’t anticipating, and Hakim Hart comes to mind as he’s a guy with loads of Big Ten experience that’s waiting to break through. When I picture Marquette, I think of ball pressure, great communication on the defensive end, no missed assignments, and the ability to play defense without fouling. With that knowledge, Neptune has to tweak his offensive scheme slightly; in ways that allow Armstrong, Hart, Bamba, and Burton to get to the front of the rim. Coming to jump-stops on the interior and trying to get guys off-balance via shot/ball fakes isn’t going to work against the mature, athletic talent that’s glistening throughout Marquette’s depth chart.

On defense, the plan remains the same as it always is for the Cats. In Justin Moore’s post-game interview following his return against DePaul, the 23 year old quickly pointed to the team’s stellar-defense and how that end of the court has been the team’s catalyst more often than not. Against Marquette, the switches need to be on-point, hands need to be active, and guys like Armstrong/Burton can’t get overexcited on ball/shot-fakes. Boasting a pair of quality defenses in Nova’s (next-) game w/ the Golden Eagles, it’s safe to assume a slow-paced, defensive battle takes place in Milwaukee; where every possession in the game’s final 5 minutes is excruciatingly significant. Yes, Tyler Burton had a solid-game against DePaul in the sense that the 23 year-old dropped 14 points. But, the 6’7” small forward missed all 5 of his three’s and it’s clear he hasn’t settled in (yet) on that end of the floor. Although I wouldn’t expect Marquette to be the opponent where Burton finds his game, he needs to continue staying aggressive; and that’s precisely how Burton played (and must continue to play) against DePaul.

If Hausen’s able to crack double-digits against Marquette, I’ll be very surprised. At Hausen’s point in his development, he isn’t going to score unless you give him space or bite on a pump-fake that any defender with half a brain isn’t going to fall for. Given Hausen’s limitations (w/) handling/driving the basketball, Armstrong needs to be the guy who’s attacking Marquette’s interior. Against the Blue Demons, Armstrong finished with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting including 1-of-1 from-3.

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Although the Blue Demons are the Blue Demons (and Marquette is a heck of a lot better), Mark’s proven he can get a half-step on any defender on any defense, and he needs to use his quickness/hops to his advantage against the Golden Eagles. Armstrong’s strong performance against DePaul might’ve been the perfect stepping-stone for the young guard to go-off in a spot where his team really needs his innate speed/talent to (keep ‘em honest; or) offset the defense’s aggressiveness/ball-pressure. If ‘Nova gets a couple quick buckets from Armstrong in the early-going, it could be the start the road team needs to free-up its perimeter attack and get the rest of its offense going (in the right direction).

I see you, Mark Armstrong.

Now, it’s time for Shaka & the Golden Eagles to FEEL you, young fella.

Let’s go ‘Nova.