Busting Brackets

Hakim Hart & Villanova hand DePaul a blowout loss to open Big East play

Hart Dropped 20 PTS vs Blue Demons (in standout performance)
Hart Dropped 20 PTS vs Blue Demons (in standout performance) / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

Take the 9-&-4 Villanova-Wildcats out of Philly (/the Big 5), and we’re left with a top 25 (nationally-ranked) program whose only loss is a one-point heartbreaker to Big-12 conference-power, Kansas State, in its “Octagon of Doom”. In the Blue Demons’ Big-East opener, the Chicagoans got whooped by the Philly suburbanites; whose overwhelming defense held the home-team to just (48 points including) 4 made-threes on 24 attempts.

As one of the Big East conference’s (most reliable) cellar-dwellers, the Blue Demons of DePaul are certainly no stranger to losing; but typically their losses don’t start piling up until the beginning of conference play. With this loss to Villanova, the Blue Demons moved to 2-&-9 (/2-9) on their (still) young-season; but the tough part of their schedule is just getting underway. Compared to the other ten schools in the Big East, DePaul represents the only team with less than 7 wins (Xavier & Georgetown are 7-6) alongside a record that’s below-.500. Yea, it’s safe to say DePaul fans are in a world of hurt.

While it is true (that) the harrowing state of DePaul’s program is especially concerning, we mustn’t forget that this Villanova team had a field day against the (now-) 23rd-ranked Memphis Tigers no more than a month ago; as the Cats cruised to victory in that laugher after building a 28-point halftime-lead. In other words, the Blue Demons are (probably) flat-out bad; but it’s not a stretch to call Nova quite good either.

Just a few weeks ago, Nova’s trio of Big-5 losses made it very difficult for anyone (who’s) outside of Philly to advocate on their behalf; in terms of how good they were or how good they could be (when) compared to the better Big East teams and many of the top-teams in the nation. Now, it may not be unreasonable to call Nova one of the Big East’s “better” or top-5/6 teams; even though the Cats have only played two Big-East games (2-0). By blowing out DePaul, the Moore-less Wildcats find themselves (sitting) atop the Big-East standings with the Providence Friars (2-0 in-conference).

As of Christmas Eve, all three of Villanova’s Big-5 opponents (this season) are above-.500; as Drexel (7-6), Penn (8-5) , and St. Joes (9-3) continue to prove to the rest of the nation that Philly’s basketball is as good as any other city’s. Before St. Joes endured its most recent loss to (the) College of Charleston on December 21st, the Hawks represented one of 21 schools that received unofficial-recognition in the Associated Press’s December 18th poll of the nation’s top (25 + other) teams.

While it’s fair to say the average college-basketball fan (on a national basis) knows very little about the non power-conference programs; let alone the non mid-major ones, the recent, late-season accomplishments of smaller-market schools like the 15th-seeded Peacocks of Saint Peter’s University (who advanced to Elite-Eight in 2022) ought to bring our attention to these lesser known programs.

To avoid diving in any deeper than we already have regarding the entirety of D-1 basketball, let’s take a moment to-reflect on the progress that Nova’s transfer, Hakim Hart, has made. Not long ago, Hart seemed reluctant to let his game shine in the half-court while (also) passing up open-shots and getting rid of the ball (to a teammate) rather than attacking lone-defenders with his dribble-&-athleticism. Fast forward to the Blue Demons, and Hart’s offensive-game appears to be rounding into form just in-time for Big-East action; as the 6-foot 8-inch Roman Catholic grad (played just 20 minutes; and) had tons of success at all three-levels of DePaul’s defense en route to a game-high (scoring-total of) 20 points on a perfect showing from-3 (4 for 4) and 7 made field-goals (on 10 attempts).

Before Nova’s fifth-year senior (&) small-forward returned to his hometown to attend Villanova, Hart was an All Big Ten honorable-mention standout (player) last year for the Terrapins of Maryland and saw action in 116 games during his 4-years there while (also) cracking the starting lineup 85 times.

While there’s no doubt (that) the Maryland-transfer arrived at Villanova with loads of D-1 basketball experience under his belt, one of his new teammates, Tyler Burton, might even have more; as the 6-foot 7-inch small/power forward started (in) 94 games for the Richmond Spiders before (then) deciding to take his talents due north. Also, there’s yet another experienced Nova-transfer on this squad in 6-foot 5-inch guard, TJ Bamba, who touched down from the left coast preceded by 51 D-1 starts; thanks to the Senegalese player’s three-year run at Washington State.

Thru 13 games, Nova’s consistent (-ly strong) presence on (just) the defensive end of the floor seems to be a reflection of its roster’s innate maturity; and it’s crazy when you see a savvy, experienced vet like Hakim Hart surrounded by more than just one or two teammates who are older than he is. Although the former Terrapin turns 23 years-old on May 3rd (of 2024) , he’s still younger than Dixon (who turns 23 in January) , Bamba (23 in Jan) , Burton (24 in February) , Moore (24 in April) , and Ware (23 in Feb).

On the surface, fielding a roster that’s comprised of a bunch of 22-to-24 year old guys may (only) strike you as a slight advantage over the competition; whether we’re comparing them to the average-experienced team with a strong core of 21-to-22 year-olds or the quintessential young-squad with a slew of players who can’t legally drink (-alcohol). However, the inherent (or mind/body developmental) differences between a 23 year-old and a 20 year-old or a 22 year-old and a 19 year-old are much more pronounced than (those differences btwn) a 29 year-old versus a 26 or (even) 25 year-old.

Using the “old-man” strength (physically & mentally/emotionally) of its primary rotation-players, Nova’s been able to play defense at a high-level (and) for more than just portions of the game. In the face of adversity, kids like Burton (and others like Dixon, Moore, Hart) continue to play-hard and hang in there mentally regardless of how bad/good he’s playing; even when he’s not able to hit the broad side of a barn on his jump-shots.

During the Cats’ latest win, it was awfully nice (finally) being able to watch the main-liners shoot the ball as well as they did; especially from-3 (12-22). For a team that already prides itself on doing the dirty work via rebounds, steals, deflections, physicality, & loose-balls (etc.) , it was refreshing to see them get rewarded in the shooting department; an area of the game that’s been a sure fire weakness for the 2023-‘24 Cats.

Although Hart’s shooting-form is highly unorthodox (and even ugly according to some) , he’s been able to knock ‘em down. Lately, the Nova transfer’s been shooting the long-ball at a higher clip than he ever did ; as evidenced by the fact that he’s making over 40 percent of his 3-balls this season after living in the low-30’s from-3 during his 4 seasons in a Terps’ uniform.

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The ball doesn’t care how it falls through the hoop; as long as it finds its way there. Keep lettin’ em fly, Hakim.