Busting Brackets

Villanova Basketball: Veterans and transfers meshing well in start of Big East play

The performances of Villanova's four transfer players in (2023-'24; who are) TJ Bamba, Tyler Burton, Hakim Hart, and Lance Ware will determine the Big East standout's status in the NCAA Tournament come March/April.

Hunter Martin/GettyImages
1 of 3

The performances of Villanova's four transfer players in (2023-'24; who are) TJ Bamba, Tyler Burton, Hakim Hart, and Lance Ware will determine the Big East standout's status in the NCAA Tournament come March/April.

In a new-era of college basketball that’s (also) emphasizing the use-&-importance of its transfer-portal at levels we’ve never witnessed before, one might expect the rich to get richer; or (for) the blue-blood programs to be the biggest beneficiaries of such alterations. However, not all powerhouses are built the same, and there’s much to be said when it comes to evaluating the differences between a one-&-done culture (like Kentucky or Duke) and a player-development one.

As for the Villanova Wildcats (-program), it’s safe to say the Philly-suburbs based team falls into the latter category. Following the best coaching-job of Jay Wright’s 21-year tenure; a moderately surprising, 2021-‘22 season that (also) experienced its end in the Final-Four, Villanova was forced to plan for a future without its two-time national championship winning head coach; once Wright chose to retire at the age of 60. While it’s probably true that Jay’s coaching style wore him down (and) faster than many expected it would, Wright’s (early-) retirement still came as a shock for numerous fans in (the-) Nova Nation. When you combine Jay’s relatively young-age (at the time he retired) with the fact that he called it quits after Nova’s most recent Final-Four run, it’s fair to wonder what the actual reasons were behind the (former) Bucknell graduate’s decision to somewhat suddenly retire.

Some believe (that) Wright decided to retire because he didn’t approve of the NCAA’s new-climate; an ecosystem that’s clearly catering to the gifted individual (-player) as opposed to that (same) player’s whole-team. Unlike a John Calipari or a Penny Hardaway and (/or) even a Jim Boeheim or a Mike Krzyzewski, Jay Wright was fully committed to recruiting a certain kind of player or the most-fitting (kind of) player; rather than the best player(-s). During Wright’s tenure at Nova, being a true-freshman likely meant you were spending a lot of time on the bench in an observer’s role; unless you were really, really good (or spectacular) like (a) Scottie Reynolds, Ryan Arcidiacono, Corey Fisher, Randy Foye, Allan Ray, and Justin Moore (amongst others) were.

At Kentucky and Duke, for instance, it’s not uncommon to see multiple freshman (players; who are) playing starter’s minutes; and watching these young-talents depart from college after a year or two isn’t a rarity. Although Nova’s produced a handful of (future) NBA-players who stayed in college for two or less years, every one of these unique-standouts; including Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Saddiq Bey, and Kyle Lowry (and others) , proved themselves as viable NBA candidates by playing within Wright’s system. In order to play “Villanova basketball”, you must be willing to prioritize winning above all else; and its success depends on a culture that has absolutely no time for “experiments” or any (other-) undertaking that isn’t aligned with winning in the short and long term.

Once Wright announced his retirement, Nova Nation was left to ponder what its future might hold; while (also) the legend’s replacement, Kyle Neptune, took the reins and quickly (he) experienced a season of more down’s than up’s in his first-year at the helm. For the first time since 2012, the 2022-‘23 Cats failed to make the NCAA Tournament; and finished the tough-season with a .500 record. Given the fact that the storied-program has accomplished a great-deal in recent years (under Wright’s tutelage), missing the tournament isn’t perceived as the most acceptable result, and many believe (that) Neptune’s sophomore-season could be a make-or-break proposition for the young head-coach.

Entering his second-year, Neptune knew the pressure was on; and the 38-year-old head-coach responded by taking advantage of the transfer-portal; a facet of modern NCAA basketball that Wright wasn’t terribly fond of. This past summer, Neptune added four upper class-man (transfers) to his roster; including (the incoming-) 2022-‘23 PAC-12 Honorable Mention (player in) senior transfer TJ Bamba, two-time Second-Team All-Atlantic 10 graduate-student transfer, Tyler Burton, 2022-‘23 All Big Ten Honorable Mention graduate-student transfer, Hakim Hart, and Kentucky senior-transfer, Lance Ware.