Don’t Panic, Nova. The Season Has Just Begun

Carter Smith, Staff Writer

It’s no secret that the Villanova men’s basketball team is off to a below-average start. At the time of writing, its record is 3-5, just coming off of a winless Phil Knight Invitational and an electrifying win against Oklahoma University at the Wells Fargo Center. I, too, was in disbelief at the team’s performance over Thanksgiving weekend, yelling at the TV more times than I could count, but I have not lost faith in the team. Villanova may be down, but it is not out. It’s a long season ahead.

Compared to the Final Four run of last year’s March Madness, I understand that many are disappointed with the team’s overall performance right now. I have heard the cries of “we suck now” after every loss, but everyone has to understand that the team this year is much different than the team last year, and it takes time to adjust to so much change and get back to full strength.

Our two most veteran, star players, Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, now play in the NBA. Incoming guard Cam Whitmore has just played his first game after being injured since October, and lethal guard Justin Moore is still recovering from the Achilles tear sustained during last year’s Elite Eight game. And, of course, Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright retired in late-April of last year.

The young team is coming into the 2022-23 season with a new coach in Kyle Neptune, lots of young, untested talent and lacking a clear leader; it will take time to adjust. Fellow Villanova sports super-fan sophomore Ryan Hartnett echoed my sentiment.

“This is a young team with a young coach, and we all know that a certain legend did not build this program in seven games,” Hartnett said. “It takes time for new coaches and young teams to achieve success.”

Villanova does not have a talent problem; it does not suck. The Wildcats are not yet fully optimized. Fans have seen our returning players play at tournament-winning levels during their previous years here. Aside from what some questionable tactical decisions might display, the ‘Cats are still capable of being a force to be reckoned with. Saturday’s win over Oklahoma proved as such. 

While Nova is 3-5, it has yet to be blown out, and that means something.

“Most teams would completely collapse after losing that amount of leadership, and we’ve managed to stay in every game until the end,” said Anthony Bibbo, a senior and my game-watch comrade. “Two of our losses are to ranked Michigan State and Iowa State, and we lost by a combined four points. Oregon and Portland are unranked now, but both will be tournament teams come March at this rate.”

If you believe the hole the team is in is insurmountable, look no further than the University of North Carolina’s men’s team last season. At the beginning of the year, the Tar Heels looked to be on the back foot. Longtime head coach Roy Williams had just retired, and seven players graduated, declared for the draft or entered the transfer portal in the 2021 off-season. There were promising recruits and transfers coming in, but the upcoming season had been described as ominous.

While the beginning of their season was not quite as unfortunate as Villanova’s has been so far, there were losses to ranked and unranked teams alike. But by the end of the season, the team had coalesced enough to get to the final game of the 2022 March Madness tournament, losing to Kansas by a mere three points.

Villanova’s pre-season schedule last year was not so pretty either.The ‘Cats were easily beaten by UCLA, Purdue and Baylor. However, once Villanova got into Big East play, the true test of its skill, the ‘Cats only dropped four games, and they won the Big East Tournament. That’s where the test will come this year. 

“I remain hopeful because the most important games are still to come in Big East play – which Villanova has a history of prioritizing,” Bibbo said. “This team needs us to ‘keep the faith,’ we cannot abandon our team just because they hit a rough patch.”

That is what Nova Nation needs to do: keep the faith. Fans do not need to worry yet. If we are in the middle of Big East play with Whitmore and Moore back at full power and the team is still marginal by then, fine, such negative sentiment is appropriate. But I do not believe that scenario to be likely. With a fully healthy team and more time to adjust to new coaching, the Wildcats will be back in business soon. Give the team some time to recover from last year’s losses and build new strategies. 

“What we need to worry about is standing behind this team for all forty minutes regardless of what is thrown at them,”Harnett said.

Support the team on the court. Show up to games and feed them positive energy. The Wildcats’ time will come soon enough. Even though they have taken a few tough losses, don’t panic, Nova. The season has just begun.