Anders Said It: Don’t Panic About Men’s Basketball

Mark+Armstrong+got+his+first+career+start+on+Saturday+against+Oklahoma.

Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Mark Armstrong got his first career start on Saturday against Oklahoma.

Anders Pryor , Staff Writer

Slow starts are not what the Villanova student body is used to. In fact, the Wildcats’ 3-5 record after their win against Oklahoma could be 5-3 and there would still be a certain degree of frustration. 

A new head coach, players lost to the NBA and injuries to the best players makes pointing fingers at certain groups really easy in the heat of the moment. Although criticism of the men’s basketball team is valid, there needs to be a sense of perspective and nuance before making any claims about the rest of the season. 

We all knew this season was going to feel a little “off” at first. But let’s not sugarcoat it: this is much shakier than expected. Living and dying by the three, something Villanova has always done, has caused the team to flirt with death on the scoreboard. Multiple games have made us say to ourselves, “if we made just two more, this game is entirely different.” 

Everything feels forced, even in the first half, as if the players are chasing points from the start. And the fact that it’s coming from veterans like Caleb Daniels, who last year was one of the most reliable scorers in moments of crisis, makes it especially disappointing. Villanova’s lack of size is starting to show itself on the boards as rebounds, especially on defense, continue to be a big struggle.

The four guard lineups we’ve seen coach Kyle Neptune experiment with made it as if the Cats didn’t even have a chance to grab the ball from the other team. We feel as small as we look. All the while, the tallest player, Nnanna Njoku, rides the bench when his physical frame is desperately needed. You can’t grab rebounds without your best rebounders on the floor. I don’t understand why that’s so hard to grasp. 

Not seeing a number 1-25 next to the V logo on national television is a weird feeling. 

But let’s take a step back. There are good things moving in the right direction for us.

Cam Whitmore has arrived. Two minutes into his debut on the court, it was obvious that he was better than anyone else on the floor for the Wildcats, or any of the opposing players. The freshman’s size, strength, speed, athleticism and refined ability became immediately apparent. His presence on the court brought a sense of not only consistency, but relief. He patches nearly all the holes that have haunted Villanova so far this season. And by the time he starts, this offense is going to run through Whitmore in a way that Villanova has never really seen their offense run through one person before. 

“Honestly, I’m shocked,” Neptune said. “Normal human beings, they would have been just completely discombobulated.”

Mark Armstrong is a starter. Finally. 

The offensive spark that Armstrong was able to provide off the bench got the attention he needed from not just the coach staff but also from members of the student body who have been calling for Armstrong to start since the second loss of the season against Temple. 

Until Whitmore gets his starting job, the last spot feels like it has been solidified as Chris Arcidiacono after having his best performance of the season so far. If he underperforms again, Jordan Longino would likely be called to fill that role, but Arch is off the hot seat for now. 

The win against Oklahoma was a vintage Villanova win: methodical, consistent, pump fakes, guards in the paint and most importantly, discipline. Daniels had his best game of the year and was extremely patient in one-on-one situations and didn’t just chuck up threes like he had been in the past four games. 

Eric Dixon had not yet been able to be himself and focus on utilizing his frame in the offensive system when he was the primary option. Now that other players are starting to put the ball in the basket with more consistency, he can focus on making the best of pick-and-roll situations the way he did last year. 

And most importantly from the victory, the ‘Cats controlled the tempo, even when they were down. Neptune was vocal in making sure everything was slowed down, which is just one reason why this was the best game he’s coached all year. 

Let’s take a deep breath. Everything is going to be fine with this team. 

Having five losses before New Year’s would be something nobody would be excited about, and the fact that they occurred consecutively makes them appear bigger than they really are. Saying that there’s tons of basketball left to play seems cliche, but with a starting Armstrong and a healthy Whitmore, it won’t be the same kind of basketball we’ve played up until this point. 

The Cats are back.