Anders Said It: Kyle Neptune’s Improvement Could Be Seen A Mile Away


Graydon Paul/Villanovan Photography

Kyle Neptune coached the Wildcats to a win at Wells Fargo this past weekend.

Anders Pryor, Staff Writer

People fear change, and fear causes panic, but, for Villanova’s men’s basketball, panic feels like it is at a low point. 

Kyle Neptune being hired as the head coach of Villanova men’s basketball was emotional, as the ‘Nova Nation said goodbye to beloved Jay Wright. But, the change was easy to understand. With such a long track record of the same concepts and culture, an in-house hire seemed like option number one, even if it came sooner than preferred. 

Although the highs have been high, and the lows have been low, everything about the journey to this point feels like it makes sense. 

The story of Neptune’s first year as head coach can be divided into five chapters.

Chapter one is the early reality check. Without Cam Whitmore and without Justin Moore, the reality was that the Wildcats simply didn’t have the talent or experience to overcome what were perceived at the time as more complete rosters at Michigan State, Iowa State and Oregon. Neptune’s inexperience leading against unfamiliar non-conference was largely excused. 

Chapter two was Villanova’s entire campus riding the high of the arrival of Cam Whitmore. The Wildcats won five straight games at the beginning of Whitmore’s campaign, including two double-digit performances against UPenn and Boston College. There was no collegiate footage of Whitmore, so preparing for him was a task that had challenges, regardless of how talented we knew he was. Whitmore gave the team a spark — in the state sheet, on the court and psychologically — a spark that the team, and their fans, so desperately wanted. All of the criticism that was stored for Neptune had seemed to disappear. 

Chapter three was Moore’s absence, which exposed blind spots left and right. Once conference play began, all of the usual opponents who knew the Villanova roster up and down were able to figure out how to take advantage of Moore’s injury. That was a fine excuse for Neptune for a while, but then a number of close losses to weaker Big East teams began to show some serious flaws in his situational coaching, roster adjustments and play drawing — things that could not be simply patched up by Moore. Most games felt like a coaching mismatch, making the wanting of Wright’s return go from one of nostalgia to one of preference and need. 

Chapter four was the return of Justin Moore, which was the moment everyone part of the ‘Nova Nation had anticipated. They didn’t know when it would happen, but they knew that once it did, they would start to feel a sense of normalcy. But, after the celebration came a hard focus on Neptune. He has all the pieces and it’s time to make it work. And at first, it didn’t. Instead, the frustration reached a new high. All the blame understandable, and arguably appropriately, went on the coach. This was an idea that Villanovans never thought they would have to grapple with. 

And here we are, at chapter five: the last surge. Everything has clicked. In the past two victories against ranked opponents Xavier and Creighton, Neptune showed his best situational coaching in his career, ranging from one close win by a single point to a blowout.

Going into the Big East Tournament, this is just as good a time as any for us to see the emergence of chapter five. With two winnable games left, the Wildcats have the chance to end their once shaky season on a high note. And as for Neptune, he has the chance to change his image, turning himself into a guy who can win big games, while gaining the support and love of Villanovans as March arrives.