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Villanova’s DePaul Escape Was Alarming… But Could Be Erased Quickly

Graydon Paul/Villanovan Photography
Graduate guard Justin Moore hit a game-winning three to lift Villanova over DePaul, 58-57.

NEW YORK — “Thank God for Justin Moore,” Kyle Neptune said. Twice, actually, in the span of a five minute press conference. It couldn’t have been more of an understatement.

Moore’s three with eight seconds left was the winner as Villanova beat DePaul, 58-57. The three not only won Villanova the game, but kept Villanova’s Big East tournament run alive, kept Villanova’s postseason hopes alive, and, quite possibly, could have saved Neptune his job. It avoided catastrophe, a loss that would have been up there with the worst in program history.

Villanova (18-14, 10-10) entered the game on the NCAA tournament bubble, needing a win to stay alive and a few more to get in. DePaul (3-29, 0-20), which hadn’t won since 2023, entered looking to avoid the first 0-21 season in Big East history. The Blue Demons had lost their 20 conference games by an average of 23.95 points, and without factoring losses to similarly bad Georgetown, lost the other 18 by 26.38 points.

Yet Villanova needed late heroics just to win by one.

The Wildcats are alive, somehow, someway, though they’re further away from the NCAA tournament than they were before that game. Here’s what we learned from Villanova narrowly avoiding disaster.

Near Fatal Flaws

Villanova’s biggest struggles this season all showed themselves against DePaul.

The Wildcats have cost themselves key wins over UConn, Marquette, and Creighton through slow starts, digging holes it’s impossible to get out of. Their defense held DePaul from capitalizing in the first half, but Villanova managed 10 points in the first 9 minutes, 35 seconds of gametime. If the Wildcats hadn’t held DePaul to two of its first 18 from the field, they would have had a similar immediate deficit.

Villanova started the second half slowly, too. Mark Armstrong scored five quick points, but Armstrong and Dixon missed six consecutive shots as DePaul built an eight-point lead. The intensity just wasn’t there.

The Wildcats have had a knack for conceding double digit runs. Data scientist Evan Miyakawa periodically has posted a chart showing how often teams allow and go on 10-0 (or more) runs, dubbing them “Killshots.”

Though Villanova has improved this season (at one point Miyakawa joked about giving his chart a V axis because Villanova conceded so many), it’s still an issue. The Wildcats give up these runs with regularity, and DePaul built its eight point lead off an 11-0 run. 

Allowing elite opponents like Creighton or UConn to go on a run is one thing. To give DePaul a run like that? That’s a much more concerning issue.

Brutal Offense

The offense deserves its own section.

Villanova is a very good defensive team. Neptune preaches defense and rebounding because both are more controllable than trying to put the ball in the hoop, and there’s sound logic to that. When Villanova can’t score (which has happened with alarming regularity this year), the defense should keep the Wildcats alive.

Defense has kept Villanova in matchups with very good opponents… but it wasn’t supposed to be Villanova’s escape against DePaul. “I thought our defense carried us through not being able to make a shot,” Neptune said. Accurate assessment.

Beyond shooting, Villanova also had several sloppy turnovers, gave up open looks on defense, and all in all, played down to the level of arguably the worst team in Big East history. It looked like a team that would barely be in NIT conversations, let alone in talks for March Madness.

Neptune’s right that shots aren’t controllable. Bad shooting nights happen. But if Villanova can’t score against DePaul (KenPom’s 321st ranked defense), how will it score against Marquette (KP rank: 20)? Creighton (22)? Providence (17)? If the Wildcats want to advance to the NCAA tournament, after not helping themselves against DePaul, they’ll need to beat Marquette, then the winner of Creighton-Providence on Friday.

Marquette Scout

Villanova has two reasons for optimism ahead of Thursday night’s matchup with Marquette (9:30 p.m., FS1). One, in theory, it can’t be that bad again.

Two, Marquette (23-8, 14-6) is missing its best player, star guard Tyler Kolek. Kolek leads the country in assists (7.6 per game), and shredded Villanova in both matchups this year. In the first, he scored 21 with 11 assists. In the second, he silenced the Finneran Pavilion crowd with 32 points and nine assists. Kolek, nursing an oblique injury, could play later in the tournament, but Marquette is staying cautious and holding him out Thursday.

Kolek was a huge reason why Marquette averaged 86 points in its two matchups with Villanova, but the Golden Eagles are still dangerous without him. Guard Kam Jones is the main threat when Kolek’s out. He scored 30 and had nine assists in the Golden Eagles’ last game, an 86-80 win over Xavier. Jones missed the second matchup with Villanova, but led Marquette with 22 points against the Wildcats in Milwaukee.

Playing Marquette without Kolek is a huge opportunity for Villanova. However, even without him, the Wildcats will need to be much, much better than they were against DePaul to advance to Friday.

The beauty of a tournament format is a performance like Wednesday can be forgotten very, very quickly, as the Wildcats play less than 24 hours later. A Villanova win means DePaul is ancient history. A loss? Wednesday’s memories might stick around a little longer.

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About the Contributor
Colin Beazley
Colin Beazley, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Colin Beazley is one of two Co-Editors-in-Chief of The Villanovan for 2023. A senior Communication major specializing in Journalism, Colin is in his second year as co-EIC and held the position of Co-Sports Editor in 2021. A Los Angeles native, Colin is a die-hard Dodgers fan and strongly believes that Major League Soccer should institute a system of promotion and relegation. On rare occasions when he is not in the office, Colin can be found playing soccer or working on better ways to run a fantasy football league. Colin's writing has been seen in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Acorn.
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