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“We Definitely Had More Potential”: Marquette Loss Is Another Missed Villanova Opportunity

Courtesy of Villanova Athletics
Villanova fell to Marquette, 71–65 in overtime, in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals on March 14.

NEW YORK — At the postgame presser, Kyle Neptune was still digesting his team’s 71–65 overtime loss to Marquette. There was a lot to take in.

The most immediate consequence was the simplest: the Wildcats were eliminated from the Big East tournament in the quarterfinals. After winning the tournament in 2022, they’ve lost on Thursday in consecutive years. There would be no Friday semifinals, no Saturday final and no game to prepare for that night and the next day.

The bigger consequence was this: for the second consecutive year, Villanova (18–15) won’t make the NCAA tournament.

As much as those within the program dance around the Dance, such as by saying “the goal is to be the best team we can be by the end of the season,” the unspoken target is always to make the NCAA tournament. Villanova may not walk around with printed out trophies on whiteboards the way UConn does, but this is still a program that is expected to compete for them. Beyond the Battle 4 Atlantis in November, this year’s team fell short.

In the short term, Villanova will decide whether it wants to compete in the NIT, the second-tier postseason competition. But it’ll be digesting the Marquette loss — and other missed opportunities this season — for much, much longer.

What We Learned

Besides finding magic in the Bahamas, two close wins to open Big East play and Justin Moore’s Wednesday winner against DePaul, Villanova’s season has been defined by coming up just short. The Wildcats lost two Big 5 games by a combined six points, lost by one at Kansas State in overtime, missed an upset of No. 1 UConn by one point, fell to Creighton on a buzzer beater, and came within a fingertip of losing to Marquette on yet another. If two of them go differently, Villanova is preparing for the NCAA tournament right now, or still playing in New York.

As it is, Villanova must stew on those missed opportunities. The Wildcats came up short this season and have to live with it, regardless of NIT results.

That continued a trend over Neptune’s first two seasons. Villanova is 3-7 in games decided by five points or less this year, after being 5-7 last year. In an admittedly unfair comparison to Jay Wright’s final team, the 2022 Final Four squad went 5-2 in those games. (That team was also 5-1 in games decided by six points… but its success in close games was far from the only reason it made its run in March.)

Playing Marquette also showed that Villanova’s late season defensive revival was real. Neptune wants his team to pride itself on defense and rebounding, and he’s succeeded in that aspect. After allowing 87 and 85 points in two regular season matchups with the Golden Eagles, Villanova held Marquette to 58 points in regulation. Even though Marquette was without star guard Tyler Kolek, Villanova can be proud of its defensive progress.

However, the offense proved to be Villanova’s downfall. Technically Villanova will always be the best team it can be by the end of the season, but even one of the most loyal Wildcats admits the team fell short.

“We definitely had more potential to be a little bit better,” Chris Arcidiacono said. “ … Defending and rebounding, yeah, we accomplished that, but [we] definitely didn’t finish with the result that we wanted.”

Hope for the Future

After struggling mightily against DePaul, sophomore guard Mark Armstrong had one of his best games of the season against Marquette. (Coincidentally, his three highest scoring games of the year all came against the Golden Eagles.)

Armstrong was aggressive, scoring 15 points on 6-10 shooting. He didn’t force shots, playing to his strengths with layups and midranges. He didn’t have any turnovers and had three assists, and would have had more if his teammates made a few more open shots.

However, his best was on defense. Armstrong got into foul trouble with a couple of soft, reach-in fouls, which is something to improve upon. However, once Armstrong re-entered the game with four fouls at the 5:55 mark, he was impressive, moving his feet and displaying fundamentally sound defense. He was physical multiple times without being called for a foul, and on Marquette’s penultimate possession of regulation, blocked Stevie Mitchell’s turnaround jumper.

“He’s going to be great,” Moore said. “He’s been getting better and better throughout the season. And I’m proud to see his growth as a player.”

Armstrong plays faster than Villanova guards typically have, and it’s entirely possible Armstrong could consider transferring to a program that plays at a higher pace and would utilize his speed more than Villanova does. But he’s also shown, especially Thursday, that he can be a classic Villanova guard. If he chooses to stay, he could be someone to build around.

End of the Road

Thursday could have been the final game in a Villanova uniform for a host of Wildcats, most notably Moore. Hakim Hart, Tyler Burton and Arcidiacono are all in their final years of eligibility.

The Villanovan asked each postgame if they’d play if Villanova is selected for the NIT, and only Arcidiacono gave an answer beyond saying they hadn’t thought about it.

Anytime you get a chance to put on that Villanova jersey, you’ve got to play with it and play with pride,” Arcidiacono said. “I don’t want to pass up any opportunities to do that.” However, he is the only one of the four who is not expected to have a professional basketball career. The others may opt out of the NIT as to not risk injury.

If this is it for Moore, he goes out as a Villanova legend. He’s scored 1663 points in five years at Villanova, including averaging 14.8 for the Final Four team. He started 118 of his 133 games and became known as a leader and a pillar of Villanova’s culture, helping integrate freshmen and transfers to the program. It’s not the final act he wanted or maybe even deserved, regardless of whether he and Villanova participate in the NIT.

The biggest decision of the offseason, whenever it comes, is Dixon’s. Dixon came to Villanova at the same time as Moore, but because he redshirted as a freshman, he has one more year. Dixon’s dad, also named Eric Dixon, seemed to indicate in a Philadelphia Inquirer article that his son would look towards professional opportunities after the season.

It’s possible that a good opportunity might not materialize, sending Dixon back for a sixth year, but as Eric Dixon Sr. said, “He came to Villanova for certain reasons, to get certain things, and he’s gotten all of those things.”

Dixon would have the same decision as Moore whether to play in the NIT or not. But if this is it for him, he says he’d have no regrets.

“I love this place,” Dixon said. “I love this program. I love my teammates. I’ve got brothers for life. We played as hard as we could every single night we [went] out there.”

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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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