12 Days of Big East-Mas: Villanova Wildcats
Like most Big East teams, the Villanova Wildcats will be coming into the 2022-23 season missing a few familiar faces on the sidelines. Collin Gillespie, the back-to-back heart and soul of the Wildcats, departed for the NBA, as did his co-captain Jermaine Samuels. Other departures include Bryan Antoine who transferred to Radford and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree who could not seem to get back on track after injury derailed his career.
That's it right? I'm not forgetting anyone am I?
Oh yeah, just Hall of Fame head coach Jay Wright. Not even Shaquille O'Neal could fill in the giant shoes Jay left behind, but man, did the Wildcats pick the right guy for the job. Wright's predecessor is none other than Kyle Neptune, his own assistant from 2013-2021. Neptune left last year to fill the vacancy left at Fordham and turned a two win team into a sixteen win team in just a years time. Now he's back, equipped with the knowledge he gained as a first year head coach in addition to the familiarity with the program he helped build, ready to carry on the Wildcat tradition.
Well, I kind of spoiled that in the above section didn't I?
I don't think it can be overstated enough the impact losing Jay Wright is going to have. Any time a coach of Wright's pedigree leaves for greener pastures, there will almost certainly be a drop-off in the first year.
Now that is no slight on Kyle Neptune. Out of anyone in the world to carry on the tradition, I would have picked Neptune as well. There will be growing pains, there will be things for Neptune to learn over the course of his first couple of years, but Neptune is equipped with the knowledge, talent and poise it takes to be successful for a very long time.
Now let's take a look at some of the departed players shall we?
Collin Gillespie: What more could you say about Collin Gillespie that hasn't already been said? Two time conference player of the year, leader, bucket, he was the whole package. But losing him may hurt more in the locker room than it does on the court. His leadership and 'coach on the floor' personality was unmatched and will certainly be missed. After going undrafted, Gillespie signed with the Denver Nuggets as a free agent. After an impressive summer, Gillespie, unfortunately, suffered a fractured leg which will sideline him for the next 5-6 months.
Jermaine Samuels: Jermaine, another vocal leader for the Wildcats is also gone. You can take most of what I said about Gillespie and copy it in for Jermaine here. After going undrafted Samuels signed a contract with the Indiana Pacers, and he currently plays for their G-League affiliate the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
Cam Whitmore - FR Odenton, MD
Mark Armstrong - FR South Orange, NJ
Brendan Hausen - FR Amarillo, TX
Angelo Brizzi - RFR Warrenton, VA
The obvious showstopper here is Cam Whitmore, and for good reason. A likely lottery pick in this upcoming draft, Whitmore may be the most talented incoming freshman Villanova has had, maybe ever. Seeing how Kyle Neptune will utilize him is going to be interesting, but it will be hard to keep that much talent on the bench. The only setback for Whitmore will be a hand injury that he sustained a couple of weeks ago.
Mark Armstrong is not Cam Whitmore's sidekick. Armstrong was also on the FIBA U18 National Team with Whitmore when they took gold over the summer. Armstrong is confident, athletic, explosive, and most importantly smart. He is a risk to leave for the NBA after his first year, but if Villanova is lucky enough to keep Armstrong on campus for more than a year he has a chance to go down as an all time Villanova guard.
Brendan Hausen, affectionately named the Amarillo Assassin, has 'in the gym' range, but that is not the only thing that Hausen brings to the table. The 6'4 guard moves without the ball at an elite level, makes smart passes and is improving his defense at an exciting level. Look for Hausen to contribute some important minutes his first year.
Last, but certainly not least is Angelo Brizzi. Brizzi was with the team last year, but after getting lost in the depth chart decided it was best for him and the program to redshirt. Now, with one year under his belt, Brizzi is back and ready to make some noise. I noted at the Blue vs White intrasquad scrimmage Brizzi was the unofficial MVP and he certainly looks like he made the most improvements over the summer. I mean, just look at this:
I don't know what the rotations are going to look like for the Wildcats in Neptune's first year but I'd have to imagine Brizzi sees himself cutting into some big minutes.
The big three of Caleb Daniels, Eric Dixon and Brandon Slater are going to be the foundation of this team. The Wildcats will only go as far as these guys take them. For Daniels, I am extremely high on him this year. When I caught up with him on media day, he told me he worked the most on leadership this offseason. Pairing advanced leadership with raw talent is an outstanding combo for the fifth year senior. Dixon is another guy who looks ready to take a step. He completely transformed his body over the summer and is primed for a year of dominance in a forward heavy conference. Lastly, is Brandon Slater. How the hell did Slater not get any preseason honors? I won't get into that too much but look for Slater to make a lot of people look stupid this season.
Next is the group of guys who are younger that can certainly contribute. That includes, Trey Patterson, Chris Arcidiacono, and Nnanna Njoku. All three of these guys are question marks, all of them have the talent to contribute, but with Villanova being as deep as they are this year, could be tough. If I were to pick one to contribute right away I would nab Patterson. He was the highest recruit going into Villanova and I expect him to put it on full display this year.
That brings us to Jordan Longino, and as Jon Rothstein would say, buy stock now. I asked almost every player at media day who they would pick to have a breakout year and it was unanimously Longino.
That brings us to Justin Moore and Collin O'Toole. Unless you've been living under a rock this offseason, I don't need to bring you up to date on what happened to Justin Moore. Having him back for conference play would be huge and even if he is 50% of who he was pre-achilles that would still be one of the premier guards in the conference. Collin O'Toole would likely go to your local park and dice up the competition there like he was prime Gillespie, but with that being said, if we see O'Toole on the floor this season, it most likely means something is going really good or really bad for the Wildcats.
Projected Starting Five (Opening Night):
Projected Starting Five (NCAA Tourney Time-ish)
KenPom Projection: 20th, First in Big East
Coaches Poll Prediction: Fourth (lol)
RTTG Power Ranking Rank: Second
My Pick: First