PORTLAND, Ore. — Villanova doesn’t have a crisis, but it does have a problem, and it goes something like this: Villanova isn’t very good. Now it’s not a developer. The personality system and the area does not change, although it has leadership. But it is good. Reinvention was not an option, anyway. But if the philosophy is the same, and the results are not, and not even close, that is a warning on the dashboard. It is indicative of a group without actually living up to its identity. He complains that
“We’re at a point right now where we’re defining ourselves completely differently than everybody else,” first-year coach Kyle Neptune said after his third loss in late November, an 81-79 overtime loss against Iowa State on a PK. In spite of it, it was not difficult exactly what he wanted. Probably because there was no one at Villamnova to say anything for a while.
The best we can say is that Neptune already wants to calculate the time and process into small parts, so that every player can digest it more easily. It takes time to create and take time. Cana, but comprehensible. Everyone looked at this group and wondered if things would always be the same before one minute had passed. The usual expectation is replaced with seriousness. Expectation was crushed by a heavy blanket.
Somewhere in what Neptune said, there is recognition, but. No surrender. Not on November 24, which is the first Damage No. 3 has arrived at this program since 2013, but it’s still early days nonetheless. But the nod, yes, is that Villanova-level talent isn’t usually all at Villanova, certainly not the five-star freshman still grinding on the sidelines. So the whole business might take a lot longer to get its look.
– Iowa State People’s Blog (@CycloneMBB) on November 24, 2022
Villa Nova was a typical draw on Thursday, certainly with all the ball movement and probing on the perimeter and the push-and-kick with small ball lines on the floor. For the most part, these beastly 3s are releasing almost as much as those that came before them. The same as always. “They do such a great job of pushing you, getting two feet in the paint and getting you to pull back and find shots,” Iowa State coach TJ Otzelberger said. “It is not easy to defend.” But it’s an empty threat if those shooters make just 28.2 percent of those shots, which has ensured Villanova’s success in the last four games. When his long-term spike rate looks like it did against the Cyclones — 36 of his 57 field-goal attempts came from beyond the arc, which is a lot, even by the program’s standards — then this version of Villanova becomes almost dimensionless on offense.
Again: He complains.
It is an eye drops, if not a solution. The overall energy level can make some difference. And if Villanova hasn’t learned after Thursday, he never will.
One of the benches at the Fashion Center was a beehive. One of the seats chanted “Kill, kill, kill” every time there was a defensive three-stop chance. Another bench was Villanova. For as Neptune is reduced to the sideline, the vibe of the team is not up to par, at least in the morning. Iowa State thrived off creating turnovers and crashing the glass heavily, and the Wildcats understood the fighting conditions and submitted accordingly. Instead, Villanova got bullied. Even writing that hurts. But for the first 25 minutes or so on Thursday, it’s hard to imagine otherwise. “The way they play is unique,” Neptune said. “It took us a little while to settle down. He certainly relaxed us a little, and put us on our heels.”
When Villanova came around, everything changed. Eleven forced turnovers in halftime and overtime. They made nine offensive rebounds in the same span, none more so than Brandon Slater as Iowa State’s Aljaz Kunc stepped up to corral a shot and make a free throw with 10.6 seconds remaining in regulation. One of the least formidable offensive teams in the country bounced back to finish 4-plus in second-chance points. Villanova is a deadbeat team that makes a living chasing down its shots, all while going with unlucky lineups to make sure it hits.
I went out
Villanova’s Kyle Neptune looks a lot like Villanova’s Jay Wright – now
This makes the team an active option, and the Beasts didn’t do it quickly enough. “During the last four or five minutes of the game, we were playing hard, getting into a little bit of a groove, a little bit of turnover,” Neptune said. “It was just a little too late.” Acceptance, they say, is the last step. I can explain the delay. But if Villanova doesn’t realize that pretending the other side isn’t an option — not yet and maybe not until March — then it’s going to invite more nights to forget this season three instead.
Coach Villanova has been worried for a while — with Portland on the docket Friday in the consolation bracket, there is only one chance left for Portland to win with quality — but there is a way forward. For one, Cam Whitmore will theoretically play college basketball this year and fill the opportunity slot some more. (Justin Moore will too, but the questions require closer attention than he can provide). At a granular level, Neptune can learn and adapt with a staff; Iowa State’s two biggest buckets, for example, were a direct result of the game plan to attack Villanova’s staff, with the Wildcats losing the guard battle to the Cyclones for a significant pair of 1s.
These dynamics are not trivial. There is no problem, though. Or at least not repair very quickly.
As overtime drew to a close Thursday, Iowa State had the ball blown apart while Villanova guards Chris Arcidiacono and Jordan Longino were left flat on their backs on the Moda Center floor. One last series of darkness. One last test of desperation failed. Villanova may not be as great as Villanova is used to be. But there may be something more to decide than it is now.
(Top photo: Soobum Im / Getty Images)