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More Heartbreak in the NIT for Villanova | #1 Villanova vs. VCU Recap

Written by on March 22, 2024

Villanova’s season comes to an end with a NIT loss to Virginia Commonwealth University, 70-61, but not before, there was one more heartbreak stop on this rollercoaster ride of a season. The Wildcats finish the season with a 18-16 overall record after the loss in the Opening Round of the NIT for the second consecutive season.

Villanova vs. VCU on Wednesday night at the Finneran Pavilion in the Opening Round of the NIT.

The Wildcats converted 41% of their shots from the field. However, they shot just 6 for 23 (26.1%) from behind the arc. Eric Dixon had another double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds. TJ Bamba shot 4-7 from the field for 12 points. Mark Armstrong scored 10 points with five assists against VCU. Villanova’s other two starters, Tyler Burton, and Justin Moore, combined for just six points. Burton played only 17 minutes, and he did not start at the beginning of the second half. He was replaced by Hakim Hart in the starting lineup to begin the final half.

VCU is now 23-13 overall as they advance in the NIT to face South Florida on Sunday night. They converted 42.6% of their shots from the field. The Rams found a lot of success from behind the arc. They shot 36.7% from three. VCU entered the game with good team three-point shooting stats, and they proved their three-point efficiency in this game. The Wildcats’ three-point perimeter defense continued to struggle, despite overall great defense this season by Villanova.

In 27 minutes of game action off the bench, Joe Bamisile converted 6 of his 9 shots from the field for 17 points. Max Shulga, who is VCU’s average leading scorer with 15 points per game, contributed 10 points and six assists. He was just 3-9 from the field, but he made some shots down the stretch. Toibu Lawal was a +5 when on the court for eight points and ten rebounds. Zeb Jackson led all players with a +16 when on the court against Villanova. Jackson converted just 2 for 9 shots from the field, but he still contributed eight points. VCU’s rotations, specifically with Bamisile coming off the bench, were very effective against Villanova to maximize their bench production and balanced depth scoring.

The Wildcats lose to the VCU Rams, 70-61, in front of just 1,763 fans: their smallest crowd of the season.

Some of the main differences between the Rams and Wildcats that led to a VCU win at the Finn were the bench scoring, assists, and blocks. Villanova’s bench was out scored, 42-12. Bamisile is usually a starter and played starter’s minutes while coming off the bench due to the rotations, but the Rams’ also had other players step up off the bench offensively. VCU won the assists category, 16-11. The Rams used good ball movement to create good three-point attempts, which led to their high conversion rate. Coming into this game, VCU’s defense was their biggest strength. They averaged seven steals and four blocks per game. VCU had four blocks against Villanova. The Wildcats did not have a block in the game.

Game Recap

First Half

The first half of the game moved along smoothly, and the score was close for the entire first half. Villanova’s biggest lead was six points, which came with 11:37 left in the first. However, VCU responded with a 11-0 run and took a 31-30 advantage into the locker room. Mark Armstrong made a last second buzzer beater three before halftime to cut the deficit to just one point. Both teams went on some large runs in the first half, but the Wildcats survived some pretty sloppy turnovers and bad offense in the first twenty minutes.

Second Half

The biggest lead Villanova had in the second half was three points, which happened in the beginning of the half. Villanova’s offense scored 30 points in the first half and 31 points in the second half. The Wildcats could not move the ball effectively around the floor and knock down key shots. Villanova showed some glimpses of good offense and dunks, especially from TJ Bamba, but overall, there was way more bad than good in the Wildcats’ offense. In addition to the struggling offense, Villanova’s defense did not look strong in the final twenty minutes. They left some VCU players wide open in the paint and could not come up with some big rebounds late in the game.  The Cats’ did not show any second half adjustments or improvements, specifically offensively. In front of the smallest crowd of the season at the Finneran Pavilion of 1,763 fans, Villanova’s season came to a crashing end with another low point in a disappointing season.

Will Coach Neptune return for a third season?

According to Jeff Neiburg of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Kyle Neptune will return as Villanova’s head coach next season. It will be his third season at the helm of the Wildcats’ program.

My Thoughts

Obviously, an Opening Round loss in the NIT was not the result anyone wanted. Villanova’s offense never produced consistency or lived up to high expectations set in the offseason. The Wildcats spent a lot of money on transfers, and unfortunately, they didn’t provide enough quality results for Villanova to consistently win at a high level. This is a crucial offseason and one that could decide the fate of Villanova basketball for a long time. Even with keeping Coach Neptune, Villanova has a lot of work to do, specifically in the transfer portal. The Wildcats must convince players to come to Villanova and play basketball. Based on recent results, that probably won’t be super easy as it was in prior seasons, but Villanova’s culture and locker room is second to none. We’ll see how the offseason goes for Villanova, but it’s no doubt that the results must be better next season. Nova Nation expects more.