New faces lead No. 22 Villanova into opener vs. American

Villanova’s first season was a bit rocky following the retirement of Hall of Fame head coach Jay Wright.

The Wildcats finished 17-17 and were knocked out in the opening round of the NIT under Kyle Neptune, a longtime Villanova assistant under Wright.

No. 22 Villanova, which opens the season at home Monday against American, is expected to be markedly improved this season thanks to a strong transfer class consisting of Tyler Burton (Richmond), TJ Bamba (Washington State), Hakim Hart (Maryland) and Lance Ware (Kentucky).

Along with stellar veterans such as Justin Moore and Eric Dixon, the Wildcats already appear to be more formidable. Moore was named to the First Team All-Big East preseason team while Dixon was named to the Second Team.

“Every year is a different challenge, and it’s always a puzzle,” Neptune said. “Last year we kind of struggled with numbers. This year we have a good amount of numbers. Every year is different and you’ve just got to figure it out as you go.

“It’s really good for practice, a lot of competition, really good for games. We don’t have to play guys extended minutes. It is a puzzle and we’re going to figure it out as we go.”

Unlike last season, Villanova will field a deep team which also includes the likes of talented players such as Jordan Longino, Mark Armstrong, Jordann Dumont and Brendan Hausen.

Expect the Wildcats to rely on the 3-point shot, especially Hausen.

“We’d love to get him as many shots as we can; obviously he’s a great shooter,” Neptune said of Hausen. “I think our team in general, we have a lot of great options offensively.”

American will open the season with a new look as Duane Simpkins makes his head coaching debut against Villanova.

Simpkins, who replaced Mike Brennan, joined the Eagles after eight seasons on the staff at George Mason.

American managed to finish above .500 last season with a 17-15 mark though it suffered an 84-76 double-overtime loss to Lafayette in the Patriot League semifinal round.

Matt Rogers had 24 points and 13 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season.

Not surprisingly, Rogers has been named to the Patriot League preseason all-conference team.

Rogers averaged 14.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season. He led the team in scoring while shooting 61.3 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from 3-point territory.

American won eight straight games during one stretch last season thanks in large part to Rogers.

This year’s group was picked to finish third in the league’s preseason poll, and they’ve already had a chance to bond with a nine-day trip to Italy in August.

“Italy was a great team bonding and family fun experience,” Rogers said. “We all grew as an AU community, which gets us steps closer to our ultimate goal of winning the Patriot League championship and making the NCAA Tournament.”

This senior-laden team also features key standouts such as Lincoln Ball and Colin Smalls.