Following a disappointing campaign in 2022-23, Villanova appeared to be a much-improved team in its season opener Monday.
The 22nd-ranked Wildcats hope to build off that initial victory Friday when they host Le Moyne in nonconference action.
Under first-year coach Kyle Neptune, Villanova struggled last season to the tune of a 17-17 record (with a first-round loss in the NIT). The Wildcats, who won two national championships under previous coach Jay Wright, wound up missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.
However, Villanova looked more like itself in a 90-63 rout of American on Monday. Richmond transfer Tyler Burton notched 15 points and seven rebounds, while Eric Dixon added 15 points and Washington State transfer TJ Bamba chipped in 13.
“We’ve been together for a couple of months now and we’ve seen what these guys can do,” Neptune said.
Eight players saw at least 20 minutes of action for the Wildcats, who shot 54.2 percent from the field and knocked down 16 of 19 free throws. The starters combined for 59 points, 21 rebounds, 10 assists and zero turnovers.
“We want to keep our guys fresh and be able to play as hard as we possibly can,” Neptune said. “I just told the team in the locker room, ‘It could be one guy’s night one night, the next night could be some other guy’s night. Some guy could play more minutes one day, the other guy could play less.’ “
Burton, who averaged 36.2 minutes a game for Richmond last season, logged only 20 minutes in Monday’s triumph. Of course, he knew what he was signing up for when he transferred into a deep and talented program.
The same could be said of Bamba, who averaged 32.2 minutes for Washington State last season but only saw 21 minutes on Monday. Even guard Chris Arcidiacono, who averaged 22.2 minutes for the Wildcats last season, was limited to four minutes in the opener.
In just one game, Villanova’s depth was on full display.
“It’s a great comfort to just go in there and play as hard as you possibly can, get on the glass, defend,” Burton said. “The points will come. You’re not out there hunting shots.”
Le Moyne, meanwhile, is in its first season as a Division I program. The Dolphins opened with a 94-57 setback Tuesday at Georgetown in which they shot just 32.3 percent and missed 24 of their 31 attempts from long range.
“Obviously, we have a lot to learn,” said coach Nate Champion.
Kaiyem Cleary led Le Moyne with 11 points and seven rebounds. Darrick Jones Jr. and Luke Sutherland chipped in nine points apiece, while Mike DePersia and Trent Mosquera each added eight.
The Dolphins couldn’t contain Georgetown’s 6-foot-9 forward Supreme Cook, who recorded 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting and added 13 rebounds. However, the Le Moyne players know that as a D-1 program, they’re going to be facing high-caliber athletes like Cook on a nightly basis.
“We’re going to face guys like that,” DePersia said. “We’ve got ‘Nova on Friday. We’ve got some other big opponents, so we can’t just tuck our tails when we face a big like that.”