Kyle Neptune lacks answers as ugly losses threaten to derail Villanova season
On Wednesday, Villanova wasnt tough enough, pushed around for the better part of 40 minutes by previously struggling St. Johns.
Three days later, it couldnt close out a win over mediocre Butler, blowing an 11-point lead in the final 4:23 of regulation.
It was a very un-Villanova week, out-muscled one game and unable to execute in key moments the next.
Except, maybe this is what this program is at this point.
At least, this is what the Wildcats have been the past two seasons, aside from the November exception that was the Battle 4 Atlantis Classic in the Bahamas where they beat three projected NCAA Tournament teams in Texas Tech, North Carolina and Memphis, in convincing fashion.
nd as the inconsistency and underperformance has piled up, the focus has intensified on coach Kyle Neptune, Jay Wrights successor.
The answers havent been there for a team that was ranked 22nd in the Associated Press preseason poll and added projected impact transfers TJ Bamba (Washington State), Tyler Burton (Richmond) and Hakim Hart (Maryland) to the core of Eric Dixon, Justin Moore, Jordan Longino and Mark Armstrong.
The transfers are all having significantly worse seasons compared to last year, while Moore hasnt been himself since missing five weeks with a sprained knee.
6Villanova is struggling to meet expectations under Kyle Neptune. Getty ImagesAt times, it looks like a team without a leader, which is a pretty jarring thing to say for a group with so much experience.
It was beaten up by St. Johns on Wednesday, out-rebounded by 19 and dominated over the final 10 minutes, outscored by 15.
The loss to Butler was worse.
Villanova was up 17-3 out of the gate, and allowed a layup and a dunk at the end of regulation and the first overtime that tied the game in both instances.
Again, just not stuff you have seen from this program over the last decade. Villanova is now headed to the bubble, 11-9 overall and trending in a bad direction having lost five of the last six games.
Neptunes biggest issue is time he doesnt seem to have much of it. Expectations were too high for this team to underachieve like it has. The shoes he stepped into may be too big, at least at this point in his career. A second straight season without an NCAA Tournament bid would make next year likely a make-or-break season for him — and thats if Neptune sees next year.
6Villanova blew a big lead against Butler on Saturday. Getty ImagesPersonally, I dont think the Neptune criticism is completely fair. This is his third season as a college basketball head coach. Hes 39 years old. The problem was the hire to begin with. I get that Villanova wanted to keep it in the family, and Neptune served as an assistant for Wright from 2013-21, but this was an impossible spot for an inexperienced head coach. In Wrights third year as a head coach, he went 12-15 at Hofstra. He didnt win 20 games until his fifth season.
Its easy to fault Neptune, which so many are. The team isnt performing up to expectations it is one of the most disappointing teams in the country, now in danger of missing the tournament so its natural to point the finger at the coach. Odds are, though, that whoever took over for Wright would struggle.
You cant adequately replace a Hall of Fame coach. Villanova is finding that out.
Garden of dreams
Next Saturday is lining up to be a monster day at the Garden, a doubleheader featuring St. Johns-Connecticut at noon and the Knicks-Lakers in the evening.
After throttling Xavier by 43 points on Sunday, the Huskies will enter the meeting with the Johnnies No. 1 in the country.
6UConn coach Dan Hurley. Getty ImagesSt. Johns looks like a tournament team in Rick Pitinos first season, and has proven to be able to play with the leagues best teams, falling by a combined six points to No. 1 UConn, No. 14 Marquette and No. 17 Creighton.
Then, there is the subplot of Pitino saying he wanted to play the Huskies at Carnesecca Arena next year, which was a way to tweak UConn and Dan Hurley. Thats not going to happen, although there is clearly a burgeoning rivalry and some underlying animosity between the two intense coaches.
St. Johns came away feeling it shouldve won the first contest between the two in Hartford, a four-point loss, back on Dec. 23. UConn star center Donovan Clingan missed that game, it should be noted.
6St. John’s coach Rick Pitino. Robert Sabo for NY PostWhile it remains in good shape to go dancing, St. Johns is without a marquee victory. This certainly would be one with a bullet.
MSG, which is expected to either be sold out or close to it for this encounter, will be rocking.
Game of the Week
No. 12 Duke at No. 3 North Carolina, Saturday, 6:30 p.m. ET
Duke has won 10 of its last 11 games. North Carolina has reeled off 10 consecutive victories. The two bitter rivals meet for the first time in Chapel Hill with plenty of stake.
A Tar Heels victory would go a long way towards them locking up the ACC regular-season crown, while a Blue Devils win would be a major boost to a rsum in need of a high-profile road win.
Jon Scheyers team is just 4-4 in Quad 1 and 2 games, and there are few opportunities in the pedestrian-at-best ACC.
1: Purdue, Connecticut, Houston, North Carolina2: Tennessee, Arizona, Wisconsin, Kansas3: Marquette, Baylor, Creighton, Alabama4: Kentucky, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Auburn
Not all was lost when Bryce Hopkins went down with a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 3. Carter has made sure of that for Providence.
He refused to let the Friars lose in Ed Cooleys anticipated return, pouring in 29 points along with four steals and two blocks, and in the six games since Hopkins injury, the 6-foot-3 guard is averaging 23.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals.
Hes a Big East Player of the Year favorite, a surefire All-American selection and a future NBA player.
Just remember, Providence fans, Cooley brought you Carter. This team wouldnt sniff the NCAA Tournament without him.
6Providence’s Devin Carter. Getty ImagesGrant McCasland
The first-year coach at Texas Tech has to be a Big 12 Coach of the Year favorite at this point.
The Red Raiders were picked eighth in the conference, lost three of their top four scorers and all McCasland has done is lead them to the top of the best conference in the country after Saturdays gutty road win at No. 11 Oklahoma.
Oh, and he lost starting center Devan Cambridge to a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 6.
This, of course, shouldnt be a surprise to anyone who has followed his career, from the junior college ranks to working under Scott Drew at Baylor from 2011-16 to winning 20 games five times in six seasons at North Texas.
The metrics love the Tigers. They are a top-10 team in the NET, are ranked seventh by KenPom and feature a defense that is fifth in efficiency. And, yet, this team lacks a marquee victory, now 0-3 in Quad 1 games after road losses to Alabama and Mississippi State this week.
This isnt about whether Auburn will make the NCAA Tournament the Tigers are pretty much a guarantee barring a major collapse but for a team that has been so impressive for the better part of the season, the record against quality teams is concerning for March
Bruce Pearls group will have chances in the coming weeks to improve its rsum, facing the likes of Alabama, South Carolina and Kentucky at home.
6Arizona suffered a tough loss to Oregon State. APPac-12
The final year of the current composition of the conference had a breakthrough football season. Washington reached the national championship. Basketball has not enjoyed the same success.
Even Arizona, the leagues lone Final Four contender, stubbed its toe this week by losing to woeful Oregon State. UCLA and USC are under .500 overall as the two most disappointing teams in the country. Utah, a bright spot through the non-conference season, is 0-5 on the road in conference play and playing its way onto the bubble.
The league has only three teams Arizona, Colorado and Utah in the top 40 of the NET rankings. Thats not a recipe for more than a few at-large bids come Selection Sunday.
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