PHILADELPHIA, PA: The College Basketball Season got underway today. Which game to watch live? Tough call for me… Donta Scott and Hakim Hart opened up their fourth season at Maryland under new Head Coach Kevin Willard. The Terps faced Niagara at home. Hysier Miller and Zach Hicks began their sophomore campaign at Temple. The Owls faced a tough Wagner squad led by Donald Copeland in his first year at the helm. Seth Lundy and Andrew Funk laced ’em up for Penn State against Winthrop.
I decided to head to Villanova. I wanted to see if Fran Dunphy’s Xs & Os could overcome a distinct disadvantage in the Jimmies and Joes. Dunphy began his coaching career 50 years ago at the United States Military Academy (1971–72). Bear in mind, Dunphy is the all-time winningest coach in Big 5 history. After a three year hiatus, he’s back to coach his alma mater and lead his third Big 5 program.
Nova’s head coach, Kyle Neptune was 16-16 last year in his lone season at Fordham in the Atlantic 10 Conference before being tapped to succeed the greatest coach in Big 5 history. This matchup against the Explorers was Neptune’s inaugural Big 5 game.
Does the Big 5 matter? Was I alone in considering that aspect of the game? Did anyone else give even the slightest f*#k that this was a Big 5 contest?
Serious question… Just curious.
With 580 career wins, it seemed reasonable to give the X & O advantage to Dunphy. Neptune, however, had a rather distinct Jimmy & Joe advantage. Eric Dixon and Caleb Daniel are top notch veteran Big East performers. During his senior year in high school, Dixon was named by USA Today as Pennsylvania State Player of the Year. He was listed at No. 74 by espn.com in its Top 100 Prospects of 2019. Last season, Dixon started every one of Villanova’s 38 games during the run to another Wildcat Final Four. He averaged 9.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 25.2 minutes per outing. A very efficient offensive player, he shot .498 from the field goal and .486 from behind the 3-point line. Last year he was awarded Most Improved Player by the Philadelphia Big Five.
This year he’s making an early case for best player in the Big 5.
He’s just one of the Neptune’s Jimmies…
And… There are several Joes.
Last year, Caleb Daniels averaged 10.2 points per game and helped Nova win the BIG EAST Tournament title and make it to another Final Four. Daniels was named to the All-NCAA South Regional Team and Second Team All-Philadelphia Big Five.
Brandon Slater started all 38 games last season. He scored 8.5 points and grabbed 3.7 rebounds for the Wildcats on their run to the Final Four.
Highly touted freshman Mark Armstrong was the 2022 Hudson County Interscholastic Player of the Year. He set a St. Peter’s Prep record with 1,776 career points. Armstrong was listed at No. 61 in ESPN’s Top 100 in the Class of 2022.
Keep in mind that Villanova has two (2) NBA Joes in street clothes at the moment. Senior guard, Justin Moore was named Second Team all-BIG EAST and First Team All-Philadelphia Big Five last season. He was the second leading scorer for the Wildcats, contributing 14.8 points per game and grabbing 4.8 rebounds per game. Moore tore his right achilles tendon suffered in the final minute of Villanova’s 50-44 victory over Houston in the NCAA South Regional Final. He is currently rehabbing the injury.
Freshman Cam Whitmore was the 2022 Gatorade Maryland Boys Basketball Player of the Year and a McDonald’s All-American. He was a two-time Baltimore Catholic League Player of the Year who also played in the 2022 Jordan Brand Classic. Whitmore was ranked No. 21 in the ESPN Top 100 of the Class of 2022.
Now… Keep in mind Whitmore and Moore were unavailable. Maybe… just maybe… Dunphy could scheme his way to an upset in a sold out Finneran Pavillion.
After all, it is a Big 5 game. Anything can happen… right?
The Jimmies and Joes overcame the Xs & Os…
Indeed, there were moments when Eric Dixon looked like he was playing against Quakertown. He finished with 20 points on 8-17 shooting, including 2-4 from behind the 3 point line. Dixon also contributed 4 assists and 3 blocks. Grabbing only 2 rebounds, he’ll need to improve considerably on the boards going forward.
Daniels was magnificent. He finished with 24 points, while shooting an efficient 8-11 from the field and 6-7 from behind the 3 point line. Daniels also pulled down a game high 10 rebounds.
Dixon and Daniels bussed dey ass…
For the Explorers, Josh Nickelberry scored 22 points while shooting 7-12 from the field and 5-9 from 3. He also pulled down 6 rebounds and 2 assists.
Khalil Brantley probed and penetrated throughout the contest. He managed to score a tough 11 points on 5-12 shooting from the field. He grabbed 4 rebounds and dished 2 assists.
Jhamir Brickus played a listless 34 minutes and did not score a point. Indeed, he only took 3 shots and 2 of them were 3 point attempts. La Salle will struggle to compete against quality opponents if Brickus is not contributing significantly at the offensive end.
Nonetheless, Dunphy kept it within reach… the Explorers were only down 11 with 2:37 remaining.
But it was not to be… Not tonight… The young coach with the Jimmies & Joes got the win. The winningest coach in Big 5 history learned something about his team… Gotta somehow get some of those Jimmies & Joes…
For the first time in the history of the Wildcat program, the Head Men’s Basketball coach is a Black man. Deserves mentioning, didn’t really factor in the game so I placed it here.