Yes, the season technically began last Friday with the blowout win against Farleigh Dickinson, but last night was the true first step of the 2015-16 season for three reasons. First, the student lottery gave the FDU game to the freshmen to get them excited early, and Nebraska to upperclassmen. Anyone who went to both games can tell you which crowd cheered better. Second, Nebraska was Villanova’s first taste of power five conference basketball, and a tournament contender team at that. In other words, everyone has heard of Nebraska, even if they can’t find it on a map. Lastly, this Villanova team saw its first moments of adversity last night. Nebraska gave the Wildcats a scare, albeit briefly, and this team stayed calm enough to not only take back the lead but advanced on a 20-0 run to end the half.
While credit is due to the entire team for the victory—six players scored more than eight points—honors are especially due to Josh Hart and Daniel Ochefu. Last night, Hart proved himself to head coach Jay Wright that he can be a reliable starter after two years of playing the sixth man role. Hart left no doubts about his starting ability, as he played for a team-high 31 minutes and led the team with 19 points as well. The Chef also proved his salt to Nova Nation. He grabbed 10 rebounds, cooking up 17 points (including some outside the paint), en route to a double-double.
With victory all but won after the explosion of offense to end the first half, the highlight of the night may have come in the last minute of the game. Up by over 20, the student section kindly requested Jay Wright make a substitution. Coach happily obliged, and Henry Lowe of our namesake The Bench Mob tore off his warmups and checked into the game. Donte Divincenzo, Delaware’s favorite high-jumping Italian, ended up taking control that last minute, but to see a senior who has supported this team from the bench for four years take the court was well worth his lack of points.
This victory was truly a statement win. In beating the shuck out of the Cornhuskers, Villanova quieted any lingering dissent that the Wildcats are not a top ten team. The 24 point victory also affirmed that the Pavilion, with all the charm of an 80’s high school gym, is Villanova basketball’s “safe space,” as they have now won a staggering 28 consecutive games there.
With two cupcake games before the first real stretch of the season begins against Stanford at the Barclays Center, Villanova has a chance to fine tune itself. This could be a season for the ages if Jalen Brunson and Darryl Reynolds hit their strides early while Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono continue to improve. The sky is the limit for Jay Wright’s team, and Nova Nation has a lot to be excited about.