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Villanova victimized by Penn: Are the Cardiac Cats in crisis?

The Wildcats lose to the Ivy League program down the street. Can VU sustain as a national power after Jay Wright?

NCAA Basketball: Le Moyne at Villanova Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament in 2023 after a trip to the Final Four in 2022. And for a program with national expectations every season (deserved or not considering their resources and facilities) In the 2023 offseason they hit the transfer portal hard, making some major pickups to beef up their starting five in the hopes of turning things around in Kyle Neptune’s second season. But things are not going as planned.

VU fell to Penn — not Penn State, UPenn, in Big 5 action last night. The Ivy League’s Quakers finished third in the conference last season, and with the new “City 6” format, this could be the second time the ‘Cats don’t win at least a share of the Philly series since 2013.

In the 76-72 defeat, the Wildcats lost in nearly every category. ‘Nova shot 34.9% from the field to Penn’s 51.1%, and didn’t even come close to the Quakers’ 41.2% from the perimeter.

Are Neptune and the Wildcats in trouble? Not necessarily — when piecing together a group of veteran players from the transfer portal, there are bound to be growing pains, no matter how talented the squad. That could be an explanation for the loss. The team could still be building chemistry and figuring out what works. But the starting transfers struggled in the loss in the legendary Palestra, where the ghosts of upsets haunt the high rafters at all times. Richmond grad transfer Tyler Burton put up just six points, and Washington State newcomer TJ Bamba added seven.

But these troubles can’t last for long. After Jay Wright took Villanova to the Final Four in 2022, fans will not stand for a team that can’t beat Ivies with that trip in recent memory. They don’t exactly have cupcakes ahead either, as the Wildcats face Maryland and Texas Tech in their next two games.

Neptune’s only previous head coaching gig came at Fordham between 2021 and 2022, in which the Rams finished 16-16. The Wildcats finished 17-17 last season. Is the stage too big for a young head coach? When Jay Wright took over the job, he had five seasons at Hofstra under his belt with two NCAA berths already, and five years as an assistant on the Main Line already.

It’s one game, so it’s not time to hit the panic button yet in Radnor. But things will need to turn around quickly as they get into the meat of their season, or else the “wine and cheese crowd” that writes the checks to fund the program might want to intervene as quickly as possible.