For the first time in program history, Liberty has advanced to the NIT as the Flames received an at-large bid to the 2023 Tournament. The 2-seed Liberty Flames (26-8, 15-3 ASUN) takes on the Villanova Wildcats (17-16, 10-10 Big East) on Tuesday night from Liberty Arena in Lynchburg, Virginia.
“The fact that we have a program like Villanova, a program I have admired for years,” Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay said. “Jay Wright, who is one of the best coaches in the history of the game and Kyle Neptune had a lot to do with the Wildcats’ success over the years. They have a tremendous program that is really, really, really, really good. We will have a stiff challenge but looking forward to the opportunity.”
It was a down year by Villanova standards, a program that has won two national titles in the past seven years and was in the Final Four just a season ago. Without coach Jay Wright at the helm for the first time in decades, the Wildcats were slow out of the gates as they started the year 2-5. The struggles continued into Big East play where Villanova was 10-13 overall and 4-8 in conference in early February.
Under first year head coach Kyle Neptune, and with Cam Whitmore and Justin Moore both back settled into the lineup from their injuries, this became a new team down the stretch. The Wildcats won six out of seven games before a regular season finale loss against UConn. They would then split their two games in the Big East Tournament last week, defeating Georgetown before losing to Creighton in the quarterfinals.
The Wildcats are led by upperclassmen like Eric Dixon (15.5 ppg), Caleb Daniels (14.5 ppg), and Justin Moore (13.5 ppg) who have plenty of experience in big games. Big East Freshman of the Year Cam Whitmore is averaging 12.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
“He catapulted the Wildcats to the Final Four last year,” McKay said of Moore. “He’s a terrific player and you can see everybody has gotten better since he has returned to play. Dixon is playing at a really high level. Daniels is really good. Then, Cam Whitmore might be as good a freshman as there is out there maybe not named Brandon Miller. They’ve got dudes. Justin Moore is one of those dudes. We will have to do a great job in order to have a chance to advance.”
If Villanova was healthy all season, they would likely be preparing for their 10th straight NCAA Tournament appearance instead of playing Liberty in the NIT. Coach Neptune said in his press conference Monday that Justin Moore and Cam Whitmore are game-time decisions for Tuesday’s game.
“What a great opportunity to come see some of what the games’ best has to offer,” said McKay. “We know about the historical success they have had. It’s a program with great tradition. We normally would not get a game like this unless it was postseason or something abnormal happens. I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Here’s everything you need to know for Tuesday’s matchup:
How to Watch – Liberty Flames (26-8, 15-3) vs Villanova (17-16, 10-10 Big East)
- Date: Tuesday, Mar. 14, 2023
- Start Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN2
- Online Streaming: Watch ESPN
- Radio (Lynchburg): LFSN Radio (107.5 FM)
Odds and Statistics
- KenPom currently gives Liberty a 65 percent chance to win the game with a predicted score of 72-68.
- ESPN’s Basketball Power Index currently gives Liberty an 53 percent chance to win the game.
- N/A. This will be the first ever meeting between the two programs.
G Caleb Daniels, Grad., 6’4″, 210, 14.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg
G Justin Moore, Sr., 6’4″, 210, 14.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg
F Cam Whitmore, Fr., 6’7″, 232, 12.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg
F Brandon Slater, Grad., 6’8″ 220, 9.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg
F Eric Dixon, R-Jr., 6’8″, 255, 15.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg
Stat Leaders (2022-23 Season)
- Points: Darius McGhee – 22.5 PPG
- Rebounds: Blake Preston – 5.2 RPG
- Assists: Colin Porter – 3.8 APG
Ritchie McKay Press Conference Pre-Villanova