Any team fortunate enough to walk into East Lansing knows they’ll need every bit of help they can get, especially with a young team nursing a couple injuries to a few key players. Kyle Neptune may look to his new guys for those reinforcements.
“They’re a really good team, obviously, extremely well-coached,” Neptune said of Michigan State. “They play extremely hard, very disciplined. We’re going to have our hands full. Obviously, a hostile environment and a good challenge for our guys.”
And He’s willing to do whatever it takes to win, including giving the young guys a boost in minutes and a real shot to make an impact.
“If that’s where the game takes us, absolutely,” Neptune said. “They did a great job last time for sure, and we’re looking forward to increasing their minutes and them getting better as the season goes.”
With Cam Whitmore still out with no timetable for a return, what appears to be a few more weeks, first-year guards Mark Armstrong and Brendan Hausen have stepped into the spotlight when it comes to the freshmen class, and they have shined.
The Wildcats have won both of their games when Armstrong gets extended minutes. While it may have been a coincidence in a season-opener where the ‘Cats played well overall against La Salle, he clearly made his mark against Delaware State. He had seven second-half points off the bench, including back-to-back baskets that gave the ‘Cats the lead for good after a slow start, and he was a big spark off the bench, providing floor spacing and timely plays to reenergize the court. His athleticism in transition and around the rim is just as exciting and everyone had hoped.
Hausen, his classmate, was also a catalyst off the bench in that Delaware State game. Like Armstrong, he had all seven of his points (on 3-of-4 shooting) in the second half, a 12-minute outing to be exact, also providing a big boost in the win. Although he was billed a strong three-point shooter coming out of high school, and by Neptune in preseason chatter, he demonstrated there was much more to his game, as he helped make plays defensively and bolster Villanova in the overall winning effort.
Both of them are fearless, and the veterans and upperclassman upperclassmen have noticed their success and gave them props both on the hardwood and in their attitudes.
“(Hausen and Armstrong) are very eager to learn, very hungry to learn,” fifth-year forward Brandon Slater. “That’s all you can ask for. And not just those two, all the younger guys are all very eager to learn and to get out on the floor and try to do everything that the coaches ask them.”
They’ve made tremendous strides since their arrival on campus.
“They’re becoming really comfortable,” said fifth-year player Caleb Daniels. “Each game goes by, you can see how confident they’ve become and how much they’ve grown since the summer, and that’s special because they came in with the mindset of being willing to struggle. Most freshmen don’t have that mindset but ours do, and you can see that in their growth in how they’ve matured.”
Michigan State will be Villanova’s toughest test yet, and its first heavy-hitter in a non-conference slate that will ramp up from here, with the loaded PK85 Invitational on the horizon.
The Spartans are a physical team up front, with an experienced backcourt to boot. They led most of the way against No. 2-ranked Gonzaga, a game they ultimately lost by one point when foul trouble and cold-shooting took over. However, they rebounded in a big way with a win over No. 4 Kentucky on Wednesday night.
Michigan State enters with a 2-1 record.
“You just know they’re extremely tough and they play extremely fast,” Neptune said of Michigan State. “They’re extremely disciplined and well-coached. They’re gonna be a good team, no matter who’s in that uniform, you’re gonna play a good team whenever you play at Michigan State.”
Armstrong, Hausen and the whole team are ready for the challenge. Tipoff is Friday at 8 pm ET on FS1.