Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
For the second straight March, Villanova’s NCAA Tournament hopes took a major hit thanks to an injury to a key player.
The Wildcats confirmed what just about everybody who saw Justin Moore go down in the last minute of their Elite 8 win over Houston on Saturday night assumed: the junior guard had torn his Achilles tendon, done for the season, surgery this week.
Justin Moore (above) tore his Achilles tendon in his right ankle in the final minute of Villanova's Elite 8 win over Houston. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Suddenly, Villanova’s got a 14.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg hole in its production, not to mention an extremely short bench with Caleb Daniels (10.2 ppg) sliding into the starting lineup.
A three-year starter for the Wildcats with 92 games (77 starts) to his name, Moore already has 1,205 points in a Wildcats uniform, averaging double figures each season. The 6-foot-4 off-guard, a product of DMV-area powerhouse DeMatha Catholic (Md.) was playing a career-high 34.6 minutes per game, an indispensable part of Jay Wright’s rotation and leadership core.
“This is a tough blow for all of us, not just because of the great player Justin is, but because of what he means to us as teammates and coaches,” Wright said in a release. “As one of our captains, Justin has been an integral part of our success. He helps our team in so many ways. Every game, he guards the opponent’s best scorer and is one of the toughest rebounding guards we have had in our time at Villanova.”
Last year, it was all-Big East point guard Collin Gillespie who was sidelined in March, a torn meniscus suffered late in the regular season preventing Villanova from playing to its full potential in the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats losing in the Sweet 16.
Villanova said Moore’s injury will keep him sidelined “indefinitely,” and while that obviously means the end of this season, it’s certainly possible it impacts his 2022-23 season as well.
NBA star Kevin Durant, who suffered a full Achilles tear during the 2019 NBA Finals, missed the entire 2019-20 season as he recovered. He finally returned to the court in December 2020, about 18 months after the original injury.
“Justin’s work ethic and dedication will help bring him through this recovery, and we look forward to the day where we see him back on the court fully healthy,” Wright added.
Though this was his third season with Villanova, due to the 2020-21 blanket COVID waiver the NCAA issued, Moore still has two full years of eligibility remaining, not counting a potential redshirt season.
Moore’s the second Villanova shooting guard to go down this postseason; freshman Jordan Longino had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to fix a torn meniscus on Friday, an injury he originally suffered in practice on March 16, according to the program.
Without Moore or Longino, a team that was already thin for experience and healthy bodies is in dire straits.
Junior Bryan Antoine, a once-highly-touted recruit, has played in 45 games over the last three seasons but has struggled with chronic injuries of his own, limiting him to 9.5 minutes in 19 games this year. He and classmate Chris Arcidacono, who’s averaging 1.6 pg over his 34 appearances this year, are the only two ball-handlers that Wright will be able to bring off the bench with any experience whatsoever.
True freshman Angelo Brizzi would be another option, but he hasn’t taken the court for the Wildcats once this year, and it would be shocking to see Wright turn to him for the first time in the Final Four.
Villanova (30-7), in the Final Four for the third time in seven years (six tournaments), plays Kansas (32-6) on Saturday in New Orleans. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:09 PM, with North Carolina and Duke to follow in the second national semifinal.