Right before officially clinching their seventh Final Four berth this past weekend, the Villanova Wildcats lost junior guard Justin Moore, who had to be helped off the floor after a freak injury while dribbling to kill the clock with less than 45 seconds to go.
'Nova beat Houston 50-44 in the Elite Eight to become one of the last four standing teams in the Big Dance for the first time since 2018. However, it was announced days later that Moore — Villanova’s second-leading scorer at 14.8 points per game on .397/.356/.750 shooting splits — ruptured his right Achilles tendon, prematurely ending his season.
Much of the basketball world united in comforting Moore during an excruciatingly awful time to receive such news, including Kevin Durant, who ruptured his own Achilles during the 2019 NBA Finals.
“I texted Kevin; he called me,” Wright recalled to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “And Kevin said, ‘I was watching that, and it looked just like — I knew it when he went down; it looked just like mine.’ So we talked for a while about it.
“What was so impressive to me was, Durant said, ‘I’d like to talk to [Justin], talk to the parents about the process. I want to tell him that.’ He listed himself, Klay Thompson, a couple other guys I can’t remember — he goes, 'Look, these guys had it in the NBA.' And people in the NBA know now that you can come back from that.”
Moore wasn’t just 'Nova’s second-best scorer throughout the 2021-22 season, but the 6-foot-4 guard earned Second Team All-Big East honors and All-Big East Tournament honors earlier this month. Moore’s been a starter in all three of his seasons at Villanova, and has seen his scoring averages jump from 11.3 to 12.9 to 14.8 points per game. This season, he netted a career-best 17.1 points per 40 minutes while also being the Wildcats’ best rebounding guard, pulling down 4.8 boards per contest.
According to FiveThirtyEight, there have been six major injuries to Final Four bound teams in the Men’s NCAA Tournament since 2010. Using the qualifier of players logging at least 20 minutes in an NCAA Tournament, these players include Kalin Lucas of Michigan State in 2010, Darryl Bryant of West Virginia that same year, Louisville’s Kevin Ware (do not Google it if you’re reading this during lunch) in 2013, Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky in 2014, Auburn’s Chuma Okeke in 2019, and now Moore.
Lucas ruptured his Achilles against Maryland in Round 2, and the Spartans subsequently lost in the Final Four. Oddly enough, Bryant broke his foot in the same round, and his Mountaineers were also eliminated in the Final Four. Ware had a gruesome injury against Duke in the Elite Eight, and his Cardinals are the only team of this specific group that became national champions so far. Cauley-Stein suffered a left ankle injury in Round 1, and his Wildcats lost in the title game. And Okeke tore his ACL in the Sweet 16; Auburn reached the Final Four round before having its season end.
So, how does 'Nova piece together the production and minutes to replace Moore? He’s logged 35.9 minutes per game since the beginning of the Big East Tournament, and has led the Wildcats with 34.6 minutes per contest this season.
Collin Gillespie — the 2022 Big East Player of the Year, Big East Tournament MVP and Third-Team All-American — will likely be keyed in on that much harder against Kansas this weekend. (I mean, that’s what you’d all do if you were in charge of the Jayhawks' defense, right?)
Gillespie’s dropping a team-best 15.6 points and 3.3 assists per game on .431/.409/.905 shooting splits. Team sixth-man Caleb Daniels, a 6-foot-4 guard like Moore, has averaged 10.2 points on .427/.377/.851 in 27.3 minutes per contest this season.