No. 19 Villanova is off to a 2-1 start to Big East play led by the normal output of top scorers Colin Gillespie (17.3 points per game in conference play), and Justin Moore (12.0). Right behind, though, is a much less likely scorer: Eric Dixon.

The 6-foot-8 redshirt sophomore forward is averaging 11.3 points in conference play and scored his career-high of 15 points in two of his last three games. Dixon, who raised his season average to 8.2 points with these performances, ranks sixth on the team in scoring overall but has seen an uptick in his offensive production in Big East games. According to Dixon, this has not been due to any change to the team’s offensive plan but just a case of his teammates finding the open man naturally.

“We’re never looking for anyone in particular to score,” he said. “I think it was just good decision-making and the rest of the team finding me for good looks.”

Dixon, a Willow Grove native and Abington High graduate, is no stranger to scoring. He joined the Wildcats in 2019-20 after scoring more than 2,000 points in high school. He was named the USA Today Pennsylvania State Player of the Year as a senior after averaging 27.6 points. He decided to stay local to continue his basketball career, but says he was he was willing to play anywhere.

“I just loved the game of basketball so much, it did not matter if I got a scholarship, I just wanted to play,” he said. “I guess I first realized I could play at the D-I level was when I got my first offer.”

Although Dixon was ranked among the top ESPN 100 recruits (No. 76) heading into his freshman year, Jay Wright and his staff decided to redshirt the forward in order to give him time to develop physically and work on his game. Even though most high-rated players would prefer to begin their NCAA career as soon as they arrive, Dixon says that what he learned his first year was “hard to describe in words. To be able to learn from the guys ahead of me, just constantly watching and talking the game and practicing hard was the best thing I could do.”

Dixon has become just the latest top Villanova recruit under Wright to redshirt his freshman year before later emerging as a key contributor to the program. But the one former Wildcat he shares multiple similarities with is Phoenix Suns star Mikal Bridges.

Bridges, who grew up in Malvern, and played three seasons for the Wildcats from 2015-18, also found himself as a redshirt freshman before progressing into an NBA lottery pick. For context, the two-time NCAA champion, who signed a four-year, $90 million contract extension in October, averaged just 20 minutes and 6.4 points a game as a redshirt freshman.

Bridges earned himself more time on the floor by what he did outside of scoring, averaging 1.1 steals, 3.2 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks per game in those 20 minutes. This is precisely what Dixon has been doing this year, as he is averaging a steal per game and ranks second on the team in rebounding with a 6.3 average. Dixon shook off the comparison to Bridges, harping on the main similarity they share: the university they get to represent.

“There’s really no higher honor than wearing this uniform,” he said. “Having the role I do and being able to play for the same team as those guys before me is something I take a lot of pride in.”

Humility aside, given Dixon’s emergence this season he projects as someone who could add his name to the growing list of Villanova players who were redshirted as freshmen and later developed into leaders on Big East and NCAA title-winning teams. Whether or not he maintains his recent scoring surge in addition to being the consistent defensive presence he’s provided all season, Dixon is focused on doing what is best for the team.

“No matter what part of the season it is,” he said, “we’re just going to keep going out there every single day and working hard.”

Villanova and its newfound offensive weapon will look for revenge Wednesday, as Creighton comes to Finneran Pavilion after defeating the Wildcats 79-59 on Dec. 17. The matchup could yield another big game from Dixon, who had 15 points and nine rebounds in the first meeting with the Bluejays.