Last Friday at the team's final practice session at the Pavilion before their eventual victory over over Rider, Ryan Arcidiacono strolled into practice with his usual swagger.
It was an early morning and Arch seemed confident before playing Rider, the same confidence he's had since his first game-winning shot in his rookie season, the same bravado that many basketball players have but this season it's different. This season, Arch has taken a step back.He's regressed for the most part. And to some degree, the sophomore guard knows it.
"I'm doing what I did last year," Arcidiacono said prior to Friday's practice at Villanova. "Nothing has really changed. I'm just trying to perfect what I do. I think I'm taking good shots. I'm not worried about it. They'll eventually start falling for me."
But for Wildcat fans, eventually may never come.
In 11 games for the Wildcats this season, Arch hasn't looked his best. The Langhorne, PA, native is still the same player, just without a similar efficiency. Arch has chucked his way to a tumultuous 24.6 three point percentage compared to 32.7 percentage from deep while playing slightly less minutes per game during his freshman season. The best thing Arch does, in my opinion, is shoot the ball from along the perimeter or from behind, which he hasn't done well in 2013.
In three of his eleven games this season, Arch has only hit one shot in over thirty minutes played per game, one game being his big shot against then-No.2 Kansas in the Bahamas. In only five games of the eleven played, he's shot better than forty percent from the field, one game being against No.23 Iowa where he needed overtime to boost the stats.
So outside of Paradise Island, Villanova has found a way to succeed without what many on campus believe is the team's "star guard." With less than a week before the No. 8 Wildcats play their biggest game of the season in the Carrier Dome against No. 2 Syracuse, Head Coach Jay Wright has a choice.
Bench Arch or play Arch. I'll chose the former and insert one Dylan Ennis.
When looking at their numbers and how they handle game-time situations, Ennis seems like the smarter option. In seven games this season, Ennis has played the point position in several rotations with Arch on and off the court and has done so at a higher, more efficient level. Per 40 minutes, Ennis and Arch take about the same amount of shots but the Canadian guard has shot better, dished better and just done everything a player could possibly do better. Refer to the chart above.
Ennis seems to lead the team better. He's a better on-ball defender, not to say Arch can't handle his own in the passing lanes, but where it matters, on the perimeter, Ennis isn't getting cut up by guards as low on the totem poll as Rider's. He's not letting La Salle Explorers blow by him in transition. He isn't nonchalantly watching Penn's Miles Jackson-Cartwright walk into barely contested three point attempts. As far as I'm concerned, at least for the Syracuse game, the biggest match-up to date, Arch can play sixth man.
But not to say the Wildcats should bench their starting point-man and get no results, it's quite the opposite. Wright should bench him and expect one of his best games of the season.
And benching a starting guard isn't a new move for Wright. In March 2010, Wright benched Corey Stokes and Scottie Reynolds before a spring match with Robert Morris. The coach called it "a teaching moment". Similarly in February 2006, Wright sat Kyle Lowry for a disciplinary problem in practice. In both situations the players competed off the bench and had great games (Lowry had six points, five steals and seven rebounds), so why can't the same happen to Arch?
Before Villanova's December 15th match up against La Salle, I had a small talk with a local columnist about whether the guard should be benched. He said "it might kill his confidence, he might not be the same." I don't see the problem.
Outside of a few big shots in some thrilling games, Arch hasn't proved that he's a better player than any other guard at Villanova. He turns the ball over almost as much as he dishes an assist. He shoots worse through 11 games than any other starting point man in the Big 5 (Tyreek Duren, Jackson-Cartwright, Will Cummings and Langston Galloway). And his confidence is more tangible than his skill at this point.
Yet no matter how poorly he plays, Wright still backs his starting guard. It's admirable. When asking Wright before the Rider game is Arch always has the green light he responded "Hell yeah man, of course...I'd be more surprised if we were losing and Arch was shooting bad."
It's time for a reality check. It's time for a change that will make Villanova a better squad down the line. It's time for the sophomore guard from Langhorne to get it together and start playing like the fresh-faced kid that shut down Syracuse in a down season almost 365 days ago.
I'm sure all the Augustinian Army wants for the holidays, is a late Christmas Miracle, no matter how far away the big shot might be from 800 E. Lancaster Avenues.