One month removed from the start of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament finds the Villanova Wildcats on the brink of one finishing of their most successful regular seasons ever. The 24-2 Wildcats have five games remaining in the regular season and are riding a 7 game win streak. The most challenging game remaining is on the road against a beatable Xavier team.
Ryan Arcidiacono: The junior point guard from Langhorne, PA has been a steady force for the No. 6 Wildcats. While his scoring has started slowly, he’s been effectively distributing assists and protecting the ball all season long. Because of his unique talents at the point, he has earned the distinction of being Villanova’s only player averaging over 30 minutes per game.
No. 15 has heated up in terms of scoring lately. After not having a single game in nonconference play with more than 1 3PT made, he’s been pouring it on as of late. In Big East play, Arch has scored in single digits (or not at all) in only 4 of the ‘Cat’s 13 games. That said, his TO numbers have increased as well as he now has 4 games over the last 3 weeks with 3 or more turnovers, so there’s room to improve. Arch ranks 6th in Big East Conference play in assists, 5th in A/TO, 3rd in 3PT% at .453, and 16th in scoring.
Dylan Ennis: Dylan Ennis started the year like a man on fire and led the Wildcats in scoring through the nonconference slate. Since entering Big East play, Ennis’s defense has shown through and evidenced why Jay Wright gives him the start day-in and day-out despite his mercurial offensive game. On Monday, Ennis dropped 12 points on a spiraling Seton Hall team. This marked the first time in a month he had scored in double figures and only the fourth time in Big East Play.
Ennis could bolster his scoring quickly if he could improve on his 58% free throw shooting. Ennis is tied for 11th in steals per game during Big East Conference play and 9th in A/TO ratio. Not too shabby when you consider he’s typically matched up on the opponent’s most dynamic guard or wing. If we could break down this grade, it would look something like A on Defense and C+ on Offense. But for now we’ll have to average the two:
Darrun Hilliard: In a similar report card issued in late November we said of the senior wing who had been struggling to shoot the ball, "He needs to keep up his defensive intensity and keep making 3 pointers." So far so good. Hilliard has emerged from his early struggles to live up to many of his preseason expectations. Hilliard is 6th in Big East Conference play in scoring at 16.1 PPG, 5th in steals at 1.5 Stl/G and 3rd in 3’s per game at 2.8 3PT/G. He’s getting it done on both ends of the floor and at some of the most important times. Hilliard has been one of the best assets for the Wildcats at the start of games, while the team starts typically slow, his shooting has kept the Wildcats hanging around early which defeats the recipe to defeat them (by jumping out early) as provided by Seton Hall and Georgetown.
Something fun to watch for with Darrun: The savvy senior loves to pick on freshman. He absolutely embarrassed Ben Bentil every chance he got against Providence. A few days later, he was doing the same thing to Angel Delgado. Keep an eye on it. It is amusing.
After carrying the ‘Cats in Indianapolis against Butler by dropping 31 points including a game winning three, its hard to discount Hilliard’s performances so far.
JayVaughn Pinkston: JVP has been great for the ‘Cats on defense. He fills in admirably guarding the 5 for Villanova. He has improved his blocks per game from .6 per game to just over one block per game. That said, Pinkston has been shooting the ball at the lowest rate he’s seen since his freshman year (43.5% FG). Those aren’t the kind of efficiency numbers you’d hope to see from a senior power forward. He’s up to about 48.5% over his last 5 games and has scored in double figures in 4 of 5 of those games.
JayVaughn struggles to score and make baskets against taller teams. Conversely, his defense has no excuses and he D’s up against anyone and everyone. Pink is currently 13th in Big East Conference play in blocks per game (.8) and 15th in FT%. This is good because where Pinkston lacks ability to score against bigger opponents, he maintains his ability to draw fouls.
Pinkston, a former McDonald’s All American, has admirably accepted the job of being the do-everything forward for the Wildcats. He has seen his FG attempts average drop by over 2.5 shots per game from last year. This shows that he has really put the team first. Villanova doesn’t have a top 10 program without players like JVP. This Villanova team is not in the top 10 without his defense.
Daniel Ochefu: The question remains: Can a player win the Big East’s Most Improved Player two years in a row? ‘Chef is shooting an extremely efficient 63% from the field and 65% from the line this season which represent huge jumps from a guy who came in as a freshman and shot 46% and 48% respectively. Daniel Ochefu’s offensive repertoire has been on display long enough this year that we probably don’t need to elaborate on it much, but he’s really worked on his spin-move game and it provides the ‘Cats with an inside threat they haven’t had in many years.
Ochefu gets it done on both ends of the floor for the ‘Cats. He is currently 8th in Big East Conference play in blocks per game (1.1), 2nd in offensive rebounding, 3rd in defensive rebounding (good for 3rd in overall rebounding), and 2nd in FG% at 63.8%. All of this is done in just 24 minutes of play. If ‘Chef can just get to class on time, he might see a little more time. Nonetheless, the big man from Baltimore gives the ‘Cats exactly what they need on the inside and can even step out to guard away from the rim when called upon. If he could get his free throw shooting up around 70% and limit his turnovers, he’s have the straight A.
Josh Hart: Is there a better candidate for 6th man of the year at this point? In terms of pure ability and efficiency, Josh Hart is the best rebounding guard/wing in the Conference. (Yes, Kris Dunn and D’Angelo Harrison have more per game, but they also average more than 10 more minutes per game on the floor.) Hart comes in for Villanova and plays about 25 minutes per game. (That’s starter’s minutes on this team.) He is 3rd in rebounding, 4th in scoring and second in steals per game for this team. He’s also shooting nearly as good from 3PT as he is from FG at 41.8% and 48.3% respectively.
Josh Hart’s energy, long range shooting, versatility and leaping ability allow him to fit seamlessly into multiple positions of the floor for the ‘Cats. Hart is the epitome of a Villanova do-it-all wing and receives high marks for what he brings to the floor every time he is out there. Ya can’t question the hustle.
Kris Jenkins: Kris Jenkins continues to come off the bench (typically as the 7th man) to provide a big body defensively and some deep shooting to stretch a defense. Jenkins is clearly getting more athletic as the season wears on continues to contribute in small ways all over the floor.
Jenkins is one of the ‘Cat’s best shooters and is versatile defensively, but I can’t help but think that Jenkins is capable of contributing more on the glass than he has so far. He averages only 2 rebounds per game.
Phil Booth: Kid can shoot. He is leads the team in 3PT% and is second in FG% (for those who play more than 10 minutes per game). Booth is really growing as a player and will be one of the ‘Cats best scorers in two years. He is efficient and is learning how to protect the ball. The guard from Baltimore began the year making a lot of "Freshman" mistakes through 16 games, turning the ball over and committing stupid fouls. Since then, Booth has only had two turnovers and less than one foul per game in his last ten games during which he’s seen about 13 minutes per game.
Daryl Reynolds: Remember the caveat on Phil Booth’s FG rating? Reynolds shoots 66.7% from FG! Not bad, but he doesn’t attempt a FG per game, so the impact is minimal. Reynolds continues to do a little bit of everything for the Wildcats in his 6 minutes per game. Reynolds doesn’t get much time, but he’s not terrible when he’s in as the ‘Cat’s 9th man on the floor.
TEAM AS A WHOLE: That No. 6 Villanova Wildcats currently sit atop the Big East Conference standings with the highest scoring offense in the league during conference play and the lowest scoring allowed by their team defense. They are considered by all to be a "Lock" for the NCAA Tournament and are the last team undefeated at home in the Big East Conference. The ‘Cat’s struggled in the first half of some early conference road games. If you take out the first halves of the games at Seton Hall and at Georgetown, this team is undefeated. That’s really only 40 minutes of bad basketball, sadly that could be enough to cost them a #1 seed. Villanova is sitting pretty, looking at a top 8 seed in the tournament. They are ninth in KenPom’s Adjusted Offense rating and 14th in Adjusted Defense. They sport ratings of 4 (RPI), 6 (ESPN BPI), 7 (KenPom), 6 (Sagarin) and 6 in both the AP and USA Today polls.