It’s been a roller coaster year so far for the Villanova Wildcats. Nova came into the 2012-13 season with an inexperienced backcourt and a young team in general. Coming off a disappointing season, Villanova is still finding it hard to grow and maintain a high level of play that the program is accustomed to. So far the season has been up and down to say the least. Fortunately, during this past week, things turned around for the Wildcats.
Villanova struggled in the early stages of the season with a couple bad losses to La Salle and Columbia (who beat them by nearly 20). One of the biggest problems this team has is turnovers. The Wildcats are averaging 16.4 turnovers a game. Villanova is last in the Big East in turnovers committed and the next closest team has 25 fewer turnovers. They are last in the Big East in assist/turnover ratio at 0.8. They turn the ball over a lot which can be attributed to a very inexperienced backcourt. Villanova’s main ball-handler and play-maker is freshman Ryan Arcidiacono. Their other main ball handler is Tony Chennault who is a junior but is playing in his first year at Villanova after transferring from Wake Forest. Villanova’s experience is in their frontcourt, but both seniors Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton are not strong offensive players.
After the loss to La Salle, the Wildcats recovered to go 8-1 which included their first two wins in Big East play. Than the roller coaster began to descend when Nova dropped their next three Big East games to Syracuse, Pitt, and Providence. They committed 25 turnovers in their loss to Providence.
The next two games were against two teams nationally ranked in the top five, Louisville and Syracuse. In the game against #5 Louisville, Villanova showed great resilience after overcoming a late Cardinals’ run which had them up by six with 12 minutes left in the game. Nova played great defense and took advantage of Louisville’s missed opportunities from the free throw line. Over the final four minutes of regulation, Villanova outscored Louisville 20-11. Arcidiacono led the Wildcats with 15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
Like Louisville, Syracuse missed some opportunities at the free throw line and the Wildcats took full advantage. Down by three to #3 Syracuse, Yarou pulled down a huge offensive rebound and passed to Arcidiacono who than hit a tough corner three with 2.2 seconds left to send the game to overtime. In overtime, junior G/F James Bell scored eight points and hit two huge threes which sealed a second victory against a top five team in the same week. Sophomore Darrun Hilliard was outstanding scoring a career-high 25 points and adding seven rebounds and seven assists. Yarou had a big double-double with 14 points and a career high tying 16 rebounds.
Villanova has had a memorable week. Knocking off two top five teams is not easy in any way especially for a team still trying to find their identity. Hopefully for Nova Nation, these two wins are a sign of things to come and they can continue playing at the high level as their fans expect. Nova needs to play at a consistent level and needs to cut down their turnovers.
Sophomores Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston have played well recently and need to continue their play as they are tough covers for any Big East team. Yarou needs to be a consistent force on both ends of the floor especially on the glass and give the Wildcats a needed low post presence. Freshman PG Arcidiacono has one of the best three point shots in the Big East and he will be a four year key contributor for the Wildcats. This was the time in Villanova’s history that they have defeated two top five opponents in the same week.
John Cavaliere is a scout and correspondent for NetScouts Basketball and covers the Big East. Thanks to philly.com for the Ryan Arcidiacono photo.