Three Questions: Villanova looks like a serious repeat title contender
Using our off-season Power Rankings as a guide, SI.com is asking three questions for each top-10 team in the country. After looking at No. 10 Xavier, No. 9 Arizona, No. 8 Virginia, No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 5 Kentucky and No. 4 Oregon, here is No. 3 Villanova.
How much will the Wildcats miss Ryan Arcidiacono?
Four years ago, Jay Wright bucked precedent when he named an incoming freshman as one of his team’s captains. This spring, Ryan Arcidiacono graduated having earned his place among the most accomplished and beloved players in Villanova history, having shared Big East Player of the Year honors as a junior and been named the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player during the Wildcats’ championship run.
While the numbers are nice—over four seasons, he averaged 11.1 points, 3.7 assists and 1.2 steals—to borrow a tired but true phrase, Arcidiacono’s value to the team clearly went beyond the box score. Described by Wright as “a born leader,” Arcidiacono’s presence and decision-making on both ends of the floor were crucial to Villanova’s success. (You might remember one particular decision from April.) Without Arcidiacono’s familiar voice in the huddle and hand on the rudder, Villanova will need to maintain the tone he helped set.
Is it time for Jalen Brunson to shine?
With Josh Hart (15.5 points per game last season) and championship-winning hero Kris Jenkins (13.6) returning for their senior seasons, the Wildcats do not necessarily need any truly star-making breakouts this season. But after spending his freshman season taking somewhat of a backseat (though still starting nearly every game), sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson is ready to emerge as more of an impact player. A five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American, Brunson averaged 9.6 points and 2.5 assists per game as a freshman while playing alongside Arcidiacono.
Now that Arcidiacono has graduated, the backcourt should be Brunson’s to lead, opening the door for more performances like his 25-point February outburst against Temple, the alma mater of his father, former NBA guard Rick. “What you saw last year was Jalen Brunson sacrificing so that the team could win,” Wright said after Villanova’s recent scrimmage. Now, Wright added, Brunson is being more aggressive, a good sign for a guard who made his name as a recruit attacking the basket.
Can the new bigs help fill big shoes—and get on the court?
Graduated forward Daniel Ochefu was such an important cog for the Wildcats not only because, at 6' 11", he was the team’s tallest player by three inches and without question its best rebounder; it was also because his versatility and smarts enabled so much of Villanova’s screen-based offense and defensive switching and trapping. Along with 6' 8" senior Darryl Reynolds, who will surely be in for a larger workload after Ochefu’s graduation, Wright could have three new forwards at his disposal in five-star freshman Omari Spellman, redshirt freshman Tim Delaney (who missed last season after hip surgery), and Fordham transfer Eric Paschall (who was the Atlantic 10’s Rookie of the Year in 2014–15). But the key word there is “could.” The 6' 9", 275-pound Spellman has not yet been cleared by the NCAA for game action, and Delaney sat out Villanova’s Summer Jam scrimmage and reportedly does not yet have a timetable to return to practicing. Thus the Wildcats need to sort out who will be available to help fill the post-Ochefu void in addition to how they will do so.