After Villanova lost a pair of seniors-to-be, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek, following last season, people started to refer to the Wildcats as “young.”
Jay Wright prefers the term “inexperienced.”
Few expected the Wildcats to have a smooth ride through the 2012-13 season. Wright placed the point guard duties in the hands of freshman Ryan Arcidiacono. Junior James Bell became a full-time starter for the first time along with sophomore Darrun Hilliard. Wright decided to go with freshman Daniel Ochefu in a “twin-towers” lineup with Mouphtaou Yarou, hoping his defense and rebounding would make up for his lack of polish on offense.
The results have been mixed. Prior to Tuesday night’s impressive 94-71 rout of DePaul on the road, the Wildcats were 2-5 in their last seven games, with exhilarating wins over No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Syracuse virtually cancelled out by a discouraging two-game sweep of ‘Nova by lowly Providence.
Wright always felt that the Wildcats would be OK once all his players got used to playing with each other in the pressure of a Big East dogfight. However, through 23 games, there is still a question about how effectively they do mesh.
“I never want to say we’re young because there’s younger teams doing some good things,” the 'Nova coach said after the DePaul win. “We’re inexperienced. A guy like (Bell), this is his first full year, he’s a junior. But they learn. They’re really coachable.
“They’re bright, they really are. It’s really encouraging. This was good for us (Tuesday night). Making the shots gives us confidence but I think what we learned is, with these guys, it’s how we get those shots. It’s making the extra passes and looking to get other people on our team shots before we get ourselves shots. It’s not a selfish thing. It’s just trying to be aggressive getting yourself a shot. We really shared the ball (against DePaul). That was the best we’ve done that this year.”
The second half was a textbook one for the Wildcats. They scored 54 points on 22-of-27 shooting from the field (they went scoreless the final 3:35, missing their last five shots to finish 22 of 32). They knocked down six of seven three-point tries.
And after turning the ball over 10 times in the first half, leading to 15 DePaul points, they committed just three in the second half, and did not allow a single point to the Blue Demons off them.
Other things learned from Tuesday night:
--When Arcidiacono sets his feet and squares up, he’s as good a shooter as anyone.
Arcidiacono, who entered the game shooting 30.7 percent from three-point range, hit just one of his first six shots from deep, nearly all when he was on the move. But he knocked down his last attempt of the first half and all three in the second half, with a minimum of pre-shot movement.
“I just kept shooting,” the freshman from Neshaminy High said. “The one three I hit in the first half, I just held my follow through and then I missed all the others. Once the first one went in in the second half, I thought every shot was going in.”
--Tony Chennault can give the Wildcats a big lift off the bench at both ends of the court.
It hasn’t been that smooth a transition for Chennault, the Neumann-Goretti product who is in his first year with ‘Nova after transferring from Wake Forest. He struggled early with the offense as the backup point guard.
But he had one of his best games Tuesday night with 10 points – his high for a Big East matchup – along with four rebounds, three assists, one steal and numerous dives on the floor for loose balls. A 31 percent shooter from the field coming in, he made four of five shots against DePaul.
The Wildcats return to the Pavilion, where they are just 6-4 this season, on Saturday when they take on South Florida in a 3 p.m. tip.