Ryan Arcidiacono‘s numbers are down from last year in almost every major category, and that’s exactly why the Villanova Wildcats have enjoyed their best start to the season since 2010.
Behind every championship team is a “game manager,” a player who does not necessarily light up the scoreboards or dazzle fans with highlight plays, but serves as a glue that holds together and strengthens the team. Arcidiacono is to Villanova what AJ McCarron is to Alabama, and the 6-foot-3 sophomore is hoping to lead the Wildcats to a championship or two of his own.
The Wildcats (12-1. 1-0 in Big East Conference play) dominated their non-conference schedule, going 11-0 with a big win against freshman sensation Andrew Wiggins and the then-ranked No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks. Villanova opened up its conference schedule with a road victory against a tough Butler squad and looks to be the clear favorite to win the Big East title.
During the Wildcats’ hot start to the season, Arcidiacono has averaged nine points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Those numbers are not necessarily bad, but they are a substantial drop-off from last year’s output. During his freshman campaign, Arcidiacono averaged nearly 12 points and four assists per game, but Nova failed to get past its first opponent in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats relied heavily on the point guard to provide a heavy dose of scoring, particularly toward the end of the season. Arcidiacono put up some big numbers during that stretch — 32 points against St. John’s, 25 against UConn and 23 against Pittsburgh — but the Wildcats finished with a 20-14 record and barely landed an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. Without a core group of players with the ability to score points in bunches, Villanova coach Jay Wright had to turn to the freshman playmaker to produce some offense for the Wildcats, and that is not Arcidiacono’s strong point.
Arcidiacono’s game is about facilitating the offense, making the extra passes, driving into the lane, and dishing it out to spot-up shooters or slipping a bounce pass to his teammate on the block. He does not possess the breakaway speed to blow past defenders, but he can c/ross them up with exceptional ball handling. No one has confused him with Jimmer Fredette, but he can knock down threes when the team needs him to. Defensively, he has trouble keeping the quicker guards in front of him, but he knows the passing lanes well and will come up with steals when it counts. Arcidiacono likes to get his teammates involved first, and if a scoring opportunity opens up for him later, he will take it then.
So, when Wright has to rely on Arcidiacono to be the primary scorer, it becomes tougher to win games because the guard is out of his element. This season, there has not been as much pressure on Arcidiacono to put up points because of the emergence of JayVaughn Pinkston, James Bell and Darrun Hilliard. Pinkston and Bell have taken charge of the offensive attack with 15.8 and 15.5 points per game, respectively, and Hilliard has contributed a steady 13.7 points per game to add another weapon to the Wildcat arsenal.
With the improved play from his teammates, Arcidiacono has been able to settle back into his role as a facilitator. The sophomore prides himself in being a leader and a team player, so if he finishes the game without scoring but the Wildcats come away with the victory, he is content. That kind of unselfish play is of paramount importance for a team searching for more than just an NCAA bid, and the Wildcats are fortunate to have one at the helm of their offense.