Slowly but surely, we are creeping up to the start of the 2015-16 college basketball season and this is usually the time when reporters, pundits, analysts and bloggers put out their superlative lists. Soon you will read about the best backcourts in the country, and one such team that will be in that conversation will certainly be Villanova.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as Jay Wright’s squads have always been known for their superior guard play. Remember this is a program that has boasted the likes of Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Scottie Reynolds, Maalik Wayns, Corey Fisher and Darrun Hilliard at guard in years past.
Well, Wright has another loaded corps of guards that is on par with any backcourt in the country. When you have the reigning co-Big East Player of the Year (Ryan Arcidiacono), a McDonald’s All-American (Jalen Brunson) and potential star in Josh Hart, well, you are cooking with grease. Throw in nice reserves in emerging sophomore Phil Booth and four-star freshman Donte DiVincenzo, and this a group that could go places.
Sure, they’re are other backcourts that can challenge Villanova’s, such as Wichita State and Kentucky’s, but none match the combination of experience, athleticism and explosiveness.
Let’s break the stars of the backcourt, one by one.
Ryan Arcidiacono, Senior
The 6’3”, 195-pound senior from Langhorne, Pennsylvania has been around the block a few times with this squad. As I mentioned above, Arcidiacono is the reigning co-Big East Player of the Year after averaging 10.1 points and 3.6 assists per game. The guy knows the game inside and out. He is wise with the ball, makes great decisions and knows when to take over games.
Bottom line, he is the epitome of poise under pressure.
Arcidiacono is also a great shooter and is coming off back-to-back seasons where he shot at least .394 percent from three-point range. For a team that is poised for a deep run, it’s nice for Wright to have a seasoned vet he can lean on in the clutch.
Jalen Brunson, Freshman
Like Arcidiacono, Brunson is really a point guard, but he can extend his game all over the court and there is every reason to think Wright will start both his point guards in the backcourt. Brunson, a 6’3”, 199-pound freshman from Lincolnshire, Illinois, is a a marvel with the ball in his hands, as he is intelligent, quick and athletic He can slash to the basket with ease and drill jumpers with a calm confidence.
Watched Jalen Brunson at FIBA U-19's last night. Given dad's NBA background, no surprise he has unique understanding of PNR game already.
— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) September 25, 2015
Brunson should have little trouble fitting in. Although the Wildcats lose Hilliard and Dylan Ennis, the addition of Brunson will help keep the well-oiled machine keep moving in the right direction. He could also conceivably test the NBA waters after the season depending on how things shake out.
Josh Hart, Junior
Adding scoring from the wing will be breakout-in-waiting Josh Hart. Hart, a 6’5”, 205-pound junior from Silver Spring Maryland, is ready to explode on the scene, as he combines sheer athleticism with a toughness all his own. He is coming off a sophomore season in which he averaged 10.1 points (second on the team), 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game while shooting .515 percent from the field and a scorching .464 percent from three-point range last season, while being named the conference’s 6th Man of the Year.
Hart also claimed the Big East Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award last season after he shot an unconsciously .724 percent from the field (connecting on 21 of 29 field goal attempts) while nailing down nine of his 14 three-point attempts
Hart is a dangerous scorer and with Hilliard and Ennis, as well as JayVaughn Pinkston, having all departed the program, he’ll be asked to score more. Expect Hart to rise to the occasion and contend for all Big East honors in the process.
While the Wildcats possess one heck of a backcourt, they need to capitalize on it, as they have come up short in the NCAA Tournament the last few years. Villanova has not made it out of the Round of 32 since 2009, which was the last time they made the Final Four.
Last season was especially bittersweet for Villanova, as the pillaged the Big East en route to a 33-3 overall record (16-2 in the Big East) and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before losing to North Carolina State in the Round of 32.
The Wildcats are just not all about their backcourt, as they have one of the steadiest centers in the country, too, in Daniel Ochefu. He’ll be the anchor down low, while providing Wright a much-needed presence in the frontcourt and taking some pressure off the guards.
Villanova coach Jay Wright loves the Leadership from his 2 Seniors,Ryan Arcidiacono & Daniel Ochefu.He said,"better shooters this year.Wow!!
— Pete Gillen (@Gillenhoops) September 22, 2015
This team will only go as far as this backcourt can take them. But make no mistake, this backcourt has all the requisites to flourish, as it has senior leadership, super-athletic playmakers and scorers deluxe.
In summation, the backcourt may just be the best in the country, but they will ultimately be defined on how they play in March.