Kris Jenkins’ buzzer beating shot at the end of the 2016 NCAA championship game was the culminating play in what turned out to be a dominant run from the Wildcats. As big as that shot was for the team, there were also two bigger results that followed from the Villanova championship. For starters, ‘Nova eliminated the stigma that had followed them for years that they unable to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats also helped to validate the Big East Conference which has been criticized by some and called a mid-major since the restructuring occurred in 2014.
Yet there was a downside to that title win and that was the fact that Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu played their last game for Jay Wright and Villanova. Arcidiacono who hails from Langhorne, PA started to contribute immediately when he joined Wright's program and solidified himself in the starting lineup from his freshman year, starting a whopping 142 out of 143 games in his career. Arch also received personal accolades when he was named Big East Player of the Year for the 2014-15 season. Not only did Arcidiacono receive a national championship ring from the 2016 season but also received more hardware by being named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2016 Final Four.
Ochefu career is a different tale than Arcidiacono because when Ochefu arrived on campus and was not a dominant presence. In his first year, ‘Chef did play in 34 games but only started 11 games and averaged 3.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. As Ochefu matured, his minutes and production increased. His points per game rose to 5.7 in his sophomore season to 9.2 his junior season. At the same time, his rebounds also went up from 6.1 his sophomore season to 8.5 his junior season.
Both Arcidiacono and Ochefu provided intangibles and experience that were vital in the 2016 NCAA tournament run and while ‘Nova Nation is still celebrating their second NCAA national title, the question has to be asked as to who will replace these four year contributors. Arcidiacono has three potential replacements on the roster already.
Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, and Phil Booth are all returning next year. Hart had an outstanding 2016 campaign as he started all 40 games for the Wildcats and was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 15.5 points per game. During the offseason, Hart flirted with the notion of declaring for the draft, but ultimately decided to return for his senior season and help defend the crown.
Brunson, who had high expectations coming into his freshman season, was able to live up to the hype and carve his own niche in the crowded ‘Nova backcourt. Brunson started 39 out of ‘Nova’s 40 games and was second on the team in assists behind Arch. If it was not for the returning Hart, Brunson would be the featured guard for the Wildcats offense.
Phil Booth would probably start, if not be the best guard, on many other NCAA teams, but due to the talent at ‘Nova, he will still need to fight for time to get onto the court. Booth came off the bench for Villanova in all but 3 games yet still averaged 21 minutes per game and 7 points off the bench. The only problem for Booth is that there will still be more returning talent in the fall 2016 for ‘Nova.
Finding Ochefu’s replacement is not as clear cut as finding Arcidiacono replacement, but there are three intriguing candidates. The first candidate is Darryl Reynolds, who averaged 17.1 minutes a game but was third on the team in rebounding behind only Ochefu and Hart. He had multiple big games when Ochefu was injured (19 points against Providence and 14 points against DePaul) and proved his worth despite his limited role when Ochefu was healthy. With that said, the issue for Reynold’s is his size. The 6-foot-11, 245 pound big man Ochefu was an imposing figure on the interior and his ability to control the pain allowed for the Wildcats to use a smaller lineup. Reynolds frame (6-foot-8, 225 pounds) is not the same as Ochefu and Jay Wright will have to decide if he wants to play smaller lineups for extended periods of time.
The second candidate is redshirt sophomore transfer from Fordham, Eric Paschall. The new man on campus is listed at 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds. During his debut season at the collegiate level, he won the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, averaging 15.9 points per game and 5.5 assists. Paschall could provide matchup problems because of his size and athletic, well rounded skillset. Not only can he finish around the rim, where he made 58% of his attempts, but he has a respectable jump shot that he’s not scared to pull. Yet similar to Reynolds, Jay Wright might be hesitant to have a smaller lineup on the court for an extensive time period, as Paschall has been consistently duped as a “tweener.”
The third candidate definitely can match the size of Ochefu and that is Omari Spellman. The incoming freshman stands at 6-foot-9 and an impressive 275 pounds and is highly touted by many recruiting agencies. ‘Nova fans should hope that Spellman makes an immediate impact in the interior to complement the abilities of the Wildcat guards. Out of the three candidates Spellman is most likely to replace Ochefu in the starting lineup but Spellman still needs to adjust to play against players that can match his size and strength on a daily basis in the Big East.
Yet it should be noted that all of these candidates have the potential to replace Arch and Chef on the floor, we will all have to wait to see how each of their respective careers end to truly judge their performance. Both Arcidiacono and Ochefu ended their careers by winning a national title and leaving a permanent mark on Villanova Basketball. All we can do is wait and see if the success is matched or surpassed by their replacements.
Photo: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports
If you were to look at ESPN’s college recruiting rankings for the class of 2016 by schools, you would have to scroll down a little ways to find Villanova. Of course Kentucky and Duke are at the top, while Mississippi State and Harvard’s nation-leading total of seven commitments may surprise you, or the fact that Louisville’s lone commitment in V.J. King, the #1 player in Virginia, gives the school a spot on the top 40 list of programs is also shocking. Villanova is ranked #33 in the nation with their two-man class of Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter following their fantastic national championship season. That being said, this seemingly precarious situation may not end up being the most uncertain of scenarios in the long run.
Omari Spellman is likely the name that will raise an eyebrow to Philadelphia-area basketball fans. The suburban Cleveland native is ranked as the #5 power forward in the country by ESPN and the #16 overall player. His commitment to the Wildcats marks the eighth straight year that Villanova has snagged a player from the ESPN 100 and the second year in a row that the recruit is a five star. The accolades don’t stop there either. Spellman was selected to be a part of the 2016 Jordan Brand Classic held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. He also participated in the esteemed NBA Players Association Top 100 camp at the University of Virginia. These selections and all-star events do mean something to even us, the fan. It shows there is a national interest in the player and when he has a 6-foot-9, 275 pound frame with incredible mobility and skill, who wouldn’t be?
Spellman is extremely athletic for his size. Philly.com puts in plainly, stating, “Spellman has proved to be an athletic post player. He excels on the offensive end, dunks with ease, and does not shy away from contact.” Spellman, despite being a power forward based on his height, has the body to go up against most big men. He’ll likely fit in as Daniel Ochefu’s replacement as the designated center.
The second member of the Villanova class of 2020 is Dylan Painter. The Hershey, Pennsylvania resident is extremely excited to get the ball rolling for his freshman year. He specifically mentioned in an interview with The Empire that he looking forward to getting on campus as soon as he could and went to great lengths explaining how he will do whatever this team needs him to do. This unselfishness is the exact model of a student-athlete head coach Jay Wright needs to continue a strong program. Painter, a 6-foot-10 multi-position athlete, played center for his school, Hershey High. Although the team “didn’t do as well as [he] would have hoped,” Painter still was productive, as 22 points and 13 rebounds was frequently seen next to his name on the stat sheet. Painter brings a speed and strength that will bolster a frontcourt rotation already ready for a deep run. Despite his talent, Painter will likely play less than Spellman this season, being that there is a slight logjam at the center position and if Wright were to play him as a power forward, it would be in just a few spots due to the prototypical four guard offensive set the ‘Cats like to run.
Over the course of this past season, there was a legitimate question about the big man. Who can play it when Ochefu sits? Darryl Reynolds made a statement in response to that question on February 6th against Providence when he exploded for 19 points, going 9-10 from the floor. He backed that up with a 14 point performance the next game against DePaul in the biggest outburst of offensive production we’ve seen from the former Lower Merion High School state champion. Reynold’s size and defensive prowess enables him to play the 4 or 5 with equal ability. But now with capable power forward/centers in Spellman and Painter coming in, a question arises as to whether or not a fourth member will be added to this rotation. Tim Delaney, the Mullica Hill, New Jersey native and Blair Academy (NJ) star is coming off of hip surgery that sidelined him his entire freshman season. The easy-going forward is a big question mark for this season, as he has yet to play a college game. Delaney will likely be eased in throughout the course of the season following the injury as preventative measures.
Spellman and Painter are really good impact players. Although a team doesn’t NEED an official center to win anymore (Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors have done pretty well for themselves without relying on Andrew Bogut or Anderson Varejao), teams need dynamic players that can facilitate the offense all over the court, with or without the ball. Despite having only two members for a recruiting class, both Spellman and Painter will mature and develop their respective games. We may not see all of it as fans this season, but the future is incredibly bright these two. Almost as bright as an early April day in Phoenix.
Photo: Gregory Payan/Associated Press
-(1) Villanova defeats (3) Michigan in the National Championship