Villanova redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman attempts a shot against Xavier senior forward Kerem Kanter.
(Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
During Villanova’s championship run in the 2015-16 season, senior Ryan Arcidiacono, along with juniors Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins were all viewed as the Wildcats’ premier players. However, it was senior big man Daniel Ochefu who gave ‘Nova the edge over their opponents throughout the season and postseason play.
At 6-foot-11, 245 pounds Ochefu did it all for the Wildcats. In the paint, he tormented opposing players with his fluid post moves and rim shaking dunks. On defense he swatted opponents shots and locked up his defensive assignment while grabbing defensive rebound after defensive rebound. Ochefu’s ability to pass from the post should not be overlooked as he routinely found open teammates for high-percentage shots as well.
Ochefu has moved on from ‘Nova’s basketball program and currently plays for the Reno Bighorns in the NBA G-League but he laid the blueprint for future big men under head coach Jay Wright.
Following in Ochefu’s footsteps is redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman.
Like Ochefu, Spellman is a force to be reckoned with on offense and defense but what the former highly touted prospect has that Ochefu didn’t is the ability to score from all three levels. At 6-foot-9, 245 pounds Spellman can post up his counterpart and score with a variety of post moves but that is just part of his offensive arsenal. Spellman can also consistently knock down a mid-range jumper and when given the time to set his feet behind the three-point line, he is as lethal as they come among college forwards.
Despite being on a ‘Nova team that has six players averaging double-figures in scoring, Spellman has found a way to consistently contribute. He has scored in double-digits in all but 10 games and also has 9 double-doubles this season. Since Spellman can score from all three levels, defenders are forced to follow him out to the perimeter which opens up lanes for his teammates. Spellman has an offensive rating of 122.4 and that is not by chance. His presence on offense is felt due to his ability to play inside and out and consistently hit shots.
Not only has his impact been felt on offense but it has also been felt on defense. Spellman is averaging 1.5 blocks per game, second in the Big East and has been ‘Nova’s anchor protecting the basket this season. With Spellman defending the rim, ‘Nova has been able to focus on their perimeter defense and force teams into tough contested shots, as Spellman has posted a block percentage of 5.5%.
His defensive production has been a lone bright spot for ‘Nova’s team defense as the Wildcats have struggled this season allowing 71.2 points per game, almost 9 points higher than last year. Even more, ‘Nova is giving up 77.1 points per game against Big East teams this season. While ‘Nova has given up more points this campaign, the Wildcats’ offense has stepped up and that is partly due to Spellman’s talent.
In past seasons ‘Nova relied on Ochefu and forward Darryl Reynolds to serve as lone bigs who primarily played near the basket but Spellman offers them something different.
In a Big 5 win against Temple earlier this season, Spellman showcased his ability to stretch the floor scoring a career-high 27 points on (11-14 FGM-A, 4-7 3PM-A). Spellman and junior guard Jalen Brunson used a pick and pop play repeatedly against the Owls to attack their defense. While Spellman’s defender was worried about switching onto Brunson after each pick, Spellman was left alone behind the arc and given time to spot up. The Ohio native made Temple pay for leaving him open throughout the game.
Spellman has made a lot of teams pay this season using the pick and pop. The offensive play is something that ‘Nova has used in previous seasons with their bigs but it’s been a while since they have had someone of Spellman’s skillset run it. In fact, the Wildcats have not had a big man with Spellman’s offensive talent since forwards Curtis Sumpter and Dante Cunningham played under coach Wright. That option of having an inside presence to complement their plethora of talented guards makes this ‘Nova team more versatile than any other in recent memory.
However, what separates Spellman from Sumpter, Cunningham, and the ‘Nova big men that have come before him is how quickly he has put it all together. If Spellman finishes this season averaging double-figures in scoring, he would be the first ‘Nova freshman big under under coach Wright to ever do it. Moreover, Spellman would join Randy Foye, Scottie Reynolds, and Arcidiacono as the only freshman in the Jay Wright era to ever accomplish that feat.
Before that can happen, Spellman and Villanova still have two regular season games remaining ahead of the Big East tournament and March Madness. Three of Villanova’s four losses have come in the last six games, so ‘Nova should use these next two games to make adjustments in preparation of postseason play.
While the Wildcats have only lost by 6 or less points in those three losses, ‘Nova must do a better job of limiting their team fouls. In all of their losses this season, the Wildcats have had more personal fouls than their opponent. As a result, opponents have had more opportunities from the foul line and at times that has been the difference in games. In the three most recent losses, they averaged 24.6 fouls, a significant increase from their season average of 15.9 fouls per game. Spellman will also have to be mindful of his fouls, as he averaged 2.7 fouls over the three games after only averaging 2.1 fouls during the entire season.
With the season winding down and tournament play looming, teams will start to use more small ball lineups, which Spellman will have to adjust to. Despite his listed height and weight, Spellman is a versatile forward who can faceup and finish around the rim. Spellman also has the ability to stick with the opposing team’s ‘4’ as well as the ‘5’. Spellman’s versatility in the frontcourt on both ends will be crucial during March Madness.
Looking beyond this season, Spellman should be a major factor for Wright and the Wildcats moving forward. Spellman will only get better over his collegiate career and will improve his overall game as time goes on. The Villanova basketball program will expect Spellman to be one of their core players in the years to come, providing the team with a versatile offensive and defensive option that not many Villanova teams have had.
-(1) Villanova faces (5) West Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament