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
-(1) Villanova faces (9) Alabama in the second round of the NCAA tournament