Villanova continues to compete by keeping players
Josh Hart is averaging 7.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per game for Villanova this season. (USA Today Images)
There was a point with 5½ minutes left in the first half of Villanova’s win over Butler the other day where Wildcats guard Ryan Arcidiacono missed a jumper, and the rebound appeared to be heading directly toward a couple Butler guys who had boxed out in the paint.
Out of nowhere, he came flying in.
Villanova freshman Josh Hart didn’t go up for the rebound, he kind of went … sideways for the rebound.
Hart, way over on the other side of the court, saw the angle the ball was taking, launched himself into the air and flew across the court, snagging the loose ball kind of soaring sideways before the Butler guys who were in perfect rebounding position knew what happened.
Hart didn’t have position. He was nowhere near the point where the ball was coming down. He just used sheer willpower to grab that basketball.
The old cliché about “wanting it more?” Hart really does want it more.
Hart has been one of the secret weapons for Villanova, 25-3 and ranked No. 8 in the country.
Despite averaging only 20½ minutes per game, Hart is the No. 2 freshman rebounder in the Big East and is giving Villanova 7.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game off the bench.
It’s remarkable for a kid to come in as a freshman and join a program with an established lineup and earn 20 minutes a game.
Hart has done it with sheer hustle and determination.
The transition hasn’t always been easy. Hart – like virtually every incoming freshman in a big-time college program – is used to being The Man.
Hart averaged 24.3 points per game last year as a senior at Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C.
When he arrived on the Main Line, he had to work his way into the rotation. He pulled it off by being happy to do the dirty work.
“Everybody here, coming into college, you’re the leading scorer, play all the minutes, have all the responsibilities,” Hart said.
“Then you come into college, you have to learn your role. A lot of times you’re not going to start, you’re not going to get the minutes you’re used to.
“But with this group of guys, it was easy for me to really embrace this role and just play as hard as I can because I want to do it for them – I want to do it for [seniors] Tony [Chennault], his last year, James [Bell], Nick [McMahon], all those guys.
“It’s definitely hard at times, but doing it for them makes it a lot easier. Just want to do it for the seniors and everybody on the team. Whatever the team needs.”
What’s the best way of measuring Hart’s determination?
Probably this: Despite averaging only 20 minutes per game, Hart ranks 13th in the entire Big East in offensive rebounding at 1.8 per game.
Asked what he likes about Hart’s game, head coach Jay Wright didn’t hesitate.
“Just relentless play, especially on the offensive and defensive glass,” Wright said. “He’s relentless in transition. He’s really getting good defensively. He just has a tough relentlessness, I love it.
“He really makes us better. He can drive the ball and make plays and he's a smart player. He's going to be a great player for us.”
Hart is shooting a solid 49.3 percent from the field, but his offensive numbers are down a bit lately. He was at 10.1 points per game through the DePaul game on Jan. 20 and is averaging just 3.5 points per game in 11 games since.
But on this team, it really doesn’t even matter.
Wright told Hart recently not to worry so much about scoring. Villanova is 24th in Division 1 at 79.4 points per game. The Wildcats have plenty of scorers. Come in and work, and JayVaughn Pinkston, James Bell, Darrun Hilliard and Arcidiacono will take care of the scoring.
Still, Hart knows he can score and hopes to get those offensive numbers back up where they were a month ago.
“Hopefully, it’s just a cycle,” Hart said. “Definitely frustrating at times. I think my biggest issue is going in I was thinking, ‘I need to score, I need to get my points,’ instead of letting the game just come to me.
“I talked to Coach Wright, talked to my dad about it, and they said just go out and do whatever you can and don’t worry about scoring.”
Hart is actually a terrific shooter from deep. Through 17 games, he was 21 for 46 from three-point range, among the conference leaders at 46 percent.
He’s slumped the last couple weeks, but that’s only focused him on contributing in other ways.
“Just go out and do everything you can energy wise, defensively, rebounding,” Hart said.
“I know as long as I go out there and rebound and play hard-nosed defense, the scoring will take care of itself.”
Villanova has three more games before the Big East tournament. The Wildcats face 17-11 Marquette at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center, then Xavier in Cincinnati on Thursday and Georgetown back at the Wells Fargo Center next Saturday.
The Wildcats need one more win to set a school record for regular-season victories and five more to match the overall school record of 30 wins in a season, set by the 2009 Final Four team.
Hart has ranged from nine minutes in a game at Providence to 34 minutes vs. Iowa.
He never knows how much he’ll play. A lot depends on matchups, a lot depends on how the starters are playing well, a lot depends on exactly what Wright needs from his bench.
“You never know,” Hart said. “But all that matters is that when I do come in, when I am out there, no matter if I get one minute or get 30 minutes, I’m going to go as hard as I can as long as I’m out there.”