Conference Tournament Brackets
NEW YORK – The original plan was to red-shirt him.
Imagine where Villanova would be right now if Ryan Arcidiacono hadn’t even played this year?
Certainly not 20-12 and on the way to the NCAA tournament.
Arcidiacono, Villanova’s true freshman point guard, overcame a sloppy start Wednesday night to pile up 15 points, six rebounds and five assists in the Wildcats’ 66-53 win over St. John’s in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden (see Instant Replay).
Not bad for a guy that coach Jay Wright thought might have to red-shirt this year after missing his entire senior year at Neshaminy High School because of a back injury that required surgery.
“Our decision when he came in June was we might red-shirt him, because he hadn’t played for a year and we didn’t know how he was going to handle injuries,” Wright said.
“Then it was, ‘OK, we’re going to play him, but we’re going to have to rest him every other day?' Then it was, 'This kid’s ready to go.' Then it was like, 'We’re never taking him out.’
“It’s pretty remarkable to not have played your senior year, come in and play every minute and have the ball in your hands every minute.”
With its 20th win, Villanova erased any lingering doubt that it’s an NCAA team. Since the inception of the Big East 30 years ago, 147 of 152 Big East 20-win teams have gotten a bid. And the Wildcats have three wins over top-five teams.
“I think we have a very strong chance,” Wright said.
And Arcidiacono long ago erased any lingering doubt that his back could hold up under the pounding of a grueling Big East season.
“Honestly, as soon as I woke up from surgery, I didn’t have any pain,” he said, reclining at his locker. “It was just getting back to game speed.
“In AAU and high school combined, I missed probably 80 or 90 games running up and down the court and just playing basketball, so it just took some time.
“I probably didn’t get back to myself and playing my type of basketball until January. November, I thought I was playing well, but I still thought I had an extra step in me. I think over January and February and this first part of March I feel like I’ve stepped up a little bit and gotten back to my old self from my high school days.”
In the first half Wednesday night, Arcidiacono scored three points and had five turnovers. In the second half, 12 points and three turnovers.
The stats don’t really tell explain how well he controlled the game the final 20 minutes.
“His mental toughness is really impressive,” Wright said. “It’s that of a senior. He makes mistakes like a freshman, but he handles them like a senior. We want him to be aggressive and not be afraid to make mistakes. In the second half, he started being aggressive and making plays. In the first half, I think he was trying to be perfect. And that’s a freshman. But he’s playing like an upperclassman.”
With the game tied at 33 four minutes into the second half, Arcidiacono made a three and then a long jumper to start a 17-7 run that gave Villanova command.
“We needed someone to make a play,” Wright said. “That was big. It kind of gave us a little separation.”
Those were his only baskets of the second half, but he made seven of eight foul shots down the stretch to help Villanova advance to the Big East quarterfinals for the first time since 2009.
St. John’s, playing without suspended leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison, lost its fifth straight game and fell to 16-15.
“In the second half, I was just like, ‘All right, I'm not going to let us lose,’” Arcidiacono said. “I'm going to be strong with the ball and make plays for others. That's what I thought I did.”
With the win, Villanova earned a 7 p.m. matchup Thursday against No. 4 Louisville (26-5).
The Wildcats beat Louisville by nine at the Wells Fargo Center in late January, but Louisville’s only losses since are by two points to Georgetown and in five overtimes to Notre Dame.
“I just had some jitters and had to get them out,” Arcidiacono said. “I still had three turnovers in the second half, but I felt I kind of controlled the game a little bit with my handle and getting guys some open shots.
“It’s something I’m going to have to do for the whole game [Thursday] instead of just for the second half.”