Villanova benefitting from Arcidiacono's evolution

Villanova benefitting from Arcidiacono's evolution
March 12, 2014, 7:00 pm
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Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono has dished out 109 assists and knocked down 55 three-pointers this season while committing just 42 turnovers. (USA Today Images)

Ryan Arcidiacono is shooting less, shooting better and scoring less. It’s all part of his evolution as a college basketball player, and Villanova’s evolution as one of the country’s top teams.

Arcidiacono, Villanova’s junior point guard from Neshaminy High, had a promising freshman year last season, averaging 11.9 points and 3.5 assists for the Wildcats.

He took 18 percent of Villanova’s shots and 35 percent of ‘Nova’s three-pointers and scored 18 percent of the Wildcats' points.

He shot because he had to shoot.

This year, thanks to the huge strides James Bell has made offensively, JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard lifting their offensive games dramatically and the emergence of freshman Josh Hart, Arcidiacono hasn’t had to do as much.

And it’s paid off.

Arcidiacono this year has taken just 14 percent of Villanova’s shots and 20 percent of the Wildcats’ threes and is scoring 13 percent of ‘Nova’s points.

“Compared to last year, I had to do a lot more offensively, and this year I have so much confidence in my teammates and I kind of just let the game come to me,” Arcidiacono said.

“I’ll get my shots, I know that, but I’d rather just focus on setting everybody up. I’m still being aggressive and picking my spots on the court.”

Arcidiacono’s scoring average has dropped from 11.9 points to 10.0 per game, but he’s shooting better overall (from 34 percent to 40 percent) and from three (33 percent to 35 percent).

“I think I’m just used to the speed of the game,” Arcidiacono said. “I’m used to everything now. Don’t let anything get to me, don’t try to go too fast or too slow. I think I just have a good base to my game this year.

“Turnovers are down, assists are around the same. Cutting turnovers was a big thing for me this year. And I’m shooting the ball better, except free throws.”

Turnovers are indeed way down for Arch. Down 52 percent, actually, from 2.82 per game last year to 1.35 this year.

Arcidiacano was actually 23rd in NCAA Division I in assist-to-turnover ratio until the Georgetown game, when he committed four turnovers and had no assists.

“I was so mad about that,” he said with a laugh. “If I was 23rd before that game, I might be 50th now.”

He's actually 31st (and fourth in the Big East) with 2.6 assists for every turnover. Last year, that figure was 1.2.

It’s all about being smart and efficient, involving his teammates and burying shots when he’s open.

“He’s got a great basketball IQ,” head coach Jay Wright said. “I think he’s got a great feel of, ‘When do I need to score, when do I need to set my teammates up,’ and I think in his second year of college basketball he’s figured it out.”

In ‘Nova’s last eight games, Arcidiacono has made 20 of 38 threes, or 53 percent. The first 23 games? He was at 29.5 percent.

The hot streak boosted him up to fifth in the Big East in three-point shooting percentage.

“I didn’t shoot well early in the year but I've kind of gotten it going,” he said. “I’m just excited that it’s falling for me, and I’m kind of just relaxing. I know how well I can shoot the ball. I practice so much. I have confidence in myself, and my teammates have confidence in me so whenever I take a shot I think it’s going in.”

Arcidiacono has range out to 25 feet, but over the past month he’s taken almost exclusively high-percentage, square-up threes from the stripe, and they’re going in.

Has he been taking better shots? He’s not sure.

“It could be,” he said. “I think it just wasn’t falling for me in the beginning of the year. I don’t know what it was.

“I didn’t change anything throughout the year, I just kept doing what I do and I definitely got some more open looks and maybe took a little bit better shots, but I still have the same aggressiveness I had in the beginning of the year. They’re just falling.”

And that makes Villanova more dangerous than ever. Bell, Hilliard, Arcidiacono and freshmen Hart and Kris Jenkins are all capable three-point shooters.

And it’s not easy to stop five of them.

Villanova has the highest ratio in Division I of baskets that are three-point baskets (36 percent) and is fifth with 9.2 threes per game. One of the big reasons the Wildcats are 28-3, seeded No. 1 in the Big East tournament and ranked No. 3 in the country is their ability to rain threes on their opponents.

“It’s a great feeling having so many guys who can score, so many guys who can shoot,” Arcidiacono said. “I think we pride ourselves defensively, but offensively we have so many weapons and there’s so much we can do.

“James has been playing well all season. Darrun’s been playing really well. Josh and Kris coming off the bench. We just have so many options.”

Villanova opens play in the Big East tourney at noon Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York against the winner of Wednesday night’s DePaul-Seton Hall game.