Ryan Arcidiacono is in charge at Villanova now. Never mind that he’s only 18. Never mind that he has not played organized basketball since his junior year of high school. Jay Wright has handed him the reins to the Villanova basketball team. Whether that is a good thing is another matter.
The dearly departed Maalik Wayns left the point guard position wide open when he jumped to the NBA last year. His heir-in-waiting, the underwhelming Ty Johnson, decided to transfer earlier in this season. Arcidiacono had taken his spot, and would have eaten into his playing time. Apparently, Johnson’s fragile ego couldn’t handle coming off the bench.
The stage is set for a great sports movie: in the dark days of the formerly storied program, a freshman point guard, coming back from a debilitating injury, swoops in to rescue the team and lead them back to relevance. This might happen. But it will have to wait. Arch, as his teammates call him, has hit a few roadblocks in his early career. Over Villanova’s last three games, he has played the most minutes on the team—impressive for a freshman. However, he shot 1-for-8, 1-for-8, and 1-for-4 from the three-point line in those games, and he turned the ball over nine times to only eleven assists. Evidently, the revolution has not yet arrived.
This dip in production is to be expected. It’s close to miraculous that Arch played at such a high level in his first games. He scored 25 points and assisted on six baskets in only his second game, against Marshall. He missed his entire senior year of high school as he recovered from back surgery to repair a herniated disk. Let that sink in; the last opponents Arcidiacono faced on a basketball court were varsity high school players. Two years ago. And now he is set to enter Big East play as the starting point guard for a once-proud franchise, in a still-deadly conference.
Arcidiacono’s ceiling is very high. He could be great. He has a blank canvas to work with this season, and the team has its lowest expectations in years. This takes some pressure off him; no one expects Villanova to make the Final Four this time around. The team lost four players who were in the rotation last season—none of them to graduation. Even with those players, the team went an underwhelming 13-19 in 2011-2012. No one expects the Cats to win many games this year, so this is the year that the young point guard can mess up without especially hurting the team. Down the line, the team will be better (hopefully), and whatever experience he gains from this crapshoot of a season will come in handy when that time comes.
So far, Arcidiacono has stepped into the role of team leader pretty well. This is his team, and has been from day one. He plays more minutes than anyone else on the team. After the Purdue game in the 2K Sports Classic, Jay Wright and he were the only ones who went to speak to the press. A few minutes before, Wright gave him the ball on Villanova’s final possession in regulation, with a tie score and a chance to win. He did not shy away from taking the last shot, a floater that would have won the game then and there. He missed, but then willed the team to victory in overtime. He is the man for Villanova, for better or for worse.
Most of his early-season woes stem from his unusual position—freshmen aren’t normally asked to step in and lead a team of upperclassmen right away. As the head of the team, he often feels that he has to be the hero on every play. He pulls up for long jump shots when the offense begins to sputter. Shots like these look great on SportsCenter if it goes in, but when they miss and the other team gets the rebound, Arcidiacono may as well have turned the ball over.
However, his coach would rather have it this way. As Wright told CBSPhilly, “Scottie Reynolds was the same way as a freshman. Scottie Reynolds has a record for nine turnovers in a game, but only because he wouldn’t stop after the second or third turnover. He just kept coming, and coming. I think Arch will be the same kind of kid.” It is safe to say that you will never be a great basketball player if you are afraid to take tough shots, or important shots. The guard is certainly not afraid. And what choice does he have? Villanova does not have much scoring talent. He has the green light to shoot the ball, so for better or worse, the team’s outcome reflects on him.
If he does not declare for the NBA before graduation, which any sane person would do if the team keeps losing, Arcidiacono has a shot at being the next great Villanova guard. The problem is, the guards he draws comparisons to—Scottie Reynolds, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry—all had great teams around them. Arch can’t do it alone. If he is to ascend to the throne of Villanova royalty, it won’t be this season, and it won’t be with these teammates. He can do it, though. He has already shown flashes of his potential. There is precious little talent on the roster, so all eyes will be on him. Hopefully, this pressure will toughen Arcidiacono into a great player, and not wilt him into irrelevance.