No easy entry into Big East for Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono

CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Freshman Ryan Arcidiacono has had to acclimate quickly to the tough play of the Big East Conference.
CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Freshman Ryan Arcidiacono has had to acclimate quickly to the tough play of the Big East Conference.
Posted: January 22, 2013

IN A PERFECT world, Villanova coach Jay Wright would have had the luxury of bringing freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono along at a somewhat reasonable pace.

In case you haven't been paying attention this last season and a half, perfect is the last word you associate with the Wildcats.

If Ty Johnson hadn't decided to transfer after one season, Arcidiacono could have redshirted. Then transfer Tony Chennault needed some extra time to get acclimated to his new program, while he dealt with last summer's shooting death of his older brother. Another transfer, Dylan Ennis, isn't eligible until next season.

Since someone had to be the primary ballhandler, Arcidiacono got thrown in immediately, even though he missed his senior season at Neshaminy High with a back injury that required surgery.

"I was not planning on this kid being out there 30-some minutes at the point guard spot in the Big East," said Wright, whose 11-7 team (2-3 Big East), loser of three straight, plays No. 5 Louisville (16-2, 4-1) Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. "I think about [the toll] all the time. He's in a difficult spot. But he's tough, mentally and physically. We've played freshmen like that before, but they've always been surrounded by veteran guys."

That's not the case with this group, which had to replace its top two scorers from a squad that went 13-19 last season. So Arcidiacono is averaging nearly 33 minutes a game, more than 4 above anyone else. And his 11.6 points are second behind sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston (13.3), on 34 percent shooting, 31 from the arc (to go with a team-best 83 percent at the foul line). His 60 assists are twice as many as any teammate, and 19 steals tie him for second behind sophomore guard Darrun Hilliard. His 54 turnovers are also a team-high. And Villanova leads the conference in those. Dare we mention that Louisville gets one-third of its points off takeaways?

Nobody said the growth chart had to be a straight line.

"I just wanted to play basketball again," Arcidiacono said. "I knew it was going to be a learning process. I'm finding that out right now, about so many things. So far, there's been ups and downs. I'm just trying to keep it [even-keeled], keep working, get this team to play as hard as it can.

"It's OK if you don't have All-Americas on each side of you. We're just trying to learn to play together, get comfortable with each other. We have new guys, guys who didn't play a lot last year. One day, it's going to pay off. Coach always tells us to respect the journey. He's had previous teams who've gone through a couple of years of getting their butts kicked, but then everything started clicking. That could be us. You never know when it could happen."

For a program that won 12 NCAA Tournament games from 2005-10, including an Elite Eight and a Final Four, patience is not always part of the equation. But that's where this thing is at the moment. It will take time. So you have to live with the lows.

"You could say he's paying for the sins of the past," Wright said. "He's getting the brunt of it. The thing is, never ever does he say anything except accept the responsibility. We're not easy on him. You never know how they're going to handle it. For his production and efficiency, I'd give him a C. For his leadership and attitude, it would be an A. I value that much more. And when he gets a little older, his production and efficiency will be an A, too. Thankful for us, he's the guy we're going through this with. I just wish we could give him some more help.

"I know this: His teammates see what he does. And they respect him for it. Because there's never an excuse."

It might not get better anytime soon. Syracuse will be in South Philly Saturday. Then there's a trip to Notre Dame, which almost never loses at home. The Big East has a tough reputation for a reason. Yet you have to measure progress somehow, both on the stat sheet and beyond. Judge accordingly.

The good news is, the current shortcomings don't appear to be from lack of effort. You can build off that.

"I'm just trying to keep my head clear," Arcidiacono said. "I feel like I can compete with the guards in this league. I'm kind of hard on myself. I expect to do really well. If something goes wrong, I'm always, like, 'OK, it's my fault. I'll get the next one.' I just have to show the guys and coach that I'm willing to listen to him. I'm going to let him coach me. If the leader of the team does that, the rest of the guys will see that and they'll do the same. I want it to start with me . . .

"A lot of what's going wrong is dumb, little stuff on our part. It's been a combination of things. Teams are trying to get the ball out of my hands. So I'm trying to let other guys make plays, not force too much. You have to be strong with the ball, make smart decisions, have confidence in yourself. It really can be a simple game. Coach wants me to keep shooting; that's what I'm going to do. They're going to fall. It's knowing when to get the right shot. If we'd just been a little bit better, we could have a couple more wins. That's what hurts, when you look at the box score.

"Hopefully, we'll figure this out. But why wait a year or two? My focus is this season. I'm playing the next game."

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