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Villanova's Arcidiacono lauded for his leadership

St. John's coach Steve Lavin compares Villanova floor leader to former Duke great Bobby Hurley.

Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

ON SATURDAY afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center, after fourth-ranked Villanova had turned a 10-point deficit into a 37-point win in the final 27 1/2 minutes against St. John's, Red Storm coach Steve Lavin paid Wildcat Ryan Arcidiacono maybe the ultimate compliment a point guard can get.

He compared what the 6-3 junior does for the Wildcats to the impact Bobby Hurley had on the great Duke teams of the early 1990s. Hurley is the NCAA's all-time assists leader, and was the Most Oustanding Player in the 1992 Final Four.

Arcidiacono was born in 1994, the year after Hurley's college career ended.

"He won a national championship, right?" was Arch's immediate reaction when told of Lavin's comments. "That's a lot to live up to."

Against St. John's, which headed into the game as the second-hottest team in the Big East, he didn't score in the opening 27 minutes, and finished with seven points on 2-for-6 shooting. But he had four assists and two steals, to go with no turnovers.

In the first St. John's game, on Jan. 6 in New York, the Wildcats turned a two-point deficit into an 18-point win in the final 12 minutes. He shot 1-for-3, but had 10 assists and, again, zero turnovers.

So Lavin should know.

And actually, Hurley has two rings.

"That's high praise to me," said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose 29-2 team had the best regular season in program history for the second straight year. The Wildcats will open the Big East Tournament tomorrow afternoon at Madison Square Garden against Seton Hall (16-14) - which beat them at home in overtime on Jan. 3 and upset them in the quarterfinals last March - or Marquette (12-18).

"I do think there's similarities, in that they both have great basketball IQs and they make everyone around them better. I think [Arcidiacono] really wants to be the most competitive person out there. [Hurley] was like that."

Arcidiacono can beat you in a lot of ways. So can the Wildcats. A starter since he arrived, he's the leader. On a team filled with them. He wouldn't want it any other way.

"I take so much pride in just being a coach out on the court for our guys," said Arcidiacono, who averages 10.7 points, second behind fellow Big East first-team selection Darrun Hilliard (14.2), in a team-high 30 minutes a game, which is actually 4 fewer than he played as a freshman. "I know what he wants, and what he expects, from every single guy. And I try to hold everyone accountable for that. Especially myself. I've kind of always embraced that, but it's different in college. I kind of got pushed into that as a freshman, but I was able to learn. Now I think I'm able to fill that role even more. I try to communicate really well.

"We push each other. I think that's the main thing. We're a complete team. Everyone knows their status. No one's bigger than anyone else. It's not one person. No one complains. We're in this together. Each of us knows what we should be doing. It's up to us to control ourselves."

In Big East games, his numbers have gone up. Especially from the arc, where he made 44.4 percent. But there was a time early in the season when he struggled with his shot, mostly because he was playing with an injured right wrist. Wright remembers getting emails saying he should play Arcidiacono less.

"That's when I was playing him the most," Wright said.

Because there have been few players he's ever trusted more.

"He's a born leader," Wright said. "He's always been that guy. He loves it. He's very comfortable being in that position. He has no fear of failure. None. He'll take the last shot, and I'm never worried about how he's going to react the next game, whatever happens.

"He's got a piece of Kyle Lowry in him, a piece of Randy Foye, a piece of Scottie Reynolds, a piece of Maalik Wayns. He's got a piece of everybody. He's really unique."

When Villanova beat then-No. 14 VCU in November, Arcidiacono had nine assists and zero turnovers, to go along with three points. Same thing against Syracuse a month later, right down to the three points. In the Big East, he's had nine games in which he's scored at least 15. On Valentine's Day at No. 18 Butler, he went 0-for-6. Yet on the last play, the Bulldogs still chose to double him at the top of the key, even though Hilliard already had 28. So he passed to an open Hilliard on the right wing, and Hilliard hit his eighth trey for the win.

"It's funny, but I talked to [Butler's]) Alex Barlow later and asked him, 'Why did you guys guard me?' " said Arcidiacono, who missed his senior season at Neshaminy High after undergoing back surgery. "He said we know you've taken those shots before and made those shots. So we were afraid you'd take it."

Early in his sophomore season, he made a three with 10 seconds to go to put Villanova ahead for good against second-ranked Kansas. After going 0-for-5 before that.

"We're all confident in what each of us can do," Arcidiacono insisted. "Anytime we've been down, no one panics. We just have that look in our eyes that says it's going to be all right. We'll find a way to respond. We have four captains. Everyone's a leader in their own way. It can be anybody. We're pretty tough to prepare for, I believe. We have seven or eight guys that can be the guy . . .

"When I was hurt, [Wright] would get mad when I didn't shoot. But I told him I was just trying to impact the game in other ways. I didn't let it affect how I managed the game. I try not to have any turnovers. They bother me. They come from being aggressive. In the Big East, my turnovers went up because I was trying to do more things, make more plays. As long as we win, I could have 10 turnovers.

"That Butler game, I was the happiest guy in [the locker room]. I was happy for Darrun. We're there for each other."

Even Hurley had his posse, too.