Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The Villanova Wildcats found themselves in a battle for 40 minutes in their only exhibition game of the 2012-13 season but came away victorious over the defending Canadian national champion, beating Carleton University 65-59 on Thursday night.
The only surprise in the starting lineup was the inclusion of sophomore guard Darrun Hilliard (15 points) starting alongside freshman Ryan Arcidiacono in the backcourt; junior Tony Chennault (8 points), a Wake Forest transfer who was granted an eligibility waiver to avoid sitting out the 2012-13 season, was predicted by many to start but instead was the first man off the bench for the Wildcats.
“Tony is a guy that can play multiple positions, so we liked him coming off the bench,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Plus, he’s the most unselfish, humble guy on the team.
“I think we’re gonna wind up playing nine or 10 guys…we’ve got a lot of versatility–that’s what I was hoping we would have, and we did tonight.”
Wright wouldn’t confirm that the starting lineup would be the same for Villanova’s season opener, next Friday at 7pm against D-II University of the District of Columbia, saying “you never know…I like what I saw tonight, but if somebody has a real good practice week it could change.”
Sophomore Ty Johnson, Arcidiacono’s main competitor for starting point guard this season following the offseason departure of Wayns, didn’t make his first appearance until nearly 12 minutes into the game and didn’t score in nine minutes. After a freshman season in which Johnson was playing over 30 minutes per game in the stretch run while Hilliard’s minutes faded as the year went on, it looks like Hilliard is poised to play a much bigger role on the Wildcats this season. Of the four freshman who saw action for Villanova last season–Johnson, Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston (2 points, 2 rebounds) and Ashraf Yacoubou–Wright singled out Hilliard as the one who had improved his game the most in the offseason.
“JayVaughn has in terms of his body, he’s in great shape, but in terms of his confidence and how he’s playing it’s Darrun,” the 12th-year head coach said.
Though this Villanova squad is clearly quite a different product from last year’s 13-19 disappointment, with Chennault and Arcidiacono as well as Daniel Ochefu (2 points, 6 rebounds) and Mislav Brzoja the new faces in town while Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek departed after their junior season, a few of last year’s problems were still evident in the team’s only exhibition.
The Wildcats shot just 20.0 percent (3-of-20) from beyond the arc, a year after their 31.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc ranked 281st in Division I basketball. The worst offenders are gone in Wayns (45-of-151, 29.8 percent) and Cheek (57-of-178, 32.0 percent), but Arcidiacono (0-of-7) and Hilliard (1-of-5) are certainly going to have to improve upon their exhibition performances for that to be an area of strength as early as this year.
“I’m really impressed with the fact that he could not play for a year and be this good,” Wright said about Arcidiacono, who missed his entire senior season at Neshaminy (Pa.) HS after undergoing back surgery. “I think he’s gotta get a feel for what he can and what he can’t do at this level, and I’d rather have him try and do a little too much.
“I’d rather guys be aggressive and make mistakes being aggressive, and I think that’s what Arch did tonight. Him shooting 0-for-7 and us being able to win a game, I like that because I know he’ll be able to make them.”
The Ravens were content to bomb away from beyond the 3-point arc all evening, taking more than a trey per minute in shooting 12-of-41 (29.3 percent) from beyond the arc. Carleton guard Phillip Scrubb, a 6-foot-3 junior, led all scorers with 32 in hitting 8-of-17 from 3-point range.
“The reason we scheduled Carleton was because they’re so good offensively, they execute so well,” Wright said. “I like that we could be a good defensive team, we could be a good rebounding team–we have to shoot the ball a lot better, obviously.”
Senior center Mouphtaou Yarou led the Wildcats in scoring, going 13-for-14 from the free-throw line to help him on his way to 21 points and pulling in 12 rebounds as well. Fellow senior Maurice Sutton, the second big man off the bench behind Ochefu, added two points and two rebounds in 17 minutes.
Carleton’s used to coming to the Philadelphia area, having played La Salle and Penn during a two-game trip before last season. The Ravens lost to the Explorers by 18 and the Quakers by two before going on to win the Canadian college basketball championship for the eighth time in the last 10 seasons.