Sports Journalism Blog

By Cameron Stewart | @ThatManCam

Sports Capital Journalism Program

HOUSTON — When Villanova seniors Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu, Patrick Farrell and Henry Lowe arrived on Villanova’s campus as freshman, it seemed unlikely that they’d be ever be 40 minutes away from winning a national title.

The season prior to their arrival was a dark spot in the rich history of Villanova basketball. In 2011-12, the Wildcats had finished with a record of 13-19. That season marked the fewest victories in the 10 years since Jay Wright was named head coach. It was the program’s worst winning percentage since 1992-93, the first season after the resignation of legendary coach Rollie Massimino.

Four years later, the Wildcats will meet North Carolina at NRG Stadium in the national championship game.

In the one-and-done era, the Wildcats have gotten to the program’s second national title game with four starters who are upperclassmen. It all started with the arrival of Villanova’s current senior class back in 2013.

“There’s been a major cultural shift,” said Villanova senior walk-on Henry Lowe on the difference between the state of the program from the 13-19 season to where the Wildcats are today. 

If there was one player leading the charge for Villanova’s resurgence, it’s Arcidiacono. He was named a team captain as a freshman and has had a career that has his name all over the Villanova record books. If Arcidiacono gets three points in Monday night’s title game, he’ll pass JayVaughn Pinkston. Arcidiacono is third in career assists in the 95 years of Villanova basketball.

Arcidiacono has cemented his name in the school record books, but his greatest contribution to helping the Wildcats might be his leadership. Written in all capital letters on a piece of tape above the exit of Villanova’s locker room to the hallways of NRG Stadium is the word “ATTITUDE.” No player embodies the attitude quite like Arcidiacono.

Arcidiacono may be the focal point of Villanova’s culture change, but he’s not alone.

The Wildcats’ second-biggest source of leadership comes from the biggest man on the team, Ochefu, a 6-foot, 11-inch forward. “We’re the two guys everyone looks up to, the two guys Coach Wright expects to lead the team,” Ochefu said. “This year, we understood, this is our year to lead.”

After the 13-19 season, the Wildcats have slowly risen back to the top of the national title discussion. The Wildcats finished 20-14 during this senior class’s freshmen season, which ended with a second-round loss to North Carolina. After Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart joined the Wildcats roster the next season, the Wildcats would finish a combined 62-8 over the next two seasons. Despite the massive success, both seasons ended with Sweet Sixteen defeats.

Win or lose, Monday night will mark the end of the collegiate careers of Villanova’s senior class.

“I think for myself, and I can speak for the walk-ons also, no matter what happens in this game, we really just want to go down playing basketball the way we’ve learned to love and grow and play these last four years,” Arcidiacono said when asked about playing his final game in a Villanova uniform.

“I think for us, it would just be a beautiful game if we weren’t making shots and we just defended (and) rebounded,” Arcidiacono said, continuing his thought on what Villanova basketball means to him. “Even if we ended up losing, we could still look each other in the eye and just know all the struggles we’ve been through.”