Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Top-ranked Villanova sets the tone in convincing fashion

                               Photo Credit: Geno Green

Setting the tone early in games can make or break momentum in the latter stages.

For the top-ranked Villanova Wildcats (21-3, 11-1 BIG EAST), an early 16-2 run, highlighted by a couple of layups from Daniel Ochefu helped roar the engines.

Ochefu returned after a three-game absence (concussion) and affected all facets of the game with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists in Villanova's 86-59 victory over DePaul (8-16, 2-10 BIG EAST) on Tuesday night at the Allstate Arena.

"Ochefu's play really got us going, especially in the second half with great passes out to the post to Kris Jenkins for threes and we carried that effort throughout," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I was shocked at his conditioning given he had practiced for only a day and managed to play 24 minutes [tonight]."

Another contribution to Villanova's early outburst was back-to-back long-range makes from Josh Hart to cap the run and finished with a game-high 18, on 6-of-11 shooting.

With a full rotation, combined with its first-ever ranking atop the Associated Press Poll, Wright knows the pressure will mount more as the last month of BIG EAST play takes shape for the Wildcats.

"I was concerned because everybody wanted to talk about being number one and we were trying to talk about DePaul," Wright said. 

"I really credit our two seniors, Ryan Arcidiacono and Ochefu for showing leadership and keeping our guys focused on concentrating."

The Wildcats embraced the spotlight and dominated in the paint with 36 points, compared to the Blue Demons' 16.

Villanova's defense also fueled its offense with DePaul forced into 19 turnovers and scored as many points as a byproduct.

"When you can do that, you can get easy baskets and DePaul is good with its half court defense," Wright said. "They have good length and are well-coached, but if you can create turnovers and get some easy baskets, then that makes things easier."

Jalen Brunson finished with 11 points in his first game back since graduating from Stevenson High School last season in Lincolnshire, Ill., 30 minutes north of Chicago.

A sign of immediate maturity showed with the freshman as his return to play in front of family was simply another game on the road to making a possible run to the Final Four.

"It was my job to contribute and be a team player. As long as we win, then that's all that counts," Brunson said. "I definitely miss it out [in Chicago], but I knew this was a business trip once we landed here."

DePaul coach Dave Leitao could not pinpoint a specific reason as to why a rhythm could not be established, but gave credit to Villanova's flexibility on both sides of the ball.

"They can easily function as a team and when Villanova is 11-1 in a very difficult league and played a tough non-conference schedule, then it is hard to believe that they will not contend to get to Houston." Leitao said.

In a season which parity rules across the board and as the sixth team to the AP Poll, Villanova might be the one to prevail from the basement to become the standard across the country.

And for a change, the underclassmen do not hog the spotlight on the Wildcats.

Arcidiacono and Ochefu are the leaders as seniors, but this is a well-oiled unit built for any player to step up on any given night.

Eerily similar to the days where upperclassmen such as Georgetown's Patrick Ewing and St. John's Chris Mullin ruled the BIG EAST.

As music legend Joni Mitchell once said, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it is gone."

So buckle up and enjoy the current incarnation of Villanova for the next month.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @GenoSportsguy.