Ryan Arcidiacono preparing for junior season

For some, Ryan Arcidiacono’s sophomore season at Villanova was seen as a step back. His scoring numbers and minutes dipped from his freshman year on a team that went 16-2 in the Big East and 29-5 overall, losing to UConn in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Arcidiacono averaged 9.9 points and 31.1 minutes last season, down from 11.9 and 34.0 his freshman year, respectively–though to be fair, he still led Villanova in minutes.

Some wanted him to score more as a 19-year-old. Some saw an 18-year-old who had big games and wanted to see more of that in his second season.

His head coach, Jay Wright, however, saw something else–something his scoring averages don’t show. Wright saw Arcidiacono mature both as a player and a leader on a team that didn’t need the 6-foot-3 point guard to fire up, on average, 9.1 shots from the field like the Wildcats did in his freshman year.

“We were thrilled with his sophomore year, in that we knew as a freshman we needed him to score and be a volume shooter,” Wright, now in his 14th season as ‘Nova’s head coach, said. “We knew that just because the way our team was made up.

“And he did–he scored for us. Poor percentage, a lot of turnovers like most freshmen do. But his sophomore year, we knew the other guys had grown, so we didn’t need him to be a volume but we needed him to be really efficient.”

The efficiency Wright alluded to was an increased shooting percentage. Last season, Arcidiacono shot 39.5 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from three-point range, while taking 38 fewer field-goal attempts and 46 fewer three-pointers than his freshman year.

“He had a three-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio,” Wright said, “and he was one of the highest percentage 3-point shooters. He was a great leader and made big shots. We were thrilled. We actually thought he had a much better sophomore year than he did a freshman.”

While Arcidiacono’s scoring numbers decreased, he became a much more effective point guard. He took better care of the ball, cutting down his turnover rate from 2.8 in Year One to 1.4 in Year Two. Losing James Bell, who graduated, Arcidiacono could see a rise in his scoring numbers again in his junior campaign.

Villanova’s offense revolved around three players last season — Bell (14.4 ppg), Darrun Hilliard (14.3 ppg) and JayVaughn Pinkston (14.1). Hilliard and Pinkston are still here, but Bell’s points have to come from somewhere and Arcidiacono is a prime candidate.

“Again now, this is a different team [than last year],” Wright said. “You lose James Bell, who is one of your leading scorers. The numbers can go up again scoring, the efficiency can go up and now the leadership steps in because he led as a point guard, but now he’s leading as a point guard and an upperclassman.”

With his hair grown out, no longer sporting a buzz cut — “I’m kind of wolfing it right now,” he says — Arcidiacono said the Wildcats have “some big-time goals” for the 2014-15 season. They did lose to the eventual national champion, UConn, in the tourney and had the best record in the Big East last year.

“We lost to the eventual national championship [sic], they got hot, they beat St. Joe’s,” Arcidiacono said of using the postseason as motivation for this year. “It’s a new season. It’s a whole new season, but we try to focus on just now and getting better. And we’ve been getting better throughout the whole summer.”

Now an upperclassman, the Langhorne, Pennsylvania native knows what Wright expects from his players and he’s ready to ascend to the team leadership role.

“I’ll be the vocal leader on the team,” he said. “Last year, it was Josh [Hart] and me and a couple of other guys, but I think this is my team. Just vocally, both on and off the court, keep the guys … just keep talking to them about what Coach expects and what he wants from us.”

As for what he expects from himself this year, Arcidiacono wants his assists to increase, continue to shoot better and average around 15 points. And for the team, he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.

“We have a very tough out-of-conference schedule,” the 20-year-old said, “so hopefully we can get through that and get through the Big East season and then we’ll see what happens from there.

“We’ve been through the worst times of, first losing to Columbia, losing early in my freshman year. And last year, having a couple slip-ups against Creighton and in the end, so hopefully, we can put it together at the end this season and next season to get pretty far and see what happens.”

*Story originally published on City of Basketball Love on Oct. 17, 2014.