Since Jay Wright first took the reigns of Villanova's basketball program in 2001, his team's have been known for exceptional guard play. Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, Allan Ray, Scottie Reynolds, and Corey Fisher each earned countless accolades and national recognition for their gaudy production on the court. Naturally, then, Villanova became known as a haven for backcourt stars. "Guard U," a reputation carrying both benefit and detriment, became a seemingly permanent fixture within the Jay Wright brand.
Well, Daniel Ochefu is ripping that status down one rebound at a time.
The road leading up to his junior season was filled with plenty of bumps along the road. Ochefu struggled to find his place in the offense, relying on offensive put-backs and easy dunks to contribute. But it was the more complex aspects of the game that the center struggled to grasp. Throughout his sophomore year, Ochefu failed to stay on the floor consistently; his foul rate was approximately 5.2 per 40 minutes. When he was in the game, a free throw mark just north of 50% and nearly two turnovers a contest were enough to make Villanova fans throw their remotes out of frustration.
Now, after enduring more than his fair share of growing pains, Ochefu has begun to hit his stride in the midst of a breakout campaign. Nearly every major statistical category has improved markedly. He's scoring more points, securing more rebounds, and swatting more shots per contest. Perhaps most impressively, Ochefu's free throw percentage rests comfortably above the 70% barrier and his foul rate is down to 3.7 per 40 minutes.
But it's not only the statistics that have shown improvement. Ochefu simply looks more comfortable within his body. After failing to demonstrate a reliable post move, the junior is now comfortable backing down his opponent and finishing with a variety of sweeping hooks across the lane or over the shoulder layups over either shoulder. Ochefu's decision making remains superb. When doubled, he exhibits the patience and body control necessary to kick out to the open man.
On the defensive side of the ball, Ochefu's presence is just as invaluable. In addition to averaging just under two blocks per game, the junior alters countless shots around the rim. When he is forced to switch out to guard the perimeter, quick feet and smart angles are enough to funnel the ball handler into traffic.
And in Saturday's slug fest against the Seton Hall, Villanova fans saw the culmination of Ochefu's improvement. Simply put, he played an absolutely stellar game and set a number of career highs: minutes played, field goals made, free throws attempted, points, and rebounds. During a game when the Wildcat offense struggled mightily to find its rhythm, Ochefu represented an oasis of consistency.
The play that really stands out came with around four minutes left in the second half. With the game tied at 52-52, Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled against a double-team as the shot clock ticked under ten seconds. Half pass and half prayer, Arch lofted the ball somewhere in the direction of the rim. Ochefu and his 6'11" frame was there to answer. Soaring above the smaller Seton Hall defenders, Villanova's best player on the floor snagged the ball and scored the easy layup.
But here's the kicker, his production could have been even better. Despite finishing with 19 points, it seemed as if Ochefu had the opportunity to finish with 30. It became exceedingly frustrating to watch Ochefu call for the ball with his man sealed while the team instead swung the ball around the perimeter.
Daniel Ochefu shot 78% from the field. The rest of the Villanova Wildcats shot 22%.
This is not an article dedicated as a declaration of Ochefu's preparedness for the NBA or a speculation of his draft prospects. It is not a damning of the rest of the players, or Coach Wright, or the offensive system. It is simply praise due to one of Villanova's many stars. Ochefu will undoubtedly have games this year where he struggles from the line or finds himself in early foul trouble. And yes, he's probably going to miss a couple more dunks than 'Nova fans would like to see. But, as the Wildcats continue their ascension back to the top of the college basketball ranks, Daniel Ochefu will continue to do his best to put the Guard U moniker to bed.