Hometown: Baltimore, M.D.
High School: Westtown/Downington East
Daniel Ochefu is inarguably the Villanova Wildcats’ most important player, and the team will only go as far as the senior forward can take them this season. Seldom-used junior Darryl Reynolds is the only other traditional big on the roster, meaning Ochefu will be called on to almost single-handedly anchor 'Nova’s defense and protect the glass. Based on his 2015 numbers, he appears to be up to the challenge. The Chef served up a breakout campaign last year, finishing first among Big East players in field-goal percentage (64.4%) and third in rebounds per game (8.5) while ranking 8th in the nation in DRtg (85.8, per Sports-Reference), all career bests. If his developmental trajectory is any indication, he will only get better in 2015-16.
Ochefu has improved dramatically since his freshman year. Once an offensive liability, he now possesses a reliable jump hook and finishes well at the rim, where he converted at an efficient 68.4% clip. It looks like he's added a new element to his repertoire for 2015-16; during the Blue-White scrimmage in October, Ochefu unveiled the beginnings of a mid-range game that could add yet another dimension to the Wildcats' already multifaceted attack. Ochefu is a good passer for his size and can even take off and run the break effectively on rare occasions. Additionally, he is an excellent rebounder (5th in the nation in total rebounding percentage per Sports-Reference) and was able to scale back his foul rate from 5.2 per 40 minutes in 2014 to 3.5 per 40 minutes in 2015.
The Maryland native will be needed to play more minutes than ever before, however, which raises some concerns. Last season he ranked 35th in minutes per game (24.0) among major-conference players 6’10" or taller and has only played 30+ minutes four times in 104 career games. With the Wildcats' lack of size, one would expect to see Ochefu average something much closer to (if not exceeding) that 30-minute mark this season. Villanova can take solace in the fact that he has never missed a game due to injury in his career, though that may be a result of a relatively modest minute count. It will be worth watching whether the increased load negatively affects his performance in the season’s later stages.
A lot of responsibilities are being placed on Ochefu this season. The Wildcats can only hope his shoulders are wide enough to handle those expectations.
Best Case Scenario: Ochefu’s play takes yet another step forward, as he combines continued improvement in the post with a burgeoning mid-range jumper to become an offensive hub that other teams are forced to double down on, leading to plenty of open threes for coach Jay Wright’s spread-out system. He remains an imposing figure near the basket on defense, and his per game stats get a bump from the extra playing time. Chef is nominated for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award for the second straight season and makes All-Big East First Team while leading the Wildcats deep into March.
Worst Case Scenario: Ochefu wears down from a significantly larger workload and is less effective as result of being targeted by other teams seeking to get ’Nova’s man-in-the-middle into foul trouble and off the floor. Reynolds fails to develop into a viable backup and the Wildcats struggle in the paint and on the boards due to a fatigued Ochefu’s inability to stay on the court, thanks to fouls and nagging injuries. With their star big man operating in a limited capacity, Villanova falters down the stretch against quality teams and suffers another early postseason exit.
We are pleased to bring back our Wisdom of Crowds experiment for the 2015-2016 season. In this series, we ask that you consider the points covered in our player preview to supplement your own personal insights and instincts to predict the points per game each scholarship player on the roster we score in the upcoming season.
What do you think the upcoming season holds for Chef? Use the voting buttons below to predict the points per game you think he will score this year. We'd love to understand your thinking, so try to post a comment to tell us how you arrived at your prediction.