Back in December my wife and I welcomed our first child to the Nova Nation. Over the past month, I've already seen her grow both physically and emotionally, and it's truly a joy to watch. There has only been one experience that even comes close to parenthood recently, and that's watching the Villanova Wildcats learn and improve this season. For those of you who know my wife, please don't tell her I just made that comparison. She already isn't 100% sure which one I love more (it's my daughter, but it was close).
A number of players have stepped up in a big way this season, but four of them stand out above the rest in my opinion. So I ask you Nova Nation, what if you had to pick the mid-season Most Improved Player for Villanova? For the purposes of today's article, I'm going to compare stats from the first 6 games of the season to the first 6 games of conference play, and see how they stack up. Then I'll leave it to you guys to decide who is the mid-season Most Improved Player. Let's begin!
The red-shirt freshman has been nothing short of electrifying this season. Bridges seems to really understand positioning on defense and is improving his ability to be a lock down defender every game. Compared to his first 6 games, Bridges has seen his minutes, points, FT%, and 3PT% all rise while reducing his turnovers in the last 6 games. He's currently got the best offensive ranking of any player in the Big East during conference play, and he's shooting over 70% from inside the arc on the season, good for 5th nationally. To accomplish all of this in a freshman campaign is impressive enough, let alone to do it in just half a season. Bridges should continue his meteoric rise as Big East play continues, and he's already become an irreplaceable member of the rotation.
Jenkins has started coming into his own this season as both a player and a team leader. Compared to his first 6 games, his last 6 have seen improvements in FT%, assists, and blocks while reducing turnovers. But there are two areas of improvement for Jenkins that have propelled Villanova to the next level offensively. First, Jenkins was able to re-establish his stroke from behind the arc improving from 33% in his first 6 games to now hitting 38% in conference play. Second, he's been able to use his shot fake and dribble drive to get more free throw opportunities where he shoots 82.5%, second best on the team behind Phil Booth. By simultaneously improving both aspects of his game, he's really making defenders think about guarding the shot or the pump fake and drive when they see him start his motion.
As great as Hart's been all year, he's actually still getting better! Compared to his first 6 games, Villanova's leading scorer has improved his minutes, points, 2PT%, FT%, FTRate, and assists in Big East play. Hart has an outstanding eFG% of 60.5% on the season, and it's even better over the last 6 games. While his rebounding has been pretty consistent all season, he's really starting to get hot with 3 double-doubles in his last 4 games. If that wasn't impressive enough, Hart has scored double digits in every game this season, including the game against Xavier when he only played 15 minutes and scored all his points in the second half. He's starting to get the national attention he deserves, and KenPom.com has him ranked 3rd in their Player of the Year Standings. Hart is arguably the most important player on the team, and the fact that he's still getting better is scary exciting for Wildcat fans.
Villanova's big man has been limited in his last two games, so I thought we'd have to keep him out of this article because his stats wouldn't be as impressive as the other candidates'. That's why I was shocked to find that even while battling injury and illness, Ochefu has improved in minutes, points, FG%, FTRate, FT%, rebounds, and assists in his last 6 games compared to the first 6. And it's not like he's just doing more of what works, Ochefu has expanded his offensive repertoire to include a jump shot, a hook shot, and he's even occasionally driving the lane for a powerful finish. It's no wonder that KenPom.com currently ranks him 5th in their Player of the Year Standings. Ochefu has become a big piece of what's starting to look like another Championship puzzle.
So there you have it Nova Nation. All four candidates have been impressive and deserving of this honor, but it's up to you to decide who gets it. Who's shown you the most improvement? Who did we leave out? Be sure to leave your comments below and as always, thanks for reading!