If there was a career most improved player award at Villanova, Daniel Ochefu would win it. He came into the program as a raw talent that needed development. His Sophomore year he took a big step forward as the defensive anchor of the team, earning him Co-Big East Most Improved Player along with teammate Darrun Hilliard. In his Junior season Ochefu made major improvements to his offensive game, adding post moves and taking advantage of his quickness. And finally, in his senior year, Ochefu became a leader and educator for a team of young players and new starters.
He was the one that worked with Darryl Reynolds to give Nova a second reliable option down low. He was the one that turned the coaching staff away at half time of the National Championship game, telling coach Wright "We got this". And he was the one mopping the floor to set up the greatest finish in NCAA Basketball history. Ochefu did it all for the Wildcats, and he was rewarded with a National Championship.
What We Expected
Coming into the season, the argument could be made (and often was) that Ochefu would be the Wildcats most important player if they were going to have a successful season. His offense was on the rise, his defense was outstanding, and there were even rumors that he had added a 10-12 foot jumper during the summer. With the 4 out 1 in style that the Wildcats ran, it was crucial for Ochefu to stay healthy and out of foul trouble. Not only was the offense going to run through him, but he was the lone bright spot in what many thought could be a weak interior defense.
Vote From Wisdom Of The Crowds
Nova Nation was counting on another step forward from Ochefu on offense. The VUHoops Wisdom of the Crowds projected that the big man would average over 10PPG in 2015-16, the first time he was projected to score double digits in his four seasons on the main line. And as it turned out, they'd be right.
The Crowds were within 1PPG of predicting Ochefu's scoring this season. Ochefu set new career highs in season totals for assists, blocks, and points. That career year earned him a spot in Villanova's 1,000 point club. Ochefu also lead the Big East in defensive rebound percentage at 28%. He lead the team in rebounds, blocks, and had the fewest turnovers of any starter. The stats tell us everything we already knew, Daniel Ochefu was a huge contributor on both ends of the court.
In early January against Seton Hall, Ochefu showed us just how dominating he could be. He scored 20 points and grabbed 18 rebounds (6 offensive) as he outplayed and outhustled the opposing front court. Even when the Pirates tried to curtail his night by fouling and forcing him to the line, Ochefu continued his stellar performance going 8-10. The big man might not have put up those stats every game, but he always gave that level of effort.
It was the rematch at Seton Hall later that month where Ochefu had his worst game of the season. Ochefu picked up his first foul in under 1 minute, and would be plagued by early foul trouble in both halves. Playing just 17 minutes, Ochefu went 3-8 from the floor and 0-2 at the line for just 6 points. He was also forced to play cautiously with foul trouble, leading to just 3 rebounds. The wildcats were able to eek out a one-point win off a Ryan Arcidiacono layup, but Ochefu really wasn't a factor.
Despite missing 3 games with a concussion and battling nagging injuries for the second half of the season, Ochefu proved to be the driving force behind Villanova's Championship run. Whether it be anchoring and executing arguably one of the country's best defenses or giving a team of shooters an extra dimension in the paint, Ochefu always gave his team everything he had with smart, aggressive play. Off the court, he was a senior leader that could rally and motivate his teammates. And for all of that effort, you couldn't ask for a greater way to go out: National Champions.