The sixth starter is a term that has been used describing Villanova players before and it was used with Caleb Daniels this past season in a big way.
With depth not being a strength of this version of Villanova it was key that they had a starter caliber player as a sixth man and that’s exactly what Daniels was. There were games where Daniels led the team in points, minutes, and big plays.
Daniels came off the bench for 32 of his 35 games but was the fourth leading scorer at 10.3 points per game and became one of the three deadly 3-point threats for Villanova, especially from the corner. He was fifth on the team in both total minutes played and minutes per game.
Caleb Daniels’ career stats
Daniels stepped up most when Villanova needed him and seemed to really show up in the big games for the ‘Cats.
In a big non-conference top 10 match up against Purdue in the Hall of Fame Tip Off Tournament, Daniels had 17 points and knocked down five 3-pointers in only 20 minutes. Daniels has been money from distance since he put on a Villanova jersey shooting 38% over his two seasons. He also helped keep the Purdue perimeter attack in check as the Purdue guards shot 38% from the field.
After the consecutive brutal loses to Baylor and Creighton, he stepped up huge at home in a win against Xavier and showed his explosive bounce on one of the best dunks of the year from a Wildcat player as he threw down a one-handed dunk on 6-foot-11 Dieonte Miles at the end of the first half. This is a part of his game that isn’t talked about a lot, but he was one of Villanova’s most explosive players. Daniels finished tied for second with Brandon Slater with 11 dunks this past season while Jermaine Samuels led the way with 18.
He played a then season high 29 minutes and had 16 points on 56% shooting as Villanova dominated the second half against the Musketeers and allowed only 20 points in the half. Daniels would limit the Xavier starting guards to 6-for-23 from the floor and 4-for-14 from 3-point distance.
In the first matchup against UConn, Daniels showcased another trait that I think he was the best at of all the Wildcats which is finishing at the rim and helped knock off their Big East rival.
Justin Moore missed this game and Daniels was a starter against the Huskies and a key one at that. He had 16 points and shot 71% from the floor with five makes and knocked down all six of his free throws. He didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer because he didn’t need to. Whether it was Tyrese Martin or 2021 Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Isaiah Whaley, neither could stop the dribble drive of Caleb Daniels.
He was five of seven from the paint and finished four times at the rim including another highlight reel dunk. The upper body strength from Daniels allows him to finish through contact. He uses his shoulders to provide space to finish against bigger defenders like Whaley and Martin. If you go back and watch some of Villanova’s Big East games on FS1 you can hear how impressed Bill Raftery was with the strength of Daniels in different games.
Daniels also has a proclivity of finishing with two hands even if it’s not a dunk. It may seem funky or old school at times but it’s very effective and a skill that coaches like in a player. The two handed finish combined with the strength led to some great play at the rim from Daniels.
As the calendar flipped to March, Daniels again came up big against Villanova’s toughest opposition. In a top 15 showdown at home against Providence, Daniels was the leading scorer with 20 points. The ‘Cats beat the Friars and kept their chances of a Big East regular season crown alive. He shot 54% from the field and knocked down all his shots from inside the arc with a big rim rocker.
The strength mentioned earlier was on display again as Daniels used some mid range jumpers to be effective. He was unaffected when defenders tried to bump him off of a drive. We saw in this game where Daniels was still able to get to his spot for a pull up jumper while being bumped by the defender. At times it looked kind of like an offensive foul but it wasn’t. It’s just when Daniels bumped back and rose up, the defender would be knocked off balance. Daniels wouldn’t use unnecessary force, he would use a good basketball move. The way the defender lost positioning is a true testament to the strength of Daniels.
Daniels hit double figures in scoring in four of Villanova’s five NCAA Tournament games and played a season high 39 minutes in the Final Four loss to eventual National Champion Kansas.
After playing in the Final Four in his hometown of New Orleans, his tournament highlight was showing his explosion on this great block on Michigan big man Moussa Diabate.
It was announced recently that Daniels would return to Villanova for his last season of eligibility. This is huge news for Villanova as it gives them another really experienced player at a time when Villanova will really need it.
With Jay Wright’s retirement and losing three starters essentially, any experience that Villanova will have next season will mean more than it usually does.
It’s very likely that the leading scorer next season will be one of Daniels, Brandon Slater, or Eric Dixon. I can definitely see it being Daniels because of some of the traits mentioned here. If he plays more aggressively and at the same time keeps his patience I could see him having the same level of production in the Big East that he had in the American Athletic Conference.
With his skill level and ability to get to his spots and rise up for a shot or score at the rim, we could see Daniels as the go to guy next season for Villanova in late game situations or when they just flat out need a bucket.