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Armwood: Villanova is too guard-oriented

Former Villanova forward Isaiah Armwood is starring for George Washington this season and spoke about his decision to transfer at a recent post-game press conference.

Isaiah Armwood suited up for George Washington in a road-trip against Notre Dame
Isaiah Armwood suited up for George Washington in a road-trip against Notre Dame
Michael Hickey

There was some concern about getting minutes for Isaiah Armwood at Villanova before what was supposed to be his junior season, but that may not have been the primary concern. He didn't leave the Main Line because of personal conflict -- he was named a captain of the team prior to his decision to transfer and was a likely starter heading into that year.

He left because he wanted a bigger role. At the time, Villanova's big men were able to score only if they grabbed a rebound and got the put-back shot -- at least, that was how it seemed to fans, and apparently to Armwood as well.

Shortly after the Wildcats finished off a victory where their two top scorers were Mouph Yarou and JayVaughn Pinkston, who are both listed as forwards, the former 'Cat claimed he was marginalized by a guard-first style at 'Nova.

"I just wanted to go somewhere where it was more fit to me, where I had a bigger role on the team," Armwood told reporters. "At Villanova it was a lot different. I still had a role, but it was a lot smaller because they focus on the guards there. I was just looking to transfer to where I could play a lot."

To his credit, things were never worse for a big man at Villanova prior to his decision to transfer to George Washington. The Scottie Reynolds era ushered in a period at Villanova where the point guard was the offense -- at least in a large part. After 2008-09, the point guard, whether it was Reynolds, Corey Fisher or Maalik Wayns, was expected to play a lot of minutes, take a lot of shots and shoulder the bulk of the scoring load.

Reynolds was a tremendous scorer surrounded by a team of complementary players, but in 2008-09, when his team traveled to Detroit for the Final Four, it was Dante Cunningham who made the difference. The athletic Villanova forward emerged that season and lead the team in scoring and field goals attempted -- though Reynolds wasn't far behind.

As a sophomore at Villanova, Armwood averaged 17 minutes per game with 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 points. As a redshirt junior at GW, he has played an average of 31.7 minutes per game, with 13.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3 blocks per game. When he moved to the A10 school, he also moved on to a program that feeds its front line on offense.

You could argue that the rise of Armwood is a product of his move to an Atlantic-10 school -- arguably a weaker conference than the Big East he left -- but against a veteran Notre Dame team with high expectations this season, he put up 12 points and 5 rebounds in 29 minutes. It seems that Armwood's value may not have been maximized on the Main Line.

It is undeniable that Villanova has been more successful when the front court is more productive and involved in the offense. Even in 2005-06, when the 'Cats received a number-1 seed in the tournament with a four-guard line-up, they were getting productive games from Randy Foye and Allan Ray at the 3 and 4 and Will Sheridan was a useful complementary piece for them in the post. In 2009, Dante Cunningham's efforts on offense created a huge opportunity for the Wildcats as well.

Worse yet is that the lack of opportunities for forwards in recent years has only worked to perpetuate the "Guard U" identity of Villanova -- and it may be scaring away potential front court recruits. Next season, the Wildcats will have one true post player on the roster, unless they land another one in the late signing period. With forwards like Armwood criticizing the guard-first mentality at Nova, it may be a hard sell to get someone on-board.

The good news is that Pinkston is second on the team in points-per-game so far this season and Yarou appears to be awakening from an early-season slumber to find some success as a face-up forward as well. Villanova desperately needs to integrate its front line into the offensive game and spread the ball around to give multiple players a chance to be active offensively.

Villanova may find it harder and harder to dig itself out of the "Guard U" ditch it has found itself in. Successful basketball programs have more balance than that.