Hometown: Bethlehem, PA
High School: Liberty HS
Darrun Hilliard’s arrival on Villanova’s campus was met with, well, not much ado. Garnering only three stars from ESPN’s recruiting rankings, Hilliard represented a deviation from Coach Wright’s normally prolific recruiting classes. Little was expected out of the player who projected to top out as a quality role player.
Hilliard’s impact on the Wildcats has been anything but little. After averaging a modest 4.8 ppg on the unforgettable for all the wrong reasons 2011-2012 team, Hilliard emerged as a pillar of consistency within Villanova’s starting lineup. His sophomore season marked a significant increase in playing time, up to 29 minutes per game, and a corresponding surge in production. Yet while his overall numbers were solid over the course of that season, it was Darrun's junior year that truly stood out. Despite averaging approximately the same number of minutes per game, Hilliard increased his efficiency across the board: his overall field goal percentage rose 8% points and his three point percentage rocketed all the way from 31% to 41%. When paired with his 3.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, and nearly two blocks/steals per game, it was no surprise that Hilliard won a share of the 2013-2014 Big East Most Improved Player award.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of his game, however, is its sheer consistency. Over the course of Villanova’s 34 game season, Hilliard reached double digits in scoring in all but three contests. That’s some truly remarkable reliability.
The senior out of Bethlehem, PA now figures to be the main ingredient in the Wildcat’s recipe for success. Gone is James Bell’s 14 ppg and nearly seven attempts from beyond the arc per contest. On a team with an abundance of outside shooting options, Hilliard projects to be the most deadly. While it may be unwise to expect another over-40% from deep season, shooting 38% on something around five or six attempts per game will be more than enough to keep ‘Nova fans thrilled.
Where Hilliard can most add to his game will be through attacking the basket. While lacking elite quickness or handles, the lefty can seemingly get into the lane at will—an especially effective maneuver considering his ability to finish with either hand. If Dylan Ennis and Ryan Arcidiacono show the same reservation about penetrating off the dribble as they did last year, it will be up to Hilliard to take up the attack.
On the defensive end, Hilliard will likely continue his performance as a plus-defender for the Wildcats. As demonstrated in the two scrimmages to start the year, he knows how to play the passing lanes and can also use his length to pester ball handlers.
Overall, expect great things out of Villanova’s co-captain and senior leader.
Best Case: Ready for a blast from the past? Do me a favor, take a look at these 2004-2005 stats here, adjust slightly for volume differences in Hilliard’s 2013-2014 campaign here, and you’ve got the best case for what Hilliard and his senior season may become. Assuming he can match an uptick in usage with similar levels of efficiency, it won’t be too far fetched to hear some second or third team All-American buzz by season’s end.
Worst Case: Pressure to exceed the expectations placed upon himself eventually get the best of Hilliard. While much is expected out of Villanova’s senior, the senior guard is unable to take the reins of the Wildcat offense and he fails to assert himself above the team’s abundance of weapons. The season is certainly still productive, yet fans are left wishing for more after an off night from Hilliard leads to another early-exit from March’s Big Dance.