What Villanova lacks in star power, it makes up for with balance

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- The game ball from Villanova's 77-53 win against VCU should go to Ryan Arcidiacono. The point guard scored only 3 points, but he made nine assists and committed nary a single turnover in 28 minutes against the Rams' patented HAVOC defense.

Or should it go to JayVaughn Pinkston? In his return to his Brooklyn hometown, the senior put up 15 points and seven boards.

Wait. Maybe it should go to Kris Jenkins. He had 13 points, and drilled 5 of 6 free throws. That's pretty good.

But what about Darrun Hilliard and Josh Hart? They had 14 and 10 respectively, plus nine rebounds between them. Phil Booth was perfect from the floor, scoring nine off the bench.

Oh, and Daniel Ochefu, don't forget him. He scored only four, but he killed it on the boards, with nine rebounds. Doesn't he deserve a mention?

Forget it.

Jay Wright needs to just carve up the game ball like a good New York pizza and give everybody a slice.

"Our balance is our greatest strength," Wright said.

That thinking is so counterintuitive to college basketball today, it's almost old-school. The game is about stars, about stud recruits who make fly-by appearances for a semester and a half and move on to the NBA, or seniors who grow up to become Shabazz Napier.

It's about "go-to guys."

Who is Villanova's go-to guy?

Not even Wright can answer that question.

Asked, he points out that in four games, the Wildcats have had three different leading scorers.

That's supposed to be the knock on the Wildcats.

Except what if it's not? What if Wright's … right?

The Wildcats are almost interchangeably anonymous. That sounds like an insult; it's really a compliment.

Dylan Ennis currently leads the team in scoring; he has 50 points on the season; Hilliard and Jenkins each have 42, Pinkston 41, Arcidiacono and Ochefu 39, and Hart 28.

So whom do you want to stop?

"They had a lot of stars tonight," VCU coach Shaka Smart said. "What they did better than anything was play really well together. They played with energy. We were not ourselves but they were a big part of that."

That all coalesced to near perfection in the second half. Darrun Hilliard dove on a loose ball, and as it skidded away, in came Arcidiacono, belly to the hardwood, too.

He got the ball and from a near prone position, flicked it ahead to Hart. Hart scored the layup, got fouled, hit the free throw and all of a sudden Villanova was up 12.

"I got a piece of the ball and we were scrapping for it," Hilliard said. "And Arch comes out of nowhere and dives in. It all started with Arch on the floor."

That exclamation-point play was near the end of a run that was as unexpected as it was lethal.

After Villanova gave up six quick points to start the second half, Wright called a timeout. A mere 2:56 later, the Wildcats had completed a head-spinning 17-0 run, handing the Rams a dose of their own mayhem-making medicine.

The Wildcats drained three 3-pointers during the blitz and five different players scored … all before the first media timeout.

"We didn't get stops," Smart said. "You can't win games against anybody, but especially good teams like this, without stops. It's unacceptable. This is a reminder, a painful reminder, that we have to get better defensively."

Coaches usually like to downplay early games, refusing to acknowledge that a game in November might, in fact, have some real meaning. Statement games are for the media to conjure.

Wright detoured off the coachspeak highway. He admitted that this game was important, if not critical, in the development of his team. A longtime admirer of Smart, he said he's been impressed at how VCU always comes after it, regardless of score or circumstance.

"I said we're going to know where we are after this game," he said.

Of course, when asked where the Wildcats are after such a decisive win, he retreated to the comfort of understatement.

"We have a chance to be a really good team," he said.

His retreat, though maybe annoying, comes with good reason. All of this about a balanced team being an asset, of the whole being more critical than the individuals, sounds awfully familiar.

Because that was essentially Villanova's calling card last season, too. The Wildcats were equally star-less, similarly balanced, and in the long run it didn't serve them very well.

A good season ended badly for Villanova. The Cats were bounced early from the Big East tournament and took a second-round exit in the NCAA tournament on the chin.

The difference in that NCAA game at least was a go-to guy. Napier had 25.

So Wright understandably hit the pause button on himself.

"These guys are unique, they're special," he said. "But they're also 21 years old and it can slip just as quickly. Yes that's older, but trust me, it can happen. I don't want to ever think this comes easy because it never comes easy."