In an era of “one-and-done,” the positive influence of senior leadership will be on display when Villanova and Notre Dame play their Sweet 16 games tonight and tomorrow.
Wildcats Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono and Notre Dame star Zach Auguste have been particularly instrumental in getting their teams to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Last weekend during the first and second rounds in Brooklyn, New York, almost every game showcased outstanding senior talent: Thomas Walkup and Trey Pinkney from Stephen F. Austin; Adam Woodbury, Mike Gesell, and Jarod Uthoff from Iowa; and, of course, the victors — Ochefu, Arcidiacono, and Auguste.
Breakthrough for the Wildcats
When Villanova meets Miami on Thursday in Louisville, Kentucky, Ochefu and Arcidiacono know what’s on the line. They take great pride in having played four years at Villanova. Over the last three years, the Wildcats have lost in the first or second round of the tournament.
Arcidiacono explained why senior experience made this year different. “[We were] trying to get the guys to just be focused on the task at hand and just one game at a time,” Arcidiacono explained after his team’s win over Iowa in the Round of 32. “So I think Daniel, myself, and the three walk-ons did a great job of leading.”
The Wildcats are experienced — plus they rank 15th in the country in scoring defense. They easily handled their first two opponents in Brooklyn with an 86–56 win over UNC-Asheville and an 87–68 rout of Iowa.
Arcidiacono, a 6’3”, 195-pound guard, had 30 points and eight assists over the two wins. He will have to face off against two talented senior guards from Miami, Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez. Miami’s backcourt is dangerous, quick, and experienced. Fortunately for Arcidiacono, he will have some help down low from Ochefu. Miami is not a great rebounding team — the Hurricanes are tied for 249th in the nation in boards per game — and that is where Ochefu can take advantage.
Ochefu, a 6’11”, 245-pound forward, is a monster on the glass. He will definitely stand out on the court in Louisville. In rounds one and two, he had a total of 23 points, 21 rebounds, and six blocks.
Ochefu is ready to lead his team to victory. He explained that coach Jay Wright makes his seniors responsible for everything that happens in the locker room and on the court. “Getting to the Sweet 16 wasn’t our goal,” said Ochefu. “Our goal is to win the whole national championship. But we’ve got to work on the little things that got us to this point.”
Another team with strong senior leadership is Notre Dame, which will return to the Sweet 16 after losing 68–66 to Kentucky in the Elite Eight last season. The Fighting Irish will face Wisconsin in the East Region semifinal on Friday in Philadelphia.
Auguste, a 6’10”, 245-pound senior forward, returns as a more seasoned leader. He made more than 85% of his shots (12-of-14) in Notre Dame’s two tournament wins in Brooklyn. He had a double-double in each game, finishing with 26 total points and 27 rebounds.
He is currently the team’s leading rebounder (10.9 boards per game) and second leading scorer (14.3 points per game). He is considered to be one of the best pick-and-roll players in the county by leading sports analysts.
“Zach, as my only senior in the line up, does a great job leading and being a captain,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “I can’t believe there's been a player in Notre Dame history that’s been more effective, more efficient.”
Auguste can rebound his way to a win against Wisconsin if he can control the Badgers’ big man, freshman Ethan Happ. Last weekend, Bronson Koenig’s buzzer beater to send Xavier packing may have overshadowed Happ’s outstanding performance (18 points and seven rebounds), but he should not be underestimated. Auguste’s ability to shut down Happ will be critical for Notre Dame against Wisconsin.
Auguste believes that Coach Brey expects more of him. “When things get tough, he wants me to step up and lead by example,” said the senior. If Notre Dame heads to the Elite Eight again, Auguste will be the leading the way.
Villanova plays Miami Thursday at 7:10 ET on CBS. Notre Dame plays Wisconsin Friday at 7:27 ET on TBS.
Photos: Al Bello/Getty Images (Arcidiacono), Elsa/Getty Images (Auguste)