VILLANOVA, Pa. — As the fans yelled and the cheerleaders cheered and the band played behind him, Ryan Arcidiacono sat in the front row of Villanova’s NCAA selection show party Sunday with a bleary-eyed look.
The Wildcats had just played three games in three days to win the Big East Tournament championship, returning to campus only a few hours before the team learned it earned a No. 1 seed in the East region of the NCAA Tournament.
And Arcidiacono — the guy who usually bounces around the gym like a yo-yo and is perhaps best known for diving on the floor and over press row — was feeling worn down.
“I’m not even tired from games,” Arcidiacono said Sunday. “But we just had a long day of traveling. We didn’t get back until 2:30 today because we had to do some stuff in New York. I’m very grateful to how we played and how we were able to win, but I’m just a little bit tired right now.”
A good tired though, right?
“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said.
As Villanova begins its national title quest with Thursday’s first-round NCAA game against Lafayette at Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center (6:50 p.m.), perhaps no player is as important to the team’s success as Arcidiacono.
Sure, it’s the Wildcats’ balance, teamwork and hustle that allowed them ascend to the second overall seed behind only Kentucky. But in many ways, Arcidiacono is the one that embodies all of those traits, which is why he was named the Big East co-Player of the Year even though he’s third on his team in scoring behind Darrun Hilliard and Josh Hart.
“He’s been a great leader for us,” teammate Dylan Ennis said. “Since he got here, he’s been a Villanova guy. He’s got a great attitude about everything. We play behind him. Him being Player of the Year, we’re not surprised by it. But I don’t think he focused on that at all. He’s a big team guy and that’s why we love him.”
Despite Arcidiacono’s value, the Wildcats have shown time and again they can still win even when his shot’s not falling and he’s not scoring. In Villanova’s three Big East Tournament games at Madison Square Garden, the junior point guard had only 14 combined points and made four total shots while his minutes dropped slightly.
But Arcidiacono still played well, committing only one turnover to his eight assists. And despite being tired from the celebration and the travel, he knows he’ll be ready to go once the NCAA Tournament kicks off.
“Winning the Big East was great,” Arcidiacono said. “But we kind of have to calm down a little bit. That’s over and now we have to move on to Lafayette.”
Naturally, his teammates expect Arcidiacono to be the same guy he’s been all season once the stakes are raised and the lights grow brighter later this week. It’s almost too easy to imagine the point guard diving on the floor, getting all bloodied up and appearing on CBS' One Shining Moment highlight segment at the end of the Big Dance.
“That’s what Arch does,” Ennis said. “We know him as The Dive Guy. We just to try to follow that. That will carry us. A lot of teams might start doing different things (in the NCAA Tournament) but we’re going to stick to the same things — diving on loose balls, blocking shots, chasing guys down. And Ryan is one of the guys that does it the best.”
For Arcidiacono, playing that way doesn’t necessarily ensure Villanova will live up to its seeding and advance to the Final Four. But it certainly gives the Wildcats the best chance to win a national title — exactly 30 years after the program’s last one.
“We’re not afraid to lose,” Arcidiacono said. “We’ve been there before. If we go down playing the basketball we know how to play, we’ll be happy with that. We’ll be content.”