LOUISVILLE, KY. -- Villanova coach Jay Wright came upon his offensive style almost by mistake. It was the 2005 NCAA tournament, and forward Curtis Sumpter tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
That injury led Wright to use a four-guard lineup, and even though the Wildcats lost their Sweet 16 matchup against North Carolina, he knew he’d stumbled upon an offense that would be tough to defend.
“But we knew it could only get us so far, and we needed a good big guy inside,” Wright said. “When that started, when we started to have some success, people started calling us ‘Guard U,’ and it was difficult to recruit good big men because they thought, ‘Hey, I’m not going there, it’s Guard U.’”
Villanova’s 6-foot-11 forward Daniel Ochefu thought differently. And the Wildcats are reaping the benefits now.
Villanova ranks second in offensive efficiency nationally, and it registers as the best offensive team Wright has had since Ken Pomeroy began his ratings in 2002. And yes, that includes the 2009 Final Four team.
That’s all because none of those previous teams had a legitimate big man -- not a 6-foot-8 forward disguised as one -- as polished as Ochefu. The senior averages 10.1 points per game, shoots 62 percent from the field and leads the team with 7.1 rebounds. He keeps the defense honest.
“Coming here playing with great guards, I don’t know, I think it’s a big man’s dream,” Ochefu said. “For me, it’s really easy: If you play with great guards, they get you great shots.”
Nova is putting up silly offensive numbers. The Wildcats are the first team to score 85 points or more in their first three games of the tournament since Connecticut in 1995. They scored 1.59 points per possession in their 92-69 Sweet 16 victory over Miami, the best average by any team in the past five NCAA tournaments. Their 63.7 shooting percentage against the Hurricanes was the third highest in the NCAA tournament since it expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Is it a coincidence that in Villanova’s last NCAA tournament trip to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, it shot 78 percent from the field in Lexington? The Wildcats captured their lone national title in the process, beating Georgetown in the 1985 championship game.
Ochefu is part of the reason why, if Villanova can get past Kansas in the Elite Eight, another banner is possible again. Opponents have to respect him in the post. If he’s left guarded by only one defender, he can end up with stat lines like the Miami game: 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. When opponents bring double teams, as Iowa and UNC Asheville tried, he ended up with four assists in each game.
“When you have a 5-man like Daniel Ochefu, who is as skilled as any of the guards, great decision-maker, ball handler, passer for his position, extremely skilled, usually the other guys are skilled,” Wright said. “But when you have a guy like that at the 5 spot, you know you’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”
Kansas has several big men it can throw at Ochefu, including Landon Lucas and Jamari Traylor. The fact that the Jayhawks have to pay attention to what’s going on inside says everything about how Villanova’s offense has changed over the years.
“Just for the record,” Ochefu said, “I think it’s ‘Forward U’ now.”