Villanova has a respectably rich basketball history, yet it is home to just two Big East Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Year winners. Kerry Kittles won the honor during the 1994-1995 season and Randy Foye took the player of the year honor during the 2005-2006 season. Villanova may well be on pace for a top seed in the Big East and perhaps even the NCAA Tournament in March, but do they have a Big East Player of the Year Candidate on the roster? Possibly.
“In an informal poll of Big East head coaches, more than half told SNY.tv that the 6-foot-6 guard would get their vote,” Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv said this week. That 6-foot-6 guard he was referring to is Villanova’s own Darrun Hilliard.
A glance at the Big East stats may not show it, but Villanova guard Darrun Hilliard is having just about as good a season as any player in the conference. Being named the top player in the Big East may not be a given for Hilliard in a year with some stiff competition with Seton Hall’s Sterling Gibbs and Georgetown’s D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera making strong cases for the consideration, but Hilliard is widely respected throughout the Big East as one of the top players in the conference. He helps fuel Villanova’s offensively balanced charge, and he is coming up big at the best possible time. If this were NBA Jam, the play-by-play announcer might say Hilliard is heating up.
Earlier this week, Hilliard proved once again just how capable he could be playing the role of go-to guy and hero for Villanova. On senior night at Villanova, the Wildcats looked to have an easy go of things against Providence, home to two of the top players in the conference itself. With Providence applying pressure on the Wildcats, Hilliard stepped up and shrugged aside an off-the-mark first half with a strong showing in the second half. As Providence took momentum into the halftime break and started the second half on the same pace, Hilliard took advantage of free throws and got in the zone from beyond the three-point line. Soon enough, with Hilliard locking in, Villanova saw a single-digit lead balloon into a 20-point advantage. After the game, Hilliard distributed the credit to his teammates, as he so often does on the court during a game.
“It is just a testament to my teammates, I give all the credit to them,” Hilliard said following the win over Providence. “Just like when we were in Butler I give all the credit to (Ryan) Arcidiacono, I just shot the ball. They found me, they got me the ball all I had to do was the easy part: shoot the ball.”
This is not the first time a Jay Wright-led team has shared this philosophy. Wright’s teams have always focused on sharing the ball and finding multiple players to contribute. This is not Norman Dale coaching Hickory to the Indiana state championship, but if all goes to plan, Wright’s Wildcats could be heading to the Final Four with Hilliard serving as the leader of the ship. It just so happens the Final Four will be played in the Hoosier state, in Indianapolis.
“Statistically, he’s probably the worst player on this board, but that’s mostly because Villanova is so well-balanced,” Sam Vecenie of CBSSports.com said this week when discussing Big East Player of the Year candidates. “He steps up big time in the biggest moments (his 31 and the game-winner against Butler stand out), knocks down shots efficiently, and might be the best defender on the best defensive team in the league. He’s a very real candidate for the award,” Vecenie believes.
As is the case with Villanova spreading the ball around the court, Hilliard may end up lacking in the stats department to be recognized as Big East Player of the Year – but he certainly has caught the eye of those watching. Last year’s most improved player in the Big East, sharing the honor with teammate Daniel Ochefu, knows he is a better player this year, too. Ask if he feels he gets the attention he deserves as an individual due to Villanova’s offensive identity, and Hilliard shrugs it aside.
“I don’t really strive to get individual recognition personally,” Hilliard said in a profile piece published by the Big East recently. “Here everyone gets the praise and no one is singled out for being the guy who carried the team that day. We’re not about that. We’re about the five guys on the court who can have a balance and a chemistry that can make the team successful.”
It is Hilliard’s unselfish attitude that allows Villanova to continue to march forward into March as a legitimate Final Four threat.
This was originally published by CBS Philly.