Monday, December 18, 2017

New Year, Same Villanova

By Jean Neuberger

Some programs go up through the years, like Arizona State is doing so far this year.

Some programs slide a bit over time, as Indiana is certainly in the rebuilding process (though give Archie Miller and his team credit for that Notre Dame win this weekend).

Then there's Villanova. The Wildcats have quietly done what they usually do: consistently win.

Villanova's among the best teams in the nation again and they are built similar to Jay Wright's best teams. 'Nova is quick (they're averaging almost 7.5 steals a game), they're lethal from beyond the arc (shooting 40% as a team right now), and they don't beat themselves. They have an assist-to-turnover ratio that's around 3:2 right now, which bodes well for postseason play. And, while some programs are living on the "one and done" plan, Villanova has steady, veteran leadership in the backcourt, which always makes them deadly in March.

Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are junior guards who lead the team in scoring, but do so much more on the court. Brunson is the consummate floor general, keeping the team calm and collected and does a phenomenal job distributing the ball, averaging nearly 5 assists a game. Bridges, a 6-6 guard, is the embodiment of the team's tough, scrappy demeanor. A fierce defensive player, he's got 15 blocks already this season, leads the team in steals and is second on the team in rebounds.

Villanova so far has won every game by double digits, with the exception of Tennessee, who gave North Carolina a game and then some earlier on Sunday. The games are going to get tougher as they go through their Big East slate, with Xavier and Seton Hall looming large and a major trap game circled on the schedule in two weeks at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

The Wildcats still have some advantages to work with. Xavier has phenomenal senior guards in Trevon Bluiett and J. P. Macura. However, the Xavier front court would have to step up some to counter a more balanced Villanova attack, as Omari Spellman could be the key factor in both games. As for Seton Hall, the Pirates could make for a tough matchup, as Angel Delgado and Desi Rodriguez create a pretty solid front court for the Hall. If 'Nova's guards aren't shooting well, this could be more of a challenge. If Brunson and Bridges are up to their usual tricks, 'Nova's going to be hard to beat yet again.

When it's all said and done, Jay Wright has Villanova in the smoothest of waters, calmly guiding the Wildcats down another season where a national title is certainly reasonable. The veteran leadership, balanced scoring, and the ability to play up-tempo or half court have 'Nova once again putting the basketball world on notice.

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