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16 Mar 2018

Next Level Distractions

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March 16, 2018 Category: Sports Posted by:

As the Villanova Wildcats make their way through the NCAA Tournament, NBA scouts may be the team’s biggest opponent.


By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

As the Villanova Wildcats as the team make their run through the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, their biggest challenge will probably have nothing to do with their opponents.

It’ll have to do with the NBA.

Because some would argue that the ‘Nova backcourt of junior point guard Jalen Brunson and guard/small forward Mikal Bridges could be winning tickets for teams playing the NBA lottery, they’ll be more than a few time-outs taken to clean up after the NBA scouts that will be drooling court side.

If Bridges, who averages 18 points per game, and Brunson, who averages 19 points and five assists a game, can do what they’ve done during the course of the regular season and the Big East Tournament, not only will the Wildcats advance through the tournament, the personal stock for both of them will rise in the process.

Coming into the tournament, Bridges and Brunson have already received their share of accolades. Bridges was the “Most Valuable Player” in the Big East Tournament while Brunson is the Big East’s “Player of the Year.”   

It can be a challenge for young players to not think about the possibility of his players moving onto the next level, but Bridges and Brunson have solid support systems around them, Jay Wright, Villanova’s head coach, said.

“We have been so lucky with Jalen and Mikal,” Wright said during the team’s press conference on Wednesday. “They are so grounded, they got such great families around them, they are really intelligent. It just has not been an issue at all with them. As a matter of fact, I passed Mikal coming out of here and he said they asked me about the lottery. There’s five guys here in the lottery. He said I don’t even know who they are.”

“He doesn’t even think about that stuff,” Wright continued. “It’s rare that a guy really thinks that way, but he really does think that way. I think it’s the beauty of him. I think that’s why he’s such a good player.”

But despite all the individual attention for both players, Bridges and Brunson were focused on getting their team through to the next round.

“At this point now, every team is a great team and they’re all really good players, so, that’s one thing,”Bridges said.

Out of all the Wildcats players, the 6-foot-7 Bridges has the best all-around game. For starters, Bridges can not only slash to the basket, he can score the basketball from just about anywhere on the floor. He is shooting a blistering 43 percent from three-point range.   

In four out of his last five games, Bridges has scored at least 20 points. It was his heroics during overtime in the Big East title game against Providence that not only gave Wildcats another conference crown, but probably secured them the No. 1 seed. He hit two big three-pointers in overtime that gave put some distance between Villanova and Providence and ultimately led to the Wildcats winning the game. 

Along with his scoring prowess, Bridges is a good defender.  He has a 7 foot-2 wingspan. NBA scouts say that he can defend four positions. In the NBA, a player’s career can go a long way if he can play defense.

Meanwhile, Brunson has proven that he can put the ball in the bucket and he get players like Bridges involved in the offense.  In fact, the Wildcats have six players who average in double figures. 

Brunson, whose father Rick played for Temple during the 1990s, had a huge game in the Wildcats win over Providence in the Big East final, scoring 31 points. He is a finalist for the Naismith Award as the best player in college basketball.

That’s something his teammates should be proud of, Brunson said.

“I think it’s a credit to my teammates,” Brunson said. ”They gave me the confidence to be the player I am. I thank them for just helping me become in this position.”

Villanova played its first game Thursday night against Radford.

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