Five observations about fifth-ranked Villanova’s three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, where the Wildcats didn’t get to play either No. 17 Purdue or No. 2 Arizona (which somehow wound up meeting each other in the seventh-place matchup) but won the championship Friday, 64-50 over Northern Iowa.
And isn’t it worth noting that coach Jay Wright can look as good in a golf shirt and sneakers as he does in a finely tailored ensemble?
It all starts here
Wright has had some exemplary leaders. Jalen Brunson is no different. He does everything right. And he does it his own way. He doesn’t turn it over, he finds the open man, and he makes shots. And he makes it look easy. He has no lack of poise, and there’s a calm about him that can rub off. He knows what to do, and when to do it. And all he’s doing this season is taking his game to another level. He was the preseason Big East Player of the Year and first-team all-American for a reason. He might not be flashy, but he’s smooth and cerebral. It’s a package worth savoring.
Mikal Bridges has gone from defensive specialist to a catch-and-shoot guy to a budding force. At both ends. He’s looking like a potential first-round NBA draft pick. There’s really not much he can’t do. Like most of his teammates, he can hurt you from the arc. But now he’s getting to the rim regularly. Very dangerous. Few teams have a 1-2 punch like him and Brunson. To go with a pretty solid supporting cast. Can’t wait to see how this athletic 6-7 player and his expansive wingspan continues to evolve the rest of the way.
Omari Spellman didn’t play last season as an academic redshirt. Phil Booth missed most of the year with knee issues. They both should have a lot to contribute before it’s over. But right now they’re struggling a little. And that’s OK. Spellman has had trouble getting involved offensively, but he’s still playing defense and getting rebounds. He doesn’t have to be a huge factor when they have the ball. He just needs to be a tangible piece. Booth had a team-best 20 points against North Carolina in the 2016 title game, so don’t worry about him. It’s still early.
The Wildcats trailed in the first half in each game. Against Western Kentucky, they had a 13-2 run to break it open. Against Tennessee, it was a 23-2 stretch that bookended halftime. Against NIU, it was more of the same. They went from up 3 at the break to ahead by 11 some 10 minutes later. And after NIU got to within 6 with 5 minutes remaining, they scored 8 straight and 11 of the next 13. What usually happens is they get stops, force turnovers and beat you down the court in transition, which they do as well as anyone. That’s when they’re at their best.
They have six starters, which makes Donte DiVincenzo one of the top sixth men in the nation. When he comes in, they don’t lose anything. In fact, sometimes it makes them better. It certainly makes them different. The next step is to find some more minutes from the three freshmen. At some point you might need that. For the time being, Collin Gillespie is giving them something in the backcourt. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree at least gave them some minutes in the first two games. Jermaine Samuels, not so much. That will have to change, though maybe not right away. Not that they need too much, given the quality of their top six. But it can never hurt.
They shot 33 for 37 from the foul line against Tennessee. And Northern Iowa didn’t attempt a free throw. Both are hard to do.