If there is such a thing as a five-tool player in college basketball, Mikal Bridges is the model.
Villanova's redshirt sophomore can slash to the basket, shoot from the perimeter and convert free throws. He is making 40.6 percent of his three-point attempts and 90.4 percent from the line, with only two misses (31 of 33, 93.9 percent) in Big East play.
At the other end of the court, he was voted one of three winners of the Big East defensive player of the year award announced Monday. At 6-foot-7 with long arms and quick hands, Bridges is third in the Big East in steals at 1.9 per game, and has blocked 17 shots in his last 10 contests. He also is the Wildcats' third-leading rebounder.
It's no wonder that coach Jay Wright calls Bridges, "as important as any guy on our team."
"He can guard any position," he said. "If you put intelligence on top of it, he can play any position offensively, which means he can remember the plays from everybody's spots, which is really valuable."
Bridges, who starred at Great Valley High in Malvern, was Villanova's projected sixth man coming into 2016-17 but he has started every game since Phil Booth was sidelined with left knee inflammation after the season's third game. He said his teammates' belief in him helped him in his new role.
"They have confidence in me," he said. "Once they got confidence in me, it gave me the utmost confidence to play out there. That's what I've been doing so far and I have to keep it up.
"I'm still doing what I do, but now it's doing it right from when the clock starts. Usually I would wait and come in a little later when the game's already flowing and we're already playing hard. But just being the type of guy that sets the tone right off the rip is good. I like it."
Bridges usually defends the top scorer or point guard of the opposing team, but he shrugs that off as "not just one-on-one but having four other guys behind me." He said he has evolved into a more complete defensive player from high school.
"Now it's staying low, staying in a stance and reading the other guys, getting my hands on a lot of deflections," he said. "It's a matter of getting better every year and I take pride in it."
Bridges appears to be getting more confident offensively, averaging 12.3 points in his last 12 contests and 10.6 for the season. He has the ability to finish at the rim, either getting out in transition or finding a gap in the defense to drive.
In Villanova's first 12 nonconference games, he shot better than 77 percent from inside the arc, and that mark still is at 71 percent in all games. That means he can hit the outside jumper, although finding his shot was a work in progress for a while.
"When I got here, it was a lot of lifting and changing my form," he said. "I couldn't get it right. I kept trying to switch it and perfect it. Once I found a good rhythm and a good way where the ball is at, I just kept working on that, and it's better right now."
Wright said Bridges has proven he can score in a number of ways. Combine that with his defensive skills, and Bridges could move into a starring role in the program.
"He's just really becoming a complete player," Wright said. "I think he's got a chance next year to step into a really important role as a go-to-guy and really finish the work of becoming a dominant player."
Josh Hart joined Bridges and Creighton's Khyri Thomas as the Big East defensive players of the year. . . . Jalen Brunson was named as one of five finalists for the Bob Cousy point guard of the year award presented by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.