Brunson leads ‘Nova in more ways than one

Jalen Brunson led the Wildcats in points in 2018 with 611, good for 19.1 points per game. He shot almost 41 percent from 3-point range, good for fourth on the team, while leading in attempts. He started all 32 of Villanova’s 2018 regular season games.

Brunson ranks seventh in the Big East in scoring, fifth in field goal percentage, eleventh in 3-point field goal percentage and fourth in assists with an average of 4.8 per game.

Brunson has brought home a slew of awards already this season, including Sporting News’ College Basketball Player of the Year, USA Today Sports Player of the Year, and most recently, the Big East Player of the Year. Brunson is the third Wildcat in four years to win the award, preceded by guards Josh Hart in 2017 and Ryan Arcidiacono in 2015, who shared the award with former Providence Friar and current Chicago Bull, Kris Dunn.

What some people don’t know is that Brunson can get it done off the court as well. He was recently named the Big East Scholar Athlete of the Year, sporting a 3.34 grade-point average, while on track to graduate from Villanova after just three years with a bachelor of arts in communication.

“I’m more proud of that than anything he’s done,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “He came in with a plan to graduate in three years in the communications program. I don’t know anyone at Villanova who’s graduated from the communications program in three years. And I’m not just talking about athletes, I’m talking about regular undergraduates. I’ve never seen anybody do it. To do that and be a great player, it’s incredible.”

Villanova University ranks no. 73 on the annual Forbes ‘America’s Top Colleges’ List. In a world where many of basketball’s finest leave school after just one year, it’s very strange to hear about such a talented player even graduating, let alone graduating early.

Brunson is also in the running for the John R. Wooden Award as the nation’s top player along with his teammate, redshirt junior forward Mikal Bridges. Other notable players on the list include Marvin Bagley III from Duke, Deandre Ayton from Arizona and Trae Young from Oklahoma.

Brunson is projected as an early-to-mid second round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, with the latest mock draft projecting him to be selected 38th overall by the New York Knicks, coincidentally the team who inhabits Madison Square Garden on a nightly basis.

The winner of the Wooden Award will be announced April 6, and the draft will be just a few months later, June 21. Only time will tell how successful Brunson will be on those nights, but it is safe to say that his legacy at Villanova is set in stone.

Villanova dominates the 2nd half, cruises to 88-64 victory over Marquette

The Villanova Wildcats opened up their Big East Tournament play in decisive fashion against seventh-seed Marquette, pulling away in the second half to a 94-70 final score.

Redshirt junior forward Mikal Bridges was the key for the Wildcats, scoring a team-leading 25 points and eight rebounds while adding four assists and a steal. Junior guard Jalen Brunson was also a big factor, dropping 21 points, including three of six from behind the arc, and three assists on the night.

“I think they showed they played last night,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “They were a little sharp with us early, but we hung in there. I think the leadership of Jalen [Brunson] and Mikal [Bridges] kept everybody together.”

The game started out slow, with both teams shooting fewer than 25 percent from the floor and combining for only 4-18 from 3-point range. No team lead by more than five points until 12 seconds before the end of the first half, when Villanova pulled ahead by seven on a Phil Booth layup.

It was all Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey for Marquette in the first half, combining for 30 of the Golden Eagles’ 34 points. They rained threes on Wildcats for as long as they could, going 4-6 and 3-8 from the arc respectively.

Marquette’s victory against DePaul on Wednesday began to show through during the second half, with Villanova outscoring them 53-34 and running the Golden Eagles’ legs out from under them. The Wildcats had a variety of contributors in the half in addition to Brunson and Bridges, including redshirt junior guard Phil Booth, who tacked on 13 points and two assists, and redshirt junior forward Eric Paschall, who scored nine and also grabbed two of his seven rebounds on the night.

“We just gave them too much space in the first half,” Wright said. “I thought our guys did a great job in the second half, they got a little worn down, and we were able to stay fresh.”

The Wildcats were able to neutralize Markus Howard in the second half, holding him to just seven points and 1-4 from 3-point range after he scored 16 on 4-6 in the first half. As a team, their 3-point field goal percentage dropped from 46.7 in the first to just 33.3 during the second half.

Villanova really began to pull away with 14 minutes left in the second half, when a long 3-pointer from Booth put the Wildcats up by 15. At the five-minute mark, redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman hit another three that pushed their lead to 24. The Golden Eagles’ were never able to get back under 20.

For the game, Villanova outplayed Marquette in almost every statistical category, shooting 15 percent more efficiently than the Golden Eagles while outrebounding them 37-26 and scoring 12 more points in the paint.

This makes the 36th straight year that the Big East Tournament was held in Madison Square Garden, which makes it the longest-tendered venue for any conference basketball tournament. Historically, the Wildcats play very well in New York and in the Garden.

“I think every game here means a lot to us,” Brunson said. “It’s great tradition, great history here in this arena. This tournament has a lot of great memories. It’s always a battle whenever you’re in a game here.”

On Friday night, Villanova will take on the Seton Hall Pirates, who were victorious over the Butler Bulldogs on Thursday, in the Big East semi-finals. According to Coach Wright, improving their defensive effort will be the key for the Wildcats.

“Defense and rebounding. It’s the same thing all year for us. We’re a good offensive team but you could see we went through some spurts there where we get it going offensively and then just relax defensively. We’ve just got to be more consistent.”