After the departure of star Josh Hart, Villanova basketball turns the reigns over to junior guard Jalen Brunson, one of the top players in the entire Big East.
After falling in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament in disappointing fashion, the Villanova Wildcats were not able to repeat as National Champions. In addition to that loss, the Wildcats graduated plenty of talent, including Big East Player of the Year and first team All-American Josh Hart. With Hart gone, the title of team leader has been passed onto junior point guard Jalen Brunson.
Regarded as a five-star recruit from Illinois out of high school, Brunson was a consensus top-20 high school player. As a freshman, Brunson made an immediate impact for the Wildcats. En route to a National Championship for ‘Nova, Brunson was named a Big East All-Freshman Team member while averaging 9.6 points and 2.5 assists per game in 24.0 minutes.
This past season, though, Brunson took another jump in his game, playing in a dynamic duo with Josh Hart. His minutes increased to 31.1 per game and he averaged 14.7 points and 4.1 assists on a staggering 54.1% from the field for a guard. His three-point percentage was just fine at 37.8% on 3.1 attempts per game, but it was his ability to score within the arc at 62.1% on 6.3 attempts that was incredibly impressive.
Entering this junior season, Brunson will finally be the “go-to-guy” for the Wildcats. Even with all of the talent that the Wildcats lost in Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Darryl Reynolds, ‘Nova will likely be the preseason favorite to win the Big East thanks to the incoming recruits, returning studs, and, of course, Brunson.
Joining Brunson in the lineup should be returners Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall, and Mikal Bridges. The key for Brunson in this upcoming season is not just to take the next step as a player, but more specifically as a leader. Unlike years in the past, he is the veteran on the roster and will need to be a leader on the floor as the point guard surrounded by youngsters.
Brunson is an outstanding playmaker already, with his ability both to drive and knock down the three-pointer making him a versatile scorer. His 4.1 assists per game are also fairly solid, especially when taken with the fact that he averaged just a touch over two turnovers per game.
Brunson will be the player that defenses focus on this upcoming season, and that will likely have some effect on his scoring efficiency. Yet, as he is given more and more attention, the pressure will be on his teammates to succeed when he gets them the ball for open shots. Working with extremely talented sophomore DiVincenzo will surely help him in the backcourt, but at the end of the day, Brunson will have the ball in his hands during crunch time.
In college basketball, having an elite point guard is often the difference between winning and losing close games in March. If you look at teams who have made surprisingly deep runs in recent history, most were privileged to have elite guards that could carry their teams to victory (see Walker, Kemba and Curry, Stephen).
If Brunson can be that guy for Villanova, then Jay Wright will once again be in great shape to win the Big East and make a deep run in the Big Dance.
On the whole, a team is more than just one player, but Brunson will make the headlines for Villanova. He is a talented point guard in getting to the basket, scoring from deep, and playing tenacious defense. ‘Nova will enter this season as the Big East favorite and a top-25 season, but there are a lot of contenders who can win the conference this year. Will Brunson keep the Wildcats at the top once again?