Jalen Brunson

Why Villanova will cut down the nets at MSG

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Why Villanova will cut down the nets at MSG

The Big East Tournament tipped off Wednesday and runs through Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. If recent history is any indication, Villanova will be there for the duration. The Wildcats have played in the Big East championship game in each of the last three seasons. 

Villanova's story
Villanova has won the Big East Tournament two of the last three years, with the exception coming in 2016 when it lost to Seton Hall in the final seconds of the title game. The Wildcats moved past that setback and won their next six games in the NCAA Tournament on the way to a national championship.

Jay Wright's team arrives in Manhattan in an unfamiliar position this year — as the No. 2 seed. Villanova was the top seed in the Big East Tournament in each of the previous four seasons but Xavier carries that distinction this week. 

Despite not winning the Big East regular-season championship, the Wildcats are still in good shape to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament thanks to their 27-4 record. Just getting to the Big East title game should be enough to keep Villanova on the top line come Selection Sunday. 

Villanova's path
The Wildcats will play Marquette on Thursday night in the quarterfinals. Villanova swept the Golden Eagles in the regular season, winning, 100-90, in early January at the Wells Fargo Center before escaping with a 85-82 win at Marquette three weeks later. 

Marquette has no trouble scoring — it averages 82 points per game. The Golden Eagles are led by their sharpshooting backcourt duo of Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey, two guys capable of scoring 30 points on any given night. Expect the tempo to be fast and furious when Villanova and Marquette hook up in the quarterfinals.

If the Wildcats get past Marquette, they'll face either Seton Hall or Butler in the semifinals. Xavier looms as their most likely opponent in the championship game.

Player to watch
I could take the easy way out and go with the newly-minted Big East Player of the Year Jalen Brunson or the red-hot Mikal Bridges, but keep an eye on Donte DiVincenzo. The reason is simple — he loves Madison Square Garden. DiVincenzo made six three-pointers and scored 25 points in Villanova's win over St. John's back in January. Last year as a freshman, he scored 19 points at St. John's in the regular season and 25 points against the Red Storm in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.      

Villanova will cut down the nets for the third time in the last four years. The Wildcats will use a little extra motivation from not winning the Big East regular-season championship to get it done. Villanova-Xavier is the title game everyone wants to see and I think we'll get it. Look for the Wildcats to record a third win over the Musketeers this season and enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed in the East Region.  

Villanova duo brings home hardware

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Villanova duo brings home hardware

No. 2 Villanova doesn’t tip off in the Big East Tournament until Thursday. However, that didn’t stop the Wildcats from proving how dominant they are in the conference a day early.

Junior guard Jalen Brunson was named Big East Player of the Year and forward Omari Spellman was selected as Big East Freshman of the Year on Wednesday.

Brunson has averaged 19.0 points on 52.8 percent shooting from the field and 40.5 percent three-point shooting this season. Additionally, he has put up 4.8 assists and 3.0 rebounds per contest to lead the Wildcats to a 14-4 Big East record. Brunson, who was also tabbed as one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Player of the Year honor, is now the third Villanova player to win the conference’s POY award in the past four seasons (Josh Hart in 2016-17 and Ryan Arcidiacono a co-winner in 2014-15).

Spellman more than lived up to the hype of being the conference’s preseason pick for top freshman by securing all nine possible votes to take home the hardware. He has notched 10.9 points (48.6 percent shooting), 7.8 boards and 1.5 blocks a night. Spellman became just the third ’Nova player to ever receive Big East Freshman of the Year accolades (Scottie Reynolds in 2006-07 and Tim Thomas in 1996-97).

Could this be final home game for Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson?

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Could this be final home game for Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson?

Breaking down Villanova's matchup this weekend.

Georgetown (15-13, 5-12 Big East) at No. 4 Villanova (26-4, 13-4 Big East), Saturday at 5 p.m.
Villanova will need some help this weekend to secure a share of its fifth straight Big East regular-season championship. Unfortunately for the fourth-ranked Wildcats, that help will have to come from the unlikeliest of places — last-place DePaul. If DePaul upsets Xavier Saturday and Villanova beats Georgetown, the Wildcats will split the regular-season title with Xavier. But if Xavier beats DePaul, the Musketeers will clinch the league crown outright and end Villanova's four-year run as league champs.

Xavier will be heavy favorites at DePaul. That game will be over by the time Villanova takes the floor to host Georgetown at the Wells Fargo Center. So chances are Villanova will know that a league championship is out of the question when its game starts. While that would certainly be a downer, I'd be shocked if it impacts the Wildcats' energy level one bit. There is still plenty to play for, namely a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova beat Georgetown by 32 points earlier this season. It was the largest margin of victory in the long and storied history of this rivalry and it came on the Hoyas' home floor. Georgetown is playing decidedly better than it was at that point of the season, so don't expect this game to unfold in similar fashion. But look for a high-level effort from Villanova in what could very well be the last home game in the careers of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges.

Brunson and Bridges are juniors and each has another year of eligibility remaining following this season. But both are expected to give serious consideration to entering the NBA draft this spring. When Brunson made the decision to return for his junior year, much was made of the fact he's on track to graduate early. The prevailing expectation was he'd play his junior season, graduate in the spring or summer and start his NBA career. Brunson has put himself squarely in the National Player of the Year discussion with a terrific junior year. His NBA draft stock likely won't get much higher than it is right now.

Bridges, meanwhile, is widely regarded as a first-round pick if he decides to enter the draft. Some projections rank him as high as the 10th-best prospect in this year's draft class. He's picked up his game significantly in the last three weeks and very much looks the part of an NBA-ready performer. If Bridges is in fact told he'll be drafted in the first round, Jay Wright will tell him to go. It's the right decision and at this point the likely outcome.

Look for strong showings from Brunson and Bridges on Saturday. They understand this could be the last home game of their careers. The duo has won a lot of games in the last three years — 93 to be exact. They've won Big East regular-season championships, a Big East Tournament championship and a national championship. Now they set out for what might be one last journey through March.

Villanova 82, Georgetown 65