Mikal Bridges (6-7, 191 lb, Soph, Forward)
Bridges is athletic, long, and electrifying, but, most importantly, he has a great basketball IQ. Coming into Villanova, he had a reputation as a player who would float on the perimeter, shoot outside jumpers and perhaps shy from contact a bit. During his redshirt season, he had the opportunity to watch the 2014-15 Wildcats race through the Big East - using tenacious, smart play to blow out some opponents and defeat others with superior execution in the closing minutes. While sitting the bench that first year, Bridges saw the physicality of play in the Big East and it inspired him to both improve his strength and to play with more aggression. Villanova Assistant Coach Ashley Howard looked down the bench at Bridges during a nail-biting, physical game at Hinkle Field House against Butler and asked the Freshman "are you ready for this?". Bridges took all the lessons to heart and came prepared for battle when he finally got the opportunity to play in 2015-16.
Bridges demonstrated he could hit some deep jumpers ... but his forte was timely defense and slashing to the basket for put-backs and baskets at opportune moments. HIs court savvy and defensive play was vital to the 'Nova championship run.
Here are a few of the iconic plays that Bridges contributed in the NCAAs:
Bridges' performance during the NCAA has his stock rising in the eye of scouts and on NBA draft boards. His Sophomore season should be an interesting one as he tries to add consistency to his jump-shot and demonstrate the type of breakdown handle he will need to maximize his upside potential.
A look at his shot chart from last year causes two things to jump out: 1. He shot the corner three-ball quite well. 2. He finished at the rim at an insane level of efficiency - finishing through contact despite his narrow frame. Bridges was 3rd in the entire country in 2PFG% at 71.6% (per kenpom) and 38th nationally in O Rtg at 125.2. His challenge this season will be to maintain those efficiencies while carrying a bit more of the scoring burden.
VUSports asked him at Villanova Media Day about how he felt about his offense coming into the season and Bridge stated "This summer and fall I have been shooting a lot and I feel like I am getting confidence in that like how I was back in high school. Not having shot it as much as I would have wanted to last year got me to be more comfortable as a pretty good driver. If I could make a couple more shots then I could add both of those together."
In terms of what he likes to do the most on defense, Bridges followed with "I like to pressure guys full court, try to turn them, turn the ball over - get our team going. That is what I love the most".
Coach Jay Wright lauded Bridges for his defensive basketball IQ against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament Regional Final game: "The play Mikal Bridges made with about two minutes to go where we came out of a time out in a zone, and they ran a play for Perry Ellis and Bridges came out of the weak side and stole the pass - that was just player intelligence. The play is set up but the player has to be on another level of intelligence to realize we are in zone, they are still running a play for Ellis, I am on the weak side, I am going to take away that pass to Ellis - it is not my job but I know where they are going with it. We just had really smart players."
Villanova fans will enjoy watching the continued development of Mikal Bridges this season.
Donte Divincenzo (6-5, 200 lb, Frosh, Guard)
DiVincenzo took a medical red shirt last season after suffering an injury in the middle of his Freshman season. He played in eight games, getting limited minutes, and struggled shooting the ball from three-point range (3-17, .176) (albeit in a small sample set). He was able to recover far enough from his injury by NCAA Tournament time that he participated on the scout team in practices - most famously playing the Buddy Hield role leading up to the National Semi-Final game in Houston.
During the summer, in Spain and in early practices this season, DiVincenzo has been shooting the ball with better form and improved confidence. He has also shown improved ball-handling and a higher comfort level with Jay Wright's system on both ends of the floor.
When asked by VUSports at media day how his shot was progressing, DiVincenzo replied "This past year I was working on my form. Working back to the basics. Making sure my shoulders were forward and I wasn’t leaning back and making sure that I step into it confidently and that I wasn’t thinking about my jump-shot. Now I am just letting it go and if I miss it I am getting back on defense to defend - regardless, I get back on defense and defend."
In regards to his defense, he also believe he is improving, stating " I am confident in myself and I think Coach is confident in me covering different positions. I cover the 4 in practice, the 1 in practice, it doesn’t matter. I am just using my size and my strength and my abilities to defend."
It is interesting in retrospect to look back on him playing the star role in the Spring of 2015 to help his Salesianum team win the State Championship in Delaware:
and then one year later to see him help Villanova cut down the nets in Houston:
With, potentially, four full seasons of eligibility remaining, Donte DiVincenzo has a lot of runway in which to develop into a true, "Villanova Guard".