Villanova Basketball: Mikal Bridges molding into Jay Wright’s rising star

Mikal Bridges is expected to be a huge piece to the puzzle for Villanova basketball in 2016-17.

Mikal Bridges committed to Villanova back in 2014 as a four-star recruit who was ranked 82nd in ESPN’s top 100. While Bridges was the gem of the Wildcats’ 2014 class, no one expected the forward to develop into an NBA prospect and one of the key pieces on one of the best teams in the country by his redshirt sophomore season.

We all know about the potential Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart, the National Championship hero Kris Jenkins and sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson. But a player that is also turning into a rising star and a massive piece to the Wildcats’ puzzle is Bridges.

As most young players typically do in Villanova’s program, Bridges had to pay his dues before he found the spotlight.

He redshirted in his first season on campus, spending the entire year working on his game and participating in practice against other high quality players. In his freshman campaign (last season), Bridges averaged 6.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game, while shooting 52 percent from the field and 78 percent from the free throw strike.

Bridges was very inconsistent throughout the season, however, he found his stride late in the season. He dropped 16 combined points in the ‘Cats final two Big East Tournament games, scored 12 points in an opening round victory over UNC Asheville and contributed valuable minutes in wins over Iowa, Miami, Kansas and Oklahoma in the Big Dance.

But 2016-17 is when Bridges is finally ready to burst onto the scene as one of Villanova’s most valuable players. While Bridges may not start, he is going to have an integral role as “a sixth man that plays starter minutes.”

His length, athleticism, size and versatility will give Villanova a different dimension. Bridges can play multiple positions, guard inside and out on defense, can knock down shots from the perimeter, and can attack the basket and score over big men in the paint.

His presence allows Villanova to play numerous unique lineups. Without five-star freshman big man Omari Spellman (who is an academic redshirt and cannot play the entire 2016-17), creativity is a necessity given their lack of true big men. Wright could opt to use a ‘Lineup of Death’ that consists of Brunson, Hart, Jenkins, Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and Bridges, creating vital mismatches at both ends of the floor.

All five of those players can handle the ball, rebound, score and make plays in transition, but Bridges’ ability to play the ‘Draymond Green type role’ will allow the Wildcats to operate successfully without Spellman and Daniel Ochefu.

Bridges isn’t going to be a go-to player in clutch situations and he isn’t going to be a leader in the locker room the way Hart and Jenkins will be. But his flexibility on both ends of the floor is invaluable for a team that has an opportunity to be the first program to repeat since the 2006-07 Florida Gators.

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