PHILADELPHIA -- Maybe it was Jalen Brunson's secret weapon at one point. Maybe it was something he has consistently improved over the past couple of years.
But the helpless and unsuspecting look on the face of opposing point guards when Brunson takes them into the post for easy back-to-the-basket points a couple times every game is yet another staple when watching Villanova basketball nowadays.
And either way, the secret is out now.
“I’ve worked on it since I was in high school,” Brunson said after Villanova’s 89-65 win over Xavier. “I may not be taller than other defenders, so I know I can find ways to be creative deep in the post. Use my strength, use that a little bit. It’s something I’ve always had, always loved to do. ... I know that’s a part of my game where I’m really confident.”
When Brunson gets the ball in the post, defenses essentially have to leave him in a one-on-one situation because Villanova has three or four other players who will make shots from the perimeter if left open. It makes it very difficult for defenses to adjust.
“It’s an advantage for me,” Brunson said. “It’s an advantage for our team, because I’m able to make plays for others, not just myself, out of the post.”
It’s just another weapon in the arsenal for Brunson, who finished with 17 points, five assists and just one turnover in Wednesday night’s win that once again established Villanova as the favorite in the Big East. Ho-hum, just another consistently solid outing for the All-American point guard.
“They’re led by the best point guard in college basketball,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said.
Brunson isn’t the most talked about player in the country -- that’s Oklahoma's Trae Young. He isn’t the most hyped point guard in the country -- that’s also Young. He’s not even the biggest storyline on his own team this season -- that’s the breakout and NBA potential of Mikal Bridges.
But Brunson’s ascension into “the guy” for Villanova has been the key to the Wildcats' run to a No. 1 ranking.
With the departure of Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins after last season, the expectation was that Brunson would take the reins of the Wildcats and become the leader, the closer, the go-to guy. But it’s hard to imagine anyone expected this.
The averages are impressive enough: 19.4 points, 5.2 assists, 59.0 percent shooting from the field, 49.3 percent from 3-point range. His numbers have gone up across the board -- except for turnovers, which have somehow gone down despite Brunson having the ball in his hands even more.
And while his counting numbers are not as gaudy as Young’s eye-poppingly consistent 25-point, 10-assist efforts, Brunson is also putting up efficiency numbers we haven’t seen in years. He ranks No. 1 in offensive rating among players who use at least 20 percent of their team’s possessions. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, no player in the past eight seasons has had an offensive rating as high as Brunson’s with a usage percentage of at least 20 percent. He’s on pace to become the first major conference player in the past 20 seasons to average 19 points and own a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, per ESPN Stats & Information.
Brunson has taken his game to a new level this season, all while becoming the face of the program and the focal point of opposing defenses.
“He’s really good,” Mack said. “He’s stoic. If you peeled his face off, he would probably have wires coming out of it. He’s phenomenal.”
The most impressive thing about Brunson -- and this is indicative of the Villanova program as a whole --
is how consistent he is on a night-in, night-out basis. He really hasn’t had a truly bad game yet this season. He was limited to 21 minutes against Gonzaga earlier this season due to foul trouble, but still finished with 12 points and five assists. Brunson has turned the ball over more than twice in a game just once all season. He has never scored less than 10 points in a game. He has shot below 50 percent just three times, and never under 40 percent. In Villanova’s one loss, Brunson had 31 points and five assists.
That sort of consistency is simply uncommon in today’s game.
And in a season where top teams seem to struggle on a nightly basis, that sort of consistency is why Villanova is No. 1 in the country right now.