Villanova is undefeated and Jalen Brunson is playing like the Preseason Big East Player of the Year, but the Wildcats are far from satisfied. After sneaking past Western Kentucky in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, No. 3 Villanova meets Tennessee in Thursday’s semifinals.
The Wildcats are 4-0 and have given up 60 or fewer points three times, while Brunson came into the event averaging 17.7 points and essentially fell on that number with 18 in the opening round. The junior guard was 7-for-9 from the field and is 23-for-29 over the last three games for the Big East favorites. “We still have to get a lot better,” Brunson told reporters following the victory. “We’re still a work in progress.” The Volunteers may pose a challenge after upsetting Purdue in overtime on Wednesday thanks to Grant Williams’ dominant second-half effort.
TV: 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
ABOUT VILLANOVA (4-0): The Wildcats had their lowest-scoring effort of the season Wednesday due partially to a poor performance from their front-court players. Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall shot a combined 2-for-14 for six points, although Villanova’s veteran guards bailed them out. In addition to Brunson’s crisp performance, Donte DiVincenzo scored 14 points off the bench while Mikal Bridges contributed 17 along with eight rebounds, five steals, three blocks and three assists.
ABOUT TENNESSEE (3-0): Williams was scoreless at halftime against Purdue before erupting for 22 points after intermission - including the go-ahead bucket with 14.5 seconds left in overtime. “I thought we really showed the toughness we’ve been looking for from them,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes told reporters after the game. “I thought our guys just kept finding ways to fight back.” Lamonte Turner chipped in 17 points in a reserve role, giving him 33 in the last two games since a scoreless season opener against Presbyterian.
1. Bridges is averaging 21.3 points over his last three games and has recorded 12 steals in that span.
2. Paschall is 0-for-10 from 3-point range this season.
3. Admiral Schofield, who came into the event as Tennessee’s leading scorer (18 points), was limited to 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting on Wednesday.
PREDICTION: Villanova 77, Tennessee 66