During last season’s Big East tournament, Villanova guard Josh Hart played well enough over the course of three days to earn tournament Most Outstanding Player honors after the Wildcats won the title. Hart, who was a supplementary piece on that team, is now a star and the Wildcats’ leading scorer as they look to win a second straight Big East tournament title.
So who moves into that supplementary role that became vacant thanks to Hart’s progression? Down the stretch of this season that player’s been junior forward Kris Jenkins, and in the Wildcats’ 76-68 win over Providence in Friday’s Big East semifinals he produced another quality performance.
In 34 minutes Jenkins scored a team-high 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting from the field while also dishing out four assists. The 6-foot-6 Jenkins is capable of scoring both inside and out, be it by way of catching passes off of dribble penetration or by putting the ball on the deck himself and driving to the basket. That full array of skills was on display against a Providence team that did not have an answer for him. The Friars had to deal with Ben Bentil being limited by foul trouble, but even with that being the case Jenkins was able to find the spots where he’s most effective.
Having an effective Jenkins on the court makes Villanova that much more difficult to defend, as it gives them a player at the four who can force a mismatch offensively. That was one reason why the Wildcats, who rank among the nation’s best in two-point field goal percentage, scored 40 points in the paint. With more room to operate it becomes easier to find high percentage shots.
Since accounting for just four points and one rebound in a home win over St. John’s February 13 Jenkins has averaged 20 points and nearly four rebounds per game, shooting 53 percent from the field and 45 percent from beyond the arc. And if he can continue on this path while also chipping in defensively, an area in which he’s made strides as the season’s worn on, Villanova will benefit.
This group is capable of not only winning another Big East tournament title, but also progressing deep into the NCAA tournament and the emergence of Jenkins is one reason why. Jenkins wasn’t the only reason why the Wildcats took care of Providence, but he was a major factor in the outcome.