Jay Wright did it intentionally. The move was nothing crazy. In drills this fall, Villanova's coach wanted his senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono, last season's Big East player of the year, and freshman Jalen Brunson, the most accomplished freshman guard in the country, going at each other.
He did this knowing they eventually would be on the court together, sharing responsibilities.
"Arch has been killing him," Wright said of Brunson. "Just because he's learning things while Arch has been doing it for four years. So every time, in the preseason, we're teaching and Jalen's listening to me teach, and Arch is just killing him, because he knows it."
For those who might think Villanova's progress depends on how Arcidiacono accepts Brunson, don't count on that being a major concern. In reality, Villanova has a third major talent who can play the point in sophomore Phil Booth. That was obvious last season.
"I understand other people questioning that," Wright said Friday after Villanova's first official practice session, talking about how the backcourt pieces would fit. "We struggle when it's the other way, when we only have one or two. When we have three out there, we're good."
Wright has vast experience at managing the minutes of his players, deciding which guys can handle coming off the bench, for instance, and for how long in their careers they can handle it. Kyle Lowry, for instance, came off the bench for one season, but Wright certainly didn't try it for two. The next season, Villanova allegedly had a four-guard offense, but really that was only until the first substitution, when it became three guards and two taller guys.
This is different with Brunson, though. While Lowry came in raw and talented, Brunson arrives with both polish and grit in his game. Anybody who caught the U-19 world championships this summer saw the reason the USA ended up with gold started with Brunson, who was named MVP of the tournament. There was a lot of talent on that American team but Brunson was the guy getting things done under real pressure.
The guess from the outside is that Wright will want Brunson out there from the start. As for who is handling the ball the most, Villanova's offense doesn't require that to be a huge factor.
"I don't think there's a big adjustment," Arcidiacono said, ticking off all the guards from last season. "Knowing I can have Jalen or Phil bring the ball up and give me a little break on the ball, it's not really a big adjustment. We've been doing it in practice. Last year, whenever Phil came in the games, he would bring it up."
And this offense, Arcidiacono pointed out, is hardly predicated on one guard keeping the ball in his hands.
"We're trying to get the defense rotated to both sides, and then try to attack," Arcidiacono said. "The point guard in our system will probably end up with the ball a lot at the end of the clock, too."
He means after a series of passes.
"There's no real point guard on the team," Arcidiacono said. "We just have guards."
Of those one-on-one battles, Arcidiacono said, "Jalen's really good. He's got a lot of accolades coming out of high school. Once you come into the college level, you're battling every single day and everyone's at that level. He's been great. He's been getting me a lot better and I've been getting him better just by going at each other."
By that, he means, "Just physical toughness, ball screens, just getting into each other. We've just been giving extra nudges, just getting each other tougher, knowing that when we play other teams, we're not really going to play anyone tougher than each other."
Wright's big overall concern going into this season, he said, is at the defensive end, replacing Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston, and also Dylan Ennis, who transferred to Oregon.
"Our three most physical perimeter defenders were Pinkston, Hilliard and Ennis," Wright said. "They were physical perimeter defenders. Even though JayVaughn played inside he would get out on the perimeter and guard. And Ennis was our best defensive player. That's what we could see we're missing and that's what we're really going to work on. It's going to take us half the year to get to that point."
From his point of view, Arcidiacono said, the goal is, "be the toughest guards in the country."
Asked Friday for a quick appraisal of Brunson, Wright said, "It's funny. We've had preseason workouts up until today. He's been good. Today was the first day of practice. The best day. He's just mature beyond his years."
So those head-to-head duels with Arcidiacono were turning into something else.
"They were battling," Wright said. "Pretty cool to watch."