By Chris DePew
March 17, 2018
Where to watch: No. 9 Alabama (20-15) vs. No. 1 Villanova (31-4), Today 11:10 a.m. Central, PPG Paints Arena (Pittsburgh), CBS
Who to watch: Collin Sexton. If this is his only season in crimson, the freshman point guard is certainly going out in style. His NCAA Tournament debut against Virginia Tech was his fifth in a row with at least 20 points. After a slow first half, Sexton rang up 25 points against the Hokies, matching his 25.4 scoring average for March, and added a half-dozen assists for good measure. Now in what could be his valedictory game, Sexton gets to match up with the possible national player of the year, Villanova’s Jalen Brunson. Brunson averages 19.3 points per game (vs. 19.2) and more than a full assist per game than Sexton, but just over half a rebound less. More to the point Brunson has three years of experience, including being a key role player on a national championship team as a freshman. Sexton has the greater physical gifts, but he will have to match Brunson’s savvy and court vision (and cut way back on the turnovers).
What to watch for: A defensive flashback. The Crimson Tide’s last two opponents have shot 55.6 percent and 64.3 percent from the floor. That’s a frightening trend to carry into a showdown with the Wildcats, the nation’s best scoring team at 87.1 points per game. Villanova is the country’s second-best shooting team (50.7 percent), first in effective field goal percentage, third in made 3-pointers per game (11.5) and third in assist-to-turnover ratio. Alabama will have to cover the perimeter in a way it hasn’t in weeks, exploit any advantage it can find on the boards and pray its shooting touch from Thursday night remains intact. Even then it might take a little UMBC-style magic to topple the now-consensus tournament favorite.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris