Villanova-Alabama: What to watch in March Madness Round of 32 matchup

NCAA Alabama Basketball
Alabama’s Collin Sexton will face Villanova’s Jalen Brunson in a highly-anticipated matchup in the NCAA tournament’s round of 32.

Villanova keys

The Wildcats played well at both ends of the court against Radford, but now they’ll be facing a higher level of talent with Alabama. They will have to run their offense to perfection and be prepared for the Crimson Tide’s double teams in the half-court. Defensively, they must neutralize Alabama freshman Collin Sexton and force him into bad decisions, and match the tendency for their opponents to send multiple players crashing to the boards. The need is to play like the more experienced NCAA team, which they are.

Alabama keys

The Crimson Tide’s win Thursday night, their first NCAA victory since 2006, was just their third in their last nine games and boosted their confidence. They will continue to funnel their offense through Sexton, who had six assists against Tech but also five turnovers. The Tide committed 17 turnovers in the game and average 14.2 on the season. Virginia Tech shot 55.6 percent Thursday night so Alabama must get back to the defense that allowed 41.3 percent shooting overall and 6.9 threes to its opponents.

On guard

Villanova, which limited Radford to 33.9 percent shooting, must control the ability of Alabama to drive the basketball.  The Wildcats switch frequently on defense so multiple players, not just Jalen Brunson, will get a chance to guard Sexton. Their big men must try to keep the Tide from getting second chances on offense. For Alabama, it has to play more like the team that held Auburn to 32.3 percent shooting in its SEC tournament upset of the Tigers, and not like the team that allowed Kentucky to shoot better than 64 percent the next day.

Swish

The Wildcats knocked down 14 three-pointers Thursday night, with Mikal Bridges sinking three and five of his teammates swishing two each. If the Crimson Tide chase them off the arc, however, they must drive and draw fouls, or drive and kick. Alabama, which averaged 6.4 threes during the season, hit eight for the third straight game Thursday night. Donta Hall, a 6-9 junior, shoots 72.8 percent from the floor but the team’s next best shooter percentage-wise is Sexton at 44.6 percent.

Intangibles

Villanova has the cloud of three second-round losses in the last four seasons hanging over its head as it tries to advance to next weekend in Boston. Only Phil Booth has been through more than one, however, so perhaps it won’t be prominent in their pre-game thoughts. With no seniors on its roster, Alabama is in uncharted waters. The Tide came up with some big shots to beat Virginia Tech even though they made some untimely passes. But with Avery Johnson, an NBA veteran player and coach, leading them, they have a chance.