PITTSBURGH — Alabama basketball is one win from making the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004.
The Crimson Tide picked up an 86-83 win over Virginia Tech on Thursday to set a matchup Saturday with Villanova, the top seed in the East Regional. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:10 p.m. ET/11:10 a.m. CT on CBS.
Making it to the second weekend of the tournament won’t be easy for the Crimson Tide as the Wildcats have been one of the best teams in the country all season.
Watching Villanova on Thursday against Radford, there are some things Alabama can exploit. The Wildcats aren’t deep. They played only seven players in their normal rotation. It would be a huge bonus if Alabama is able to get a Wildcats player or two in foul trouble.
Also, Villanova has struggled as a top-two seed in recent years. The Wildcats won the 2016 national championship, but lost as a No. 2 seed in 2014 and as a No. 1 seed in 2015 and 2017.
Here are five keys for Alabama basketball:
Contain 3-point shooters
Villanova shoots the 3 as good as any team in the country.
Villanova connected on 14 of 27 3-point attempts (.519) in its win over Radford. It marked the 20th time in 35 games that the Wildcats have converted a dozen or more from beyond the 3-point arc this season. That’s an absurd statistic.
Basically, if Villanova gets going from 3, Alabama has no chance. Honestly, few teams in the country have a chance to beat Villanova if it’s making 3s consistently.
Rage young bull, rage
An attacking Collin Sexton is great for Alabama basketball. Alabama obviously needs Sexton to score, but it’s more important that he’s aggressively trying to get inside and take shots around the rim.
Sexton finishes well at the basket and has a nice floater to beat taller defenders. He did a nice job carving up Virginia Tech’s defense in the second half. His free-throw shooting down the stretch helped seal things for Alabama as Sexton scored the team’s last 9 points.
Alabama will need Sexton’s best effort of the season to make it to next week.
In watching Villanova against Radford, it was apparent that the Wildcats don’t overwhelm teams with length or athleticism. What they do exceptionally well, however, is execute. Villanova doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, so everything an opponent gets against them will be earned. Alabama will need to cut down on turnovers; the Tide had 17 against Virginia Tech. That number is concerning, but the bigger point is the timing of some of the turnovers. There were a few moments when Alabama could have pulled away late in the second half against the Hokies, but turnovers helped keep Virginia Tech in the game. Alabama can’t do that against Villanova.
Keep John Petty hot
The brightest spot for the Crimson Tide in their first tourney game was the shooting of John Petty. Petty knocked down six 3-pointers and scored 20 points to give Alabama a second scorer to pair with Sexton.
It was Petty who kept Alabama within striking distance in the first half with timely 3-pointers to halt any hint of a Virginia Tech run. He kept it going in the second half with more hot shooting.
Alabama will have a good chance of moving on if Petty is able to shoot at a similar clip Saturday.
Sexton and Petty did the bulk of the scoring, but other guys filled in the rest of the puzzle.
Donta Hall worked his way back from his concussion, scoring 10 points and making all five of his field-goal attempts. Villanova doesn’t have a ton of size so this could be an opportunity for Hall to have a breakout tournament game.
Avery Johnson Jr., Galin Smith and Herbert Jones produced in key moments. Johnson helped spell Sexton at times, and scored 8 points in 10 minutes off the bench.
Smith gave Alabama a low-post threat with 8 points and 3 rebounds.
He had two untimely turnovers in the second half, but Dazon Ingram had a solid game with 9 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Foul trouble in the second half limited Ingram’s minutes, but Alabama will need him to keep up his level of play and take care of the ball.
The biggest question mark to this point is Braxton Key. Key didn’t score a point against Tech. He had 1 assist and 1 rebound. He’s going to have to do more to help Alabama win Saturday night.