Villanova freshman forward Omari Spellman and redshirt junior Mikal Bridges huddle after an intense play against Xavier.
(Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)
Khaaliq Van-Otoo, Benjamin Simon and William Derry
Alabama (20-15 overall, 8-10 conference)
Freshman guard Collin Sexton (19.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.6 APG, .446FG%, .338 3P%)
Junior forward Donta Hall (10.9 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.1 BPG, .728 FG%)
Freshman guard John Petty (10.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, .396 FG%, .376 3P%)
Redshirt sophomore guard Dazon Ingram (9.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, .428 FG%, .284 3P%)
Summary of Season:
The Crimson Tide started the season in dominating fashion, winning four of their first five games by double-digits. Over the next few weeks they fell into a web of inconsistency in which they dropped games to tough competition like Minnesota, Arizona, and Texas, failing to win consecutive games until early January. They went on a four-game win streak after that stretch, including a victory over #17 ranked Auburn, before trading wins and losses down the stretch. They would struggle heading into the SEC tournament, losing four straight games to finish out the regular season. However, tides would turn and the Crimson Tide caught fire during the SEC conference tournament, winning their first two games to advance to the semifinals, where they fell to Kentucky. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Alabama defeated Virginia Tech in a wire-to-wire game.
Villanova (31-4 overall, 14-4 conference)
Junior guard Jalen Brunson (19.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 4.7 APG, .536 FG%, .418 3P%)
Redshirt junior guard Mikal Bridges (17.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.1 BPG, 1.6 SPG, .520 FG%, .435 3P%, .851 FT%)
Redshirt sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo (13 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, .471 FG%, .387 3P%)
Redshirt junior guard Phil Booth (10.9 PPG, 3 RPG, 2.8 APG, .460 FG%, .403 3P%)
Redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman (10.7 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.4 BPG, .481 FG%, .440 3P%)
Summary of Season:
The Villanova Wildcats began the season on a 13-game win streak, putting together a perfect non-conference record. After defeating DePaul in their first conference game of the year, the Wildcats lost on the road against Butler, who beat them twice last season. ‘Nova rebounded thereafter winning nine straight games, including a win versus #10 Xavier. However, in their next six games, ‘Nova would go 3-3, losing three games by single digits against St. John’s, Providence, and Creighton. Ahead of the Big East tournament, the Wildcats won in overtime against Seton Hall by one point and also defeated Georgetown. After getting through the quarterfinals and semifinals of the conference tournament, ‘Nova battled against Providence and punched their NCAA tournament ticket with an overtime victory. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats easily beat No. 16 seed Radford to advance on to the second round.
What Villanova must do to win:
Villanova defeated Radford in the first round of the NCAA tournament doing what they do best: converting from beyond the arc. The Wildcats shot 51.9% (14-27 3PM-A) from three against the Highlanders and if they want to move on to the Sweet 16, they’ll need to continue to drill threes versus Alabama. Villanova also had six players in double-figures in their first round victory, including 10 points from freshman big Dhamir ‘DaDa’ Cosby-Roundtree, who only averages 3.3 points per game. The Wildcats have six players who average double digits, a huge part of their success, so if they can get some scoring from role players like Cosby-Roundtree against Alabama then they’ll be well on their way to making a Sweet 16 appearance. One player that the Wildcats must pay particular attention to is Alabama freshman guard Collin Sexton. Sexton scored a team-high 25 points (21 points in the second half) against Virginia Tech in the first round to help Alabama advance. Sexton is a potential NBA lottery pick if he declares for the 2018 draft so the Wildcats must contain him and make sure he isn’t able to dictate the tempo of the game. He has carried the Crimson Tide in many games in the past and the Wildcats will have to work hard to avoid that same treatment.
What Alabama must do to win:
Alabama won their first NCAA tournament game in 12 years against Virginia Tech in large part due to the play of their star guard Collin Sexton. Sexton scored 25 points (7-14 FGM-A, 10-14 FTM-A) against Virginia Tech to help Alabama win by three points. If Alabama wants to win against Villanova, they’ll need Sexton to be at his best. Sexton’s athletic ability and playmaking skills make him one of the most dynamic players in the country. In addition, the Crimson Tide will need junior forward Donta Hall (10.9 ppg) and freshman guard John Petty (scored 20 points against Virginia Tech) to step up against the Wildcats. On defense, Alabama will need to force Villanova off their spots from behind the arc and contest every shot they take. If Sexton can deliver a dominant performance, along with teammates Hall and Petty producing on offense, and Alabama forces ‘Nova into tough shots, then the Crimson Tide will have a good chance at beating the Wildcats.
Omari Spellman vs. Donta Hall
A lot of people will point to the potential matchup between star guards Jalen Brunson and Collin Sexton as the decider in this game. However, they will both score their points and be productive on Saturday, just like they’ve done in most games this year. That’s why the key of this game will be the battle of the big men. Omari Spellman has been a huge part of Villanova’s offensive success this year. The 6-foot-9, 245 pound freshman provides the Wildcats with a different dynamic than they have had in recent seasons. He has polished post moves, with a strong ability to face up and shoot the three at a 40% clip. Thanks to his skillset he is perfect in pick-and-roll situations with Brunson.
Alabama’s Donta Hall matches up relatively well with Spellman at 6-foot-9, 232 pounds. He holds a defensive rating of 95.5 (seventh in SEC), a defensive box plus-minus of 6.7 (fifth in SEC), and a block percentage of 9.4 (fourth in SEC). Hall’s ability to contain Spellman and make Brunson uncomfortable in his hedging of pick-and-roll situations will be vital for the Crimson Tide. On top of that, Hall needs to continue scoring around the rim. He is second in the entire NCAA in two point field goal percentage at 72.8%. They’re going to need that same efficiency around the rim, especially if Villanova decides to double and help heavy on Sexton.
Collin Gillespie and Dazon Ingram
Villanova freshman guard Collin Gillespie enters the Round of 32 having seen a sporadic amount of minutes since his return from a hand injury. The freshman has played as many as 30 minutes, but as few as 5. However, with that said, Gillespie has proved himself to be a strong back-up to star point guard Jalen Brunson. It will specifically be important for him to play well against Alabama because of Sexton’s skillset. Villanova cannot have a drop off in its second unit and if Gillespie can hold his own, that will be a huge part of the Wildcats’ victory. The Wildcats will need to maintain their defensive focus throughout the entire game against a lethal and athletic Alabama squad that can heat up at any moment.
Dazon Ingram is the “Mr. Do-It-All” type for Alabama. The 6-foot-5, 207 pound guard is fourth on the team in points per game, second in rebounds, and second in assists. His versatility and playmaking ability provides a nice complement to Sexton. He played a major role in their SEC tournament run, totaling 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists against Texas A&M and 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists against Auburn. Sexton will need help against the Wildcats’ stifling defense and that has to start with Ingram’s ability to create. Additionally, Ingram matches up well with Villanova star Mikal Bridges. He’ll need to match Bridge’s versatility with some of his own on both sides of the floor.
The contest between Alabama and Villanova is a great second round battle between two formidable and hot teams. There are various key matchups to look at in this game, including ones between their star guards, Brunson and Sexton, and their talented bigs, Spellman and Hall. Ultimately, Collin Sexton will probably be the best and most dynamic player on the floor, but Villanova certainly has the deeper and more talented overall team. That is why they will find a way to slow down Sexton and force the other players on Alabama to beat them. Alabama will have trouble keeping up and the Wildcats will pull away late to win this game and move on to the next round.
-(1) Villanova defeats (3) Michigan in the National Championship