As Villanova looks to get back to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since their 2016 national championship, they’ll have to go through the SEC’s Alabama Crimson Tide. As such, we talked to Tom Stephenson of Team Speed Kills, SB Nation’s SEC site, about the Crimson Tide.
Big East Coast Bias: Collin Sexton may very well be the best player on the court in this game, which is saying something since Villanova has the Naismith frontrunner and a projected top 10 pick in their starting lineup. What makes Sexton so good?
Tom Stephenson: I wouldn’t go so far as to say Sexton will be the best player on the court. He might have the most upside of anyone on the court but that’s really a bit of a different statement. Sexton is one of the best players in college basketball at getting to the rim; at this level there are very few players who can stay in front of him. That’s reflected in the fact that he’s 7th in the country (per KenPom) in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. (NOTE to Big East fans: some of that may or may not be due to the quality of the officiating in the Southeastern Conference.) The knock against him is that his jump shot is inconsistent, though I also think he’s asked to do a bit too much in Alabama’s offense.
BECB: While the initial hiring of Avery Johnson raised eyebrows, it’s been pretty successful. What has he done differently than Anthony Grant?
TS: I actually disagree with the premise of this question, because at this point it’s not really clear that Johnson has been more successful than Anthony Grant. For instance, Johnson’s gone 26-28 in the SEC; Grant went 27-27 in the SEC in his last three years at Bama. Johnson has recruited better, to be sure, but while there’s been a lot of excitement the results on the court have been mixed.
BECB: Aside from Sexton, who should Villanova fans be on the lookout for?
TS: Alabama’s real strength is on the defensive end -- the Tide ranks 18th nationally in defensive efficiency, and was the SEC’s best defense on a per-possession basis in conference play. A lot of that has to do with the brilliance of Donta Hall, who is your stereotypical 6’9” guy with length and good instincts and a limited offensive game (while he shoots 73 percent from the floor, his shot attempts are basically all layups and dunks.) Hall missed the SEC Tournament game against Kentucky and it’s probably no coincidence that Alabama’s defense got shredded to the tune of 86 points in that one. John Petty is Alabama’s other main offensive threat and tends to run hot and cold; he’s 11-of-17 from three in Alabama’s last two games but went 3-of-19 in the four games before that. If he’s on, Alabama has a chance here.
BECB: What’s the one biggest thing Alabama should worry about in this matchup?
TS: What would concern me is that Alabama frankly isn’t an elite offensive team (in spite of the media’s focus on Sexton); they’re very much a team that relies on defense, and specifically on funneling everything to Donta Hall underneath the basket. So what happens when the other team is content to knock down jump shots and is very good at it?
BECB: Villanova. Alabama’s only hope of winning is either to slow down Villanova’s offense (good luck) or to get really hot from three, and I don’t see either of those things happening.