The 1-seed Villanova Wildcats will attempt to redeem last year’s disappointing early exit from the NCAA Tournament when they play the 9-seed Alabama Crimson Tide in the opening game of the Round of 32 on Saturday afternoon. The game will be played at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA, a six-hour drive from Villanova’s campus.
The Wildcats dominated 16-seed Radford in the Round of 64 on Thursday afternoon, winning by a score of 87-61. Six Villanova players recorded double-digit scoring, and National Player of the Year finalist Jalen Brunson led the way with 16 points. The team maintained its hot hand from the Big East Tournament, shooting 59 percent from the floor and 51 percent from behind the arc en route to the blowout win.
The 9-seed Crimson Tide, on the other hand, were involved in a much more tightly contested affair, edging 8-seed Virginia Tech, 86-83, behind Collin Sexton’s 25-point performance. John Petty added 20 points on 6-of-8 shooting from deep. While they shot a blistering 60 percent from the field and 44 percent from deep, the Tide struggled at the line, shooting just 18-27. If Alabama hopes to unseat the region’s top team, they’ll need to capitalize on free throw opportunities while limiting turnovers—they had 17 against Virginia Tech.
The Round of 32 has been a unique barrier for Jay Wright and the Wildcats since Wright’s hiring prior to the 2001-02 season. The team has qualified for the field on 12 separate occasions, but fallen in the Round of 32 six times, with the most recent loss coming to 8-seed Wisconsin in Buffalo. Of course, when the team has made it past the round of 32, it has done well for itself, reaching the Elite Eight three times, Final Four twice, and National Championship once.
As for Alabama, the Crimson Tide are seeking consecutive NCAA Tournament victories for the first time since 2004, when they reached the Elite Eight.
The matchup between Sexton and Brunson is one that many had circled as a potential blockbuster when the field was revealed on Selection Sunday. Sexton, a bona fide scoring machine and projected NBA lottery pick, averages 19.2 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Brunson, a do-it-all guard and floor general, averages 19.3 points, three rebounds, and five assists. With draft stocks and the Sweet Sixteen hanging in the balance, the duel should wet the appetites of fans nationwide. Villanova has struggled in tournament’s past against high-scoring guards, and Sexton fits the mode of a traditional upset leader to the T. As this battle goes, the game will likely go.
The winner of this game will face either 5-seed West Virginia or 13-seed Marshall in Boston next week.