After stunning the Purdue 89-81 in overtime in the 2K Sports Classic semifinals, the Villanova Wildcats will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide on Friday night at 7 pm ET for the title. Villanova once again got stellar play from Ryan Arcidiacono, James Bell and Darrun Hilliard (with a little help from the officials), and they'll need their big guns to step up again if they are to take home the championship and continue their unbeaten start.
Alabama, like 'Nova, enters the game 3-0 on the season with wins over South Dakota St., West Alabama and most recently Oregon St. last night.
For more Alabama content, check out our friends at Roll Bama Roll.
Whereas Purdue's strength came from their frontcourt, 'Nova will get a different look on Friday night when they line up against a Tide team that relies primarily on its backcourt to get the job done. 'Bama sports a 3-headed monster in the backcourt with guards Trevor Lacey (19.3 ppg), Rodney Cooper (15 ppg) and Trevor Releford (15.3 ppg). Cooper is the biggest of the bunch at 6'6", but Lacey is the guy Villanova will have to be most aware of as he's currently hitting over 64% of his shots from behind the arc so far this season.
Alabama's guards can score, and they take care of the ball (something Villanova could do better). Moreover, they won the turnover battle against Oregon State with a +12 margin, so they can get after it on defense as well. Villanova will need to protect the rock much better than they have so far this season against the talented 'Bama backcourt.
Villanova should have a distinct advantage in the frontcourt as Alabama. The Tide do sort a 5-star freshman in Devonta Pollard, but past him, there isn't much there to worry about as Moussa Gueye, Nick Jacobs and Carl Engstrom aren't going to set the world on fire. Despite turning in a mixed bag so far this season, you would think Mouphtaou Yarou, Maurice Sutton and Daniel Ochefu would be up to the challenge in that area.
Keys To Victory
Turnovers - 'Nova turned the ball over 18 more times against Purdue, and it almost cost them the game as they coughed up a 10-point 2nd half lead. Ryan Arcidiacono has 7 of them. That number is nowhere close to acceptable. There are going to be growing pains for the freshman, but the 'Bama guards will eat his lunch if he remains careless with the ball.
Perimeter defense - The 'Bama guards are talented, and Villanova will need to be on top of it's game. 7 steals last night along with forcing Purdue into 16 turnovers was fantastic. They also got big stops when they needed it, the sign of a maturing team. Even better, they were all over the Purdue shooters, forcing the Boilermakers into a horrid 22% mark from behind the arc. Do that again, and Alabama may struggle to score.
Team approach - Before the season, we thought the go-to-guy would be JayVaughn Pinkston. He was absent in the first 2 games but showed up in last night's win with 16 points (including 8-8 from the FT line!). Ryan Arcidiacono, Darrun Hilliard, and James Bell have all showed the fortitude to take the big shot when needed as well. The ball-sharing and selfless attitudes throughout the team have led to this start - keep it going.
Consecutive wins over Marshall and Purdue are huge for this team - it really can't be understated - and these W's now will help with our RPI later in the year. Grab another win over a solid team and take home an early season title. The team worked their tails off last night and may be a little gassed heading into another game, but they'll be able to push through behind the all of a sudden on-fire backcourt of Arcidiacono, Hilliard and Bell.
The game will be shown live on ESPNU and ESPN3 starting at 7:30 pm ET.