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NCAA Tournament, second round: Villanova vs. Alabama preview

One down, five to go

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Virginia Tech vs Alabama Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After cruising past Radford, the Villanova Wildcats look to get past Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday to advance to the Sweet 16 in Boston. The Crimson Tide won a tough battle against the Virginia Tech Hokies last night, 86-83. Now, they look to take down 1 seed Villanova, who have fallen in the first weekend 5 times since their Final Four run in 2009.

The two schools will face off in the first game of the 2nd round, airing on CBS at 12:10 PM EST. Here are three things to watch for as Villanova looks to advance to the 18th Sweet 16 in school history.

A Great Offense vs A Good Defense

The top-seeded Cats came into the tournament hot as ever, winning the Big East tournament in emphatic fashion. Their success has come largely from having the most efficient scoring offense in the country, averaging 1.19 points per possession. However, Alabama ranks 81st in defensive efficiency, meaning that Villanova faces a tough road offensively. Bama also ranks 32nd in opponent true shooting percentage, not great news for a team who’s used to a 62.3 TS%. This is going to be a test for Villanova so, unfortunately, we might see them struggle to sink shots.

But here’s the good news: Villanova ranks 81st in the nation in total rebounding percentage, while Alabama is all the way down the list at 187. This shows that controlling the glass shouldn’t be an issue as it has been known to be running their 4-out 1-in system. Worst case scenario: Villanova has an even battle on the boards, which isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world.

Tempo and Turnovers

The first key to a Villanova victory is limiting turnovers. The main concern is Eric Paschall, who’s turnover percentage is a whopping 17.1%. Most everyone else is in the normal or below average range on turnovers, so keeping Paschall in check and cool-headed throughout the game will be key against an Alabama team the forces 13 turnovers per game.

Controlling the tempo is a must for Villanova to come away with a W on Saturday. Bama plays almost two possessions slower than Villanova does. If the Crimson Tide ends up controlling the pace of the game, it might be a long night for the Wildcats. The 1-2-2 Viking press that Jay Wright loves may be useful here to speed Bama up and get them out of rhythm.

Three Players To Watch For

Jalen Brunson

Does this man really need an introduction? The player of the year candidate has been the mastermind behind the Villanova offense this year (along with sidekick Mikal Bridges). Averaging 19.4 point and 4.7 assists per game, the Chicago native will most likely be the go-to-guy Saturday to create his own chances, as well as the maestro that organizes the team to establish the flow of the offense.

Donta Hall

If you’re reading this, you probably thought I’d be talking about Collin Sexton. Truth is, Hall could be more of a handful. He’s a 6-9 forward in his third year at the College level. He’s Bama’s most efficient scorer by a healthy margin at 1.27 points per possession. He grabs 15.9% of all available rebounds when he’s on the floor. He’s a matchup nightmare for any big man to deal with. He just might create enough problems to make Villanova’s frontcourt nervous.

Omari Spellman

Remember that guy Donta Hall that we talked about just a few words ago? Yeah, the guy who can stop him is our 6-9, 260-pound freshman. Omari has the second highest defensive win shares on the team (an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense). We all know what the 10+ point per game scorer can do offensively, but the only question is will he be able to check Alabama’s counterpart.

Conclusion

Every Villanovan dreads this game. The talk about the second round is annoying and it feels like the Cats are going to need to win another national title to shut the haters up. This game is extremely winnable for Villanova, but they need to do a few things right in order to get there.