Collin Sexton finished with 25 points and six assists and John Petty added 20 points on 6-for-8 shooting from three off the bench as No. 9 seed Alabama picked off No. 8 seed Virginia Tech, 86-83, to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament and get their shot at top seed Villanova.
And they might actually a chance to do that.
But we’ll get there.
First things first: Sexton scored 22 of his 25 points in the second half, and the Tide really turned things on after Justin Robinson was whistled for a foul for catching Sexton with an elbow squarely in the jaw. If you have even the slightest idea of what Sexton is about as a competitor, than you know that those are the kind of things that can flip a switch; 18 of his 22 second half points came after that elbow.
And that competitiveness is part of the reason that I think Alabama can make a run at the top seed in the East region.
There are two things that you need to be able to do to beat Villanova.
The first is to be able to run them off of the three-point line. They are just so dangerous shooting the ball. It’s insane, and it’s not a coincidence that the three games they lost in the last month of the season all came on nights where they shot poorly; 8-for-33 against St. John’s, 3-for-20 against Providence, 12-for-39 against Creighton.
Alabama not only ranked 18th nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, but they are top 30 in defending the three-point line; Alabama’s opponents shoot just 32.4 percent from beyond the arc.
The other thing you need to be able to do: Have your lead guard go off, and there may not be a guard better-suited to doing that on a big stage than Sexton is.
He loves competition. He loves being challenged.
And I can almost guarantee that he will love the chance he gets to make a statement against NBC Sports National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson.