Bama Hoops Hype

PREVIEW: Alabama Battles Virginia Tech in Opening Round of NCAA Tournament

Twitter: @AlabamaMBB

The regular season is over. The selection show is finished. Practices and press conferences have taken place and now it is time for win-or-go home basketball.

On Thursday, the Alabama men’s basketball team plays in its first NCAA Tournament game since 2012. The Crimson Tide are matched up with Virginia Tech in Pittsburgh for the opening round.

“We play against an outstanding team and a well-coached team,” Tide head coach Avery Johnson said. “We’ve had a chance to break their team down, both their offense and their defense, a lot of their tendencies. We have a little bit better handle of what we’re up against.”

Alabama was sitting right on the bubble after a poor finish to the regular season but a strong performance in the SEC Tournament helped secure a spot in the field of 68. The Tide’s quality wins against Auburn, Tennessee, Rhode Island and more pushed them up to a 9 seed.

Virginia Tech had an opportunity to improve its seeding in the ACC Tournament but could not capitalize. The Hokies blew a 21-point lead to Notre Dame in their first postseason game. Tech’s regular season wins against Virginia, Duke and North Carolina still show how dangerous this team can be.

Alabama is at its best when players like Collin Sexton and Dazon Ingram get out on the break. However, the Tide know it will have to start on the defensive side of the ball against the sharp-shooting Hokies.

“Defense first because we know once we get stops, we’ll be able to get out on the break,” Ingram said. “We just want to close out to their shooters and make them put it on the ground and play inside the 3-point line.”

We have our full preview below. Make sure you check up on all of our preview pieces from this week, including an initial scouting report and last minute updates on Donta Hall.

How To Keep Up

Where: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, Penn.

When: Approximately 8:20 CT

Watch: TNT with Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

Listen: Crimson Tide Sports Network with Chris Stewart and Bryan Passink; Westwood One with Scott Graham and Kelly Tripuka

Projected Starting Lineups

9 Alabama (19-15, 8-10 SEC): Collin Sexton (19.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.5 apg), Dazon Ingram (9.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.6 apg), John Petty (10.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.8 apg), Herbert Jones (4.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.3 apg), Galin Smith (2.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg)

8 Virginia Tech (21-11, 10-8 ACC): Justin Bibbs (13.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.6 apg), Devin Wilson (2.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.8 apg), Justin Robinson (13.8 rpg, 2.8 rpg, 5.6 apg), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (10.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.4 apg), Kerry Blackshear Jr. (12.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.3 apg)

Key Matchup

Collin Sexton vs. Justin Robinson. What do you know, it is another obvious matchup to watch that involves Collin Sexton. These two guards will be the center of attention for both defenses. Robinson, like Sexton, leads his team in scoring, assists and usage rate. If either of these players are limited by his opponent, his team may begin to struggle on offense. The Hokies have plenty of scorers and shooters but Robinson’s ability to find his teammates in good spots is a big part of his game. Meanwhile, Sexton will be the key to Alabama’s fast style of play. If he is slowed down then there is a good chance that the Tide’s entire offense will be slowed down. Hopefully we get to see both of these players at the top of their games because Sexton and Robinson will definitely be difference makers on Thursday.

Key Stats

29.8 minutes. This was the average minutes per game for Collin Sexton this season. It has definitely been affected by his abdominal injury but it still seems a little low for a guy who will be a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft. In the SEC Tournament, Sexton played in 34.3 minutes per game. Avery Johnson has been mixing up his starting rotation recently, especially with Donta Hall’s injury, but the current constant is Sexton. It will be interesting to see if the freshman’s minutes go up even further in the NCAA Tournament. His season high in minutes is 36 but do not be surprised to see his minutes hit 38 or 39 on Thursday, especially if this hot streak continues.

31.6 percent. Virginia Tech ranks in the nation’s top 40 3-point shooting teams. However, over their last five games, the Hokies have struggled with playing beyond the arc. They are shooting just 31.6 percent on 3-pointers and have not made 10 triples in seven games, Tech’s longest streak of the season. To add to it, the opponents of the Hokies are shooting 35.6 percent over the last five games. Both of those numbers fall on the bad side of the team’s season average. If Alabama can keep this trend going against the Hokies, the Crimson Tide should be able to pull away with a victory.

Prediction

As with most Alabama games this season, I have gone back and forth on deciding who wins this one. First, I think that it would be dumb to bet against Collin Sexton with the way he has played this season. Then, I remembered Alabama allowing 12 3-pointers to Kentucky. This whole prediction could change depending on if Donta Hall is available. Talent matters in the NCAA Tournament but having experience certainly gives a big boost. I am taking the Hokies for now but that could change before tip-off. Virginia Tech 75, Alabama 71

Caleb Turrentine is the editor for Bama Hoops Hype. You can follow him on Twitter for in-game updates at @BamaHoopsHype.

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