March Madness Round 64 Preview
Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
A pair of high-scoring teams will do battle in the NCAA Tournament’s East Region first round when No. 8 seed Virginia Tech takes on No. 9 Alabama on Thursday in Pittsburgh. The Hokies average 79.7 points and have five double-figure scorers, while the Crimson Tide averages 72.4 with both teams allowing at least 70 points a contest.
Alabama is powered by one of the top freshmen in the country, guard Collin Sexton, who leads the team in scoring (19 points) and assists (3.5) and is able to take games over, as he did with 21 second-half points in a quarterfinal win over Auburn in the SEC tournament. Coach Avery Johnson will need to get more offense from the rest of the lineup as the Hokies will certainly focus on stopping Sexton and forcing other Alabama players to beat them. Guard Justin Robinson paces the high-powered Hokies attack, averaging 13.8 points and 5.6 assists, both team-highs. Four different players — Robinson, Justin Bibbs, Ahmed Hill and Nickeil Alexander-Walker — have hit at least 50 3-pointers this season, which will stretch the Alabama defense.
TV: 9:20 p.m. ET, TNT
ABOUT ALABAMA (19-15): Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson is confident he’ll have forward Donta Hall available for the NCAA Tournament after Hall suffered a concussion in the team’s quarterfinal win over Auburn in the SEC tournament Friday. Hall missed the semifinal loss to Kentucky on Saturday, but Johnson says the 6-10 junior is in concussion protocol and he’s optimistic he’ll have the team’s second-leading scorer (10.9 points per game) and top rebounder (6.8) and shot-blocker (2.1) against the Hokies. Freshman Alex Reese started in Hall’s place against Kentucky, finishing with five points and four rebounds in 19 minutes in his first-ever collegiate starting assignment.
ABOUT VIRGINIA TECH (21-11): Coach Buzz Williams is hoping his team got their postseason stinker out of its system at the ACC tournament, when the Hokies led Notre Dame by 21 with just over 15 minutes to play and lost. Virginia Tech likes to dare teams to beat it from the outside because of the small lineup Williams plays, trying to pack the lane and prevent easy drives to the basket, and the Irish were able to take advantage from the perimeter. Williams will certainly be on the lookout for a hot shooting team, whether it be Alabama or any future opponent, and try to extend the defense more, but the Hokies have at least learned that no lead is safe in a one-and-done situation.
1. Alabama ranked 13th in the Southeastern Conference this season in free-throw percentage, hitting just 67.2 percent of its attempts.
2. Virginia Tech was one of only three teams in the ACC with a negative rebounding margin, allowing opponents to grab 1.5 more boards per game.
3. The winner of this contest will advance to the second round Saturday to face either No. 1 seed Villanova or the winner of the Long Island-Radford First Four contest.