#8 Virginia Tech vs. #9 Alabama
9:20 p.m (ET), TNT
Virginia Tech (21-11, 10-8 ACC)
Player to Watch: Justin Robinson: 13.8 PPG, 5.8 APG, 1.2 SPG
The Hokies’ most potent offensive threat, Robinson is the key that makes the engine go for the offense. While Robinson is the leading scorer for Buzz Williams, his primary role is handling the point guard position and making sure he can create opportunities for him and his teammates on the offensive end. Robinson is one of the main reasons Virginia Tech is one of the elite offensive groups in the country.
Along with Robinson, the Hokies have four other players who average double figures in scoring – Justin Bibbs, Kerry Blackshear Jr., Ahmed Hill, and Nickeil-Alexander Walker. On any given night any of these guys can beat you which makes them a nightmare for opponents. Virginia Tech is No. 12 in the nation in terms of effective field goal percentage, according to KenPom. That said, this team puts up a lot of points and take high percentage shots while doing it.
Alabama (19-15, 8-10 SEC)
Player to Watch: Collin Sexton: 19.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.5 APG
Sexton has done some pretty miraculous things during his freshman year but none may be better than the floater he hit as time expired to beat Texas A&M in the first round of the SEC Tournament. In the three games in the conference tournament, Sexton averaged 26.3 points which was a big reason the Tide were able to get past the Aggies and Auburn. As we’ve seen multiple times this year, Sexton has the ability to take over a game and will his team to victory. For example, in November when he almost singlehandedly won the game playing 5-on-3 against Minnesota. If this kid gets going, look out.
X-Factor: Donta Hall’s status
Hall, the second leading scorer for Alabama, went down with a concussion in the 81-63 win over Auburn on March 9th. His absence definitely played a factor in the Crimson Tide’s loss at the hands of Kentucky in the SEC semifinals. Head coach Avery Johnson said on Monday that Hall would be a game-time decision against Virginia Tech and he has made good progress based on recent workouts. Hall, an All SEC-Defense forward, led Alabama with 68 blocks on the year and has scored in double figures 18 games this season.
Match-Up to Watch: Justin Robinson vs. Collin Sexton
As I said earlier, both these point guards are the most important aspects of their team’s success. Robinson is more of a traditional point guard as he can score, dish it out to teammates and play defense while Sexton is more known for his explosiveness and scoring ability. This is contest is going to be a dogfight between these two and could go down as one of the more exciting positional matchups in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Key Stat: Alabama’s 3-point shooting
The Crimson Tide’s Achilles heel on the offensive end has been their 3-point shooting. Alabama shoots 32.4 percent (300th in the nation) from 3-point land and its biggest threat from beyond the arc, John Petty, was shooting 29 percent the last seven games before he went 5-of-9 against Kentucky on March 10th. If he can’t get it going from deep, all Virginia Tech has to do is force Alabama to beat them from deep which could be trouble for Avery Johnson and company.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 73, Alabama 68
While the Crimson Tide came to play in the SEC Tournament, the status of Hall concerns me and I don’t see them pulling this one out if he’s not at full strength. It’s a shame we won’t be able to see Sexton go up against Villanova’s Jalen Brunson in the second round.