PITTSBURGH – Villanova’s Jalen Brunson does not often have to share top billing with anyone. The junior guard for the Wildcats is a national player of the year candidate and a possible first round NBA draft pick if he chooses to leave school.
But the first two questions he fielded on Friday were about Alabama guard Collin Sexton.
“He’s the whole package for that team,” Brunson said.
Alabama vs. Villanova
Schedule: Saturday at 11:10 a.m. central time
Where: PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh
Records: Alabama 20-15, Villanova 31-4
Radio: 95.3 FM
Brunson would know. Their statistics are similar despite big difference in styles. Brunson averages 19.3 points per game this season while Sexton is averaging 19.2. Brunson averages 4.7 assists per game, while Sexton averages 3.6.
Sexton is projected as a top-10 pick in this summer’s NBA draft. He’s already tested some of the best point guards in the country, such as Oklahoma’s Trae Young. Saturday’s matchup against Villanova may be the most intriguing yet.
“(Brunson) is a veteran player, so he knows the ins and outs,” Sexton said. “He knows how to score the ball and get his teammates involved. And it’s going to be exciting going against him.”
Brunson’s field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage are all better than Sexton’s this year. He averages fewer turnovers than the Alabama guard, too. But Sexton has been on a hot streak in the postseason. He’s averaged 26 points per game in the last four games, shooting 53 percent overall, 50 percent from deep and 83 percent at the free throw line.
The Crimson Tide could use another big game to knock off the top-seeded Wildcats. Alabama has already beat five teams that were ranked in the top 20 when they played this season. Villanova has a track record of early exits in the tournament, too. The Wildcats won the 2016 national championship but exited in the second round as No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Most of their roster wasn’t part of those games, though.
Some of those upsets were ancient history to Alabama’s freshman-heavy roster, led by Sexton. He would have been a high school freshman in 2014. That was before Avery Johnson even began recruiting him. Now Sexton has another chance to star against one of college basketball’s best.
“His ability to get the ball up and down the floor at an accelerated rate of speed is pretty… it’s a gift, okay? I haven’t seen that before much in my career,” Johnson said. “Obviously, he shoots it, but he just has a way of lifting his team up. For such a young man, at this stage of his career, he just kind of has that ‘it’ factor.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Georgia forward Yante Maten as a point guard.