UPDATE: We'll use this as our open thread. TV coverage via ESPN2, radio coverage on the Crimson Tide Radio Network, and GameTracker available here.
The Crimson Tide basketball team managed to hold on to beat Oregon State on Thursday night in New York's Madison Square Garden despite surrendering a 15-point lead in the latter stages of the second half. After a severe Alabama scoring drought and some key missed free throws allowed Oregon State to tie the game with less than a minute to go, Trevor Lacey, who had another outstanding game and once again led the team in scoring, found an open Rodney Cooper in the corner who subsequently nailed the game-winning three-pointer with only seconds remaining on the clock.
The win over Oregon State underscored some concerns about this team, namely interior scoring and defensive rebounding, but at the end of the day Bama was still able to stake claim to a neutral court win over a major conference team that is expected to win a lot of games in the Pac 12 this season. Oregon State isn't a great team, but picking up wins like this early in the season will go a long way come Selection Sunday in March.
With the win in last night's 2K Sports Classic semifinal, the Tide will now advance to take on the Villanova Wildcats of the Big East conference in tonight's final. That game is scheduled to tip off at 6:30 CT and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
Like Alabama, Villanova will enter tonight's final with a perfect 3-0 record. The Wildcats took down Division II District of Columbia as well as Marshall at home last weekend, and then pulled out a dramatic, comeback win in overtime over Purdue in last night's second semifinal at the Garden.
Villanova, which appeared in the Final Four as recently as 2009, has slipped a bit as a program in the last few years, and bottomed out when they finished near the bottom of the Big East last season. However they entered this season expected to be much improved, and were projected to finish near the middle of the pack in the Big East.
The Wildcats are lead this season by a freshman, 6'3" guard Ryan Arcidiacono, who leads the team in minutes played, scoring, assists, and three-point shooting--in other words just about everything from the perimeter. A trio of 6'6" wing players are the next three leading scorers: junior James Bell, sophomore Darrun Hilliard, and sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston.
Seniors Maurice Sutton and Mouphtaou Yarou and freshman Daniel Ochefu split time in the paint, each standing at least 6'11". While the Wildcats have size, they lack a dominant inside presence, which is good thing matchup-wise for the Tide.
Much like Oregon State, Villanova will present Alabama with a major-conference opponent who will test the Tide physically. However, like Oregon State, Villanova is far from a world-beater this year, and this is a very winnable game for Bama. Vegas has the Tide a 3.5-point favorite.
Neither a win nor a loss would be likely be a game-changer on the Tide's postseason resume, but a win would put Alabama in the enviable position of having three quality wins already on the resume by middle November, something that would put the team in fantastic position moving forward this season. A third win on national television and an early-season tournament title in Madison Square Garden would also not be bad for the team's confidence and the program's stature as the 2012-2013 season gets underway. Hope for the best.