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Jumbo Package: Tide has a brunch date with Villanova

Notes from the NCAA tournament, upcoming spring football, and a roundup of the weekend’s spring sports action.

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Alabama v Virginia Tech Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Happy Friday, everyone. Congratulations to Avery Johnson and crew on a landmark achievement last night. A close win in a 8 v 9 matchup may not seem like much to some folks, but it’s hard to overstate the importance of a first NCAA tournament win in 12 years. Next up, #1 seed Villanova.

With the first-round victory, the No. 9-seed Crimson Tide (20-15) will next face No. 1-seed Villanova (32-4) on Saturday, March 17, in Pittsburgh.

The game will tip off at 11:10 a.m. CT and air on CBS, it was announced Thursday night.

Alabama-Villanova will be the first of eight Saturday games, and Duke-Rhode Island will air on CBS after the Crimson Tide and Wildcats conclude.

Being that Villanova lives and dies with the three-pointer, I think the early tip probably favors Alabama. Early games tend to be a slog, and shooting is usually the last thing to wake up. Of course, Villanova has been lights out all season. They launch a touch over 29 threes a game on average and make 11.5, for a cool 40% as a team. By contrast, John Petty is Alabama’s top shooter at a shade under 38%. The Wildcats have six players who have shot better than that, led by Naismith candidate Jalen Brunson at better than 43%.

Just how important is the three to these ‘Cats? Consider this: In Villanova’s 31 wins, they have shot 41.9% from beyond the arc. In their four losses, that number drops to 27.6%. They don’t rebound well and in fact basically don’t even bother on the offensive end, and frankly don’t play a ton of defense. Defend the three and you can get these guys, but everyone has known that all season. Considering the speed with which they play and their quick triggers, it’s much easier said than done. Some of the bad turnovers that we saw last night will turn into transition threes in this one, and could be fatal.

Hope for the best.

Jones was originally committed to UAB. He believed in what Johnson was doing at Alabama and went there instead.

”We went out and tried to outwork everybody for recruits, and a lot of these guys that are on our squad tonight, we got in the trenches with them early on -- some like Collin Sexton that nobody ever heard of before we even offered him,” Johnson said.

Johnson beat out Kentucky for Sexton and Petty, giving Alabama its best recruiting class in school history, but still there were doubters.

Yep. The path has not been as smooth as expected, but at this point it’s time for the doubters to shut up. Coming into the season a tournament berth was a reasonable expectation, and anything more than that would be considered a hands-down success. Here we are, and things are looking bright. The relief on Petty’s face as he and Johnson embraced after the game was special. Maybe that kid has worked it out and will be ready to be a prime scorer on next year’s squad. After he’s done filling it up for a few more games in this tournament, of course.

“I sat down and watched him and I was like ‘Whoa. He’s pretty good,’” Pettway said. “So you get to looking him up and he’s not ranked anywhere, and I’m like ‘Even better. That’s a diamond in the rough.’”

So Alabama started recruiting him and building a relationship, about a year before Sexton blew up nationally and began getting interest from schools such as Kansas and North Carolina.

”His whole junior year, I would drive over all the time to go watch him play,” Pettway said. “And I’d watch him play against guys that were going to North Carolina and guys that were really good and going to Georgia and Georgia Tech, and he was killing ‘em, 30 points, 40 points. But when I was over there, no other coaches would be there. So we just built a relationship with Collin. And he’s a loyal kid. So some of those blue blood schools came in later to offer him, but he said, ‘They didn’t want me back then, so why do they want me now?’ So he decided to stick with Alabama.”

Give the man a lifetime contract, right now. Pay him, Greg.

On to some football notes:

The Crimson Tide’s 2017 national championship team will visit and be honored at the White House April 10, it was announced Thursday.

It will be Alabama’s fifth White House visit since 2010 but the first with someone other than Barack Obama serving as president.

Ho, hum. Another trip to the White House.

A few spring previews:

Quarterback competition? Not really. Technically speaking, Alabama has yet to name a starter for the 2018 season, with Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts standing as options – though probably not on equal footing – entering spring drills. But let’s be honest: Tagovailoa is the starter after his second-half comeback in the title game against Georgia. Still, he’ll have to earn it. What Alabama does with Hurts and what his future may hold, meanwhile, stands as one of the most intriguing subplots across the Football Bowl Subdivision.

How will the secondary look? This is the biggest question mark for the team, in my opinion. We’ll hear a lot about Alabama’s quarterbacks, but if the secondary doesn’t come together, Alabama could struggle at times on defense. The good thing for the secondary is Alabama should have plenty of pass rushers to take away how much time opposing quarterbacks have in the pocket.

The future of the Mike and Will positions seems to be in the hands of Wilson and Moses, a pair of former 5-star recruits. If Moses has fully recovered from his foot injury, that’s the duo that we should see on the first day of spring football practice Tuesday, March 20.

Splitting time between baseball and football, Holcombe is entering his final season. If he decides to continue playing both sports, this will be the Tuscaloosa native’s last shot at locking down a full-time starting spot. He has the most experience, but he’s also hitting .386.

We have talked about all of these things here and will continue to do so as spring practice gets rolling. Don’t know if Keith has considered skipping football, but that seems to be the suggestion in the last piece.

Other notes:

That’s about it for today. Have a great weekend. Roll Tide.