David Borne | Staff Writer
The first two rounds of NCAA Tournament competition are in the books, and Pittsburgh was lucky enough to play host to six of those games. It was a weekend packed with talent, including a number of future NBA Draft lottery selections. There was a lot to be impressed with this weekend, but a few players and teams stood out in particular.
Best Single-Game Performance:
Coming into the matchup between eighth-seeded Virginia Tech and No. 9 Alabama, it was common knowledge that Alabama would only goes as far as Collin Sexton took it. Sure enough, his 25-point performance against the Hokies in a winning effort ended up being the weekend’s best.
The freshman point guard initially got into quick foul trouble, and was forced to spend a good portion of the first half on the bench as a result. Virginia Tech limited Sexton to just three points in the first half.
Sexton returned from the halftime break well-rested and with a head of steam, and proceeded to put on a clinic. The NBA prospect finished with a game-high 26 points and added six assists.
Sexton was one of the main attractions heading into the weekend and certainly lived up to the hype. The combination of his individual effort, difficulty against a tough Hokies team and the fact that his team won was enough to deem Sexton’s March 15 performance the most impressive of the weekend.
Most Tightly-Contested Game:
The tournament’s festivities kicked off with No. 7 Rhode Island taking on tenth-seeded Oklahoma on Thursday afternoon, and sure enough, that ended up being the most exciting game played at PPG Paints Arena. While many fans in attendance originally had their eyes glued to future NBA talent Trae Young, Rhode Island’s impressive cast of guards maintained the viewer’s attention for large portions of the contest as the two teams went back and forth all afternoon.
While senior E.C. Matthews led the Rams in scoring with 16, it was a different Rhode Island guard that stole the show. Freshman Fatts Russell put up 15 points off the bench, 13 of which came in the second half. It was a definitive battle-of-the-guards as the combination of Russell and Matthews duked it out with Trae Young. Young finished with a game-high 28 points.
40 minutes was not enough to determine a winner, and the game was decided in overtime. Rhode Island pulled away in the additional period, but it was an impressive effort from both sides in what we know now to be Young’s final collegiate game, being that he declared for the NBA Draft days after his team’s loss.
Best Overall Weekend:
Marvin Bagley has been in the discussion as the top player in this year’s draft since he announced that he would reclassify to the 2017 recruiting class in August. He again proved why this weekend. Bagley dominated the Iona frontcourt in Duke’s first game on Thursday, finishing 10-14 from the field with 22 points. Additionally, he pulled down seven rebounds.
Bagley continued to excel against Rhode Island. The Rams were loaded with talented guards this season, but the Rams were not nearly as equipped below the basket. Bagley feasted in the paint and put out another 22-point game with nine total rebounds on Saturday, leading his cruising Blue Devils team to a Sweet 16 berth.
The freshman managed to display his ability to stretch the floor in Pittsburgh, as well, hitting a 3 in both games.
With top prospect DeAndre Ayton already eliminated from the tournament following Arizona’s upset at the hands of Buffalo on March 15, Bagley is without a doubt the best big man remaining. Syracuse stands a tall task in containing Bagley in the Sweet 16, as well as fellow freshman Wendell Carter Jr. Should Duke top the Orange, it will play the winner of No. 1 Kansas and fifth-seeded Clemson in the Elite Eight.
Team Looking the Most Dangerous:
When this top-seeded Villanova team gets into a rhythm, it seemingly just doesn’t miss shots. It’s as simple as that. The Wildcats coasted by No. 16 Radford and ninth-seeded Alabama in Pittsburgh, and their ability to shoot the long ball was a true beauty to watch. The ‘Cats scored 51 points off of long-range shots in their win over Alabama. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide scored just 58 points overall.
Villanova’s core of Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth already boasts plenty of tournament experience under its belt, and this Wildcats team looks beyond comfortable playing with each other. Jay Wright’s squad has the experience, star power and depth needed to bring home a second National Championship in three years.
While a majority of the weekend’s games finished with some pretty lopsided scores, it was still an unbelievable weekend to be a part of. The city of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University did a phenomenal job of hosting the event once again.