Alabama runs the business and dusts off Maryland to become the Sweet Sixteen
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — In the first three days of the NCAA men’s tournament, shattered staples caused an uproar across America, but in Birmingham, Alabama, the No. 1 seed, went about its business in an efficient and no-nonsense manner. The Tide started slow but smothered the terps with defensive efficiency, a reminder of the multi-faceted threat this team poses to any remaining opponents in the tournament.
Though Alabama suffered an uncharacteristically rough night off the field, Alabama sent Maryland 73-51 in 8th place and left no doubt that they will be the likely favorites in as many games remaining in their season.
Before a heavily partisan crowd in Birmingham, Maryland took an early 9-2 lead. The Terps spent the first half of the game doing what few other teams have been able to do this season: frustrating Alabama with sloppy offensive play and poor shot selection, and muddling the Crimson Tide offense so thick that the Overall No. 1 of the seed it didn’t even take the first lead until just 7:30 into the first half.
Alabama head coach Nate Oats predicted the first-half pace Friday afternoon. “They would like it slower. We want it to go faster,” he said in his pre-game press conference. “They will press in a way that will slow down the game and we will try to attack the pressing in a way that will speed up the game.”
The problem for Maryland is that Alabama is a hydra; turn off the offense and the defense finds a way to keep the team in the game. Alabama held Maryland twice for seven and six minutes in the first half without scoring a field goal. A flurry of six Maryland points in the last 90 seconds of the half to draw within five made the 28-23 first-half score a little more palatable, but the sloppiness was contagious; Both teams finished the half shooting with less than 40%.
Before the game, Maryland head coach Kevin Willard praised the Alabama roster. “I find [Alabama] is the most talented roster I’ve seen in college basketball since the ’93-’94 Kentucky team,” he said Friday. “This team reminds me of this team with the length, athleticism, how unselfishly they play, very similar point guards.”
Alabama started the second half looking a bit like the 1993-94 Kentucky team that lost in the Round of 32 and struggled to pull away from a clearly inferior Maryland. But the tide inevitably took advantage of Maryland’s freezing shooting, and by the time halftime hit the 10-minute mark, Alabama had a 15-point lead and the game was pretty much in control.
If there’s one bright spot for Maryland, it’s that the terps provided a defensive blueprint for how to at least slow the tide: limit possession, force Alabama into off-balance midrange jumpers, and make the tide pay for every inside basket . If Maryland could have converted even a few of their missed layups and open jumpers, this could have been a very different result. Expect Tide’s upcoming opponents to see the bond of this game in repeat.
Saturday night’s game was a rematch and replay of a 2021 Round of 32 game in which then-No. 2 seed Alabama blasted the doors to then-No. 10 seeds Maryland 96-77. The 2021 Tide model would drop upset in the next round at UCLA’s 11th place; The future of the 2023 version remains very bright.
The best news of the night for Alabama — aside from the obvious survival and progress bottom line — was Brandon Miller’s triumphant return to the top of the boxing score. A game after failing to score even a single point due to a groin injury, Miller found his footing and scored 19 points, second on the team to Jahvon Quinerly’s 22. Maryland’s Julian Reese led the Terps with 14 points but was in foul trouble most of the game.
Miller and the entire Alabama team will be playing this entire tournament under one cloud thanks to his presence and that of other players in a Jan. 15 murder. The death of Jamea Harris, who was shot on Tuscaloosa’s Strip near campus, is a priority during the tide season, even as Alabama tries to distance itself from that night’s tragic events. As the tide goes in, the questions will relate more to their performance in March, not their actions in January.
The devastation of the Brackets in the South Region gives Alabama a well-lit path, if not necessarily an open highway, to the Final Four. The Tide meets fifth-placed San Diego State next weekend, with No. 3 Baylor yet to play on Sunday.