Alabama minds business, dusting Maryland to move to Sweet Sixteen

Brandon Miller (left) and Alabama didn’t have much trouble sending Maryland to the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 18, 2023 in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Upheavals wreaked havoc across America on the first three days of the NCAA Men’s Tournament, but in No. 1-seeded Birmingham, Alabama took care of their business efficiently and without question. The tide started slow but smothered the Terps with defensive efficiency, a reminder of the multifaceted threat this team poses to any remaining opponents in the tournament.

Despite an unusually tough night on the court, Alabama dispatched No. 8 seed Maryland 73-51, leaving no doubt that they will be the likely favorites in the number of games remaining in their season.

In front of a very partisan Birmingham crowd, Maryland took a 9-2 lead. The Terps spent the first half of the game doing what few other teams have been able to do this season: frustrate Alabama in sloppy offensive play and poor shot selection, sinking the Crimson Tide offense into a mud. so thick that the No. 1 seed didn’t even take his first lead until just 7:30 remained in the first half.

Alabama head coach Nate Oats predicted the pace of the first half Friday afternoon. “They would like it to be slower. We would like it to be faster,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “They’re going to press in a way that slows the game down, and we’re going to try to attack the press in a way that speeds up the game.”

The problem for Maryland is that Alabama is a hydra; stop the attack and the defense finds a way to keep the team in the game. Alabama held Maryland to two separate periods of seven and six minutes in the first half without scoring a field goal. A six-point flurry from Maryland in the final 90 seconds of the half to shoot in the five made the 28-23 first-half score a little more palatable, but the sloppiness was contagious; both teams finished the half shooting within 40%.

Prior to the game, Maryland head coach Kevin Willard praised Alabama’s roster. “I think [Alabama] is the most talented roster I’ve seen in college basketball since Team Kentucky from 1993-94,” he said Friday. “This team reminds me of that team with the length, the athleticism, the selfless way of playing, very similar point guards.”

Alabama started the second half looking a bit like that Kentucky team of 1993-94, which lost in the Round of 16, struggling to pull away from a clearly outmatched Maryland. But the Tide inevitably took advantage of Maryland’s icy shot, and by the time halftime reached the 10-minute mark, Alabama had a 15-point lead and the game was pretty much in hand.

If there’s a bright spot for Maryland, it’s that the Terps provided a defensive template to at least slow the tide: limiting possessions, forcing Alabama into lopsided midrange jumpers, and making pay the tide for each inner basket. Had Maryland been able to convert a few more of their missed layups and open jumpers, it could have been a very different outcome. Expect the next Tide opponents to watch this game’s tape on repeat.

Saturday night’s game was a rematch and a repeat of a 2021 Round of 32 game, where then-No. 2 seeded Alabama blew the then-No doors. 10 seeds Maryland 96-77. The 2021 Tide model would fall upset in the next round of 11th-seeded UCLA; the future of the 2023 version remains very promising.

The best news of the night for Alabama — aside from the obvious survival and lead final score — was Brandon Miller’s triumphant return to the top of the box score. A game after failing to score even a single point due to the effects of a groin injury, Miller found his footing and scored 19 points, second on the team behind Jahvon Quinerly’s 22. Maryland’s Julian Reese led the Terps with 14 points but was on foul most of the game.

Miller and the entire Alabama team will be playing this entire tournament under a cloud thanks to his presence and that of other current and former players in a Jan. 15 slay. The death of Jamea Harris, who was fatally shot on the Tuscaloosa Strip near campus, weighs heavily on Tide’s season, even as Alabama tries to distance itself from the tragic events of that night. The further the tide goes, the more questions will be about their performance in March, not their actions in January.

The bracket devastation in the southern region gives Alabama a well-lit path, if not necessarily an open highway, to the Final Four. The Tide will face fifth-seeded San Diego State next week in the Sweet 16, with No. 3 Baylor yet to play their second-round match against Creighton on Sunday.

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