Alabama takes care of business and dusts Maryland to advance to the Sweet Sixteen

Brandon Miller (left) and Alabama had little trouble dispatching Maryland in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 18, 2023, in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Upsetting series across America through the first three days of the NCAA Men’s Tournament, but in Birmingham, No. 1 Alabama went about its business efficiently and without question. The Tide got off to a slow start, but stifled the Terps with defensive efficiency, a reminder of the multi-faceted threat this team poses to all remaining tournament opponents.

Despite suffering an uncharacteristically tough night from the field, Alabama dispatched No. 8 seed Maryland 73-51, leaving no doubt that they are the odds-on favorite regardless of how many games are left in their season.

Before a heavily partisan Birmingham crowd, Maryland jumped out to 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 with sloppy offense and poor shot selection, jamming the Crimson Tide’s offense so thick that a complete No. 1 effort failed. didn’t even take their first lead until just 7:30 remained in the first half.

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

Maryland’s problem is that Alabama is a hydra; shut down the offense and the defense finds a way to keep the team in the game. Alabama held Maryland scoreless in two separate first-half stretches of seven and six minutes. A burst of six Maryland points in the final 90 seconds of the period within five made the 28-23 first-half score a little more palatable, but the sloppiness was contagious; both teams finished the half shooting under 40%.

Before the game, Maryland head coach Kevin Willard had high praise for Alabama’s roster. “I think [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 that team with length, athleticism, how unselfish they play and very similar point guards.”

Alabama started the second half looking a bit like the ’93-’94 Kentucky team that lost in the Round of 32 and struggled to pull away from clearly undefeated Maryland. But the Tide inevitably took advantage of Maryland’s stone-cold shooting, and when the half hit the 10-minute mark, Alabama had a 15-point lead and the game pretty much in hand.

If there’s a bright spot for Maryland, it’s that the Terps provided a defensive model to at least slow the Tide: limit possessions, force Alabama off-balance into mid-range jumpers and make the Tide pay for every inside basket. If Maryland could have converted a few more layups and open jumpers, this could have been a very different outcome. Expect the Tide’s future opponents to watch tape of this game again.

Saturday night’s game was a rematch and a repeat of the 2021 round of 32, where at the time no. 2 seed Alabama blew the doors off then-No. 10 seed Maryland 96-77. The 2021 Tide fell in the next round to No. 11 UCLA in an upset; the future of the 2023 version is still very bright.

The best news of the night for Alabama — aside from the obvious survival and advancement outcome — was Brandon Miller’s triumphant return to the top of the scoring charts. In one game after missing a single point with a groin injury, Miller regained his footing and scored 19 points, second only to Jahvon Quinerly’s 22 points. Maryland’s Julian Reese led the Terps with 14 points, but was involved. mistakes for most of the game.

Miller and the entire Alabama team will play under a cloud the entire tournament because of his presence and other current and former players in the Jan. 15 slaying. The death of Jamea Harris, who was shot near campus on the Tuscaloosa Strip, looms large over the Tidal season, even as Alabama tries to distance itself from the tragic events of that night. The further the Tide advance, the more the questions will focus on their performance in March, not their actions in January.

The devastation in the South 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, and third-seeded Baylor has yet to play its second-round matchup against Creighton on Sunday.

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