BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Upsets ruined draws across the United States in the first three days of the NCAA men’s tournament, but in Birmingham, No. 1 seed Alabama went about its business efficiently and without question. The Tide started slow but stifled the Terps with defensive efficiency, a reminder of the multifaceted threat this team poses to all remaining opponents in the tournament.
Despite enduring an unusually tough night from the field, Alabama dispatched No. 8 seed Maryland 73-51, leaving no doubt that they will be the favorites in the number of games remaining in their season.
Before a very partisan Birmingham crowd, Maryland jumped out to an early 9-2 lead. The Terps spent the first half of the game doing what few teams have been able to do this season: frustrate Alabama with sloppy offensive play and poor shot selection, plunging the Crimson Tide offense into mud so thick that the No. 1 general could not. They didn’t even take their first lead until there was barely 7:30 left 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 at his pre-match press conference. “They’re going to press in a way that slows down the game, and we’re going to try to attack the pressure in a way that speeds up the game.”
Maryland’s problem is that Alabama is a hydra; shutting down the offense and the defense finds a way to keep the team in the game. Alabama limited Maryland to two separate first half stretches of seven and six minutes without scoring a field goal. A flurry of six Maryland points in the final 90 seconds of the half to pull within five made the 28-23 first half score a little more palatable, but the sloppiness was contagious; both teams finished the half shooting less than 40 percent.
Before the game, Maryland head coach Kevin Willard had high praise for Alabama’s roster. “Believe [Alabama] it’s 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 the length, the athleticism, how selfless they play, very similar point guards.”
Alabama began the second half looking a bit like the 1993-1994 Kentucky team, which lost in the round of 32, struggling to pull away from a clearly outmatched Maryland. But the Tide inevitably took advantage of Maryland’s cold shots, and by the time the half hit the 10-minute mark, Alabama had a 15-point lead and the game was pretty much in control.
If there’s a bright spot for Maryland, it’s that the Terps provided a defensive template for how to at least slow down the Tide: limit possessions, force Alabama to hit off-balance jumpers at midrange, and make the Tide pay for every basket. inside. Had Maryland been able to convert even a few more of their missed layups and open jumpers, this could have been a very different result. Expect upcoming Tide opponents to watch the tape of this game on repeat.
Saturday night’s game was a rematch — and a replay — of a 2021 Round of 32 game, where then-No. 2 seed Alabama blew out the then-No. 10 seed Maryland 96-77. The 2021 model Tide would go down as an upset in the next round to UCLA, the 11th seed; The future of version 2023 is still very bright.
The best news of the night for Alabama, aside from the obvious live-and-go final score, was Brandon Miller’s triumphant return to the top of the box score. A game after he failed to score a single point due to the effects of 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 play this entire tournament under a cloud thanks to his presence and that of other players in a murder on January 15. The death of Jamea Harris, who was shot and killed on Tuscaloosa’s Strip near campus, looms over the Tide season, even as Alabama tries to distance itself from the tragic events of that night. The further the tide goes, the more questions there will be about her performance in March, not her actions in January.
The devastation of the bracket in the South Region gives Alabama a well-lit path, though not necessarily an open road, to the Final Four. The Tide will take on fifth seed San Diego State next weekend, and No. 3 Baylor has yet to play on Sunday.