Birmingham, Ala. — The first three days of the NCAA men’s tournament were in turmoil across America, but in Birmingham, No. 1 seed Alabama took care of its business in efficient, zero-suspicion fashion. The Tide got off to a slow start, but with defensive efficiency decimated by the Terps, this team served as a reminder of the multi-faceted threat to all opponents remaining in the tournament.
Despite suffering an uncharacteristically tough night off the field, Alabama dispatched No. 8 seed Maryland 73–51, leaving no doubt they would be the likely favorites, however many games remain in their season.
Before a heavily partisan Birmingham crowd, Maryland jumped out to an early 9–2 lead. The Terps did the first half of the game what few other teams have been able to do this season: frustrate Alabama with sloppy offensive playmaking and poor shot selection, sticking the Crimson Tide offense so thick in the ground that it’s ranked No. 1 overall. The seed did not grow. They didn’t even take their first lead until just 7:30 left in the first half.
Alabama head coach Nate Oates predicted the first half tempo Friday afternoon. “They would like it to be slow. We want it to be fast,” he said in his pregame news conference. “They’re going to press in a way that slows the game down, and we’re going to try to press in a way that speeds up the game.”
The problem for Maryland 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 without a field goal in two separate stretches of the first half of seven and six minutes each. 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 lethargy was contagious; Both teams finished the half shooting less than 40%.
Prior to the game, Maryland head coach Kevin Willard had high praise for the Alabama 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 the length, the athleticism, how unselfish they play, very similar point guards.”
Alabama started the second half looking a lot like that ’93-’94 Kentucky team that lost in the Round of 32, clearly struggling to pull away from unranked Maryland. But the Tide essentially took advantage of Maryland’s stone-cold shooting, and by the time the half hit the 10-minute mark, Alabama had a 15-point lead and the game was largely in hand.
If there’s one bright spot for Maryland, it’s that the Terps have at least provided a defensive template to slow the tide: limit possessions, force Alabama into off-balance midrange jumpers and make every interior basket. Pay for Tidal. If Maryland had been able to convert even a few of their missed layups and open jumpers, it could have been a very different result. Expect the Tide’s upcoming opponents to watch tape of this game on repeat.
Saturday night’s game was a rematch and repeat of the 2021 Round of 32 game, where then-No. 2 seed Alabama then shut the doors on—no. 10 seed Maryland 96-77. The 2021 Model Tide will upset 11th-seeded UCLA in the next round; The future looks very bright for the 2023 edition.
The best news of the night for Alabama – aside from the clear live and advance final score – was the triumphant return of Brandon Miller at the top of the box score. After one game of failing 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 Queenly’s 22. Foul trouble in most games.
Miller and the entire Alabama team will be playing this entire tournament under a cloud due to his and other current and former players’ involvement in the January 15th murder. The death of Jamia Harris, who was shot and killed on Tuscaloosa’s Strip near campus, weighs heavily on the Tide’s season, even as Alabama attempts to distance itself from that night’s tragic events. The further the Tide progresses, the more questions will center on their performance in March, not their actions in January.
The bracket destruction in the South Zone gives Alabama a well-lit path, if not an open highway, through the Final Four. The Tide will next face fifth-seeded San Diego State in the Sweet 16 next week, with No. 3 Baylor yet to play its second-round matchup against Creighton on Sunday.