Maryland men’s basketball is on to the round of 32 for the second time in three seasons. The Terps survived a thriller against No. 9-seed West Virginia in the round of 64 to advance. Now Maryland has its toughest test of the season when it takes on No. 1 overall seed Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama, on Saturday at 9:40 p.m. ET.
Perhaps Maryland’s difficult nonconference schedule that included tilts with Tennessee and UCLA — both losses — prepared Maryland for this moment. If Maryland knocks off the Crimson Tide, it would be a monumental upset.
Alabama has had a historic season in a multitude of ways. Although off-court issues have created a dark cloud around the program, it has remained dominant on the court. Alabama lost just five times this season, and just twice in conference play. It captured the regular-season SEC title and then steamrolled the field to earn a conference tournament title as well. The only thing left for Alabama to accomplish is to hoist the national championship trophy in April.
As the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, Alabama got the luxury of playing its first two games in its backyard. Birmingham is less than an hour drive from Tuscaloosa, and Alabama fans showed out in waves for its first-round game. They certainly will do the same on Saturday, which is sure to create a hostile environment for a Maryland team that has struggled on the road all year.
Alabama Crimson Tide (29-5, 16-2 SEC)
Alabama head coach Nate Oats has created a world where Alabama is relevant all year round, not just when its football team takes the field in the fall. Oats is in his fourth season as head coach of the Crimson Tide and has guided Alabama to the NCAA Tournament the last three seasons. This year was by far Alabama’s best under Oats as the Crimson Tide have already captured two titles this season.
Alabama cruised through the SEC, but has some huge nonconference wins as well. It defeated Michigan State, North Carolina, Memphis and Houston. It does, however, have losses to UConn and Gonzaga, two national title contenders.
Players to know
Brandon Miller, freshman forward, 6-foot-9, No. 24 — Miller is as good of a three-level scorer that exists in college basketball. He can handle the ball, shoot from the outside, create his own shot and finish at a high level. When he gets going, he’s quite frankly unstoppable. He’s averaging 19.6 points per game this season and shooting 40.1% from three. However, after Alabama’s first-round win, Oats said Miller has been dealing with a groin injury. Miller played just 19 minutes and scored zero points against Texas A&M Corpus-Christi on Thursday.
Mark Sears, junior guard, 6-foot-1, No. 1 — Sears is Alabama’s second-leading scorer at 12.8 points per game. He is used in on-ball and off-ball situations and can score in a variety of ways. Like many guys on Alabama’s team, he is a capable 3-point shooter, knocking down 36% of his attempts from distance.
Jahvon Quinerly, senior guard, 6-foot-1, No. 5 — Quinerly often runs the show for Alabama as the initiator of the offense. He’s a dynamic guard who flourishes in open space because of his quickness. He only averages 8.1 points per game but leads the team in assists and shoots 34% from deep.
Scoring. This Alabama team can flat-out score. Miller and Sears lead the scoring attack, but the Crimson Tide have a number of guys who can carry the scoring load. Alabama likes to push the ball in transition but can also break a team down in the half court. It averages 82.2 points per game, the sixth-most in the country and second-most among power conference teams.
Turnovers. For an offense as prolific as Alabama’s, it is often careless with the ball. Alabama averages 14 turnovers per game, so Maryland’s press could create havoc for Alabama’s ball handlers. If the Terps are going to keep it close, they will have to force turnovers that allow them to get out in transition.
Three things to watch
1. It will be another road game for Maryland. Everyone and their mother knows how bad Maryland has been on the road this season. It finished 1-9 in conference road games with its lone win at Minnesota. When Maryland played Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, although it was technically a neutral site game, it felt like a road game and the hostile environment hurt the Terps. Saturday’s round of 32 game against Alabama will be another road test for Maryland given the proximity of Birmingham to Tuscaloosa. It would be a miracle if, after all the road hardships Maryland endured, it finally overcame them with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
2. How will Maryland guard Miller? Miller is Alabama’s best player and perhaps the best player in the entire country. He is a surefire top-five pick in the NBA Draft based on talent. Questions persist regarding his involvement in a murder aided by his former Alabama teammate back in November, but Alabama never suspended nor disciplined him, and it has seemingly not impacted Miller’s play. Maryland has devised great game plans for opposing team’s best players, but it has have never faced someone as lethal as Miller. As previously mentioned, Miller is slightly banged up, but how much that will impact him and how Maryland can exploit that is unclear.
3. Can Jahmir Young bounce back? After a phenomenal regular season, Jahmir Young has struggled in the postseason — in both the Big Ten Tournament and his lone NCAA Tournament game. Teams are constantly blitzing Young’s screens and playing a physical brand of defense against him, which has troubled him. He had just 10 points on 1-for-5 shooting against West Virginia in the first round. Maryland’s offense will have to be prolific to keep up with Alabama’s, which means Young will have to be better.