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Maryland men’s basketball NCAA Tournament preview: Round of 32 vs Alabama

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The Terps look to secure the upset over the No. 2 seed Crimson Tide.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Maryland at Connecticut Joshua Bickel-USA TODAY Sports

For its second consecutive NCAA Tournament trip, Maryland men’s basketball will be playing in the Round of 32.

The No. 10 seeded Terps shocked many around the nation with their 63-54 win over No. 7 seed UConn in the first round, dispatching the Huskies with one of their best offensive performances of the year, shooting north of 50% from the field and from beyond the arc for the third time this season.

But for as impressive as Maryland was offensively, its defense continued to play with stellar toughness as well. Projected lottery pick James Bouknight was completely taken out of his game, kept to just 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting, while UConn’s 54 points were a season low.

“Guys are really proud of themselves,” head coach Mark Turgeon said after Friday’s game. “We all stuck together. You know, we’ve become incredibly tough-minded and tough physically. And we really lock in on defense. It’s the only chance we have. It’s really the only chance we have. If we don’t guard we have no chance.”

But as is always the case for a low-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament, once you clear one challenge, a greater one awaits. Maryland meets No. 2 seed Alabama in the Round of 32, marking just the fifth meeting all-time between the two programs and the first since 2013.

The action between the Terps and the Tide is scheduled to begin at 8:45 p.m. ET from Banker’s Life Fieldhouse and will be televised on TNT.

Alabama Crimson Tide (25-6, 16-2 SEC)

2019-20 record: 16-15, 8-10 SEC

Head coach Nate Oats has transformed Alabama’s basketball program into a national power in just two seasons at the helm in Tuscaloosa. As the program’s third different head coach in four seasons, Oats’s success has far surpassed that of any of his predecessors in recent memory.

The Crimson Tide began the 2020-21 campaign right on the fringe of the AP Top 25, ranking at No. 25 in the country before suffering a blowout defeat to Stanford in the Maui Invitational. Two more losses to the likes of Clemson and Western Kentucky over its next five games had Alabama at 4-3 through seven games, with even tougher competition awaiting in SEC play.

But Oats’ squad flipped the switch from that point on, winning 10 straight games and each of their first nine games of conference play to rise all the way into the top 10 in the country. The Tide only dropped three more games the rest of the season to secure the SEC regular season title, winning each of their three SEC Tournament games as well to win the SEC tournament for good measure. Oats’s 21-3 finish to the season tied a program record for conference wins in a season (16) and earned him SEC Coach of the Year honors.

“I said last night that they’re the fifth No. 1 seed,” Turgeon said. “Any team that wins a Power 5 conference league and tournament is a special team.”

Players to Know

Herbert Jones, senior guard/forward, 6-foot-8, 210 lbs., No. 1 — Simply put, there aren’t many things that Jones doesn’t do well. He’s capable of scoring both at the rim and from beyond the arc, boasting a field goal percentage of 44.4% and three-point percentage of 37.7% to go with his 11.5 points per game. Jones also led the team in rebounds per game (6.5), assists per game (5.9), blocks per game (1.1) and steals per game (1.8) this season.

Jones’s unbelievable display on both ends of the floor this season hasn’t gone unnoticed either, earning SEC Player of the Year, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-SEC and SEC All-Defensive Team. No matter what side of the floor the opponent is one, its dealing with a handful in Jones on each and every possession.

“Herb Jones is great basketball player,” senior guard Darryl Morsell said. “He makes plays for others, he makes everybody around him better, makes the game easier for his teammates.”

Jaden Shackelford, sophomore guard, 6-foot-3, 200 lbs., No. 5 — After an impressive debut campaign in which he landed on the SEC All-Freshman team, Shackelford has continued to develop into a capable offensive threat in his second season in Tuscaloosa. The sophomore paces the talented Crimson Tide attack at 14.1 points per game, doing so on shooting clips of 40.8% from the field and 33.3% from three-point range, good enough to land on him Second Team All-SEC.

John Petty Jr., senior guard, 6-foot-5, 184 lbs., No. 23 — Petty joins Jones as a member of the First Team All-SEC for this year’s Alabama’s squad, serving as the calming, senior presence in an otherwise inexperienced back-court. Petty’s size makes him capable of scoring both at the rim and from beyond the arc, scoring 12.2 points per game this season on 42.2% shooting and 37.0% from deep. He’s also extremely willing and capable on the glass, finishing second on the team in rebounding at 5.5 boards per game.

Strength

Three-point shooting. This Alabama team plays a very modern brand of basketball, meaning a majority of its shots come either at the rim or behind the three-point line. And it’s been from beyond the arc that Alabama has killed teams from, with 46.6% of its field goal attempts coming from three-point range to lead the country in attempted three-pointers and made three-pointers, while converting on them at a 35% clip. The Tide have seven different players that shoot above 35% from deep this season, led by sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly, who ranks seventh in the country with a 44.9% mark from three-point land.

No. 15 seed Iona managed to hold Alabama to just a 5-of-16 (31.3%) three-point shooting performance in their first round matchup, which was why the Gaels managed to hang in for as long as they did. If the Terps are going to do the same, they will need to follow that formula.

Weakness

Turnovers. One of the downsides of Alabama’s fast-paced offense is that it can at times result in the Tide playing loose with the ball. Alabama committed 438 turnovers this season and averaged 14.0 turnovers per game, ranking 343rd and 226th in Division I in each of those respective categories. Turnovers can change the complexity of any given game, and if Maryland’s defense can routinely force the Tide into mistakes, it could swing the game in the Terps’ favor.

“I think we have one of the most consistent defenses in the country,” junior guard Aaron Wiggins said. “When we rely on our defense, we get stops, even if the offense isn’t going for us ... it’s been really good for us and guys have bought into it.”

Three Things to Watch

1. Will Maryland be able to play at its own pace? The Terps have defied the odds all season long, defeating high-caliber opponents thanks to its efforts on the defensive end of the floor. But Monday’s contest is sure to be the toughest challenge Maryland has faced all season, tasked with shutting down one of the most high-powered offensive attacks in college basketball season. Per Kenpom, the Crimson Tide offense is one of the most fast-paced in the nation, ranking ninth in adjusted tempo and first in offensive average possession length. Alabama also forces teams to slow things down on the other end, ranking 255th in defensive average possession length (Maryland ranks 337th).

Alabama’s stop-start pace of play has thrown teams off all season long, as opponents struggle to play within their own rhythm and tempo as a result. Whether or not Maryland can manage Alabama from controlling the tempo could decide Monday’s contest.

“We’ve got to play Maryland basketball to have a chance,” Turgeon said. “It’s going to take an unbelievable effort defensively for us, but we’ve been preparing for teams like Alabama all year.”

2. What can Galin Smith provide against his former team? Though the Tide are an unfamiliar foe for Maryland as a program, they will be anything but that for Maryland’s senior forward. Smith transferred from Alabama this past offseason, joining the Terps as a graduate transfer ahead of this season. Though Smith may not see as much of the floor in Monday’s meeting between two teams that prefer to stretch the floor, his knowledge of the Alabama’s program and system could pay dividends on Monday night.

3. How will the two small-ball lineups matchup? Maryland has often been at a significant size disadvantage in games this season due to its small-ball approach. But the playing field definitely appears a lot more level to Maryland players, who noted some key similarities.

“I mean, they’re a really good team, but I do think that we have similar matchups in terms of size and stuff like that,” Wiggins said. “I think they kind of play a little bit of small ball, pick and pop type type basketball, and that’s what we’ve excelled at over the...second half of the season.”

Morsell added: “I would say this finally the first time, you know with us being in the Big Ten, it’s finally the first time we facing a team that’s...comparable to us. They play small ball, we got a lot of similar sized guys, so we’ll be able to match up with them pretty well.”

Predictions

Vegas: Alabama -4.5

ESPN BPI: 29.3% chance of Maryland win

Kenpom: Alabama 71, Maryland 67

Me: Alabama 75, Maryland 65