After a thoroughly dominant win over the overmatched Islanders of 16th-seeded Texas A&M - Corpus Christi, the top-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide (30-5, 16-2 SEC; Kenpom: 2; T-Rank: 2; NET: 2) advanced to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons. And just like the last time the Tide did so in 2021, the Maryland Terrapins (22-12, 11-9 Big Ten; Kenpom: 19; T-Rank: 26; NET: 31) will be awaiting them in the Round of 32. After being broadcast on CBS in the opening round, Alabama can be found on TBS tonight - which you can stream, along with the entirety of March Madness, on SlingTV. I’m not sure why the Selection Committee is intent on having these two teams meet in the opening weekend of the tournament, but hopefully this year’s matchup will go as well as it did for Alabama two years ago:
In their First Round match-up, Maryland withstood West Virginia’s Bob Huggins-style pressure - coming back from down double-digits multiple times in the process - to win at the buzzer, when the Mountaineers’ Kedrian Johnson’s game-winning attempt came up just short of the rim. The Terps even pulled out the win without getting much of anything from their leading scorer, Jahmir Young, who battled foul trouble all game. All in all, it was a strong performance for a team that has had its issues away from their home in College Park, Maryland.
The biggest difference between the Terrapins of 2021 and now, is the man leading the charge. Mark Turgeon was let go last year after a decade at Maryland, and the Terps turned to Kevin Willard to try to bring back the glory days of the 90s and early 2000s under Gary Williams. Willard had spent the previous 12 seasons with Seton Hall, leading the Pirates to five NCAA Tournament appearances and a pair of Big East titles. Clearly, Year One in College Park has been a major success for him.
But as mentioned, Maryland has not been good on the road this season, and Saturday night’s tilt in Birmingham is essentially going to be a home game for the Crimson Tide. The Terps went 1-9 in Big Ten road games this year and got bounced by Indiana in a very pro-Hoosier “neutral site” match-up in the Big Ten Tournament. Alabama, of course, has had its own issues over the years playing at Legacy Arena - and there will be some hostile guests from Auburn rooting on the Terps since they got home-court advantage as a 9-seed for some reason - so something has to give in this one.
POINT 6’2 Jahmir Young (15.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.1 APG, 98.3 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 Donald Carey (7.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, 104.2 DRtg)
GUARD 6’6 Hakim Hart (11.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.6 APG, 100.1 DRtg)
WING 6’7 Donta Scott (11.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.6 APG, 98.9 DRtg)
POST 6’9 Julian Reese (11.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 94.7 DRtg)
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’3 Ian Martinez (5.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 100.6 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 Jahari Long (2.2 PPG, 1.1 APG, 104.0 DRtg)
WING 6’6 Patrick Emilien (2.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 99.8 DRtg)
One thing that hasn’t changed since 2021 is how much Maryland relies on their starters. All five of them average 25 minutes or more per game. The aforementioned Young is the engine that drives the bus for the Terps, as he is the go-to scorer (41.6%/31.3%/82.9%) and main distributor (22.5% AST%). Donald Carey and Hakim Hart are both decent scorers (Carey: 37.9%/33.9%/86.8%; Hart: 48.4%/33.9%/80.4%), but it’s their size that can give opponents a lot of issues. The Terps are quite big across the rotation, really. Hart’s defensive numbers are very average, but his ability to switch and defend nearly every position is critical for Maryland.
In the frontcourt, the Terrapins have two very good players that they get a ton of production from. Donta Scott joins Hart as guys who were around for these two teams’ previous tournament meeting, and as a stretch four, he’s a bit of a problem. He can step out and shoot it (39.8%/31.0%/78.1%) and he runs the floor quite well for a guy his size. As someone north of 10% in both REB% and AST%, he is a bit of a unicorn. Julian Reese is the lone true big man on the team. He came up huge in their opening win over West Virginia, ringing up 17 points, nine rebounds, and a trio of both assists and blocks. He’s an elite rebounder (16.5% REB%) and a strong shot-blocker (5.0% BLK%), and at 63.3% from the field, he can get the ball in the hoop at a high rate.
Depth is definitely a weakness for the Terps. Only three guys really get run off of the bench, and Ian Martinez’s shooting (45.1%/41.7%/79.2%) and Jahari Long’s playmaking (40.6%/40.0%/61.9%; 20.6% AST%) are the only things to really make note of. Emilien provides decent size.
Three Keys to Victory
- Supplemental Scoring for B Mill. Nate Oats made a surprising reveal earlier this week when he announced that Brandon Miller had been dealing with a groin injury during the SEC Tournament last week - when Miller won SEC Tournament MVP. Oats made it seem like he’d be 100% ready to go this week, but after Miller put up a doughnut in the scoring category in the opening game against the Islanders, Oats mentioned on Friday that Miller would not be doing any live drills during practice. So, Miller’s health status is clearly a concern going into this game tonight. If he can’t go - or if he plays at less than 100% again - the rest of the team is going to have to step it up again, as they did in the opening round. Seeing Mark Sears get hot on Thursday was huge. If he can get back to shooting the ball like he had most of the season, that would go a long way in making up for any drop-off in production from Miller.
- Pace and Pressure. Tonight’s game is going to be a classic clash of styles in tempo - Maryland is 320th in the country in pace, and we all know by now that Alabama is among the nation’s fastest. Further, Maryland has really had issues matching up with teams that get up and down the court, especially when they are away from home. If Alabama can dictate the tempo, the Terps are going to have a tough time keeping up. This is especially true considering they aren’t exactly a deep team. Defensively, the Tide needs to stay out on Maryland’s guards. They are a very iso-heavy team, so Alabama needs to keep the on-ball pressure high, while adjusting for any screens.
- Take Care of the Ball. Maryland is a very solid team, but there isn’t a whole lot that they do extremely well. One area that does meet that description is their ability to steal the ball. The Terrapins are 12th in the country in STL% at 7.2%. Part of the reason they were able to make multiple comebacks against West Virginia in the previous round is because they started giving Huggins a taste of his own medicine by applying full-court pressure on the Mountaineers and forcing them into a number of mistakes. I would expect the Terps to come out highly aggressive on-ball in this game. Expect to see traps and presses, especially after made baskets. They honestly have nothing to lose, as this season has already been quite the success for them in Willard’s first season at the helm, so they will likely be throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Tide.
A tenth Sweet Sixteen appearance is on the line for Alabama tonight. Additionally, with all of the major upsets that have taken place on the Tide’s side of the bracket - the highest seeded match-ups possible for Alabama in the second weekend were #4 Virginia and #2 Arizona - things are setting up perfectly for a first-ever appearance in the Final Four. But that’ll only matter if the Tide can take care of business and emerge victorious in Birmingham.
Alabama does find itself as the largest favorite of the Second Round, as DraftKings Sportsbook has the Tide installed as an 8.5-point favorite tonight. Can the Tide take down the Terrapins again and advance to the second weekend of the tournament for the 10th time? The game will tip-off at approximately 8:40 PM CDT - or about 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Auburn - Houston game - and will be televised on TBS.