The depth and talent of Alabama men’s basketball has baffled teams all season. With few exceptions, the Crimson Tide has put together elite stretches of basketball, and even when it’s not playing its best or healthiest, it’s still handily beating teams by double digits.
Through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, one question has been posed to the two coaches that the Tide have bounced off: How good is Alabama?
The first to be asked was Steve Lutz, then head coach of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Islanders played Arizona, the No. 2 seed in the South Region, on Dec. 13, losing 99-61. Comparing the Tide and Wildcats, Lutz said it would be like “splitting hairs” between two title contenders. But he said Thursday before 15th-seeded Princeton upset Arizona and before Alabama’s path to its first Final Four in program history got a lot easier.
Maryland and coach Kevin Willard called the 2022-23 Tide one of the most talented the sport has seen in nearly 20 years. The Terrapins found success stopping the game, limiting Alabama to eight fastbreak points and 11 bench points. They hung for a half. Foul trouble for Julian Reese and a lack of offensive firepower set up an upset bid. Willard was asked how to handle Alabama’s depth for 40 minutes.
“To be honest with you, I think you have to play (like us) to beat them,” Willard said. “I looked at Houston. I think Houston has the defense that they can get up and down. They have one-on-one players – did UCLA win? I think (UCLA head coach Mick Cronin) has the talent to run up and down with them a little bit. I just — they have, you know, they come off the bench, you know, seven-foot-one, six-foot-11, six-foot-eight. Jaden Bradley is an All-American; he comes off the bench. We knew we had to slow down.”
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Per The Lines, Alabama opens as a seven-point favorite against the Aztecs. Nate Oats and co. has the best odds to reach the national semi-finals at -125 (meaning you have to bet $125 to win $100, a total payout of $225). That’s with Alabama hitting its field goal percentage (44.4%) just twice this month.
As of Sunday morning, the final day of the second round, two No. 1 seeds have lost in Purdue and Kansas. In the Tide’s corner of the bracket, No. 4 Virginia also dropped its opener. To reach Houston, Alabama must overcome No. 5 San Diego State on Friday and the winner of No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 6 Creighton on Sunday.
“Not really, we’re just kind of focused on our task at hand, our road to the national championship,” Jahvon Quinerly said after scoring a team-high 22 points against Maryland. “Obviously we saw Virginia and Arizona lose, but we didn’t really talk about it that much. I feel like we’re just focused on the next opponent. … We all know that anybody can win in March. We’re focused right and delete the task.
In Alabama’s five losses, some commonalities emerge in the box: Alabama hasn’t made more than nine 3s in each of its losses; its field-goal clip hovered near 40%; there were an average of 18.6 turnovers in those games.
Three teams remain in the NCAA Tournament that have taken down Alabama this season. it could play four-seed Tennessee in the Final Four and either No. 3 Gonzaga or No. 1 Houston in the championship. The fact that Alabama has room to improve, at least on offense, and is not yet threatened only strengthens the case for a historic run.
Nick Alvarez is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @nick_a_alvarez or send him an email at [email protected].