Alabama Basketball: Crimson Tide Elite Eight Path

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

How does Alabama Basketball get to a level the program has reached only once before? It takes three NCAA Tournament wins and given the Tide plays a 16-seed in game one, only two games are in doubt.

As the No. 1 overall seed, Alabama Basketball has a favorable bracket. Favorable does not mean easy. On the Tide’s projected path to an Elite Eight are teams capable of pulling off an upset. For a couple of them, beating Alabama would not even be a ‘major’ upset.

To consider the Tide’s path, let’s focus on four teams and the opponents of two of them.

After Alabama dispenses with TAMU-CC or SEMO, the Tide will take on the winner of Maryland vs. West Virginia.

Maryland has not done well in road games this season. At home, the Terrapins have beaten Indiana, Purdue, Penn State and Northwestern. Maryland’s single home loss of the season was 87-60 to UCLA in mid-December. They lost to Tennessee by three on a neutral court and lost to Purdue in West Lafayette by three points. Maryland plays at an opposite tempo to the Crimson Tide and one result is limited turnovers. They are very good at defending three shooters.

West Virginia is a typical Bob Huggins team comfortable playing aggressive, physical defense. Huggins has had better defenses in his long career, but this season, any defensive weaknesses have been countered by above-average help from a potent offense. The Mountaineers beat TCU, Auburn, Kansas State and Iowa State twice. They almost won on the road against KU, losing 76-74 on Feb. 25.

Alabama, playing one of its better games should be too much for Maryland or West Virginia. The Mountaineers are the most likely opponent. Alabama playing at its best wins by high, double digits. Alabama not having one of its better games will not have an easy time with either team.

Alabama Basketball from Birmingham to Louisville

With a win Saturday in Birmingham, the Alabama Basketball scene shifts to Louisville. The most likely opponent in the Tide’s Sweet 16 game would be the winner of San Diego State (SDSU) and Virginia.

Before that SDSU must beat Charleston and Virginia must beat Furman. The College of Charleston Cougars are a better-than-average, double-digit seed. SDSU could play poorly and lose. But SDSU is a veteran team that consistently plays tough defense. The Cougars are 31-3 and on a 10-game winning streak. Even so, SDSU will be unimpressed.

At 27-7, Furman loves to shoot threes, and when not taking treys, it’s made 2PT percentage is over 60%. They don’t rush tempo, but Virginia’s slow pace will give the Paladins even fewer possessions than in their normal games. The Cavaliers should be too much for Furman, with a small chance the Paladins are super-hot outside the arc and Virginia can’t keep up offensively.

Alabama Basketball vs. Virginia or San Diego State

Many Alabama basketball fans may be surprised but the Aztecs are the better team. Playing faster than Virginia’s snail’s pace, SDSU never rushes possessions either. The Cavaliers are tough defenders but the Aztecs are better. SDSU might be better than UVA offensively, but not by much. In a tight game, San Diego State should advance.

Whether Alabama plays SDSU or UVA, the stark contrast in tempo will strongly influence the outcome. The team that imposes its will in tempo, should have an advantage. As good as the Aztecs and Cavaliers are defensively, Alabama has played better defensive teams. Tennessee, Houston and Mississippi State are better defensively and the Crimson Tide won four of five games against those teams.

There is an interesting data point comparison between Alabama and Virginia. The turnover margin for Virginia is (+3.8); for Alabama, it is (-2.3). Vastly different tempos explain some of the difference. But in tight games, with time winding down, teams that most value possessions usually win.

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Check back with Bama Hammer for more, and deeper dives into Alabama’s NCAA Tournament opponents.