Round of 32 Preview: Alabama vs. Maryland

Round of 32 Preview: Alabama vs. Maryland

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Maryland Terrapins

Line: Alabama -8.5

Total: 143

Where: Legacy Arena, Birmingham, Alabama

When: Saturday, 3/18 at 9:40 p.m. ET

TV: TBS

Top-seeded Alabama left its backers with a sour taste in their mouth when the Crimson Tide failed to cover their first-round spread against No. 16 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

They closed as 24.5-point favorites in that Thursday matchup, but many bettors had backed the spread at 23, 23.5 and 24. Texas A&M-CC drilled a last-second 3-pointer to lose by 21 points, covering every number.

Alabama will have another chance to cover as a heavy favorite when it faces No. 8 seed Maryland in the second round of the 2023 NCAA Tournament. The Terrapins advanced to the Round of 32 with a 67-65 win over West Virginia as 2.5-point underdogs in the opening round, covering the spread for the fifth time in their last seven games.

Oddsmakers opened Alabama as an 8-point favorite, but the early betting action pushed the line up to -8.5 as of Friday evening. Saturday night’s total opened at 143 before getting bet up to 144, and then right back down to 143 points. Both teams have seen the ‘under’ go 4-1 their last five games.

While the betting storyline from Alabama’s first-round game was its inability to cover the spread despite racing out to a 20-point halftime lead, the prevailing headline was Brandon Miller’s groin injury. The SEC Player of the Year was held scoreless on five shots in 19 minutes after being held out of live drills during practice.

“It obviously wasn’t one of his better games to open,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “But I think knowing Brandon and how tough he is, physically, mentally, I think he’ll be ready to go.”

Miller led Alabama in scoring in eight out of nine games prior to Thursday’s contest. Nick Pringle stepped up with 19 points and 15 rebounds, and the Crimson Tide drilled 15 3-pointers as a team.

They rank No. 19 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings, but their defense has been their calling card throughout the year. Alabama has the top-ranked defensive field goal percentage in college basketball and ranks third in adjusted efficiency.

“I think this is the most talented roster I’ve seen in college basketball since the ’93-’94 Kentucky team,” Maryland coach Kevin Willard said. “I think Coach Pitino’s ’93 team, with Antoine Walker, Walter McCarthy. This team reminds me of that team with the length, athleticism, how unselfish they play, very similar point guards.”

Maryland, meanwhile, relies on a roster that is the tenth-most experienced in the country. The veteran leadership paid off down the stretch of a back-and-forth game with West Virginia on Thursday, escaping when the Mountaineers missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer.

They scored just four points in the first nine minutes before clawing back to take the lead at halftime. Sophomore forward Julian Reese led four double-digit scorers with 17 points and nine rebounds, while senior forward Donta Scott had 11 points and eight boards.

“It says a lot about our character to me,” guard Hakim Hart said. “It shows we’re going to keep continuing to (fight). No matter what the outcome could be. Just keep continuing to keep fighting.”

Maryland has been a balanced team this season, ranked No. 29 in offensive efficiency and No. 32 in defensive efficiency. Neither one of these teams has been very effective from the perimeter, with Maryland at No. 219 in 3-point percentage (33.0) and Alabama at No. 169 (34.2).

Alabama has covered the spread in six of its last seven games against Big Ten teams, while Maryland is 5-1 ATS in its last six games against SEC opponents. The Crimson Tide have only covered once in their last six NCAA Tournament games.

The pick: Alabama -8.5

Alabama should have covered the spread on Thursday even with Miller’s scoreless outing, and it has too much firepower for Maryland to handle in the second round. The Crimson Tide have won their last four games by an average of 18.5 points, while Maryland ranks outside the top 200 nationally in scoring. The Terrapins have not scored more than 70 points in their last five games, averaging 64.6 points during that stretch. Their defense might keep them in this one during the first half, but Alabama should ultimately cruise to the finish line with its overwhelming talent, defense and crowd advantage.

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