The Alabama Crimson Tide have to date proven able to live up to the hype surrounding them in the wake of their SEC championship season and 2-seed in the NCAA men’s basketball championship tournament. The Crimson Tide has advanced to the Sweet 16, marking the program’s first appearance in that round since 2004. They are on a collision course with 11-seed UCLA, who is still dancing after three wins in the tournament thus far. Alabama has achieved wins against 15-seed Iona, led by a former national title-winning head coach in Rick Pitino, and 10-seed Maryland, who toppled a Connecticut team which had received praise from tournament analysts in the lead-up to March Madness.
The Tide, known this season for beating their opponents from beyond the arc, did not experience an offensive explosion in the Round of 64. They fought off a tough, tournament-seasoned Iona Gaels team 68-55 for their first March Madness win since 2018. SEC Player of the Year Herbert Jones led Alabama in scoring with 20 points. The Gaels stayed with the Crimson Tide and the underdogs found themselves down at halftime by only a single point. The Tide, the nation’s top three-point shooting team, only converted at a rate of 31.3% for the whole contest. Nevertheless, Alabama was able to show why they are regarded as a national contender by many, finding efficient flow late in the game and outpacing Iona to go on a late run and seal the victory. The game did not remain in doubt as the final minutes ticked away.
In contrast to the at times sluggish offensive performance in the first round, the Tide reverted to their strengths and exploded against Maryland for an astounding 96-77 win that showed the best of what Bama has to offer. The Terrapins had beaten 7-seed Connecticut, led by one of the Big East’s best players in James Bouknight, to set up the meeting with the SEC champs. Alabama shot 48.5% from the three-point line. Jaden Shackleford led the team in scoring with 21, and seems to be returning to his sharpshooting form of late. Seniors Alex Reese and John Petty Jr, among other Tide players, found success from a perimeter shooting standpoint. Although they were down only eight at the half, Maryland was unable to respond to the Tide’s patented beyond-the-arc attack. Furthermore, they were outrebounded by a 40-19 margin. Alabama was also perfect from the charity stripe. The efficient and dominating overall performance earned the Tide their spot in the Sweet 16.
UCLA, the Crimson Tide’s next opponent, will certainly be a tough test. Don’t let the 11-seed fool you; this is the team which ousted the legendary Tom Izzo and his Michigan State squad before convincingly winning against 6-seed BYU and 14-seed Abilene Christian. Alabama cannot afford to turn in a performance which falls short of their best, but this outcome is unlikely at best, as SEC Coach of the Year Nate Oats always has the Tide ready to play. A win in the Sweet 16 brings them to the Elite Eight, the penultimate step in reaching the coveted Final Four. In a year which has been nothing short of spectacular for Bama basketball, they will now look to continue on their many successes and reach new heights for the program.