No. 10 seed Maryland men’s basketball has the means to earn a Sweet 16 spot with a win over No. 2 seed Alabama

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

There truly isn’t a better time for Maryland to play its best basketball. But for round two, the Terps will have to hit a new gear and play even better if they’re looking to stay in Indianapolis another week. Of course, a little bit more of that March magic wouldn’t hurt either. 

It’s no secret that the odds are against the Terps as they head into the round of 32, but with the tumultuous regular season that Maryland left in its rear view, it’s clear odds, predictions and the like never really mattered.

“Nothing has ever been easy or given to us,” Darryl Morsell said. “So in order to win, we had to be the tougher one. But moving forward, we noticed that’s who we are, and we got to continue to be tough.”

Once again, it’ll be Maryland’s toughness and “want-to” that will largely decide its fate Monday night. Because, as it turns out, Alabama isn’t as imposing as its No. 2 ranking may imply. The Crimson Tide’s high octane, modern brand of basketball hasn’t looked the part as of late. 

Normally, Alabama pushes the court and annihilates its opposition with drive and kick threes. The style of play allowed the Tide to lead the nation in both three pointers attempted and made. And it’s also responsible for much of the dominance the program has enjoyed under the leadership of head coach Nate Oats.

But when the threes don’t fall, Alabama looks far less menacing. Just ask Iona, the Crimson Tide’s first round opponent and nearly their last of the season. The Gaels, much like the Terps, hang their hat on the defense and used it to stymie Alabama for around 35 minutes. 

The Crimson Tide snuck off with the win thanks to Iona’s self-inflicted mistakes (15 turnovers) and a late 11-0 run. But the Gaels halted the Tide with a stretched halfcourt defense that ultimately forced 14 turnovers and a more sluggish Alabama offense. 

The 31% mark from three that the Tide posted in their last matchup was exactly equal to the teams average from range over its last nine games. The Terps should be looking to replicate the impressive work of the Gaels but maintain the offensive cleanliness they’ve enjoyed for the latter half of the season. 

Iona had the blueprint, and Maryland has the pieces to complete the effort with a win.

Expect a sound defensive half court scheme coupled with a deliberate half court offense to avoid turnovers. Though head coach Mark Turgeon harped on using defense to mitigate Alabama’s attack, he noted it’s success would be predicated by the offense’s ability to deliver — namely guys like Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala. 

Maryland can make things even tougher for the Tide if they can crash the glass. 

“They send four guys [to the boards] like they haven’t eaten in a week,” Turgeon said. “They come crashing hard.”

For the first time in a long time, the Terps are set to face a reasonably sized roster. Alabama thrives with its four-guard lineup, much like Maryland, and reserves its traditional bigs for more unique circumstances. The Terps just have to find the delicate balance between a strong defense and an appropriate positioning effort early. 

“It’s finally the first time we facing a team that’s…comparable to us,” Morsell said. “They play small ball. We got a lot of similar sized guys, so we’ll be able to match up with them pretty well.”

As Big Ten teams drop out of the tournament like flies, Maryland can potentially last longer than the rest of its conference counterparts. The key will be returning to the lone word on the white board Saturday night and coupling it with some continuity from Saturday nights concerted performance.

“They’re a special team,” Turgeon said. “It’s gonna take an unbelievable effort defensively for us but we’ve been preparing for teams like Alabama all year.”