The number one overall seed Crimson Tide takes on the five-seed Aztecs in a Sweet Sixteen matchup Friday. Nate Oats and his up-tempo offense will square off against the always stout Aztecs defense.
Per Jon Rothstein, the health of contentious star Brandon Miller will be a story, as he still has a nagging groin injury. Alabama’s life on offense will be significantly more difficult if he is limited as a player like he was against Texas A&M-CC—however, his play against Maryland points to much better health.
Time: 6:30 EST
Odds: Alabama -7.5, 137
Alabama Wins If…
They control the interior on both sides. Alabama has the second-best defensive shooting percentage on “close twos,” per T-Rank. Forwards Charles Bediako and Noah Clowney do a remarkable job of rebounding and consistently being in excellent defensive positioning to contest shots. While not attempting many shots at the rim, the Aztecs are very efficient. Alabama may be in trouble if the Aztecs find ways to convert their opportunities there. Despite the elite defense, they are going up against, matchup advantages due to size should permit ample scoring opportunities. Aztecs’ guard Lamont Butler will only be able to take one guard, and it remains to be seen which Aztec shadows Miller.
San Diego State Wins If…
They do the little things. The Aztecs have little margin for error in this game. They need to take care of the ball and attack the glass. Despite their athleticism and length, Alabama turns teams over at a low rate and is in the bottom half of the nation in turnover percentage on offense. This Aztec defense will cause issues for the Alabama offense. Despite giving up some size, they have switchability and thrive in pick-and-roll defense. They maintain a high and consistent level of ball pressure, especially on guards. Finally, they will need to rebound. Alabama can be susceptible to allowing second-chance opportunities, which the Aztecs need to compensate for inefficiency on offense. On the other end, Alabama will crash the offensive glass relentlessly, and with long rebounds, the Aztec defense can not get lost.
Players to Watch
Charles Bediako, C
His presence in the middle of the floor is paramount to the success of the Crimson Tide. He has so much gravity on defense, and his presence alone causes drivers to back out of the lane.
Aguek Arop, F
The unquestioned “glue-guy” on the team, Arop will see time on Brandon Miller. He leads the team in Box +/-, and his presence is evident on both ends. If one player impacts the “little things” mentioned above, it will be AG.
Although this matchup allows the Aztecs to win on the margins, it may not be enough. Nevertheless, Alabama is the deserved favorite, and I expect them to win a close game. I am a lifelong fan of the Aztecs, so I will be sweating this game out to the buzzer!