South Region preview: Alabama as controversial as it is impressive
A look at the best players, potential matchups, bracket busters and predicted champion of the NCAA Tournament’s South Region.
Controversial Crimson Tide have team to cut down nets
Sunday’s selection show on CBS offered some insight into how complicated it is to even discuss Alabama, the South Region’s top seed.
Nate Oats has perhaps the best team in the country. The Crimson Tide are explosive on offense and stingy on defense.
Alabama also has one of the best players in the country in Brandon Miller.
But there is that one thing.
Alabama “sidestepped a situation involving criminal activity in which Brandon Miller was associated,” Greg Gumbel said on the broadcast. “He was not charged. They are here as the No. 1 overall seed.”
Oh yes, that little thing. You know, when Miller allegedly transported a gun to the scene where, police say, a now-former teammate and his friend then killed a woman. Those two men have been indicted for capital murder.
Miller has not missed any playing time. He has not been charged with a crime, and prosecutors have said there really wasn’t a criminal case to be made against him.
The opportunity to win a national championship doesn’t come around often for most coaches, and this could be the best shot for Oats. But the way he and the college basketball world have dealt with the issue has been incredibly uncomfortable for some viewers.
It will continue to be that way as Alabama makes an expected deep run through the field.
Four players to watch
Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona: An ultimate competitor. Perhaps the best power forward in the nation, Tubelis felt snubbed when he didn’t win Pac-12 player of the year over UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. despite being the first player in 17 years to lead the league in scoring and rebounding. So he went out and led the Wildcats to the conference tournament title while winning most outstanding player. If you compare the two, Tubelis averaged 19.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and two assists, and Jaquez Jr. averaged 17.3 points (fourth in the Pac-12), 8.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
Keyonte George, Baylor: The freshman burst on the scene to make what was expected to be a good backcourt a great one. George led the team in scoring and was named the best freshman in the best league in the country. He’s part of a very balanced backcourt that saw all three starters make between 75 and 77 3-pointers.
Kihei Clark, Virginia: Yes, he’s still there. The diminutive point guard has played in 160 games for Virginia, winning 122 of them. He’s been part of three conference championship teams and a national title. Now he’s looking to engineer one last NCAA Tournament run.
Ajay Mitchell, UC Santa Barbara: The Belgium native followed up a conference freshman of the year campaign with a Big West player of the year award this season. He was among the league leaders in scoring, assists, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and steals.
Three potential matchups
Alabama vs. Arizona, Elite Eight: Not only would this potential regional final feature the top two seeds, it would pit two of the top scoring offenses against each other. Arizona (83.1 points per game) is just ahead of Alabama (82.7) in that category, but the Crimson Tide also have one of the best defenses in the nation.
Virginia vs. San Diego State, second round: Two programs that have been built on a foundation of defense will meet should they avoid first-round upsets. The Aztecs have more ability to score than some of their teams of the past, but this could become an absolute rock fight. First one to 50 wins.
Arizona vs. Baylor, Sweet 16: Maybe this should just be Arizona against anyone. This is a fun matchup for many of the same reasons the Arizona and Alabama game would be so much fun. These are two of the 16 most efficient offenses in the nation, and they have only met six times in history (3-3).
Two bracket busters
College of Charleston: The only thing that really stands out about this team is the 31-3 record. Charleston scores more than 80 points a game even though it’s not a particularly efficient offensive unit. The Cougars’ defense is similarly decent. But look up at the end of the game, and coach Pat Kelsey’s team tends to have more points than its opponent.
Furman: Most people have never written the name Furman in one of their brackets. That’s because this is its first tournament appearance in 43 years. The Paladins shoot a phenomenal 59.1 percent on 2-point field goals and love shooting the ball from the outside, too. They are led by Southern Conference player of the year Jalen Slawson.
Last team standing: Alabama
More chalk, but it’s that really good chalk that is hard to erase. This team is good, and it is battle-tested through all of the self-inflicted adversity it has had to overcome this season. It would have been easy for the team to fold when Miller was implicated in the tragic death of a woman, allegedly at the hands of one of his now-former teammates. Instead, Miller responded with one of his best games just after the news broke. There just aren’t many weaknesses on the roster.
Adam Hill Las Vegas Review-Journal
Teams in region
5. San Diego State
9. West Virginia
10. Utah State
11. North Carolina State
14. UC Santa Barbara
16. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi/SE Missouri State