The version of Alabama who trucked Maryland? Yeah, that's a legitimate national title contender
If Round 1 was Alabama’s floor, Round 2 felt a whole lot more like its ceiling.
Somewhere between a Jahvon Quinerly dish for a John Petty 3-pointer and a Josh Primo put-back dunk in his return to the lineup, it should’ve sank in at some point during a Round of 32 blowout win against Maryland.
This Alabama team? You better believe it’s got national title contender written all over it.
Nate Oats’ squad wasn’t the timid, sometimes lost group it was in a grind against 15-seed Iona on Saturday night. Instead, it looked like the flexing blue blood who hit Maryland with a knockout punch before it could even get its hands up.
Of course, Alabama isn’t the blue blood. It’s the program without a Final Four berth. It’s the program who has 1 total Elite 8 appearance, which happened 17 years ago.
But man, by night’s end, it sure didn’t feel like it.
It wasn’t just the fact that Alabama made its threes. That’s been happening all year. A night with 16 made 3-pointers certainly was what Oats had in mind. Well, he said before the game that he wanted 30 attempts from deep, which was reached (33 was the final attempt total).
What stood out was just how those threes went down. Petty, who had been in a 4-game shooting funk dating back to the start of the SEC Tournament, was 4-for-9 from 3-point range. Getting him back rolling felt like a key ingredient to Alabama’s March recipe for success, as did another big lift off the bench from Alex Reese. The senior hit a trio a 3-pointers for 13 points, which was more than Maryland’s entire bench combined.
Reese and Quinerly were part of the key bench boost to get some breathing room on Saturday. On Monday? They were 2 of the many who partook in the offensive blitzkrieg.
Quinerly, who was called on even more than usual after an early Keon Ellis injury, finished the night with 14 points and 11 assists. He actually hit double-digit assists by the first media timeout of the second half. It came on one of those aforementioned dishes for a Petty 3-pointer … which Quinerly started celebrating and running the other way before the shot even went up:
What a sequence! 🐘🏀
Petty to Quinerly to Petty for 3! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/6oDlJHOpPp
— Alabama Crimson Tide | AL.com (@aldotcomTide) March 23, 2021
Two days ago, Petty was the furthest thing from automatic. Monday, though, was vastly different.
That shot bested Alabama’s 2020 record for 3-pointers in a season. This year, however, those threes are coming from a team who is far more complete and composed than last year’s squad.
Go figure that Alabama’s two biggest runs of the night actually came with SEC Player of the Year Herb Jones on the bench. He got his second foul 7 minutes into the game, and if you could believe it, that was while the Crimson Tide faced a 6-point deficit. Alabama responded to by ripping off a 19-4 run in the following 6 minutes. When Jones got foul No. 3 just 90 seconds into the second half, what happened? A 17-4 Alabama run in the following 3.5 minutes.
No big deal. Just lose your best all-around player and watch him turn into the best cheerleader for a barrage of 3-pointers.
Consider that like losing Jaylen Waddle to a season-ending injury and then watching the Alabama offense somehow get better.
OK, that’s the last football reference. I promise.
Jim Jackson said on the broadcast that it’s so difficult to defend this team with the way they spread the floor. They feed off the drive-and-kick in a way that goes beyond a team who can get hot from deep. It’s that Alabama actually has the slashers like Shackelford and Quinerly who can consistently finish at the rim if you don’t play any help side defense.
Anybody who watched this Alabama team during the regular season knew that. This is the team who knocked down more threes than anyone in America. You’re not doing that if you don’t have anyone who can demand additional attention in the lane.
Alabama can’t miss from three right now.
Alex Reese buries the Tide’s eighth (8!) triple of the first half so far. pic.twitter.com/WcZzsuUuR7
— Henry Malone (@henrymalone_) March 23, 2021
That offensive performance was vintage Alabama under Oats. It was unselfish, it was confident and it was diverse. Five Alabama players finished the night in double figures.
Well, I probably shouldn’t say that was a vintage Alabama defensive performance. Saturday night against Iona was closer to that, though the game flow certainly demanded that a lot more than Monday night.
Monday night was the type of laugher where Quinerly could make a three, get a technical for taunting a Maryland player and then laugh about it by the time he got to the bench.
(I have no idea if Oats shared that sentiment. It didn’t look like Quinerly stopped to find out, and I can’t say I blame him.)
There was no mistaking the team who came into the night riding a 7-game winning streak. In a tournament that already sent 3 of the top 8 teams packing before the second weekend, the last thing Alabama needed to do was leave the door open for some more madness.
The only madness to be had was watching the Alabama bench celebrate 3 after 3. Oats got exactly what he could’ve asked for.
Now, the question is if he’ll get that in the Sweet 16 on Sunday. Alabama will face a UCLA team who already has 3 NCAA Tournament wins under its belt and is a long ways removed from being in the play-in game. Mick Cronin’s squad held Abilene Christian to 47 points on 30% shooting.
That’s not a formula Alabama would like to follow. It doesn’t seem likely either, especially after the sharpshooting Crimson Tide more than doubled that offensive output against Maryland.
Had Alabama come out and laid an egg on Monday, the consensus would’ve been that Alabama peaked too early. Ask fellow conference champ Illinois about that. Had Alabama been involved in another too-close-for-comfort grind for 40 minutes, it would’ve been fair to wonder if it was playing with fire and in need of an improved showing to get past the Sweet 16.
Nope. Monday night wasn’t that in any way. It should’ve served as a reminder that there’s championship DNA running Alabama’s veins.
It was easy to forget that on Saturday. It certainly wasn’t on Monday.