Can the Aztecs pull off a a stunner against Alabama on Friday? Would this be a major upset or a minor one? Regardless the game is setting up to be a program defining game.
The landscape of college basketball seems to be in a state of change. Gone are the days of Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky and Duke as shoe-ins to every Elite Eight or Final Four. They have been replaced with schools such as Houston, Alabama, Gonzaga, Texas, Xavier, Creighton, Princeton, and dare I say, San Diego State? College sports are deep into parity, especially basketball. You know it’s an upstart year when an Ivy league school takes out top teams from the Pac 12 and the SEC. It’s only been five short years since the first sixteen seed upset a one seed. It happened again. Two number one seeds are in the Sweet Sixteen. Two number two seeds are in. The strongest remaining regional is the midwest with a one, two, three and five remaining. The others have had their share of blowups. Upsets have accounted for 25% of games in the first two rounds with only one upset occurring in the west regional. Four have occurred in the South Regional, or 33% of the games. Is there a chance the Aztecs can add to this uncertainty? The other game is an intriguing #15 Princeton and #6 Creighton. While Creighton is the favorite, don’t give up on the Tigers. This could be another upset. Extrapolated data shows a potential two more upsets could happen in the Sweet Sixteen round. Where will it occur?
Crimson Tide is a formidable foe
The Aztecs will certainly face their toughest foe in Alabama. They are big, athletic and physical. Their lineup includes a senior, a junior, a sophomore and two freshmen. They are young, but play an experienced game. They are tall with 6’9, 6’10 and 7’ players. Against Maryland, they dominated both boards with 44 rebounds. They are led by five outstanding players. Forward Brandon Miller averages 19 points on the year and eight rebounds. Guard Mark Sears follows suit with 12 points. Forward Noah Clowney manages ten points and nearly 8 rebounds a game. Guard Jahvan Quinerly has 8.7 points and center Charles Bediako, a 7-foot sophomore averages 6.3 points and snags six rebounds. All are contributors.
How the Aztecs counter
Both teams really exemplify the team concept. Alabama has Miller who is as close to a lights-out sharpshooter. The Aztecs counter with their starting five of Keshad Johnson, Nathan Mensah, Darrion Trammell, Lamont Butler and Matt Bradley. They set the offensive and defensive tone of the game. They are spelled by key bench players Jaedon Ledee and Micah Parrish. Parrish had a game-high sixteen points in the second round against Furman. The Aztecs are noted for their defense and ability to out-rebound their opponents. How they will set up their defense will be coach Brian Dutchers ultimate game plan. Caution against an ongoing man-to-man, as the Aztecs may find themselves played out against superior athleticism. A slow tempo looks to suit the Aztecs and may frustrate the Crimson Tide. The Aztecs have held tournament teams to less than 60 points, while Alabama has scored over 70. The Tide is a 7.5 point favorite heading into the game. Tempo will be key to the game and if the Aztecs keep it close heading into the final three minutes, it could be any team's game. The winner will advance to play the winner of Creighton and Princeton with the winner moving on to Houston for the final four. I would enjoy seeing the Aztecs play at NRG as I have tickets for both days. I may be Scrooge, but my final score prediction lies in the Crimson ‘Tides' favor, 73-65. Regardless, it has been a magical season, one that can continue to build on a league-dominating team.