After cruising to easy victories in their first two games of the NCAA Tournament, Alabama will face their toughest opponent of the tournament, No. 5 seed San Diego State, Friday in the Sweet 16. This will be the first meeting in program history between Alabama and the Mountain West Conference champions.
San Diego State got here by way of the easiest path, according to seeding, by knocking off No. 12 seed Charleston and No. 13 seed Furman. Alabama coasted to two easy victories against No. 16 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and No. 8 seed Maryland.
Alabama will step onto the court Friday with the best player in college basketball and hold nearly every advantage except for one, experience. San Diego is one of the most experienced teams in the country with their starters consisting of four seniors and one junior, while Alabama’s starting five includes two freshmen and a sophomore.
“They’re an experienced team,” coach Nate Oats said on his weekly “Hey Coach” radio show Monday night. “I looked on KenPom, and we’re 257th in experience and they’re 21st in the country in experience.”
“They’ve got some veteran guys. It’s an older group. They’ve got an advantage on us as far as experience goes," he added.
San Diego State as the No. 5 seed, is the best remaining seed in the South region besides Alabama. The Aztecs play a slower-paced game than the Crimson Tide and rely heavily on their defense and physicality to help them win ball games.
“Really good defensive team. Like, really good. They play hard. Our offensive side of the ball is going to have to really get prepared to go against them,” Oats said of the Tide opponent. “But I mean, we’re a good offensive team. They switch a lot of things.”
“They play a lot slower than us,” he continued. “A lot of that is their defense slows people down, because they switch and it takes teams a long time to score. They press, they kind of do a run-and-jump. They’re aggressive, so they try to turn you over, so they score off turnovers. They do a good job.”
In relation to San Diego State’s strong defense, the number 70 will be a key number to pay attention to in this matchup. For San Diego State, they are 22-2 when they hold their opponent under the 70-point mark and just 7-4 when the opposing team breaks 70 points. Seventy is also a key number for Alabama, as they are 29-1 when scoring at least 70 points and just 1-4 when they are held to less than 70 points. The Aztecs are not a high-powered offense like the Crimson Tide, and it would be safe to say that if Alabama can reach 70 points, they will be moving on to the Elite Eight.
This Sweet 16 matchup will take place in Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center at 5:30 p.m. CT with the winner advancing to the Elite Eight to take on the winner of Princeton and Creighton.
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