Maryland-Alabama NIT Preview

MARYLAND VISITS ALABAMA FOR FIRST TICKET TO NIT'S FINAL FOUR IN NEW YORK

While most of the college basketball media is focused on the NCAA Sweet 16 that starts Thursday, sports bettors know that the NIT's Elite Eight starts TUESDAY with Maryland visiting Alabama for the right to play in storied Madison Square Garden next week.

Alabama is the #1 seed in its quarter of the draw, while Maryland is #2. This represents the only section of the NIT brackets where the top two seeds in a section will square off...making it the most dynamic of the quarterfinal showdowns.

Oh, don't forget that Maryland beat Duke in the ACC tournament two weekends ago! If you can beat Duke in Greensboro, you've got a shot to take down the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.

Let's crunch the key numbers from this marquee matchup. We'll do the same tomorrow for you in Iowa/Virginia...another game matching teams that many believe should have earned NCAA invitations rather than Boise State, Middle Tennessee, and maybe even Oklahoma and Colorado as poorly as those teams performed.

WON-LOST RECORDS
Maryland: 24-12 (8-10 in the ACC)
Alabama: 23-12 (12-6 in the SEC)

Funny how the full season records are almost identical, but the conference slates are extremely different. Maryland didn't challenge themselves very aggressively in the first two months of the season (outside of an early game against Kentucky, who didn't turn out to be all that great). That may have been part of the problem causing a below .500 finish in the ACC. They weren't battle tested and didn't know how to deal with pressure. Alabama lost six games before SEC play began...but then only lost six more in league action. Obviously a big part of handicapping this game involves evaluating the conferences. It's assumed by everyone that the ACC is better than the SEC this year. How much better? Duke and Miami are in the Sweet 16, but North Carolina and NC State suffered bad losses. The SEC only has Florida left, which surprises nobody. Ole Miss almost snuck into second-week party after barely getting that first invite.

COMPUTER RANKINGS
Maryland: #44 with Sagarin, #48 with Pomeroy
Alabama: #49 with Sagarin, #53 with Pomeroy

Slight edge to Maryland according to Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy. That disagrees with the Seeding Committee. But, we've seen through the postseason already that the college computers have misfired on more than a few teams. Best to assume very evenly matched teams and leave it at that. Both were legitimate bubble teams. This could have been a play-in game in the Dance like Middle Tennessee/St. Mary's was. Instead it's a play-in game for the NIT Final Four, which is probably appropriate.

COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
Maryland: #98 with Sagarin, #101 with Pomeroy
Alabama: #62 with Sagarin, #73 with Pomeroy

We talked about Maryland scheduling too soft before ACC play began. You see that trumpeted here pretty loudly. Alabama was in the weaker conference, but played the tougher schedule by a meaningful margin. That plus home court could prove the difference in Tuesday Night's meeting.

WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN'S TOP 50
Maryland: 3-8
Alabama: 2-6

Unfortunately, it's hard to get excited about either team when you see those numbers. This is why they're in the NIT! Maryland was 2-7 before knocking off Duke in the ACC tournament. Alabama has only won 25% of the time vs. top 50 teams. Interesting here that Maryland played 11 games in this category compared to eight for Alabama. Maryland must have REALLY scheduled some dogs in November and December to get their strength of schedule so far behind Alabama's.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
Maryland: #76
Alabama: #134

Moving now to the chess match. Both of these offenses struggled vs. quality. You've seen enough of these previews now to know that those are poor gradings for tournament caliber teams. Yes, more than 340 teams get rated. Most of those are mid majors and smaller. Maryland gets the nod on this side of the ball. But, both are capable of going cold for very long periods of time according to Pomeroy's methodology that adjusts for both pace factor and strength of schedule.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
Maryland: #35
Alabama: #20

Alabama gets the nod here. You probably thought of them as having a good defense anyway because they have so many tempo-based low scoring games. Well, even after you account for that, Alabama still has a great defense. Maryland will be trying to score Tuesday Night in hostile territory with a mediocre offense (by tournament standards) against a strong defense (by anything but Sweet 16 standards). Alabama gets the nod on this side of the ball. And, if you're the type to weigh defense over offense in playoff-style basketball, that may put you on the Tide even if the ranking spread is shorter in this category.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
Maryland: #96
Alabama: #319

Huge difference here...and possibly the key to the game. Maryland is very fast. Alabama is about as slow as it gets for a major conference team. We saw all through the regular season that home teams tend to dictate pace. And, we've seen through the postseason that games tend to slow down because every possession becomes so important. That means Maryland could be taken way out of their comfort zone, while Alabama will be moving at the snail's pace that they preferred all season. Maryland really has to avoid bogging down and playing in the mud with Alabama.

BEST EXPECTATION
Most of the data we've looked at points to Alabama. It is worth remembering though that points are more scarce and hard to come by in slow games, making a home favorite cover a little tougher than you'd first think. And, we've also seen in the Big Dance that very slow teams are in huge trouble if they fall behind. Both Georgetown and Wisconsin fell in the first round because they weren't equipped to overcome deficits in slow-mo basketball.

  • MARYLAND must try to push pace early and build a lead.

  • ALABAMA was get stops and keep Maryland out of its comfort zone for the full 40 minutes.

JIM HURLEY believes he's found the value side in this game. Will it make the final cut for Tuesday BEST BETS? He's also looking at these games in the NBA:

New York at Boston on TNT
LA Clippers at Dallas on TNT

You can purchase Tuesday's NBA Doubleheader right here, or Tuesday's college action here at the website with your credit card. Midweek is a great time to talk to us in the office about long term packages. We have great rates for the rest of the tourneys and NBA through the playoffs. Major League Baseball will be here before you know it too! Call 1-800-323-4453 to talk to a NETWORK representative.

Back with you tomorrow to crunch the numbers in Iowa/Virginia. Thursday brings an expanded preview of Syracuse/Indiana...which is the Hoosiers' first tournament game against a Big East team in a decade. Friday we'll go deep in Michigan State/Duke...arguably the best of all eight Sweet 16 matchups.

We're going to build your bankroll Tuesday and Wednesday in the NIT and NBA...then we're going to BASH THE BOOKS Thursday and Friday in THE SWEET 16! Make sure you GET ALL THE MONEY every day with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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