Alabama vs. San Diego State: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Picks & Predictions (Friday)

Mar 22, 2023 - 2:22 PM

The top-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide have essentially cruised to the Sweet 16, defeating Texas A&M Corpus-Christi and Big Ten foe Maryland by 20+ points. While some of the NCAA Tournament’s top seeds have already been sent home or come darn close, the Tide have rolled through to Louisville.

Alabama will surely face its stiffest test of the big dance Friday night when they battle the Mountain West champions San Diego State. The Aztecs squeaked past the College of Charleston before obliterating Furman in the second round.

The Crimson Tide is clearly the more talented team, but the Aztecs have the defensive prowess and coaching to make this one interesting. Can San Diego State muck things up and spoil Alabama’s season? Or will the Crimson Tide roll on?

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NCAA Preview: Alabama vs. San Diego State

Let’s break down this South Region showdown.

(1) Alabama Crimson Tide (-7.5) vs. (5) San Diego State Aztecs | Total 137

Can Aztecs control the tempo and defend the perimeter?

In order for San Diego State to keep this game close, they’ll need to play it on their terms. The Aztecs prefer to play at a more methodical tempo, ranking 254th in pace. That contrasts directly with Alabama, who ranks 4th in tempo. The Crimson Tide overwhelm opponents with their athleticism and ability to score in bunches in transition. Alabama ranks 10th in percentage of field goals attempted in transition, per HoopMath. However, the Aztecs rank second in limiting transition shots and 34th in effective field goal percentage defense against shots in transition.

In other words, the Aztecs don’t let teams get out and run often, and when they do, they’re excellent at defending transition shots. While this will be by far the best opponent San Diego State has faced thus far, the Aztecs played against a couple of fast-paced teams in Arizona and Arkansas during the Maui Invitational and squared off with New Mexico (18th in adjusted tempo) twice during Mountain West play.

Many of these NCAA Tournament games come down to 3-point shooting, and that will definitely be the case in this game. Alabama chucks threes, ranking eighth in 3-point rate. However, the Crimson Tide hit just 34% of their shots from deep. This could play into the hands of a San Diego State defense that allows an abundance of 3-point shots but is outstanding at defending against them. The Aztecs rank 289th in 3-point rate allowed but are holding teams to just 28.7% from deep.

Now, maybe none of this matters, and Alabama has a scorching hot day from 3-point land. It’s entirely possible that Brandon Miller and his talented teammates go off regardless. But San Diego State has proven it has what’s necessary to slow down this Crimson Tide attack. And if the shots aren’t falling, the Aztecs are a strong defensive rebounding team that can limit second chances.

Can San Diego State score enough to keep up?

A team as talented as Alabama is going to get their points one way or the other. You can’t shut down this team; you can only hope to limit it and pray the shots aren’t falling at a torrid clip. As good as San Diego State has been defensively, they haven’t been quite as effective on offense.

The Aztecs rank 196th in effective field goal percentage. However, there are two areas where they can win against Alabama’s defense. San Diego State ranks top 100 in both offensive rebounding and free throw rate, two areas where the Tide rank outside of the top 100.

Matt Bradley will be the X-factor in this game, as he’s a streaky scorer who can singlehandedly carry the Aztecs to the Elite Eight or send them on a long flight back home. The Aztecs may need to manufacture points against a Crimson Tide defense that tops the nation in effective field goal percentage.

Prediction and Best Bet

Betting against this Alabama juggernaut isn’t fun. However, coach Brian Dutcher is one of the best game planners in the sport, and I think the Aztecs can do enough to slow down the Crimson Tide’s transition offense. They’ll probably need a really off shooting night to win outright, but they’re fully capable of keeping this within the number.

The pick: San Diego State +7.5 (-110)

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