No. 1 Alabama readies for NCAA Tournament "home" game
Alabama has the No. 1 overall NCAA Tournament seed, one of the best players in college basketball and likely a couple of games in its own backyard.
For a Crimson Tide team that’s been an easy target for opposing fans over the past two months, playing less than an hour from campus is no small matter. It means most of the taunts will be replaced by cheers at Legacy Arena, especially for All-America freshman Brandon Miller. Hostile crowds have targeted Miller with taunts since his presence at the scene of a fatal shooting was made public.
It will be an overwhelmingly crimson and white crowd at Thursday's game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, (24-10) which advanced with a 75-71 win over Southeast Missouri State in a play-in game for its first NCAA Tournament win.
“This isn’t technically a home game, but I sure hope that Legacy is packed out like a home game,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “And it’s been nice to play in front of our own fans and some friendly fans in Coleman. I hope we get a similar treatment here at Legacy.”
On the court, Alabama (29-5) is among the favorites to win the national title, behind only Houston according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Off the court, the Tide are much less popular these days outside of their own giddy fan base. Case in point: The security guard accompanying Miller at the arena on Wednesday after some of the angry messages Oats said have been sent his way.
"If you guys saw some of what I’ve seen sent his way, I think you would understand why that’s the case,” Oats said. “I don’t want to get into all that. The entire situation, as you know, is just a heartbreaking situation on all accounts.”
Police tied both he and freshman point guard Jaden Bradley to the scene of a shooting that led to capital murder charges against then-Tide teammate Darius Miles and another man. Though neither have been accused of any crime or been held out of a game, police say Miles had left his gun in the back of Miller's vehicle that night.
Through it all, Alabama has won both the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament titles with Miller leading the way.
The Tide returned to the No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press poll for the second time this season. The first was followed swiftly by a loss at Tennessee.
“We have been No. 1 during the season,” Miller said. “I feel like before we weren’t as prepared, but I feel like now we are more prepared for anything that comes our way.”
The Islanders came in Thursday savoring the “shock the world” possibilities — if not the challenge of defending MIller.
“Everybody in the country and most of the world will know who the heck we are if we beat them," Corpus Christi coach Steve Lutz said. “This is what you dream about when you're a little kid. This is what you dream about when you're a coach. You've got to enjoy every moment.”
The Islanders have had to overcome the left knee injury to Terrion Murdix, the Southland Conference defensive player of the year. He was hurt in the league championship game.