BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Brandon Miller was in a playful mood and feeling good physically, too.
A day after being limited by a groin injury and held without a point, Miller insisted Friday he's just fine for top overall seed Alabama's second-round NCAA Tournament game against No. 8 seed Maryland on Saturday night.
“I'm 100 percent right now. You want to play 1 v. 1?” the 6-foot-9 Miller joked with a much shorter reporter.
Miller played only 19 minutes in a first-round mismatch against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, sitting out most of the second half after telling coach Nate Oats his injured groin was bothering him. The All-American and potential NBA lottery pick came into that goose-egg game averaging 20 points.
“I think he just took a nice night off. Well deserved,” cracked Terrapins coach Kevin Willard, who compared Miller to NBA star Paul George.
Oats was more cautiously optimistic about Miller's health, but said he's still pretty good even when playing through injury. He said Miller was limited in practice a day before the game for Alabama (30-5).
“It obviously wasn’t one of his better games to open, but I think knowing Brandon and how tough he is, physically, mentally, I think he’ll be ready to go (Saturday),” Oats said.
Teammates praised Miller for how he handled the game. It was only the second time he hadn't reached double digits, with fellow No. 1 seed Houston holding him to eight points on Dec. 10.
“He handled it like a true professional,” point guard Jahvon Quinerly said. “I told him, look, we’re going to need what you’ve been bringing us all year (Saturday) night. I’m 100 percent confident he’s going to bring what he’s been bringing us all year.”
Alabama flashed its depth with backups like Nick Pringle and Nimari Burnett stepping up when Miller was having an off game. That led Willard to compare this Tide team to Rick Pitino's uber-talented Kentucky teams in the mid-1990s.
“I think this is the most talented roster I’ve seen in college basketball since the '93-94 Kentucky team,” said Willard, the only Maryland coach to reach 20 wins in his first season. “This team reminds me of that team with the length, athleticism, how unselfish they play, very similar point guards.”
As for Oats, he had suspicions that Willard was “trying to talk our team up. I don't know if we're quite that good, but we'll see.”
Maryland had a much tougher first-round challenge, moving on with a 67-65 win over West Virginia. The Terrapins, who are seeking their 15th Sweet 16 trip but first since 2016, are giving up 63.2 points per game, their lowest yield since 1981-82.
Alabama and Maryland’s last meeting was in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, before Willard or Miller were on the scene. The Tide made 16 3-pointers in a 96-77 win. Quinerly is one of the few holdovers from that game on either team. Maryland has Donta Scott and Hakim Hart still around.
“It's kind of like a Round of 32 rematch from two years ago,” Quinerly said. “That's exciting.”
Furman (28-7) doesn’t want to be a one-shot wonder.
The 13th-seeded Paladins became March Madness darlings, taking down No. 4 seed Virginia in the opening round on JP Pegues’ 3-pointer that propelled the Southern Conference champions to Saturday’s second-round matchup against No. 5 seed San Diego State.
“The Furman game? That was crazy,” San Diego State guard Lamont Butler said. “But this is March, so anything can happen.”
The Aztecs (28-6), who have won 11 of their past 12, advanced with a first-round win over Charleston. There's no temptation to look past the Paladins, who were impressive in their rally against Virginia.
“Furman is playing good basketball. I don’t care what seed they are,” San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher said. “They’re playing good basketball or they wouldn’t have won (against Virginia), so now we have to find a way to disrupt them and play our best brand of basketball.”
SILENCE THE CROWD
Missouri's players know they probably won’t be the fan favorites when they take on tournament darling Princeton in the second round in Sacramento, California.
The neutral fans at the Golden 1 Center pulled loudly for 15th-seeded Princeton during its first-round stunner against Arizona and will likely get similar support in a second-round matchup against another power conference school.
“Everybody loves a good underdog story,” Missouri guard Nick Honor said. “But they’re a great team. So it will just be a good game. You don’t really focus on seedings and all that. We realize every team is a great basketball team in this tournament. So we’re just going to focus on what we need to do. If the crowd goes for them, that’s cool as well. We’re kind of just used to it. It’s all good.”
Both sets of Tigers have gone a long time without reaching the Sweet 16 with Missouri (25-9) last getting there in 2009 and Princeton in 1967 when only 23 teams made the tournament.
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