Heading into the second weekend of March Madness, Alabama remains the Vegas favorite to win the National Championship. They coasted through the first two rounds of the tournament, defeating No. 16 seed Texas A&M-CC (I so want that "CC" to stand for country club or closed captioning) by 21 points and No. 8 seed Maryland by 22.
Leading the charge for the Crimson Tide is their senior guard Jahvon Quinerly. Quinerly was masterful against Maryland, leading all scorers with 22.
A year ago to the day, Quinerly was helped off the court after tearing his ACL during an NCAA Tournament game. To bounce back a year later and lead Alabama to the Sweet 16 is a special moment.
While freshman phenom Brandon Miller is Alabama's most talented player and a likely top 3 pick in this year's NBA Draft, it's the veteran Quinerly who may be the most important piece if Alabama is going to win its first men's basketball National Championship. The 6-foot-1 guard has battled back from last year's knee injury to regain his quickness - and confidence - just in time for the game's biggest stage.
Quinerly's Road Back to the Dominance
While recovering from his injury, Quinerly spent much of the season coming off the bench. He adapted well to the new role, earning SEC Co-6th Man of the Year honors, while freshman Jaden Bradley held down the floor in the starting five.
But when the SEC Tournament started in early March, Quinerly found himself back in the starting lineup for Nate Oats's Crimson Tide.
Asked about the lineup change, Oats responded, "We made a changeup in the lineup, obviously — took our Sixth-Man of the Year in the SEC and put him in the starting lineup. I just thought we were struggling offensively to start games. You know, we'd get to the end at the four-minute media timeout [with] two points, three points. Today we started 13 to 6, so it made sense."
Alabama actually had another slow start against Maryland, trailing 9-2 early. But after a pair of Miller free throws made it a five point game, Quinerly hit a three-pointer to bring the Tide within two. Maryland stuck around through the first half, but Alabama managed to pull away in the second half.
Saving His Best For March
For Alabama fans, watching Quinerly excel in tournament play should come as no surprise. It's sort of what he does. Over the course of his college career, Quinerly has averaged 10 points per game. But those numbers consistently jump in March. In 2021, when Alabama made a run to the Sweet 16, Quinerly averaged 15.1 points per game in the month of March. Before his injury last year, he was averaging 14.3 for the month. This year, through 7 games in March, Quinerly is averaging just under 15 points per game.
There's something about the biggest stages that brings out his best.
Quinerly is not a dominant athlete or dead-eye shooter. He doesn't throw down high-flying dunks or pull up from the logo. But he is a classic steady hand who makes good decisions, does not turn the ball over, and steps up to hit big shots in the game's most important moments. He'll dive for loose balls, command the floor and the huddle, and remain cool under pressure.
In other words, he's exactly the type of guard you need to win during March Madness.
Miller has already had one stinker this tournament. He put up a goose egg in 19 minutes during Alabama's first round victory. The chances of him having another subpar night are pretty low, given his track record all season long. But remember - he is a freshman in college! Do you remember what life was like as a freshman in college? I used to take like three naps a day! I was addicted to the dining hall's off brand lucky charms!
Quinerly is 24. He's been in his share of big games, and witnessed his share as well. As a freshman at Villanova, he didn't play much, but contributed a bit on a team that won the Big East.
Things are set up pretty nicely for Alabama right now. They face No. 5 seed San Diego St. Friday night, and if they can get past the Aztecs, the winner of Creighton and Princeton on Sunday. Those are three teams that have very different styles, and will present their own set of challenges.
But if the Crimson Tide play the way they have been in recent weeks, a trip to Houston for the Final Four is a very real possibility.
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