The most concerning development of college basketball week was Tuesday’s revelation that Alabama freshman Brandon Miller was linked in court to the shooting of a woman in Tuscaloosa earlier this year.
The basics, in case you missed it: A police detective testified that Miller took a gun on Jan. 15 to then-teammate Darius Miles, who then turned it over to Michael Lynn Davis. Davis is accused of shooting into a vehicle and killing 23-year-old Jamea Harris. Both Miles and Davis are facing capital murder charges and Miles has been fired from the Crimson Tide program.
Miller stayed active and scored a season-high 41 points in Wednesday’s overtime win at South Carolina. Miller’s attorney said Miller “never touched the gun, was not involved in any way in his exchange with Mr. Davis, and never knew that any illegal activity involving the gun would occur.”
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There are really two ways Alabama could approach this. One is with a mix of empathy and pragmatism. A woman is dead, and that has more meaning than any game.
Also, even though Miller is a witness and not a suspect and has been cooperative with police, as the university, his attorney and coach Nate Oats have said, the Crimson Tide star is still in the murder investigation. . It cannot be a comfortable place to reside, no matter how bypass it may be.
The other way just boils down to worrying about the results. Alabama is in line for a No. 1 seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament and has never reached a Final Four, let alone won a national title.
This leads to the question of whether Miller can play and whether Miller should play. Candies? Without any legal involvement, yes. Should? This is a different discussion.
It’s not hard to imagine other programs putting a player in Miller’s seat for a few games to conduct an internal investigation that conveniently wraps up before the postseason begins.
Then again, there’s a more daringly cynical tack than that. Alabama may see this as something that simply needs to hold out no more than about April 3rd. 19.5 points) to stay at the varsity level for a second season.
That’s an incredibly crass way of looking at things, and I hope it’s not driving the decision makers of Crimson Tide. But a basketball star was responsible for carrying a weapon used in a shooting that left one person dead, police say, and it’s not hard after this week’s events to wrap up Alabama’s basketball program and athletic department he does not bother to let the way to win enter.
This is not a conclusion that any school or organization should want anyone to make about it.
No snub waiting for Aggies this time
Perhaps the saltiest team on last year’s Selection Sunday was Texas A&M, who snapped a seven-game hitting streak before falling in the championship game of the SEC Tournament. The Aggies, who were 23-12 at the time in part due to an eight-game skid in the middle of the championship, were ejected at the NIT and eventually reached the title game.
Texas A&M will not face a similar fate this season, although this was only recently secured. The Aggies (21-7, 13-2 SEC) are 6-0 this month going into Saturday’s road trip to Mississippi State and have built on nearly every good part of their resume since the calendar moved into February.
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In their last five games, Texas A&M upset Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee at home and hit the road to complete a useful sweep of Missouri. He did so with an offense led by point guard Wade Taylor IV that ranks among the best in the nation at getting to the foul line (second in free throw percentage, according to KenPom.com) and creating second chances (eighth in rebounding percentage offensive).
Heading into conference play last month, the Aggies had two questionable losses (at home to Wofford and to Murray State in an early season tournament) and virtually no weight to his resume. Their best win outside the SEC remains a DePaul win.
But non-league play is only part of the equation, and Texas A&M has done more than enough to set itself apart. He sits in the top 25 of all six metrics on NCAA team sheets and is well on his way to wearing a home jersey in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
In the main spotlight: Vermont
Vermont is used to winning America East titles. However, there is something different about this year’s Catamounts, who secured their seventh straight regular season title on Wednesday with an 81-70 loss to Binghamton.
They suffered a few losses early in the regular season. They have played their last 20 games without starting center Nick Fiorillo. And they also started 2-2 in the America East, shrug-worthy for most programs, but a surprising development for someone who has been 86-10 in the league for the past six seasons.
And then Vermont snatched 10 straight games to secure a No. 1 seed. 1 in the conference tournament with two games to go.
“It was probably our most improbable run for a regular season title,” said head coach John Becker.
Becker aims not to split four games in early January, but what came next: a week between games to tinker with the lineup.
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The Catamounts (18-10, 12-2) had played most of the year with Finn Sullivan at point guard and graduate transfer Dylan Penn off the ball. The two runs traded, with Sullivan walking away from the ball and Penn becoming more of a table lifter.
It was an instant success; Vermont won their next three games by an average of 20.7 points.
“These two changing roles really unlocked our team and ultimately that was the best way to play,” said Becker.
While Penn was a proven commodity after helping Bellarmine win the Atlantic Sun tournament last year, Sullivan has never been a scorer carrying a college team. He played for three years in San Diego, then was actually Catamount’s fifth option last year.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder put any worries to rest, averaging 19.6 points during the streak. He scored 29 points in Wednesday’s decider.
“He’s a top athlete and has a top-level IQ,” Becker said. “It was all there. He’s an emotional player, so he’d have his ups and downs of him and he’d let certain parts of the game hit him a little bit mentally, and he’s done a lot of work on the mental side. He is one of those players who plays on the edge. And to be able to go to the limit and not go over it, he worked a lot like that.”
Vermont’s only remaining conundrum is welcome. Fiorillo will return from his meniscus injury to Bryant on Saturday, giving the Catamounts a couple of games to sort out their rotation before the America East tournament.
The regular season title gives Vermont home field advantage as it chases its fourth NCAA berth since 2017.
“By adding Nick back, we’re much closer to being a league-level team,” Becker said. “Obviously, we are a league-level team with what we did in the regular season. I think maybe the gap this year is not as big as it has been in the last couple of years, but I think we have the championship makeup.
Arkansas to #2 Alabama (Saturday at 2 p.m., ESPN2): The Razorbacks (19-9, 8-7 SEC) didn’t have a healthy Nick Smith when they lost to the Crimson Tide (24-4, 14-1) last month. They do now, and the freshman is coming off a 26-point game in Tuesday’s loss to Georgia. It begins a busy close-out regular season kickoff for the Hogs, who visit Tennessee and host Kentucky next week.
Arizona State at No. 7 Arizona (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS): Arizona State’s postseason resume has all kinds of flaws, but the best thing about the Sun Devils (19-9, 10-7 Pac-12) are the opportunities. They get a rematch of their 69-60 New Year’s Eve loss to the Wildcats (24-4, 13-4) this weekend, then a trip to play UCLA and Southern California to close out the regular season.
No. 8 Texas at No. 9 Baylor (Saturday 2 p.m., ESPN): The Bears (20-8, 9-6 Big 12) come home after back-to-back losses at Kansas and Kansas State, and their chances of making it to the end of the #2 seed line would take a huge hit if the Longhorns (22-6 , 11-4) can complete a season sweep. Baylor has only lost twice in Waco this season, to TCU and Kansas State by a total of three points.
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No. 17 Indiana at No. 5 Purdue (Saturday at 7:30pm, Fox): The first round between Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis and Purdue’s Zach Edey lived up to expectations. Can the encore be even better? The Hoosiers (19-9, 10-7 Big Ten) won in Bloomington on Feb. 4 as Jackson-Davis collected 25 points, seven rebounds and five blocks while Edey had 33 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks for the Boilermakers (24 -4, 13-4).
No. 15 St. Mary’s at no. 12 Gonzaga (10 p.m. Saturday, ESPN): Gonzaga (24-5, 13-2) has won at least a share of 10 consecutive West Coast Conference titles. Earning a season split with the Gaels (25-5, 14-1) would extend that streak. Drew Timme scored 23 points for the Zags in the Feb. 4 game, but the Gaels rallied for a 78-70 overtime triumph behind Aidan Mahaney’s 18 points.
No. 21 Northwestern in Maryland (Sunday noon, BTN): Just as everyone expected in the preseason, the visiting Wildcats (20-7, 11-6) and the Terrapins (19-9, 10-7) enter their only meeting of the season capable of earning double byes in the Big Ten tournament. It should be one of the best backcourt matchups of the season in Big Ten play.
Drake to Bradley (Sunday at 4pm, ESPN2): Neither team is likely to get a vacant spot, but with Missouri Valley’s regular season title on the line, it should be a date for college basketball junkies. Drake (24-6, 15-4) went 10 straight behind sophomore forward Tucker DeVries, who scored 28 points as the Bulldogs beat Bradley 86-61 on Jan. 14. The Braves (22-8, 15-4) have won nine straight games thanks in part to a stingy defense.