NCAA Mountain West
The team celebrated making the Sweet 16 last weekend. Can the underdog move on to the Elite 8? Photo credit: Derrick Tuskan via

San Diego State (29-6) doesn’t often see a defense better regarded than their own. On Friday when they face Alabama (31-5) in the NCAA Tournament, it will happen.

The Sweet 16 contest matches SDSU, ranked No. 18 in the country, against the Crimson Tide, which rose to No. 1 to end the season. Alabama, mighty but embattled, is the top seed in the South Region, while the Aztecs are the region’s fifth seed.

“Everyone talks about their offense, but metrically they’re better defensively than we are,” head coach Brian Dutcher said. “So obviously that’s why they’re the top seed in the tournament. They play both ends of the floor. They play hard. They’re talented, and it’ll be a challenge.”

To continue their run, Dutcher said, San Diego State must land three-pointers, particularly from Adam Seiko or Darrion Trammell.

“Whether that’s those two or Micah (Parrish) or Lamont (Butler) or Matt (Bradley, we have to make some threes in order to advance,” he said.

Tipoff is at 3:30 p.m. Friday with the broadcast airing on TBS.

The national attention that’s been focused on Alabama, though, hasn’t been limited to the team’s talent. Three current and former players, including NBA prospect Brandon Miller, have been embroiled in a homicide investigation since January.

Miller has not been charged in the January shooting death of a Birmingham, Ala. woman, but ex-teammate Darius Miles faces a murder count – Alabama threw him off the team following his arrest – along with another man, the accused gunman.

Miller also has faced no discipline though authorities said Miles texted him to bring the gun used in the fatal shooting to the scene in Tuscaloosa, Ala. A prosecutor said “there’s nothing we could charge him with.”

Seiko only addressed the potential distraction for the Crimson Tide due to the investigation.

“They’re a good team regardless, they’ve played well after that situation,” Seiko said. “They’re still in the top two throughout that situation, so we can’t go in there thinking that they’re going to be soft or anything.”

Miller played a key role as Alabama captured both the SEC regular-season and conference tournament titles. The freshman averages 19 points and eight rebounds a game.

“I mean, if he’s rolling, there’s not a lot you can do other than doubling,” Dutcher said.

In their first two NCAA Tournament games, Alabama beat both 16-seed Texas A&M-Corpus Cristi and eight-seed Maryland by more than 20 points. The Aztecs narrowly beat Charleston, then bowled over Furman.

Being the underdog doesn’t bother the team, said forward Aguek Arop.

“We’ll pull up tweets, videos and everything (where) people are just talking down on us and they don’t expect us to win and they’re not believers,” he said. “And so yeah, we embrace it for sure.”

But he also sees the advantage of taking on a No. 1 seed on such a big stage.

“You couldn’t ask for anything else as a competitor,” he said. “Yeah, it’s a perfect opportunity to go and show the world, like, who we are, what we’re made of, and (that) we can compete with the number-one team.”