Hakim Hart, Maryland Terrapins, March Madness

The Birmingham Region provided a chalky first round, with all three of the top seeds advancing to the Rd. of 32 in March Madness.

The Birmingham Region started off the round of 64 in March Madness with four very exciting games, with three of them ending with the top seed coming out on top. (8) Maryland defeated (9) West Virginia, 67-65. (1) Alabama defeated (16) Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 96-75. (9) Auburn pulled off a minor upset over (8) Iowa, 83-75. (1) Houston survived a tough (16) Northern Kentucky team, 63-52.

Takeaway #1: Maryland’s forwards battled in the paint

Coming into the game, West Virginia’s big men had a size advantage inside. The Mountaineers did end up winning the rebound margin by 6, but Julian Reese and Donta Scott both had more rebounds than any West Virginia players. They muscled up and helped even up the paint, even controlling it at times for the Terrapins.

Reese had the biggest impact of any Maryland player, leading the charge on offense with 17 points, and slowing down West Virginia inside, with a trio of blocks.

Up next for the Terrapins is an Alabama team that leads the country in rebounding. Reese and Scott will have their hands full, but after their performance on Thursday, don’t count them out from showing up again and making it interesting.

(8) Maryland plays (1) Alabama at 9:40 p.m. ET on Saturday in the round of 32.

Takeaway #2: Alabama’s options are endless

Brandon Miller, the SEC Player of the Year, scored ZERO points in Alabama’s first-round game. Sure, it was against a 16-seed in Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. But the Crimson Tide never trailed, and never looked back, winning by 21 points.

Nick Pringle delivered a game-high 19 points off the bench, Mark Sears had 15, and three other Tide players got into double-digits.

When Alabama is playing team basketball like this, there’s a reason they’re the number one overall seed. It’s next to impossible to beat a team who can dominate without their best players scoring a single point.

(1) Alabama plays (8) Maryland at 9:40 p.m. ET on Saturday in the round of 32.

Takeaway #3: Auburn’s offense can be a microwave

Coming into a game with Iowa, it was expected that Auburn would be able to score points. The Hawkeyes aren’t exactly known for having a shutdown defense. But after scoring 52 points in the second half in Thursday’s win, it’s clear that when Auburn is rolling, they have as pure of an offense as any team out there.

Six Tigers scored at least 10 points, with KD Johnson and Tre Donaldson both offering 11 off the bench. As a team, Auburn dished out 14 assists and made 46% of their shots from the field.

Having an offense that can spread the ball around the perimeter will be crucial as Auburn heads into a difficult next matchup in the round of 32.

(9) Auburn plays (1) Houston at 7:10 p.m. ET on Saturday in the round of 32.

Takeaway #4: We have a problem in Houston if Marcus Sasser can’t get to 100%

Houston fans were relieved when Marcus Sasser, who was a game-time decision, laced it up for the Cougars’ first-round game in March Madness with Northern Kentucky.

But Sasser ended up only playing 14 minutes, scoring 5 points and grabbing 2 rebounds. He didn’t play in the second half, reportedly re-injuring the same groin that almost kept him out of the game in the first place.

Now, the health of Sasser is at an all-time high. Houston struggled with and without him against a Norse team that probably should have been seeded one line higher. Against Auburn on Saturday, Houston will need a full-strength Marcus Sassser, especially with how potent the Tigers’ offense can be.

(1) Houston plays (9) Auburn at 7:10 p.m. ET on Saturday in the round of 32.