Key matchup: Proposed NBA lottery picks Brandon Miller to scorching start for Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — When Gonzaga and Alabama met in Seattle last season, the Crimson Tide was tasked with facing a proposed lottery NBA pick — shot-blocking, perimeter-shooting rookie Chet Holmgren, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s runner-up overall would .

Alabama will happily give Gonzaga a similar task in Round 2.

Brandon Miller may not have the same prestige as Holmgren, but not unlike Gonzaga’s talented 7-footer, Alabama’s freshman forward came to school as a valued top-15 recruit and continues to produce in a way that validates those who value him for a high keep first place. Round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

With 18.5 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game, Miller’s also lifted the Crimson Tide (9-1) to No. 4 in the country. That’s 16 places higher than where Alabama opened the season and represents the program’s highest mark since 2006-07.

Miller, a five-star contender who was the nation’s fourth-rated small forward in the 2022 recruit class (247Sports.com), has scored 15+ points in seven out of 10 games and will be the focus of Gonzaga’s scouting report ahead of the Game on Saturday against Alabama in Birmingham.

“He’s a great player,” said Bulldogs coach Mark Few.

Miller was a guaranteed double-digit scorer for Alabama, and it’s no surprise given his offensive dedication. The 6-foot-9, 200-pounder from Antioch, Tenn. leads Alabama in minutes played (33.4 per game) and ranks second in the SEC with 13.7 field goal attempts per game, where he Scored 21% of his team’s shots this season.

Miller may be a freshman, but at 20, he’s also the same age as Gonzaga junior Julian Strawther, who won’t turn 21 until April.

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In a media session Thursday, Alabama coach Nate Oats praised Miller for his game but also indicated he was impressed with his attitude and approach to the collegiate game.

“McDonald’s All-American, touted, is playing as good as any freshman in the country right now,” Oats said.

“If he’s not the team type he is and doesn’t have the camaraderie and chemistry with the team, we’re not as good as we are.”

The Bulldogs won’t mind if Miller shoots inside the 3-point arc, but they’ll need to close quickly if he steps behind. Miller made 31 of 71 (43%) shots from outside the arc and he only attempted 66 inside the arc, of which he only made 34%.

Miller has come off a 24-point game against Memphis, shooting 7 of 13 from the field, but offensive efficiency wasn’t always guaranteed. Alabama played two top teams and Miller struggled in both games, going 4-of-21 against North Carolina at the Phil Knight Invitational before losing 0-of-8 to Houston last Saturday. In four games against ranked opponents, he shot 26% from the field.

Miller’s size and athleticism make him a tough cover, and Strawther, who sometimes struggles defensively, sees himself as Gonzaga’s best, and possibly only, option for him.

Drew Timme and Anton Watson should have their hands full with 7-foot, 225-pound center Charles Bediako and 6-10, 210-pound Noah Clowney.

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