Why Alabama forward Noah Gurley is hoping for an upset in the South bracket

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama players erupted inside their team hotel Sunday upon learning they earned the No. 1 overall seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Moments later, a smaller cheer was heard when the rest of the South bracket was revealed. It came from graduate transfer forward Noah Gurley, who could hardly contain his excitement after realizing he could get the chance to play his former team.

The first-round game between No. 4 seed Virginia and No. 13 seed Furman won’t receive as much hype as other matchups in this year’s tournament. However, for former Paladin Noah Gurley, it’s the first step to an unlikely reunion.

“I celebrated,” Gurley, a Furman transfer, said when asked about his reaction to seeing the Paladins in the same bracket as his Crimson Tide. “You can ask anybody in here, I was cheering for them. I’m really excited for them.”

It’s going to take a bit of March-Madness magic, but if Furman can pull off a pair of upsets and Alabama handles business in its opening two games, the two teams would square off during the Sweet 16 in Louisville, Kentucky next week.

No one’s predicting the matchup, but Gurley is certainly pulling for it.

“I hope we play them,” Gurley said with a smile. “I want to see them win. They’re my brothers over there. I love them.”

Shortly after the bracket was revealed, Gurley got to texting his former teammates. He’s still close with Paladins starters Mike Bothwell, Jalen Slawson and Garret Hein and even keeps up with walk-on Rett Lister. In addition to catching up with his friends, he also reached out to his former coach, Bob Richey, wishing him good luck in the first two rounds.

Richey became Furman’s head coach during Gurley’s first season with the Paladins in 2017-18, developing the forward from an unranked prospect to an All-Southern Conference selection in four years. During his time in Greenville, South Carolina, Gurley started 83 games over 88 appearances, totaling 1,118 points and 405 rebounds while shooting 49.8% from the floor and 34.4% from beyond the arc.

“I’m not who I am without Furman,” Gurley said. “I learned so much there. I developed so much as a player. It’s 100% the reason I got here. I don’t take anything for granted. That’s why I’m a proud Furman alum.”

Gurley transferred to Alabama in 2021, choosing the Crimson Tide over a top eight that included Auburn, Duke, Florida, Marquette, Miami, San Diego State and Tennessee. After starting 14 games over 33 appearances last year, he’s served more as a reserve this season, averaging 4.9 rebounds over 15.4 minutes per game off the bench.

Despite the diminished role on the court, the graduate has contributed to Alabama’s historic run this year, providing veteran leadership while serving as the most reliable shooter in the Tide’s frontcourt. He averaged 6.0 points and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 4 of 7 from beyond the arc during Alabama’s title run in the SEC Tournament last weekend. That included 11 points and three 3s during the Crimson Tide’s 72-49 victory over Mississippi State.

Last week, Alabama head coach Nate Oats shared a story of a recent time when he found Gurley drenched in sweat hours after practice. After questioning the forward, Gurley informed his coach that he had just finished an additional shooting workout to fine-tune his game before tournament play.

“I think he embodies our team, to be honest with you,” Oats said following last week’s game against Mississippi State. “Unbelievable culture of guys just caring about their teammates. He’s continued to lead, never pouted.”

Gurley says the No. 1 factor in him transferring to the Crimson Tide was the opportunity to earn a business degree at Alabama. However, playing for Oats and the opportunity to shine on college basketball’s biggest stage were high on the list as well. He’ll have that opportunity again this month, beginning Thursday when No. 1 seed Alabama (29-5) opens the tournament against No. 16 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (24-10) at 1:45 p.m. CT inside Birmingham’s Legacy Arena.

With a little luck and a bit of chaos, he could even get the opportunity to share the spotlight with his former Furman teammates.

“Look out for them,” Gurley said with a grin. “They play fast and they shoot them 3s. I wouldn’t be surprised if they beat Virginia, to be honest. I would not be surprised at all. The way they play is smart basketball, it’s good basketball. It’s hard to scout them, too. They are going to surprise some people.”