Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tide Torments Terrible Tigers, Alabama 90 LSU 72

Bama took advantage of poor LSU defense to build a sizable early lead and cruised to an easy victory.

Riley made 4 of 6 early 3 pointers and Davis added a few more as Bama built a 16 point lead in the first 12 minutes of the game.  It never felt like LSU had a chance after that.

LSU is a bad team, but they shouldn't be THIS bad.  Johnny Jones has got to go, and frankly he should have been fired after missing the tournament with a very talented squad last year.  Not to take anything away from our guys, but how do you give up 90 points to us!?  There have been times this year that it didn't look like we could score 90 in regulation against air.  We probably could have hung 100 on them if we didn't call off the dogs in the second half.  LSU's defensive effort was one of the worst I've ever seen at the D1 level.  They were simply going through the motions.  I feel sorry for Blakeney, he has no help and seems to be the only guy on that team who still gives a damn.

All of that being said, I like the fact that we were able to play well while speeding up the tempo a bit from our normal comfort zone to take advantage of their deficiencies.  We ended up 10 of 25 from 3 point range and had 5 guys score in double digits.  Riley set the tone with his early 3s and finished with 17.  Davis had 15 off the bench and played a great all around game.  Jimmie and Key each had 11.  Donta had a nice game with 8 points and 7 rebounds.  Bola was the player of the game putting up a double-double with 16 (!) rebounds and 11 points.  For years we've been talking about how we need someone to play the "Chris Hines" role.  Bola doesn't do that exactly, but he fills a lot of those needs.

Crowd favorite Lawson Schaffer got into the game late and got a couple of assists.  Speaking of the law firm, I would like to know Coach's thought process behind putting him in for Riley with 3 seconds left in the first half with LSU having the ball.  To say Riley is a better defender is an understatement, in fact Lawson would probably be the last guy I would ever put it for a strictly defensive possession.  The only thing I can figure is he didn't want Riley getting a cheap foul and wasn't concerned with Lawson giving up a basket since we had a 15 point lead, but Riley only had one foul at that point.  It was a real head scratcher, but thankfully LSU missed the shot.

The crowd was announced as a sellout, but there were lots of empty seats, particularly in the Tide Pride and student sections.  I would say actual attendance was probably closer to 11,000.

This was a nice, uneventful, confidence building win we needed going into the crucial final four games of the regular season.  Each one of these are "50/50" games at best, and on the outside chance we could run the table, we could potentially get into the bubble conversation.

Up next, a rematch with a solid Georgia team that just took Kentucky to the wire.  Tip off is set for 6pm at Coleman Coliseum, and the game will be televised on ESPN2.  If you can, take off work a little early and get to Tuscaloosa for the game.  We need all hands on deck from here out.




Friday, February 17, 2017

Game Preview - LSU

After narrowly avoiding a devastating loss at Missouri, Alabama now returns home to try and avoid another devastating loss in the form of LSU. By devastating, I mean what a loss would mean to Alabama's postseason resume. Game time is 2:30 PM. SEC Network will handle the television duties. A roster update: Avery Johnson mentioned in his press conference that Nick King (lung infection) and Brandon Austin (lingering back and leg injuries) are out for season. Not a big surprise, but that is now official.





Alabama
LSU









69.2 PPG 74.9



65.6 OPP 82.1



42.2 FG% 45.3



40.3 OPP 46.6



48.2 EFG% 50.6



46.5 OPP 53.7



31.6 3PT% 34.6



34.9 OPP 37.8



63.9 FT% 66.4



66.8 OPP 70.3



42 FTRATE 29.6



39.8 OPP 37.5



39.9 RPG 37



33.8 OPP 37.2



34.3 OREB% 31.7



26.2 OPP 31.4



14.3 TOPG 14.9



14.4 OPP 12.5



20.6 TO% 20.2



20.7 OPP 17



61 KenPom Ranking 162


 
 My Two Cents: Anyone who doesn't think LSU can upset Alabama on Saturday in Coleman Coliseum need only watch the game this past Wednesday. The offensive struggles rob this Alabama team of balance, and thus make them vulnerable every time they step on the floor. For all of its struggles, LSU is a solid offensive team, with a player in Antonio Blakeney that can drop 30 on any given night. Alabama's commitment to playing hard and defending has helped them grind out a 15-10 record, but it's also resulted in a thin margin of error for a team that struggles to protect the ball and do the little things like make free throws, pass the ball effectively, and avoid foul trouble. Alabama may be a 12.5 point favorite coming into this game, but don't be surprised if Alabama finds themselves in another grinder on Saturday afternoon.

Players to Watch: Bola Olaniyan has quietly become a vital part of this team. While Bola isn't going to shatter any Alabama scoring records, the graduate transfer has become a huge presence in the paint for this Alabama team. Bola leads the team in rebounds at 6.0 per game (7.5 per game in league play). It's his hustle on the offensive glass that has been really important for this team. With 63 offensive boards this season, Bola has 15 more than the next Tide player (Donta Hall - 48). And even when he doesn't record a rebound, he's keeping the ball alive for someone else to grab the rebound, as he did late in the game Wednesday when he kept a missed front end of a 1-and-1 alive to be rebounded by Donta. That rebound led to two Dazon free throws that effectively iced the game. Now, if Bola would just stop putting the ball on the floor on offense, everything would be peachy.

Duop Reath had quite the outing in the first game vs Alabama. Reath accounted for 12 pts, 9 rebs, 2 asts and 3 blks. In a bad season, Reath has been a pleasant surprise for the Tigers. He can play inside/outside, and is a physical presence around the rim. Alabama cannot allow Reath and Blakeney to establish an inside/outside game or it's going to be a long day.

Prediction: In many ways, games against teams like Missouri and LSU are more stressful because, the way teams are selected for the NCAA postseason, any losses to teams with terrible RPIs can deep-six a season. It puts a team like Alabama in the position in which they simply can't have a bad day, or if they do have a bad day, they've got to find a way to overcome it. With Alabama's lack of balance, it won't surprise me if this game is another white-knuckle affair, but I'll take the home team with the better defense. Alabama - 68 - LSU - 57  

Thursday, February 16, 2017

NCAA Rule Experiment, resetting team fouls at the 10 minute mark

Several major rule changes over the past few seasons have started as experiments in the NIT.  The restricted area under the basket, moving the 3 point line back, and the 30 second shot clock are all examples.  It was recently announced that the NCAA will experiment with resetting team fouls at the 10 minute mark of each half.  It will also do away with the one and one bonus; on the 5th foul you start getting 2 shots.

With scoring down and the game becoming more physical, a few years ago the officials were given a mandate to "clean it up" and open up more movement for the offense.  The result has been more fouls called and many games turning into an almost endless parade to the free throw line.  This will theoretically eliminate the problem of teams spending 12 or 13 minutes per half in the bonus.  As Alabama fans, I think we can ALL agree that anything that generally results in fewer free throws is a good thing!

I generally like this, although resetting without a stoppage in play seems a little counter-intuitive to me.  I would like to see the women's rule of playing four 10 minute periods adopted.  The game is played in quarters at every level except college.  The primary obstacle to implementing this, as is the case with most common sense ideas, is money.  It would complicate the media timeout situation.  As it stands now, there are 4 media timeouts per half, at the 16,12,8, and 4 marks.  In an ideal world, there would be media timeouts at the 5 minute marks of each quarter, plus the stoppage between quarters, but that would reduce the total to 3 per half and the networks would never go for that.  More likely would be adding breaks at the 7 and 4 marks of each quarter, but that increases the total stoppages to 5 per half with the break between quarters, and I'm certainly not for adding any more timeouts than we already have, so just resetting at the 10 minute mark may actually be the best solution.  I suspect we are eventually heading to a quarter system with 5 total breaks per half though.

The other experimental rule is resetting the shot clock to 20 seconds or however many remained on a defensive foul when the ball will be in bounded in the front court, as opposed to always resetting it to 30.  It's a way to speed up the game, but I think it will be largely inconsequential.


Whew! Tide Survives Mizzou, Alabama 57 Missouri 54

Dazon Ingram stepped up in the second half to help the Tide overcome a horrific offensive performance on the road.

This game started out like so many others, with Bama playing great defense and dominating the boards, but unable to fully take advantage due to unforced errors and God-awful shooting.  As much as Coach Johnson talks about "on-time on-target" passing, we have an inordinate number of passes that are neither of those things, much less both.

Coach Kim Anderson was wearing a mic, and he correctly pointed out during the first timeout that Alabama was out-hustling them, coming up with every loose ball up to that point.  Credit to Mizzou, they seemed to play a lot harder after that.  They took advantage of Alabama shooting 2 of 20 including a 6 minute scoring drought and something like 12 minutes without making a shot from the field to slowly build a 10 point lead.

I'm not sure why Coach Johnson has suddenly fallen in love with the zone.  I could understand it as a change of pace, especially against a Mizzou team that was not shooting well, but I think we stayed in it a bit too long again.  I know that normally we prefer a slower paced game, but I think in this particular matchup we could have picked up the tempo a bit as we were the more athletic team.  With the offense struggling, we should have played more aggressively on defense to try to generate some offense with turnovers and transition.  Furthermore, it plays away from our biggest strength which is our rebounding.  We were actually out-rebounded in the first half in large part due to the switch to the zone.

AJ made a big 3 at the end of the first half to cut the lead to 5 at 23-18.  It was one of the ugliest halves of basketball we have played this year, but we found a way to keep it close.  Against a better team, this game probably would have been over at halftime.

We started slow in the second half and allowed the Tigers to stretch the lead back to 9.  It seemed like every time we would get within striking distance we would make a crucial mistake and Mizzou would regain control.  When they went on a 6-0 run to take an 8 point lead with around 7 minutes remaining, after making a ridiculous 3 that bounced off the rim 5 times before going in, it appeared that perhaps it just would not be Alabama's night.  However, as this team has done all year, they continued to scrap.  Jimmie Taylor stepped up with some huge shots in the paint before fouling out.  The man defense locked them down, and Bola and company dominated the glass.

We caught a huge break when the officials missed an obvious out-of-bounds call and awarded the ball to Alabama after it clearly went off Dazon.  Dazon cashed in the opportunity, making back to back 3s to give Bama the lead for good.  That wasn't the only questionable call late in the game.  Hall was clothes lined going for a rebound with no call, and Key was charged with a turnover on a jump ball when a Mizzou defender grabbed his arm as he was driving to the basket in a key possession late in the game.  Thankfully, the defense got the stop needed to secure the win.

I must admit I was a little perplexed to see Bola and Donta on the court in an obvious late game free throw situation, but those two worked together to get the huge offensive rebound when Key missed the front end of the 1 and 1.

Dazon nearly had a double-double with 18 points and 9 rebounds.  Bola came up huge with 14 boards, including 6 offensive.

We shot 14 of 21 from the free throw line, which isn't great, but it's at least semi-respectable.  I know I've discussed this issue extensively here, but after giving it some more thought; I have slightly changed my opinion on how we should address this problem.  There have been a lot of comments lately about how we are taking free throws more seriously at practice, etc.  If we aren't going to invest in the software arc tracking programs or insist that each player develop and adhere to a strict routine at the line, then we should just accept poor free throw shooting as a part of our identity and not waste time on it.  I feel like Coach and the team is giving in a bit to fan pressure by making it a point of emphasis lately.  I would like to see Coach come out and say something to the effect of, "we do a lot of things well, but free throw shooting isn't one of them.  It is what it is, and we are more than capable of finding other ways to win games."  Studies have shown there is actually little correlation between winning percentage and made free throw percentage.  Coach Cal essentially took this approach with his Memphis team that made a run to the National Championship game. It might take some pressure off the guys at this point, and that can't hurt.

The television coverage wasn't as bad as some games this year, but it was still lacking.  Early in the game with a Hall free throw in the air, the camera cuts away to Coach Anderson while the announcers blather on about his future, with no mention of whether the ball went in or not; we had to wait for the score graphic to update.  Also, the constant talk about us being a "bubble team," to generate interest was tiresome.  Yes, we have a very outside chance of playing our way into the conversation, but it would probably take winning out at this point.  That isn't impossible, but it's not very realistic.  More importantly, we need that 4 seed in the SEC tournament, and those hopes took a bit of a set back with Arkansas beating South Carolina on the road.  I know fans always perceive a media bias against their own team, but it really felt like the crew was rooting for Mizzou based on their reactions to several plays.

Up next, we return home for a 2:30 pm tipoff Saturday against the LSU Tigers.  As bad as LSU is, we can't afford to take a day off.  The game in Baton Rouge could have gone either way.  SEC Network will handle the TV duties.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Game Preview - at Missouri

Alabama returns to the road, traveling to Columbia, Missouri to face the improving Missouri Tigers. Missouri has won two of their last three games, following an 0-9 start in league play. Game time is 7:30 PM. SEC Network will be televising the game. This is a crucial game for our guys. Despite their recent success, this is still a Missouri team with a sub-200 RPI. For an Alabama team trying to keep postseason hopes alive, a loss to Missouri would be devastating. A loss would also be hurtful as this Bama team is trying to stay in position for that 4th spot in the standings, and the bye that goes with it for the SEC Tournament.





Alabama
Missouri









69.8 PPG 69.5



66.1 OPP 71.5



42.4 FG% 39.9



40.6 OPP 42



48.4 EFG% 45.2



46.9 OPP 48.5



31.8 3PT% 29.4



35.4 OPP 33.2



63.8 FT% 67.4



66.7 OPP 67.6



42.1 FTRATE 38.8



39.5 OPP 38.5



40 RPG 38.1



33.8 OPP 39



34.3 OREB% 29.2



26.2 OPP 29



14.5 TOPG 12.7



14.6 OPP 13.8



20.7 TO% 17.7



20.9 OPP 19.3



62 KenPom Ranking 166


My Two Cents: It has been a miserable three years if you're a Missouri men's basketball fan. The program has only won 26 games in the last three seasons. Despite having a fanbase that has fervently embraced basketball in the past, the struggles have had an effect on attendance; and the future of head coach Kim Anderson has been in doubt as a result of those struggles. Yet, this team has continued to compete, and it finally paid off with wins in two of their last three games. That leads me to believe Alabama is catching this team at the wrong time, and that this game will be a challenge.

Players to Watch: Avery Johnson Jr. has really exceeded expectations in his first season on the floor in all aspects of the game. Coming into the season I really wasn't sure how much Avery would contribute, but at this point, I believe the team is at its best when he's running the point (in fact, Avery mentioned in his press conference that the team is 5-1 when Avery Jr. starts). After a career night at South Carolina, Avery had a rough outing against Kentucky. I think you could make a strong argument that Avery is one of the three best players on this team right now; therefore, the hope is he can bounce back and contribute on Wednesday night. 

Jordan Barnett has been pretty, pretty, pretty good in the last three games for Missouri. Over that span he's averaging 21 points and 6.6 rebounds. A transfer from Texas, Barnett is averaging 13.1 ppg and 6.3 rpg for the season. I'm guessing he's going to be a priority on the scouting report for this game.

Prediction: This game worries me. I just feel like our guys are facing this Missouri team on their home floor at the wrong time. Missouri is playing with confidence, and Alabama is another turnover-plagued game or free throw debacle from losing to anyone. And yet, I step back, I see the issues that this Alabama team has, and they're still 7-5 in the league, still with a shot at finishing in the top four of the league. That's a testament to the competitiveness of this team and the coaching staff for squeezing everything they can out of this roster. Logic tells me to pick the Tigers at home, but I'm going to stick with my heart on this one. Alabama - 66 - Missouri - 59   

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cat Scratched. Kentucky 67 Bama 58

Great game plan, but poor execution.  It's tempting to throw up a bunch of 3s against a superior team like this in hopes that you have a couple of guys get hot, but Coach Johnson wisely avoided that trap.  The problem with that approach, is that if you have a poor shooting day, you allow the opponent to push the tempo and get quick baskets on long rebounds.  Instead, we focused on attacking the basket with the dribble drive.  It worked, we drew a lot of fouls and controlled the tempo of the game.  Unfortunately, we shot an embarrassingly putrid 9 of 26 from the free throw line, only made 3 of 14 from 3 point range, and turned it over 16 times.  That's too much to overcome against a great team.

I'm not going to harp on the free throw shooting.  It is what it is at this point, and I think I've already said all there is to say about it in previous posts.  I've heard a lot of analysts say that it "cost us the game," but just saying "if Alabama shot a decent percentage they would have won" is not necessarily accurate.  It certainly would have been a different game, but there is no way of knowing how both teams would have responded or did things differently in a closer game.  At minimum, it cost us a chance to win the game.

The offense struggled throughout but a great defensive effort kept things from getting out of hand.  Despite an extended scoring drought, we were only down 29-20 going into halftime.  I knew the first 4 minutes of the second half would be crucial.  It featured 4 UA turnovers and the Kentucky lead grew to 15.  They led by 18 with 10 minutes remaining, and it's nearly impossible to come back from that deficit against a team as talented as Kentucky.

Alabama never gave up in this one and continued to fight.  The offense opened up a bit in the paint when we got Adebayo fouled out.  It also helped that Kentucky was only 10 of 18 from the line themselves.  We cut the lead to 6, but it never felt like we were a serious threat to win the game.  It seemed like every time we were on the verge of making it a game, Isiah Briscoe would answer with a huge basket.

Alabama's soft man defense was very effective.  Even guys who are sometimes a liability on defense really stepped up on that end.  Davis and Corbon both did a nice job of staying with their guys.  We switched to a zone for a bit in the second half, and at the time I thought it was a good move.  It seemed like our offensive frustrations were starting to spill over to the defensive end, and it was good to give them another look.  I think we stuck with it a bit too long though, as we were out-rebounding them until the switch, but struggled to get rebounds out of the zone.  Also, while I'm normally a proponent of pressing after made free throws, we had no business trying to press this team.  Every single time we pressed, they broke it for an easy layup or dunk.

Key did everything he could to bring us back.  I loved his aggressiveness and he scored 21 points.  Nevertheless, we can't win with Dazon and Key combining for 50% from the line and 10 turnovers, but that's going to happen from time to time when relying upon freshman.

I would also like to note that Kentucky got away with 3 or 4 obvious travels.  It didn't have an effect on the outcome of the game, but I think the officials were anticipating a bit based on Kentucky's reputation.

As for Kentucky, they are a team that is less than the sum of their parts right now.  They have the length and athleticism to be a great team on both ends of the court, but they don't always make good decisions or play with the most effort.  It will be interesting to see if they get it together over the next month, but they aren't a final four caliber team right now.

Up next, we go to Missouri for a 7:30 start Wednesday night.  This game concerns me.  Mizzou has won 2 of their last 3 coming off a 20 point win over Vandy.  We aren't good enough to take a night off on the road.  The game will be televised on the SEC Network.  

Friday, February 10, 2017

Game Preview - Kentucky

After beating their first ranked opponent of the season, Alabama will look to repeat that feat against the mighty Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday when the 15th-ranked team visits Tuscaloosa. Game time is 12:00 PM. CBS will be televising the game. After looking like they would run through the league early, Kentucky have lost 3 of their last 5 games, and there are some definite chinks in the armor. Alabama might just be catching them at the right time.





Alabama
Kentucky









70.3 PPG 90.2



66 OPP 74.3



42.3 FG% 48.7



40.4 OPP 43



48.5 EFG% 54.4



46.9 OPP 48.2



32.1 3PT% 35.7



35.9 OPP 32.3



65.2 FT% 69.3



67.1 OPP 68.5



41.7 FTRATE 40.8



40 OPP 33.8



40 RPG 40.3



33.4 OPP 35.5



34.8 OREB% 35.3



26 OPP 29.1



14.4 TOPG 12



14.7 OPP 15.7



20.6 TO% 15.6



21 OPP 20.3



61 KenPom Ranking 7


My Two Cents: John Calipari was noticeably frustrated with his team following Tuesday night's closer-than-expected victory over LSU at Rupp Arena. While the team is averaging 90 points per game, this has been arguably Calipari's worst defensive team at Kentucky. Once again, Calipari is having to rely on multiple freshmen to shoulder the load for his team; and, despite having two potential All-Americans on the team in freshmen De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, the team has had its share of inconsistent play as a result of leaning on freshmen. There won't be too many tears shed for Calipari as at least three of those freshmen (Fox, Monk and Edrice "Bam" Adebayo) are all expected to be 1st round draft picks. Alabama has been a solid defensive team this season, but Avery and his staff are going to have their work cut out for them to match up with the talent of Kentucky. Uptempo teams have been a nightmare for Alabama this season, and Kentucky is one of the fastest teams in the country. I think you have to play zone vs this Kentucky team. They're too fast, too athletic to guard one-on-one, and Adebayo in the middle will be as physical a player as our big guys have seen this season. They're not a great 3-pt shooting team. I say bite the bullet, play zone, and hope the shooters for this Kentucky team don't shoot the ball the way Auburn did in Coleman last weekend. Hold your own on the boards, muck up the game a little, keep the crowd in it....who knows?

Players to Watch: Dazon Ingram and Braxton Key combined for 13 points in the game vs South Carolina. While it was encouraging that the team gutted out a win without major contributions from its top two players, Dazon and Braxton must play well on Saturday if Alabama has any chance of winning.

Malik Monk has been streaky at times for this Kentucky team, but when he's on, he's one of the best players in the country. The hope is that he will fall in love with the 3-pt shot, because if he is aggressive off the dribble, I'm not sure there's a player on this Bama team that can guard him.

Prediction: While I love the fight this team has shown this season in responding to adversity, sometimes basketball is about more than heart and hustle, x's and o's; sometimes it just comes down to the matchup. And I don't believe the matchup favors Alabama. I believe they will fight, and the crowd should keep them in it, but Kentucky just has too much offensive firepower. Kentucky - 86 - Alabama - 76

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Crimson Castrates Cocks! Alabama 90 South Carolina 86 (4OT)

It took a full hour of playing time to do it, but Alabama has its first road win over a top 20 team in 13 years.

So much happened in this game, I don't even know where to start.  There was a change in the starting lineup again with Hall getting the nod over Jimmie.  It was a sloppy game, as was somewhat expected between two defensive minded teams that like to play half-court games.

The defense was phenomenal in the first half and for most of the game.  Despite having too many unforced turnovers, we doubled them up for a 32-16 halftime lead.  Carolina played much better in the second half, but Bama answered when needed and managed to maintain a double digit lead going into the final minutes.

Given our foul trouble, inability to make free throws, and turnover problems, I was okay with taking the air out of the ball and trying to hold on for dear life in the final 4 minutes with a 12 point lead.  Unfortunately, when Carolina finally started pressing with 2 minutes left, we could not hold onto the basketball.  The Cocks came from behind rather quickly, and tied us up forcing overtime.

There are not enough superlatives to properly illustrate the heart and poise this team showed in the overtimes.  With our two best players fouled out (Dazon and Key) after underwhelming performances, and after losing all momentum on the road against a top 20 team, things certainly appeared bleak.  No matter how many opportunities to win the game we missed, somebody would step up and bring us back to keep fighting.

Shannon Hale returned from his leg injury, and actually played hard and contributed to the win by making 6 free throws and grabbing 6 rebounds.  He also nearly cost us the game with a stupid technical foul in the 2nd overtime that led to Carolina taking a 7 point lead.  Somehow, Bama answered with an 8 point run of their own.

AJ and  Davis of all people kept us in the game with their hot shooting.  They scored 23 and 19 respectively, and AJ somehow managed to grab 6 rebounds as well.  After not doing much in regulation, Riley was huge in overtime, scoring 9 of his 11 points.  He made the final 4 free throws that proved to be the difference in the game.

Speaking of free throws, Thornwell was a beast.  He scored 44 points, had 21(!) rebounds, and went 25 of 33 from the free throw line.  Thankfully we kept everybody else off the boards and out-rebounded them by 10.

With the win, Bama moves a game ahead of Arkansas in the SEC standings for the all important 4th place.  Florida, Kentucky, and Carolina are in a 3 way tie for first.  In an ideal world, we hold onto a top 4 spot and get the double-bye in the SEC tournament while staying on the opposite side of Kentucky, but there is a lot of basketball still to be played over the next month.

Up next, speaking of Kentucky, the Cats come to Coleman for a high noon tip-off Saturday.  It's a hard sellout, and will be broadcast nationally on CBS.  This will be our first CBS game in several years.  UK will certainly bring a large contingent of blue clad fans.  If you are going to the game, please be nice and welcoming to our visitors.  I've made several trips to Rupp and their fans have always been first class win or lose.  It's my favorite trip in the SEC, and I hope they leave with a good impression of us.  As for the game itself, I suggest drinking heavily.  While it's not quite as bad of a matchup for us as it has been the last few years, and they haven't been playing their best lately, I still can't see anyway for us to win this one.  I hope we can keep it respectably close.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Game Preview - at South Carolina

Before I write about the game at South Carolina, I wanted to shed a few more tears about the game this past Saturday. DJC is an invaluable member of the team that contributes to this blog. His recaps are always well-written and informative. I always look forward to them. In fact, I always read them before my customary second viewing of the most recent game. As I've mentioned in the past, I like to go back and give each game a second viewing, divorced from the emotion and anxiety that typically accompany the first viewing of the game. Reading DJC's perspective, which is always rational, is a great precursor to these second viewings because it gives me things to look for in the game.

He nailed it in his last recap: this Alabama team simply doesn't match up well with Auburn. That's painful to write, but barring a horrendous shooting day from Auburn, Alabama wasn't going to win either game. I believe the decision by Avery to stay in zone despite the Tigers hot shooting had a lot to do with the fact that our guys had a hard time containing the quickness of Auburn's guards when they had the ball in their hand. Physically, our guys couldn't match up. I don't like the guy, but Pearl had a great game plan. Alabama didn't help themselves with the turnovers (the quickness of Auburn vs our lack of quickness, much like Arkansas earlier in the week, had a lot to do with the turnovers) or missed free throws, but I'm not sure it would have meant much in the long run. Pearl has a year on Avery when it comes to recruiting, and that was painfully obvious in the two games played.

I was harsh towards the coaching staff in the emotional aftermath of that game. DJC's recap and my second viewing didn't lessen my belief that a sweep by Auburn is horrible from a perception standpoint, but when you can't match up physically with a team, there's only so much you can do as a coach. Avery's recruiting is going to put the two programs on equal footing talent-wise in the very near future, but Auburn is the better program right now. It's a temporary situation so I encourage our friends from the east to enjoy it while it lasts. Hit the jump break to see your normally scheduled preview.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

AUful, auburn sweeps Alabama, auburn 82 Bama 77

Turnovers, missed free throws, and a poor defensive performance were too much to overcome against a more talented auburn team.

In the first matchup, Austin Wiley dominated us inside which opened up the perimeter for them in the second half.  We countered by running more zone, using a bigger lineup, fronting, and double-teaming him this game.  It worked to an extent, we limited Wiley to just 2 points, but unfortunately we didn't defend the perimeter and they shot 55% from 3 point range and ended up with 5 guys in double digits.

We jumped out to an early 8-2 lead, but then got sloppy with the basketball.  We simply are not a good passing team at times.  The Tigers quickly erased the lead and then Dazon had to go to the bench with 2 early fouls.  I thought we should have used AJ in relief more than Corban.  Although Corban did end up with 17 points, he was only 3 for 10 from three point range and was a huge liability on defense.  He just didn't have the quickness to keep up with or close out on auburn's guards on the perimeter, and when he did he rarely got his hands up.  There was one particular transition play that stands out in my mind, the auburn guard was barreling down the lane, out of control, Corban was in position to take the charge but instead continued to back up and gave up and easy "and one."  I think AJ could have at least pestered their quick guards a little more.

After falling behind by 9 points we finished the first half on a run to go into the locker room only trailing by 2 at halftime.

I thought we stuck with the zone a little too long in the second half.  Every time we got within striking distance they would hit a couple of 3s.  A lot of their 3s were well defended, but as a shooter it's easier to make a contested shot after you've already seen a few uncontested ones go through the net.  We let them get into a rhythm and could not break it.

Bruce Pearl did us a huge favor by taking the air out of the ball with a 15 point lead and around 5 minutes to play.  I really think they would have run us out of the gym if they kept running their offense.  Instead, it gave us a chance to re-group and broke auburn's momentum.  In the final moments, we saw why this auburn team has underachieved this year.  They put on a clinic on how to blow a lead, turnovers, fouls allowing us to score with the clock stopped, and failure to secure defensive rebounds.  At one point we had a 6-0 run without them getting the ball across half-court.  In retrospect, perhaps we should have started pressing earlier and more often, but we didn't have much success with it after the rare made free throws and auburn is an athletic team that wants to play at a faster pace, so I understand the reasoning behind not doing so.

We made a furious comeback and cut the lead to 4 with about a minute remaining, and had auburn trapped in the corner.  I thought they got away with a push off to beat that press, and Riley got called for a blocking foul at the other end.  That pretty much ended any realistic chances at a miracle comeback.

On the bright side, I thought the team played hard and never gave up. We out rebounded them 47-28.  Dazon had a good game with 16 points despite his foul trouble.  Key scored 17.  Unfortunately, our poor free throw shooting returned as we were only 13 of 22.  Riley was an atrocious 1 for 10 from 3 point range.

I know this won't be popular, but I think we are being a little too harsh on Coach Johnson for this loss.  I know we don't like being swept by our so-called "rivals," but they are the more talented team right now despite their record, and more importantly they present some serious matchup problems for us.  While I may have made some slightly different decisions as noted above (playing AJ more than Corban and abandoning the zone earlier) I'm not sure it would have made the difference in this game.  I understand what Coach was thinking and it wasn't a bad game plan, auburn was not a good three point shooting team coming in.  They made nearly twice as many as their average.

With the loss, any slight hopes we had of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament are now gone.  It would take wins in our next two games to have a chance of getting into the conversation, and that's about as likely as me having a threesome with Kate Upton and Emily Ratajkowski.  

The game was a sellout, and there were only a handful of empty seats in the lower levels.  My row was actually full for the first time this year.   There were maybe 800 or so auburn fans mostly up in the corners and scattered throughout.  The crowd was loud and into the game for the most part, but I was a little disappointed that close to 60% began filing out with still 5 minutes remaining.  They almost missed a great comeback.

The halftime show that most came for was incredibly lame.  The team was not even present.  They brought out the trophy, Coach Battle and the SGA folks from each school gave the standard, "we compete hard but do great things for the state, sportsmanship, yada-yada canned speaches, Coach Saban appeared briefly on a pre-recorded video, then the band played the fight song, which the auburn SGA representatives didn't even bother to sing.  It's long past time we retire this stupid "tradition."

Up next, we go on the road to play the top team in the SEC and the nationally top 20 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia on Tuesday at 5:30 CT.  I know this sounds crazy, but I think we actually match up fairly well with them and expect a competitive game.  It will be televised on SEC Network.