Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Game Preview: at LSU

Having won eight of their last ten games, Alabama (12-7, 4-2;KenPom: 42; NET: 41) has started to pop up in the bracketology discussions that become fodder on the networks. In my opinion, it's a little early to start having that discussion, but that this team has a chance to be in tournament consideration after a 2-4 start is encouraging. Wednesday will provide a massive quad one opportunity for our guys when they travel to Baton Rouge to face the LSU Tigers (15-4, 6-0; KenPom: 34; NET: 25). Game time is 6 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN2.

My Two Cents: There's plenty to be critical of Will Wade about, particularly where it concerns the allegations that surfaced during the FBI trials regarding his recruiting methods. But you have to hand it to him and this group of players: no matter how the team may have been put together, they know how to win. The Tigers are on an eight-game winning streak; six of those eight wins have been by a margin of one or two possessions. Last season, en route to winning the regular season league title, the Tigers finished 9-2 in 1/2 possession or overtime games. You can be critical of the number of close games, but you have to admit these guys are clutch when it counts.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Surviving the Cat Fight, Alabama 77 K-State 74

Alabama survived a scare at home to improve to 12-7 (4-2) with a hard fought win over the Kansas State Wildcats in the SEC/Big 12 challenge.  The conferences fought to a tie this year, with each winning 5 games. 

On the positive side, we found a way to win, yet again, despite not playing a great game.  We also managed to win a close game, which is something we've struggled with to this point.  On the other hand, the sloppy ball handling continued to be an issue, and we were dominated on the boards, and we're going to have to clean up those areas against the better teams on our schedule.

It was a sluggish start, with K-State mostly controlling the tempo and the game for most of the first half.  Nevertheless, you had to feel like eventually we would go on a run to take control of the game, and we finally did, but not until the second half.  K-State led by 1 at the half, but we took the lead early in the second half and never relinquished it, although they had several chances to go back on top.  We went on a big run between the 16 and 12 minute marks in the second half to build a 16 point lead, but then we went cold and allowed the Wildcats to chip away and claw their way back into the game.  They had the ball with a one possession deficit several times late in the game, but we got the stops when needed and made just enough free throws down the stretch to hang on.

JP was called for a technical foul early in the second half, and by all accounts all he did was roll the ball to the official.  That was his fourth foul, and even though he wasn't having his best game, I thought that really contributed to the rebounding discrepancy as JP has been one of our better rebounders.  Credit to Shack and others on the bench for stepping up and going on a big run right after JP's unjust technical.

Not sure if they showed it on TV, but at one point after a K-State player fouled up, while the players were huddling with their respective coaches on the floor, one of the K-State guys tried to walk into our huddle during the 20 second delay that the coach has to designate his substitute.  The officials handled it well and got him out of there, but that's the kind of Busch league stuff that makes it no surprise they got into an embarrassing brawl with their superior in-state rival in their last game.

Kira proved his point after being benched by Bruce Weber on the national team.  He ended up with 26 points and 7 rebounds.  All of the other starters, Alex, Herb, Shack, and JP all were in double-digits with 11 or 10 points each.  Kira made his point, and then hugged Bruce Weber after the game.  For his part, Weber said all of the right things after the game as well.  They both handled the situation respectfully and with class, in my opinion.

The biggest issue with this game is how badly we were killed on the glass. We only had 3 offensive rebounds, they out-rebounded us 45-33, including a ridiculous 22-3 on the offensive end.  We were able to somewhat counteract that by driving the lane and getting to the free throw line, but rebounding has been a surprising strength of this team so far this year and we won't survive most nights giving up that many second chance opportunities.

I wasn't pleased with the way we managed the end of the game.  JP missed two free throws with a little over a minute left that would have been huge, but thankfully they returned the favor.  Overall, Herb has done much better at the line and made some huge free throws down the stretch to put it away, but at the end of the game, we had to in-bound the ball under our own basket with less than 3 seconds remaining and K-State having no timeouts.  First of all, that in-bounds pass should have been into the front court...even if you don't catch it, just get a hand on it and time runs off the clock and they aren't going to be able to get a good shot off, but instead we risk a pass in to our back court to Herb.  Now, ideally Herb would make the shot to go up 3 and then if he makes the second one wer're up 4 and it's over, but he missed the first one.  Still, even up only 2, I would have preferred he miss the second one on purpose as there were only 2 seconds left and K-State had no timeouts remaining.  It would take them one second to secure the rebound, and then all we have to do is not foul and take our chances on an 80+ foot heave to win the game.  Instead, we made the second one, which allowed them to inbound the ball without time running time off the clock and get a semi-decent look from half-court to potentially tie the game.  Thankfully it was off the mark.

The crowd was great, much better than last weekend.  I would estimate about 12,500, a near sell out, and everybody stayed positive and supportive even when the team was struggling.  An article in the Kansas City newspaper said it was the toughest environment the wildcats have faced in the SEC/Big 12 challenge so far! 

Not Alabama related, but as a basketball fan I must recognize the untimely passing of Kobe Bryant today.  He was undoubtedly one of the best to ever play the game, and I appreciate all he did for the game and I think I can speak for all basketball fans in saying that I feel terrible for his family and loved ones.

Up next, a trip to SEC front running LSU Tigers Wednesday night.  Tip-off is set for 6pm on ESPN2.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Game Preview: Kansas State [Big 12/SEC Challenge]

On Saturday, ten SEC teams will have an opportunity to pad their non-conference resumes for the final time. Alabama (11-7; KenPom: 42; NET: 38) will be one of those teams when they host the Kansas State Wildcats (8-10; KenPom: 91; NET: 89). Game time is 5 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN2. Due to a time crunch, I'm going to try and rush through this preview (oh thank god, the readers say).

My Two Cents: Alabama got the win on Wednesday night at Vanderbilt, which was obviously a good thing. But it was a poor performance. Twenty-five turnovers on the road is going to get you beat most nights. Fortunately for our guys, they were playing a Vanderbilt team that is going through a really difficult stretch for the program. The Dores simply don't have many winning options right now. At first glance, K-State's 8-10 record may lead you to believe this will be an easy game. But if Alabama turns the ball over at the rate they did on Wednesday night, the Wildcats, unlike Vanderbilt, do have enough options to make Alabama pay for those mistakes.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Close the 'Dores, Alabama 77 Vandy 62

It wasn't always pretty, but Alabama cruised to a 15 point victory over the woeful Vanderbilt Commodores to improve to 11-7 (4-2).  The win is the third straight over Vandy for the first time in over 30 years, the second largest margin of victory at Memorial gym in the series, and the first back to back wins over Vanderbilt in Nashville since the mid 1980's.  Let me preface this recap by noting that I watched this game in a bar, with no sound, while also playing team trivia, so feel free to fill in any gaps that I missed.

JP took control of the game early by helping us build a 10 point lead with a barrage of early 3s.  Unfortunately, he also had a bunch of bad turnovers that let the Dores back into the game.  We didn't finish the half strong and only led by 6 at halftime. 

The defense played well throughout and we killed them on the boards.  This led to some transition opportunities and a quick 14-0 run pushed the lead to 20 in the second half and the game was over for all intents and purposes.  We made enough free throws to close it out, but slopped around with turnovers and let the score get a lot closer than it should have been.

After recent improvements, the 25 turnovers is more than a little concerning.  Many of these were terrible passes or just dribbling into traffic.  A team with a pulse would have beat us, but Vandy only managed 23 points off the turnovers, and we out-rebounded them 51-32.  No team is going to play well every night, some nights the shots won't fall and some nights we will revert to being sloppy with the basketball.  Good teams can still find a way to win when not playing their best, and that's what this team is doing.

JP was the leading scorer with a double-double, 23 points and 10 rebounds, but had 6 turnovers.  Kira scored 16, but had 7 turnovers.  Shack had 15 points, 7 rebounds, and won the hard hat award.  Herb had another solid game with 10 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and notably zero turnovers.  He also made 6 of 7 from the free throw line.  Alex only scored two points but I thought he did a great job defensively.

The biggest concern from this game is Javion Davis going down with a knee injury.  We await the results of an MRI, but he just tweeted "I'm Good," so hopefully he will be back soon.

Up next, a break from conference play as Kansas State will come to Tuscaloosa for the SEC/Big 12 showdown.  Tip off is set for 5 pm Saturday evening on ESPN2.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Joe Lunardi LIKES US!

Drive by post and I apologize... but I took a peek at Bracketology and was kinda shocked to see us make an appearance:
Lookie where we are!

I do think those losses to Penn and Iowa State are going to cost us... unless we end up 11-7 or better in conference.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Game Preview: at Vanderbilt

Winners of seven of their last ten games, Alabama (10-7, 3-2; KenPom: 44; NET: 42) will be looking for its first true road victory of the season when it travels to Nashville on Wednesday night to face the Vanderbilt Commodores (8-9, 0-4; KenPom: 175; NET: 143). Game time is 8 P.M. CT, and will be televised on the SEC Network.

My Two Cents: The Dores are going through what you might call a bad stretch in the last two seasons and change. Vandy hasn't beaten an SEC opponent, including the SEC tournament, since March 3rd, 2018. That's twenty-four straight losses vs league competition. Ouch. In addition, last season and earlier this season, the program's best player (Darius Garland in 18-19; Aaron Nesmith this season) was lost to season-ending injuries. Garland elected to enter the NBA Draft despite his injury; and Nesmith, projected as a first-round draft pick in some mock drafts, may have also played his final game in a Vanderbilt uniform. In his absence the Dores have gone 0-3, losing those games by an average of twenty points. Ouch. To add insult to injury: in their previous game vs Tennessee, Vandy's 34-year streak of at least one made three-pointer per game came to an end with an 0-25 performance. Ouch. After the program fired former coach Bryce Drew, hiring an experienced coach to at least play the role of caretaker for a few seasons may have been the best call. Instead, Vandy hired a first-time college head coach in Jerry Stackhouse. The future is not yet written for Stackhouse in Nashville, but this season certainly doesn't appear to have a happy ending.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Tide Tames Tigers, Alabama 88 Mizzou 74

Mizzou set a conference record by making 31 of 31 from the free throw line, but Alabama gutted out a hard fought game to improve to 10-7 (3-2).

It started ugly with neither team able to take control until Alex got hot and made a few threes to build a 10 point lead.  That set the tone for the game, and while Mizzou clawed back to within a possession a few times thanks to their endless parade of free throws, our guys always had the answer.

We started Kira, Shack, JP, Herb, and Alex.  All five of the starters ended up in double figures.  While Mizzou's free throw record was quite an accomplishment, we also made 25 of 30 from the stripe and that was a big part of our ability to hang on to the lead in the final minutes.  I thought the officials generally called the game too tight on both sides.  The game did not have much of a flow, and I'll say it again, this is another example of why the NCAA should go to the quarters format.  I think we can all agree nobody wants to watch 61 free throws in a game.

Unlike the last two games, we were able to get much more 3s up.  We shot an adequate 13 of 39.  Alex was particularly hot in the first half, going 4 of 8.  JP went 4 of 10 and Shack was 3 of 9.  Beetle suffered a back injury and fouled out in only 8 minutes of action.  I thought he was playing well, especially battling through the injury, and two of his foul calls were total BS.  Speaking of BS, Doug Shows called a technical foul on our bench, and I've heard a couple of different accounts as to what happened.  Nate Oats was arguing with another official during a timeout over a questionable call, and some reports say Oats was warned not to "charge" an official, and Shows called him for walking toward the official.  Other reports say it was on Hodgson.  Oats was animated and on the court, but the technical should have came from the official he was having the conversation with, if at all.

Herb and Kira both did an excellent job of playing smart with 4 fouls down the stretch.  Losing Kira with 4 minutes or so to play would have been catastrophic with Beetle also out.  Herb won the hard hat again and had another double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.  Herb was also 7 of 8 from the line.  Kira had 10 points and 7 assists.  JP led the way with 20 points, and Shack and Alex each had 17.

Notice I haven't said much about defense or turnovers.  Other than the fouls, we played pretty solid defense and only had 14 turnovers.  The improvement in these areas over the last couple of months is the biggest reason why we have a winning record and are still discussing our post-season chances right now.

The crowd was decent for a cool, rainy afternoon, I would say probably around 9,500 or so.  It wasn't the loud, emotional atmosphere we had for the auburn game, but the crowd was engaged and supportive when needed.

Up next, we travel to Nashville to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores Wednesday night.  For the first time in the history of their program they failed to make a three-pointer against Tennessee Saturday, so we should probably be prepared for them to go 20 of 24 or so against us.  It will tip off at 8 pm on the SEC Network.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Game Preview: Missouri

One of the differences between good teams and mediocre/bad teams is that the good teams handle success well. Take the Baylor Bears for example. They won at Kansas for the first time in program history, and rose to #2 in the polls. What did they do for an encore? They returned home and beat a mediocre Iowa State team by thirteen points. They handled success. How will Alabama (9-7, 2-2; KenPom: 45; NET: 44) handle success? We'll find out on Saturday afternoon when they host the Missouri Tigers (9-7, 1-3; KenPom: 73; NET: 75). Game time is 2:30 P.M. CT, and will be televised on the SEC Network.

My Two Cents: Wednesday night's win over Auburn was great for the program. The fan and student turnout was tremendous, the energy was palpable even watching it on television in the Lone Star State, and the players effort for forty minutes was satisfying to watch. If this team can remain healthy, I'm excited to see what they can become over the next month and a half. But the question above must be answered. In the past, when Alabama has hit a high, the inevitable low was not far behind. If the culture of this program is truly changing, it will be reflected in how focused this team is on Saturday when they take the court.  Are they still celebrating a win over Auburn, or are they ready to get down to business?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Barn Burned, but it wasn't a Barn-Burner; Alabama 83 auburn 64

Alabama blew out previously undefeated and 4th ranked auburn to improve to 9-7 (2-2) on the season.  The win improves the team's NET ranking to 44th.

It's encouraging that this team is finding new ways to win games.  The 3 point shot wasn't there last night, but the Tide made up for it with defense,, rebounding, driving the lane, and free throws.

JP hit an early 3 to give Bama a 5-0 lead and set the tone.  The Tigers struggled mightily from the field and from the free throw line in the first half, while Alabama's offense was only marginally better.  We methodically built a 14 point lead, but allowed auburn to score the last 5 points of the half so we only led 36-27 going into the locker room.

The end of the first half and beginning of the second half gave me flashbacks to the Florida game.  The war eagles cut the lead to 3 by the 15 minute mark, but we almost immediately pushed it back to 8.  We only shot 6 of 21 from 3-point range, but those six makes all seemed to come at crucial moments when auburn was trying to make a run.  The final one by Kira to stretch the lead from 11 to 14 essentially put the game away.

Once again, the bigs played well in mitigating an apparent mis-match.  Austin Wiley had a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds but was limited to only 20 minutes of playing time.  We put Alex in at the 5, and Wiley didn't have the quickness to defend him.  We drove the ball at him and got him in foul trouble.  At one point we ran 3 or 4 high ball screens with Alex in a row, and that put Wiley in the difficult position of having to stay near the perimeter or switch on a guard.  Bruce pulled him out of the game after Beetle burned him on a couple of switches. 

They were killing us early on the boards, but thankfully weren't able to cash in, as they had several possessions where they missed 3 or 4 shots.  The rebounding improved as the game went on, and we were only out-rebounded by 2.  Rebounding is a team effort with this squad.  Often the guards crash and may not be able to secure the ball, but they at least are able to tip it away from the opposing center to give another teammate a chance. 

The Plainsmen tried the Kentucky game-plan of running us off the 3-point line, but they don't have the size on the wings that UK does, and without Wiley to protect the rim, Kira was able to destroy them on the dribble drive.  When we didn't score we got to the line and made 29 of 37 free throws compared to auburn's 17 of 30.

Kira ended up with 25 points including 8 of 9 from the line.  Herb had an outstanding all-around game.  He finished with a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds and was a lock-down defender, drawing several charges.  Alex was 3 of 6 from the three point range and finished with 13 points.  Beetle had 11 points and was a force defensively.  JP only scored 7, but he had 7 rebounds and also played solid defense.

The crowd was a big factor in the game.  It was a packed house, and the atmosphere was as loud throughout as I can ever remember.  auburn had not played in that type of hostile environment yet this year, and I think our guys fed off the energy.  I think we actually got a little bit of "home cooking" from the officials for a change as well.  Any time a questionable call would go against us, we would almost immediately get the "make-up" call.  Barners will whine about it, but that's life on the road in the SEC and I fully expect to be on the other end of it when we go to their cow pasture next month.  the officials are never the difference in a 19 point game. 

 There were about 1,000 auburn fans at the game, mostly up in the corners but also scattered throughout the better seats, including a group near us.  They were loud and could be heard chanting "Let's Go auburn" during their second half run, but they were quickly drowned out.  The ones near us weren't bad, except for complaining about our student section being "classless."  Yes, they were chanting "F$%! you, auburn!" but that was in response to Daniel "who took my ACT?" Purifoy taunting them and flipping them off (after a freaking free throw, no less).  I hope McLemore got a good look at our faces as we serenaded him with Rammer Jammer.  The only thing that could have made this game better would have been a late game rendition of Dixieland Delight.

Up next, let's see how this team handles success.  Mizzou comes to town Saturday for a 2:30 pm tipoff, and we need the same type of home court advantage.  I can't imagine anybody going to the auburn game and not wanting to come back, so hopefully we will have another packed house.  The game will be televised on SEC Network.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Game Preview: Auburn

The beginning of conference play for Alabama (8-7, 1-2; KenPom: 53; NET: 60) hasn't been without struggle, but the team is clearly improving. The next step is achieving a signature win. The Auburn Tigers (16-0, 3-0; KenPom: 16; NET: 6; AP: 5) would definitely fit the bill. A season after making its first Final Four in program history, the Tigers are currently one of two unbeaten teams remaining in college basketball. Game time on Wednesday night is 8 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN2.

My Two Cents: This is a big game for Alabama for several reasons: 1) a win would count as a quad one win for Alabama 2) a win would even up the conference record 3) it would provide a boost to a fanbase that is excited by the improvement on the floor, but not always in the win/loss record, and 4) Alabama needs to reassert itself in this rivalry as Auburn has swept them in two of the last three seasons.