Monday, February 24, 2020

Game Preview: at Mississippi State


Alabama (15-12, 7-7; KenPom: 46; NET: 40) picked a good time to have one of their better efforts of the season, walking out of Oxford with a 25-point win. The victory keeps their NCAA Tournament hopes alive as we look ahead to the final two weeks of the regular season. Next up is a second meeting with the Mississippi State Bulldogs (17-10, 8-6; KenPom: 53; NET: 56). Game time Tuesday night in Starkville is 8:00 P.M. CT, and will be televised on SEC Network. Alabama won the previous meeting by a score of 90-69.

My Two Cents: Both teams enter this game in need of a win for their postseason resumes. State has won 17 games, but, aside from a road win at Florida, there isn't much meat on the resume. It may be the last opportunity Alabama gets for a quad one win so they need to take advantage.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Bama Blasts Black Bear-Baby Shark-Rebels. Alabama 103 Ole Miss 78

Bama got a blow out victory on the road to improve to 15-12 (7-7).  As a preliminary disclaimer, I watched this game at a bar with no sound.  I have to admit, my enthusiasm for this win is a bit dampened by: a)the Deontay Wilder loss and b) let's be real, is there any doubt that even if we beat $tate we're going to lose to South Carolina and/or Vandy at home?

It started ugly.  We had about 4 turnovers in the first 2 minutes, and Ole Miss jumped out to a 9-2 lead.  Herb made an open layup under the goal, and for some reason the Rebels decided to start double-teaming the guy with one arm.  He was able to find a wide open Kira Lewis who hit a couple of 3's to give us the lead for good.

I thought the defense was very good in the first half, and we even played a fair amount of zone.  We were able to get into the passing lanes and disrupt Ole Miss's half court offense, which allowed us to speed up the pace of the game.  Bama led 45-31 at the half.

I fully expected Ole Miss to make a game of it, as we've struggled to hold big leads all season.  The Tide kept their foot on the gas this time though and ran the Rebels out of their own gym.  It was a chippy game with a lot of technical fouls including their coach getting ran.  I was concerned that would give them a spark, but instead our guys cashed in on the opportunity and stretched the lead to an insurmountable margin.

The defense was not as good in the second half, but we mixed things up well on offense.  The dribble drive and inside-out game led to some open 3s, and we were at least serviceable in the paint.  After the bad start, we did a good job of valuing the basketball, with 25 assists and only 12 turnovers.

Kira had a double-double with 17 points, 11 assists, and notably zero turnovers!  JP went 4 of 6 from downtown and ended up with 21 points.  Shack had a good game with 18 points and 3 assists.  Alex had 12 points and was our leading rebounder with 6, but his 5 turnovers were bad.  Herb played 22 minutes and had 3 blocks and 2 steals, it's amazing what he continues to contribute with one arm.  Davis was also in double-digits thanks to a late 3, which was entertaining and fun in that situation, but I would still rather him not jack those up in an actual close game like he did against Texas A&M.

Give credit to this team for continuing to fight when everyone assumed the season was over with the recent home losses.  This was a solid bounce-back win and hopefully they can build on it and finish strong.

Up next, we stay in the only state in the union that is even more miserable than our own, as we go to Starkville to take on the Mi$$ $tate Bulldogs Tuesday night at 8pm.  It will be broadcast on the SEC Network.


Friday, February 21, 2020

Game Preview: at Ole Miss


The familiar sound of bubbles popping in February could be heard loud and clear in Coleman Coliseum on Wednesday night. The idea that the team's bubble is burst may be premature given there are a few weeks left in the season, but Alabama (14-12, 6-7; KenPom: 55; NET: 44) did itself no favors in losing at home to a Texas A&M team with a triple digit NET ranking. The result was a second (for now) quad three loss for the team. With road trips looming to both Mississippi schools, our guys have put their backs, once again, against the wall. If they don't pull out of this tailspin (losers of five of their last seven) soon, even the NIT won't be an option come March. Next up: a trip to Oxford to face the Ole Miss Rebels (13-13, 4-9; KenPom: 85; NET: 86). Game time on Saturday is 7:30 P.M. CT, and will be televised on the SEC Network.

My Two Cents: I've used the analogy before that being an Alabama basketball fan is like being in a bad relationship. You have feelings for the person, and you hope that the relationship will turn a corner. But it never does, becoming more harmful the longer it continues. I'm not going to break up with Alabama basketball, but situations like the one we saw on Wednesday night are comically absurd at this point. I've been critical in the past of fan support for basketball, but how can anyone honestly expect fans to keep supporting a program that consistently rips their heart out?

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Die by the 3- Texas A&M 74 Alabama 68

Alabama lost a crucial home game to the Aggies to drop to 14-12 (6-7).  I considered not even doing a recap for this one.  You can go back and read just about any home February game's recap from the last ten years or so and it's basically the same thing.  Every year, we get some big wins that get us to the bubble, and then have a seemingly manageable schedule, and proceed to crap the bed in home games where we are heavily favored.

Buzz Williams is a good coach and he's going to have a lot of success in this league.  He had an outstanding game plan for us.  They opened up in a half-court 1-2-2 zone trap, and we looked totally unprepared for it.  I haven't had a chance to watch them previously this year, so I don't know if they've ran that a lot, but I'm guessing not because our guys looked like they had never even seen it on film. 

On the other end, it was obvious they wanted to get the ball to Nebo in the post against Alex, and they ran several plays to pull the help side defense away.  Alex was simply out-matched down the low, so we had to play Galin and Davis probably more than we would have liked.  Davis only played 5 minutes and inexplicable decided to jack up a couple of 3s from the corner.

The Aggies scored the first 8 points of the game, and nearly 4 minutes were off the clock before we finally scored.  We settled down and started making some 3s, and the defense was able to come up with 15 turnovers in the first half, and we took a 6 point lead into the locker room.  Even though the pace wasn't to our liking, you had to feel good about the lead and the fact that the game seemed to be developing into a 3 point shooting contest.  We were doing a decent job in the soft man and going under screens of keeping the ball out of the post, but unfortunately the 351st ranked shooting team went off for 11 of 24. 

They would cut the lead to one or two, but we would answer and stretch it back to 5 or 6, usually on a Shack 3.  I felt like if we could ever get it to 10 we would be in good shape, as their style of play isn't conducive to coming from behind.  At the same time, I knew if we ever coughed up the lead, we would probably be in big trouble. We had several opportunities with the ball and a 6 point lead, but turned it over or took a bad shot almost every time.  We had a 6 point lead with a little over 4 minutes remaining, then gave up a 12-0 run.  I'll note we had 3 timeouts remaining, and did not use one until we were down 6 with a minute remaining.  We should have used one when they cut it to one, or at the latest when they first took the lead with 2:30 remaining.  I like Coach Oats' philosophy in general, but his timeout management makes about as much sense as Avery Johnson's substitution patterns.

Simply put, this team choked down the stretch with the game on the line, again.  Kira, Alex, and JP all had bad turnovers down the stretch.  Yes, both teams had 19 turnovers, but the Ags only had 4 in the second half.  They took care of the ball down the stretch, and we didn't.  Shack had a great game with 24 points and only one turnover, but he missed some wide open 3s late that could have tied or given us the lead.  Then, the Aggies inexplicably fouled him on a 3 point shot when they had a 4 point lead with only 3 seconds remaining, giving us a glimmer of hope that he could made the first 2 and give us a shot at a put-back for the tie.  Instead, he proceeds to brick all three of them.  We were a pathetic 4 of 9 from the line.

A lot has been made about the free throw attempts disparity, but when one team has a post presence and the other is jacking 3s, that is the result.  I thought the officials did a pretty good job, most of the charges were good calls.  Whenever we tried to drive, it usually resulted in a charge or a turnover.  I know the mid-range game isn't really a thing anymore, but I would have liked to have seen Kira with a few more short to mid-range pull ups.  I'm not saying shoot 15 of them or anything, but just 5 or 6 to pull their bigs out in the zone a little bit would have helped.

There was one bad call that sticks out in my mind, I think it was Petty who got bumped on the sideline and lost the ball out of bounds and there was no foul called.  Coach Oats was very lucky he didn't get called for a technical, but I commend the officials for refraining from calling one in that situation.

I know I've said this before, but this loss pretty much ends our at-large tournament bid hopes.  Sure, we could go on a run and win 5 of 6 and be back in the conversation, but it's hard to see that happening.  In fact, I would rest Herb and try to get him back to 100% for the SEC tournament.  With a healthy and rested Herb, we would have at least a puncher's chance against anybody in Nashville with the possible exception of Kentucky, who we'll inevitably draw in the second round as always.

The crowd was very disappointing.  It's like my friend behind me said, "you would think we lost our last game by 40 looking at the crowd."  I know a 6 p.m. Wednesday night start is difficult for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.  It's impossible to get there from Birmingham leaving at 5, lots of people in Tuscaloosa go to church, students have classes, etc, but it has to be disappointing for a team to work so hard to beat LSU and auburn and then come out to a half-full at best crowd.  I would estimate about 7,000 people were there.

Up next, we travel to Oxford, MS to take on the Ole Miss Rebels at 7:30 on the SEC Network.  Personally, I'm looking forward more to the Wilder fight after.  Roll Deontay Roll.




Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Game Preview: Texas A&M


The win vs LSU this past Saturday was a big one for Alabama (14-11, 6-6; KenPom: 46; NET: 35), which included one of the best individual performances from a college basketball player that I've ever seen. Unfortunately, that game Saturday was just one of several important games for the team as the regular season enters its final three weeks. Let's be real: they're all important at this point. Next up: the Texas A&M Aggies (12-12, 6-6; KenPom: 170; NET: 132) come to town on Wednesday night. Game time is 6:00 P.M. CT, and will be televised on the SEC Network.

My Two Cents: Herb's performance on Saturday was so inspiring (for a lack of a better word) that it overshadowed great games by a number of other players such as Kira, Galin and Shack. If Alabama reaches the NCAA Tournament, Herb's one-handed free throws late in the game will join Collin Sexton's buzzer beater in the SEC Tournament and Trevor Releford's half-court buzzer beater vs Georgia as notable moments of the program in the last decade. Even if the team doesn't make the tournament, I won't ever forget the toughness, mentally and physically, that Herb showed in that game. It leads me to believe that if Herb had been healthier this season the team would be well on the right side of the bubble right now.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Tide Tames Tigers, Alabama 88 LSU 82




Confession:  I have a bit of a man-crush on Herb Jones.  He is quickly becoming one of my favorite players, ever.  This dude is out there two weeks after surgery for a broken wrist, on one arm, helping his teammates and having a huge impact in big games.  He doesn't have to be playing, and probably shouldn't be playing if we're being honest, but he WANTS to play, and it's obviously inspiring his teammates as well.  You might even say it was a "strong-ass" performance.  (Okay, I promise I'm done making fun of L$U's shenanigans, unless we play them again in the tournament of course).

Alabama held on for an exciting 88-82 win over a top 25 ranked LSU team to improve to 14-11 (6-6).  The win improves our NET ranking to 35 and revives our NCAA tournament hopes.   We are now the highest ranked NET team NOT being mentioned in the prominent bracket projections.  All we need is more wins, and we should be favored in most of the games remaining on our schedule.

LSU controlled the tempo early and the game got off to a slow start.  The teams were even through most of the first half.  We've struggled to finish the first half and start the second at times this year, but it was actually a strength in this game.  We made some 3s down the stretch to take an 11 point lead into the locker room, and then picked up right where we left off in the second half.

Galin provided us with a spark early in the second half as LSU struggled to defend the pick and roll and gave up some easy dunks.  LSU was not very good defensively in general.  We made 4 or 5 threes from the corner because they left it wide open helping on the drive from the opposite side baseline. 

I was also surprised by their decision to get back on defense rather than crash the boards on offense for most of the second half, after dominating us on the boards in Baton Rouge.  They seemed more concerned with limiting our pace than playing to their strength on the glass.

We built a 15 point lead and more or less answered their runs until Kira headed to the bench with his 4th foul with about 7 minutes remaining.  I thought we should have slowed things down at that point and tried to limit the number of possessions until we could get him back in at the under 4 timeout.  Meanwhile LSU started to press and crash the offensive boards, and we had some bad turnovers to allow them to make a run. 

It was a two possession game by the time Kira returned, and LSU had all of the momentum.  It felt like if we ever relinquished the lead, it would be bad news.  LSU's success in close games, and our lack thereof, to this point in the season is well documented.  Shack made a huge 3 to stretch a 1 point lead back to 4 in the final minutes.  And, of course, there was Herb Jones, shooting free throws using only his right hand and somehow making them both to maintain a two possession lead.  He's apparently even been practicing that, and it paid off.  If you've ever tried to shoot with your off hand just fooling around, you understand how amazing that feat was, particularly under those pressure circumstances.  As I told my gf at the game, if I try to shoot a free throw using only my left hand, it's probably not getting within 5 feet of the rim. 

Herb started and played 29 minutes, scored 6 points, had 2 blocks, a steal, and 17(!!!) rebounds against one of the best rebounding teams in the SEC.  Again, literally with one arm, and not even his good arm.  It was one of the most impressive performances I've ever seen, not just watching Alabama basketball, but in my entire life of watching sports.  It's not Michael Jordan playing with the flu in the NBA finals, but it's pretty close.

Kira had 27 points, 4 assists, and only one turnover for the second game in a row.  As noted above, I think his fourth foul was the main reason LSU was able to get back into the game.  He seemed to always come up with a big basket or assist when the Tigers would try to make a run.  As a team we only had 9 turnovers, though Beetle had 3 late in the game, and JP had a bad one in the back court that really hurt us down the stretch.  

Shack scored 26 and went 5 of 13 from 3-point range.  He's shooting with confidence, and I'd like to see him get more chances in high pressure situations.  He came through big time when given the opportunity in this game.  I also want to give some props to Galin Smith.  The perception from most was that Davis has passed him at the 5 spot, but Galin scored 10 points in 17 mnutes, was great in the pick and roll, and somehow made 6 out of 7 free throws.  He also added 6 rebounds.  

We were only out-rebounded 44-42, which given their size advantage we can live with that.  A lot of that was due to Herb's 17, and some of it was due to them opting not to crash the offensive boards for a significant portion of the game.  

As most of you know, Wendell Hudson's jersey was retired at halftime.  He is the first and only Alabama athlete, in any sport, to have his number retired, and this was long overdue in my opinion.  I've had the honor of briefly meeting Wendell on a couple of occasions, and you won't find a more classy and likable person. His love for the game and for our University is evident.  I was happy to see a great, near sell-out crowd on hand to show their appreciation.  It included several former players, including Mikhail Torrance, Donta Hall, and Lawson Schaeffer who were also recognized during the game.  Also, Coach Nick Saban and Miss Terry were present and sitting behind the basket to honor Wendell.  It was good to see them there, but also notable that they were not part of the official ceremonies, they clearly didn't want to do anything to take the spotlight away from Wendell and the basketball game.  Miss Terry was very much into the game, cheering on the team throughout and seemed to be having a good time.  Perhaps she will drag Coach out to some more basketball games in the future?  The whole crowd was in it from start to finish, the student section was awesome with several clever (but not crossing the line) chants directed toward Trendon "traitor" Watford and Will "Paid" Wade and the rest of his over-compensated roster.  It was one of the most fun games I've been to at Coleman in the last decade.

Up next, Buzz Williams brings his Texas A&M Aggies into Tuscaloosa for a 6pm tipoff Wednesday night.  This is a huge game,and a place where we've struggled in recent years, coming off a huge wins that bolsters our NCAA hopes.  There won't be the excitement of a top 25 team, Wendell's jersey retirement, and unfortunately probably not the level of crowd support due to the start time.  This team still has a lot of holes, and we'll need to bring our A-game to beat a very well coached team.  It's on SEC Network if you can't get to Coleman.  Roll Tide!



 

Friday, February 14, 2020

Game Preview: LSU


Alabama (13-11, 5-6; KenPom: 48; NET: 39) has battled valiantly this season, but are running out of chances for quality wins for their postseason resume. Another opportunity presents itself on Saturday when the LSU Tigers (18-6, 9-2; KenPom: 34; NET: 28; AP: 25) come to town for the second meeting of the season. LSU won the first game 90-76. Game time is 3:00 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN2. As of Thursday, the university announced that there were less than 1,000 tickets remaining for the game. If not a sellout, it's going to be close to it for the biggest game of the year so far.

My Two Cents: I hate to say that any game is must-win, but this game feels like that. Alabama is 1-6 so far this season in quad one games. LSU will be a quad one opponent. In quad one/two games, our guys are just 5-10. Strong metric numbers and a strong schedule have kept Alabama in the bubble picture, but, having lost four of their last five, they have to start winning some games.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Barners Barely Beat Bama, auburn 95 Alabama 91 (OT)

The short-handed Tide gave it a great effort, but dropped to 13-11 (5-6) with an overtime loss on the road at auburn.  There are no moral victories, but there are a lot of positives to take from this game.

We didn't score in the first four minutes of the game while auburn jumped out to a 16-0 lead.  We probably should have called a timeout when it got to 8-0 or 10-0, but the team responded with a 7-0 run after the first media timeout to get back into the game and quiet the crowd.  I thought our guys showed a lot of poise in a very difficult environment all night.  Every time it looked like auburn might run away with the game, we would knock down a few 3s and claw back into it. 

We shot an SEC record 59 threes, and made a respectable 22 of them.  The barn's interior defense was very good, but I'm surprised Pearl stayed in the zone as much as he did allowing us wide open looks from the perimeter.  We even ran some ourselves this game, which I thought was the right call, but we just couldn't protect the rim or do anything with Austin Wiley in the paint defensively.

We only trailed by 3 at the half, but auburn stretched the lead back to 11 about midway through the second half.  Once again, our guys battled back, and auburn missed some late free throws allowing JP to make a 3 to tie the game with 14 seconds left.  Herb came up with a big defensive stop to force the game into overtime, but our guys were out of gas by that point, and after missing the first 4 threes in OT, auburn had an 8 point lead that was too much to overcome. 

Defensively we struggled to keep them out of the paint.  They killed us on the dribble drive, getting to the free throw line, and with Wiley in the post, where he also dominated the glass.  We were out-rebounded 60-44, Wiley had 18 points and 17 rebounds. 

Herb showed a lot of heart in coming back early from wrist surgery despite still having a cast on his arm.  Obviously he was very limited offensively, but he gave us 7 minutes of great defense, including 3 rebounds and an awesome blocked shot.  Shack had a great game with 28 points and 8 rebounds.  JP had 20, including 6 of 11 from 3-point range.  Kira had the team's first triple-double since 1996(!) going for 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists with only one turnover!  We only had 8 turnovers as a team, despite auburn pressing a good bit of the game.  Beetle had 11 points and 6 rebounds, and played solid defense, but he's still making some bad decisions by dribbling into traffic.  Jaylen stepped up big time with 11 points in 15 minutes.  He's developing nicely with the increased playing time in Herb's absence and seems to be playing with more confidence.  Alex had a rough night, only scoring 9 points in 30 minutes and shooting 2 for 10 from 3-point range.  I think unsuccessfully trying to defend Wiley took a lot out of him.

Up next, we're still dealing with SEC leading Tigers as LSU will bring a strong ass team to Tuscaloosa Saturday for a 3 pm tip-off.  If we can somehow get a win, we will be very much back into the NCAA tournament discussion, so let's pack the house and give this team the support they deserve!  If you can't make it Coleman, the game will be televised on ESPN2.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Game Preview: at Auburn


With their three-game losing streak in the rearview mirror, Alabama (13-10, 5-5; KenPom: 49; NET: 42) will remain on the road when they travel to mojo land to face the Auburn Tigers (21-2, 8-2; KenPom: 30; NET: 15; AP: 11) on Wednesday night. Game time is 6:00 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN2.

My Two Cents: 21-2 is 21-2, don't get me wrong. But it's worth pointing out that the computers don't love Auburn. Despite their lofty record, they're only ranked 30th at KenPom and their composite ranking when taking all of the metric sites into consideration is just 15. It should be pointed out here that Auburn does have the highest composite ranking of any team in the league, but it's rare for a power conference team with Auburn's record to be ranked outside the top 10. To their credit, Auburn has found ways to win games this season. In recent weeks, they've overcome double digit second half deficits in games at Ole Miss, Arkansas and at home this past weekend vs LSU. All three of those games went into overtime. For the season, Auburn is 4-0 in overtime games. In games decided by 1-2 possessions, the Tigers are 5-0. In the least surprising news where it concerns an Auburn athletic team, this Tigers team is ranked 1st in the country in KenPom's "Luck" metric......because of course they are. Alabama is ranked 326 in the country in that same metric.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Bama's Bleeding Stops with Bulldogs, Alabama 105 Georgia 102 OT

Alabama snapped a 3 game losing streak by going on the road and beating Georgia in overtime, 105-102. Bama improves to 13-10 overall, 5-5 in the SEC.

I missed the first few minutes of the game, because the first bar we went to only had 3 TVs and there was one group watching a race, another group watching a soccer game, and another group watching the XFL game.  Unfortunately, that's where Bama basketball ranks in the sports world around here these days.

The first half was back and forth, with neither team playing any defense.  We weren't shooting particularly well, but the dribble-drive was working.  We led 45-41 at the half.  Another slow start to the second half allowed the Bulldogs to build a 12 point lead, but our guys kept fighting and responded in a big way.  We made a few 3s in a nice run to re-take the lead just 4 minutes later.  We should have won in regulation, but once again failed to finish the game strong.  Kira and JP missed several free throws down the stretch that gave UGA the opportunity to force overtime.  The same thing happened after we had a lead late in the overtime period, but thankfully UGA missed a 3 at the buzzer that would have forced a second overtime.

It helped that Anthony Edwards was not 100%.  We played pretty good defense on him, but he still ended up with a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.  Wheeler killed us going left with 24 points, and I wish we would have tried to force him to go right at some point.  With the exception of Beetle and to some extent JP, our defense was poor.  Their guards were getting to the rim at will, but thankfully we were able to to do the same.

Kira had a great game with 37 points, 7 assists, and perhaps most importantly only 3 turnovers.  We only had 14 turnovers, which is still too high but at least manageable.  JP had 21 points and 7 rebounds and I thought played a solid game overall.  Davis had 13 points and 8 rebounds.  Getting those kinds of numbers from him in the 5 spot is huge.  Beetle had 11 points and 6 rebounds and was one of the few playing good on ball defense.  I thought he made a little bit better decisions with the basketball, not over-dribbling quite as much as he has in recent games.  Shack was also in double figures with 10 points. 

Thanks to the Atlanta United FC being in town (and shout out to my Legion for giving them a hell of a game before falling 3-2), there were as many UGA fans as Bama fans where we ended up watching it.  They seem to be losing patience with Crean, and I can't say that I blame them.

Up next, a trip to the cattle college on the other side of the state.  Tip-off is set for 6pm Wednesday night on ESPN2.  My advice is to drink heavily, as it will probably not be pretty.