Sunday, February 18, 2018

Cat Scratched. UK 81 Alabama 71

Kentucky dominated the boards to snap a four game losing streak with an 81-71 victory over our Tide.  Alabama played hard, and really did not play that bad of a game, but they were up against a very talented, wounded animal.  Kentucky simply was not going to be denied, and credit to them for finally showing a sense of urgency when they needed it most.  The loss drops Alabama to 17-10, 8-6 in the SEC.  Jerry Palm's bracket today has us as an 8 seed playing against Houston in Charlotte.  I think we need at least one more win to feel good about getting in.  We are now in a 4 way tie for 3rd in the SEC, and teams 3-11 are only separated by 2 games.  It's going to be a crazy finish to see who gets the coveted double-byes in the SEC tournament.  

This game was lost on the backboards.  We played a 2-3 zone for much of the game, and simply could not get a rebound out of it.  Kentucky out rebounded us 44-27.  They had an absurd 20...,TWENTY! offensive rebounds, compared to our 9.  I definitely understand the reasoning behind playing so much zone.  UK is not a very good shooting team, though they did end up going 4 of 11 from 3 point range and made 75% of their free throws.  Still, after the second time they scored on their fourth opportunity in a single possession,  it was time to switch to a soft man, or try something different.  

The substitution patterns continue to drive me nuts.  Dan started and played 15 minutes, and somehow managed to only pick up 2 fouls in that time, but he only pulled down one rebound and scored 2 points.  He was a liability against the quicker Kentucky forwards.  

Collin fouled out in 29 minutes and also missed some time with an injury, as it appeared he may have been bleeding.  I thought he tried to do a little too much at times, and ended with 12 points, going 0 for 4 from 3 point range.  

On the positive side we had 4 guys in double digits.  In addition to Collin, Alex Reese had a nice game with 10 points in 15 minutes including a couple of 3s.  Petty finally showed some signs of life on the road with 13 points including 3 of 10 from downtown and a perfect 4 of 4 at the line.  It was good to see him getting to the line, but  he still struggled with turnovers and shot selection at times.  Donta continued to do his thing, with 16 points, 6 rebounds, and a couple of blocks in 30 minutes.  He did miss a few free throws, and he had to leave the game at one point as it appeared his injured wrist was bothering him.  

The team hung around and had a 1 point lead with 8 minutes left, but we appeared to play tight down the stretch and couldn't make the plays to stay in the game.  This UK team may not be as good as some recent versions, but they are still plenty talented, and you're not going to walk into Rupp and win by being doubled-up on the boards while shooting 25% from the arc and 62% from the line.  

As always, the crowd and atmosphere was awesome at Rupp.  It was a sellout, but there were a few empty seats in the upper level to be found, thankfully including the one next to me, so it was nice to actually have a little bit of space.  They've made some improvements since my last trip there, including a nicer scoreboard/video replay screen and sound system, but the upper level seating is still very cramped.  I'm told more renovations are coming to the adjoining Lexington Center, but they've been talking about that for at least 6 years now, so I'll believe it when I see it.  

I have to admit, I'm a little jealous of Kentucky.  I would kill for Alabama basketball to have the fan support and passion of Big Blue Nation.  Even though they are generally down on their team this year, we had many people come up to us before the game and say some variation of "you guys are going to kill us," they still pack the place and get loud at key moments.  They are also the most welcoming, classiest group of fans you will find.  Not a single person said anything negative to us, and dozens went out of their way to say "welcome, we're glad you're here, etc."  We had brunch before the game, and the couple sitting next to us at the bar ended up giving us their home address and invited us over to hang out after the game.  The owner of the establishment introduced himself and gave us shots on the house.    If you're ever in Lexington, I highly recommend Carson's, great bloody marys and the food was great!  Every usher at the game, before and after, had kind words for us.  There were more Alabama fans there than I've seen in the past.  There was at least a little crimson in every section, so we probably had close to 500 or so total scattered throughout.

Up next, it doesn't get any easier, as we travel to the ugliest village on the plains to take on conference leading auburn.  The Tigers are coming off a bad loss to South Carolina, and I suspect they were looking ahead to this game.  The contest is set for a 7:30 pm CT tipoff on SEC Network Wednesday night.  I'm still debating whether or not to make that trip.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sleeping with the enemy, Kentucky Wildcats

I reached out to Jamie Boggs at Sea of Blue to get Big Blue Nation's perspective on tomorrow's game.  He kindly provided us with the response below.  If you visit A Sea of Blue, please remember to follow their site's rules and be a good representative of our University.

The Wildcats are reeling right now, coming off of the first four game losing streak of the Calipari era. In fact, they had never lost 3 in a row under Cal before last week. The strengths of this team have been sporadic throughout the season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been the most consistent weapon with his ability to penetrate and finish with his left hand. Kevin Knox is the most explosive scorer, but he has also been known to disappear when things have gotten physical. The primary asset for this team that has proven to benefit the Cats in every game has been the size of this group. The length and wingspan of this group is honestly unreal, especially in the rare moments when they play zone.

The primary weaknesses have been scoring and consistency. There have been many long stretches without baskets this season, something Kentucky fans are not used to. One half they will look like they've turned a corner and may be figuring out how to play together, and then the next half they look like they just met and have no team Chemistry.

Collin Sexton will be a matchup nightmare for Kentucky, as guard penetration has been an issue all season. In order to compete on Saturday, Kentucky's bigs have to exert themselves and use their size on the offensive end. The Wildcats also have to make their free throws, only converting on 68.6% of their attempts from the charity stripe this season.

This is the closest we have seen to a must-win game since John Calipari came to town, so I expect the Wildcats to come out ready to play.

Game Preview - at Kentucky

The Alabama men's basketball team had a very good week in league play this past week, going 2-0, including its fifth win this season over a ranked team. Our guys will hope to make it three straight wins when it travels to Lexington to play the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday. Alabama is seeking its first win at Rupp Arena since January 14, 2006 when it knocked off the Cats by a score of 68-64. Game time is 1 P.M. CT. CBS will televise the game. Alabama enters the game with an 8-5 conference record, while the Wildcats enter with an unusually modest 6-7 conference record. The Cats also enter this game with a four-game losing streak. Hit the links for team and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: It's a big stage for our guys on CBS. And, frankly speaking, I believe our guys are the better team entering this game. This Kentucky team - the youngest team in the country per KenPom - has struggled to put together consistent efforts all season. Some of that is due to the youth, some of it is because this Kentucky team lacks the elite type of players we're accustomed to seeing wear that jersey. Not that the team lacks talent - it was a top 2 class in 2017 - but it's been a group of guys that are in need of more development than many of the NBA-ready guys that Calipari has recruited during his time in Lexington. That said, getting out of Rupp Arena with a win is much easier said than done. Our guys will need to continue their high level of play if they have any chance of coming home with that win.

Players to Watch: Don't look now, but Braxton Key is putting together consistently good games. In Bama's last four games, Braxton is averaging 11.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 1.2 apg. He looks much more comfortable on the floor, seemingly finding his place on this team. Physically, he looks much stronger and confident on the floor. He had several drives in the LSU game in which he looked as explosive as we've seen him all season. I don't think it's a coincidence that Bama is 3-1 in these last four games. As someone who loves Braxton's versatile game, it's nice to see him back in rhythm.

There's any number of guys on this Kentucky roster that are capable of stepping up and having a huge day on Saturday, but I think Kevin Knox is the most dangerous player on this team. He's probably the most pro-ready player from a physical standpoint, but he has had no shortage of ups and downs this season. In the loss to Auburn earlier this week, Calipari actually had to sit Knox late in the game because his defensive effort and overall body language was so poor. He's a freshman, struggles are going to happen, but when he's on this Kentucky team rises to another level. Just ask West Virginia fans, players and coaches who watched Knox torch them for 34 points in the Cats biggest win of the season so far.

Prediction: This one is tough for me. On the one hand, I think you could make the argument that Alabama is the better team entering this game. Our guys should be extremely confident as I believe they're playing their best basketball of the season, and the efficiency stats on both ends of the court actually favor Alabama entering this game. On the other hand, the game is in Rupp, Kentucky is struggling but still immensely talented, and have a Hall of Fame coach. I won't be shocked if our guys get out of Rupp with the win (I'm almost expecting it, to be quite honest), but I just can't pick against Kentucky in Rupp. They could have lost ten straight entering this game, and I might still pick them to win in that building. Kentucky - 74 - Bama - 63   

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Bama Buries Bayou Bengals, Alabama 80 LSU 65

It was a sad Fat Tuesday for our Cajun friends, as Bama dominated the second half to cruise to an easy victory.  With the win, Alabama is now 17-9 on the season, and 8-5 in the conference, still very much alive for a coveted top 4 finish.  We probably need at least one more win to feel really good about our chances on selection Sunday.

We jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, but once again we put a nonsensical lineup on the floor that allowed LSU to get back into the game.  We made some plays late in the half to take a 39-30 lead into the locker room. 

The second half started horrifically.  We had several bad turnovers, and LSU capitalize by making a couple of 3s and the lead was cut to 1.  With Collin Sexton going to the bench with his 4th foul, it looked like another midweek letdown was imminent.    Instead, we responded with a 23-3 run, and eventually led by as many as 25, before playing a couple of walk-ons the last couple of minutes which allowed LSU to make the final score somewhat respectable. 

Before some knucklehead cites this run and the auburn game as evidence that "we play better without Sexton," just stop it.  There is plenty of evidence of the offense struggling without Collin in the game, including the stretch in the first half of this game.  Despite the four fouls, he still ended up with 15 points and 6 assists in only 22 minutes of play.  This is not a one man team, though, and these types of performances with him on the bench should give the team confidence they can go without him when necessary, and will also give Collin confidence that he has more than sufficient help from his teammates.

Donta Hall was the clear MVP with a career high 20 points to go with 8 rebounds.  He had 5 dunks, including a couple of impressive "and ones" and was instrumental in putting the game during our big second half run.  "Basketball IQ" is a term that gets thrown around more so in regards to guard play, but Donta has as high of a basketball IQ as anyone.  Everybody notices the dunks, rebounds, and blocked shots, but watching him move and anticipate without the ball is a real joy.  He sets up those dunks by getting into great position, and reading the defenders rebounding angles and help-side defense when our guards drive the lane.  His ability to run the floor, catch the ball, finish at the rim, and know precisely when to cut to the basket have improved ten-fold over the course of the last two season.  Coach Pelphrey has earned his salary for his work with Donta alone. 

I am still a little worried about Donta's wrist injury.  The trainers were working on his wrap during every timeout, and seemed to be favoring it at times. Also, Braxton Key was interviewed on the post game radio broadcast despite Donta being named player of the game, and I wonder if that was related to his wrist injury.

Speaking of Key, he had another solid performance with 12 points and 7 rebounds while playing great defense.  He needs to be starting of Giddens.  Dan filled the stat sheet with "4s," his total for rebounds, points, and of course, fouls.  He only managed to stay on the court for 13 minutes. 

Petty had 11 points on 3 of  3 shooting from downtown, and he finally seems to be contributing in other ways as his defense has also improved lately. 

Speaking of defense, Herb Jones played a huge role in holding Waters to only 5 points.  I looked up at the scoreboard late in the game and commented to my friend that Herb has played one of the best games I've seen to that point without scoring a single point.  He did get on the board, with a great move, drive, and dunk.  He was also efficient at running the point while Sexton was on the bench in foul trouble.

The crowd was much better than the Missouri game, but still not ideal, I would estimate maybe 8,000 or so.  The atmosphere was much better though.  Dazon set the tone early by making a 3 on our first possession, and the crowd was loud and engaged for the rest of the night. 

Up next, we travel to Lexington Kentucky to take on the Wildcats at Rupp Arena.  Long time readers of the blog already know that this is my favorite road trip in the SEC, and I'm planning to make the drive up Friday afternoon.  In most of my recent trips there; I've just been hopeful we could keep it respectable, but this time I think I have a legitimate shot at witnessing my third Bama victory in that building.  Tip off will be at 2pm Eastern (1 Central) on CBS. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Bracketology and SEC Standings

ESPN has us now as a 7 seed with what I would consider a very favorable match-up with the Dookies.
CBS has us as an 8 seed (I think this one is dated) and a not so fun match-up with Xavier.
The Big Lead has us as the 3rd 7 seed.

SEC Standings (via CBS Sports):
Miss. State6-618-757
Texas A&M6-617-817
S. Carolina4-813-1278
Ole Miss4-811-14103
We lose the tie-breaker to Mizzou (I see them finishing 4-2) so I think we should look to UF to drop a couple more (I see 3-3/2-4 in their future) to pass them up to get that key #4 seed in the SEC Tournament.

BTW- if that ESPN prediction comes through I will head over to Charlotte.

Game Preview - LSU

After their fifth win over a ranked opponent this season, the Alabama men's basketball team is looking to avoid another midweek letdown when the LSU Tigers visit Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday night. Alabama enters with a 7-5 record, tied with Missouri for fourth in the league standings (Missouri owns the tiebreaker). LSU enters with a 5-7 league record. This will be the second meeting this season; Alabama won the first meeting in Baton Rouge, 74-66. Game time is the dreaded 8 P.M. CT slot. SEC Network will televise the game. Click the links for team and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: This young Alabama team has been very good under the bright lights in big games this season, but it's faltered when playing in the less-heralded games. Some of those struggles are due to the improvement of the league this season, but it's been clear in losses such as Missouri and at Mississippi State that the team isn't always locked in as a unit for those types of games. The next step for this team with four weeks left in the season is to find a way to generate the necessary focus and intensity to carry over from big performances such as Saturday when the team played arguably its finest game of the season. LSU is a solid team that has legitimate postseason hopes, despite being picked 14th in the preseason poll. This Alabama team is very close to having a resume in place that I think will result in the program breaking its six year NCAA Tournament drought. If the Alabama fanbase is serious about supporting this program it needs to be there for a young team that has clearly thrived when fans have been in attendance and are loud and supportive.

Players to Watch: The development of Donta Hall as both a player and a leader for this team has been one of the pleasures of this season. Donta came to Tuscaloosa as a very athletic player with a high motor, but he was very raw. He was also very quiet. The staff, particularly John Pelphrey, have done a tremendous job working with him over the last two years. And it's paid off this season. Donta is one of the top players, and he's been willing to be a more vocal presence on a team that has sorely lacked one at times. Donta has shown a lot of toughness as well. He's played with that injured wrist for weeks, despite possibly re-injuring it in the game at Starkville. That kind of toughness and leadership can inspire teammates, and it will be instrumental if Alabama can get across the finish line and make the NCAA Tournament.

Duop Reath is another big man that has been a leader for his team. The senior is ending his college career on a high note, averaging 14.2 ppg and 5.4 rpg. He's coming off a monster game vs Ole Miss in which he finished with 26 points and 5 rebounds. He's had two instances this season in which he's scored 30+. And though he doesn't take many, he is leading his team in 3-pt % at 44.8. His matchup with the Bama bigs will be something to keep an eye on.

Prediction: Let's look at the games after Alabama's biggest wins this season (Rhode Island, Texas A&M, Auburn, Oklahoma and Florida). Alabama has only followed one of those wins (Auburn) with another win (Mississippi State). It's clear this team struggles to follow up big wins with consistent efforts. Is the trend doomed to continue Tuesday night? Well, it's not helpful that the game tips at 8. Fans have struggled to fill the seats for those games, and those that do show up are not always the most vocal. That has filtered down to the team, though it is unfair to blame inconsistent performances solely on a poor home environment. At some point this team has to grow up and just find a way to win games when the home crowd isn't as vocal or the opposing team doesn't have a number next to their name.

At this point in the season it's hard to believe a team will snap a trend so I don't expect Alabama to play at the level we saw Saturday, meaning this game will probably be closer to most of the mid-week games we've seen in conference play. LSU is a solid team that has a lot to play for. They've got a great shot to play in a postseason tournament with a strong finish to the season. A road win at a top 50 RPI Alabama team would be big for an LSU team with its next two games at home. I expect Bama's trend of mid-week struggles to continue, but this time they overcome the adversity and get the home win vs LSU. Bama - 76 - LSU - 72

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Vols Fall, Alabama 78- Tennessee 50

Bama bounces back after the loss to Miss $tate to beat down yet another top 25 foe.  I will get to some great individual offensive performances soon enough, but I want to lead off with a focus on the team's defensive effort.  Finally, we stopped switching on everything and fought through the majority of screens.  I've been very critical of JP's defensive effort, but he did a great job on that end of the court Saturday.  Dazon also played better defensively than he has in recent games.  Guys were being physical getting through screens, pressing the ball, moving their feet to prevent penetration, and for the most part, boxing out on defense.  If you love solid, fundamental basketball, and appreciate the things that happen away from the ball, it was a real joy to watch, and that hasn't been the case for this team for much of the year.  

I'm starting think our guys might actually read this blog.  In my recap before the Florida game I said AJ should not be playing so much, and he played a key roll in that victory.  After the $tate loss, I said JP should lose his starting position, and he comes out and puts up 14 points, makes 3 of 4 from 3 point range, and played great defense. I think I'm going to start calling these guys out more often.

CAJ had a great gameplan, and out-coached a very good coach in Rick Barnes.  We took advantage of our size advantage, not so much by posting up, but by penetrating on the dribble drive and and cutting behind their help-side defense.  Collin, Dazon, Key, and even Petty (still too many turnovers, but...) did a great job of beating their guy off the dribble.   It was a great effort by all involved.  

The complaint department is mostly closed after a 28 point win over a top 25 opponent, and I know this might seem a bit ridiculous given the results, but I have to take issue once again with the substitution patterns.  We built a double-digit lead in the first half, then with about 11 minutes left decided to go with a lineup of 1. AJ 2. Herb 3. Alex, 4. Braxton, and 5. Galin.  That's basically 2 decent defenders and at most one scoring option.  The results were predictable, a 4+ minute scoring drought that allowed the Vols to get back within 2.  We finally put the A-squad back in, and stretched the lead back to 10 by halftime before putting it away for good early in the second half.  

I've criticized the playing rotation a lot here, but I realize I haven't offered many solutions, so here is my proposal:  My starting lineup is 1. Collin 2. Herb 3. Dazon 4. Key 5. Donta.  JP is first off the bench, and his minutes largely depend on how his first couple of shots go.  Collin goes to the bench at the under-12 timeout of each half and comes back some time between the first dead ball under 10 or at the under 8 timeout at the latest.  Basically, he rests 2.5 minutes per half.   AJ replaces him for these minutes.  For a different look at various times, I would also move Collin off-ball and let Herb or Dazon run point for 5-10 possessions each.  Dan backs up Donta down low, but can play them both to go big occasionally depending on matchups, but I would not start them both.  Galin only plays when one of them is in foul trouble.  Alex would back up Dazon and Braxton as a stretch 4 for 6-8 minutes per game, but may play more depending on matchups.  I'm sure I'm missing something, there's a reason nobody is paying me to coach college basketball, but this seems fairly common sense to me.

You knew it was going to be our night when Collin turned it over in the back court, gave up on the play, but UT missed the uncontested layup, and Collin, recognizing as soon as they released the shot that it would be off, recovered from beyond the arc, got the rebound, and raced the length of the floor to score at the other end.  

Collin had a great game with 16 points and also 4 assists.  Notably, JP also had 4 assists.  Donta was the leading scorer with 17 points and 11 rebounds.  He also did a lot of things that don't show up in the box score.  I'm loving the way he runs the floor.    Dan had 6 rebounds but only stayed on the court for 14 minutes before picking up 4 fouls.  

Lawson Schaffer was unavailable, but Tyler Barnes took on the role of crowd favorite.  He got in the game late but missed a couple of free throws.  

It was a sellout crowd and the atmosphere was great while we were building the huge lead.  There were not many empty seats, but there was a strong contingent of bright-orange clad UT fans, I would estimate 500+, mostly up in the corners but a quite a few scattered throughout.  They made their presence known during their run in the first half, but most of them left early.  I love the thought of those people getting excited about finally beating us in something, driving all the way down from east TN in the rain, then returning home dejected with a nearly 30 point loss.  Kudos to the band for finally bringing back Rammer Jammer.  

Up next, the LSU Tigers are coming in with confidence after a 16 point win over Ole Miss.  The game will tip off at 8 pm CST Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa on the SEC Network.  Folks, we need at least two more wins.  This is precisely the type of game we've struggled with.  Not only does the team deserve your support given all of their wins over top 25 opponents, they NEED you to be there Tuesday night.  We're on the verge of locking up a spot on selection Sunday.  This is the classic "trap game" sandwiched as a late midweek game between two top 25 opponents.  This team clearly thrives in packed environments.  Frankly, if we can't at least draw 12,000 or so for these types of games, we don't deserve a consistent tournament team as a fanbase.   Sadly, there are still plenty of tickets available.  If you're reading this, presumably you care about the University of Alabama men's basketball team.  If at all possible, get your ass to Coleman Coliseum Tuesday night.  I hope to see you there.  

Friday, February 09, 2018

Game Preview - Tennessee

The Alabama men's basketball team will seek their fifth victory against a ranked opponent this season when the Tennessee Volunteers visit Coleman on Saturday. Alabama enters the game at 6-5 in league play, while UT enters with a 8-3 record. Game time is 5 P.M. CT. SEC Network will televise the game. The university has announced that this game is a sellout. Hit the links for game and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: Alabama will have their hands full with this Tennessee team on Saturday. Rick Barnes has done an amazing job developing this team. Even more amazing when you realize that none of these guys were top 100 recruits coming out of high school. It's been player development and chemistry that has led to this season for the Vols. Only a game behind Auburn in the standings, Tennessee is very much in the hunt for an SEC title, Grant Williams is, in my opinion, the frontrunner for SEC Player of the Year, and Rick Barnes is right there with Bruce Pearl for the Coach of the Year honor.This game has been announced as a sellout. Fans in attendance will have to bring their A-game to help lift the Bama players to play their best. Tennessee is currently in the RPI top 10 so a victory for Alabama will be yet another quality win on the resume.

Players to Watch: Where have you gone, John Petty, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. On January 17th, JP scored 27 points in Bama's 76-71 win over Auburn. Since that game, John is averaging 5.1 points per game. Are the struggles part of the dreaded "wall" that freshmen are expected to hit over the course of a long season or just merely the highs and lows that come with a player who relies almost exclusively on the 3-point shot? Whatever it is, this Alabama team hopes that it's temporary, because without John's outside shooting the offense has a tendency to get bogged down. Teams pack it in the paint to limit Donta around the rim as well as disrupt Collin's strength in getting to the basket. I don't think it's a coincidence that in games in which JP scores 10 or more points, Alabama is averaging 76.3 ppg. In games in which he scores in single digits, the team is averaging 69.8 ppg. I think in order to win Saturday, Bama needs John Petty at his best.

As of today, I think Grant Williams is the frontrunner for SEC Player of the Year. Yes, this Tennessee team is thriving because of great coaching and team chemistry, but without Grant Williams efforts this isn't a team contending for the league title. Williams is averaging 15.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, and 2 apg. He's undersized as a 6'7 center, but at 241 lbs he can outmuscle most of his bigger opponents. But he's also skilled, great hands and feet, can make post moves, step out and hit a mid-range jumper. He's a smart player, knowing how to reach the spot on the floor he wants to receive the ball. Good defender. He's a great player, and someone who Alabama is going to have to respect, even with a size advantage inside. However, double-teaming Williams is not always the best recipe for success because he's a willing passer, and this Tennessee team can shoot the ball (39.1% as a team from 3). There are multiple guys who can step up for this Tennessee team, but I think beating them must start with limiting Williams production.

Prediction: Tennessee overcame an 0-2 start in conference by cleaning up their play on the defensive end. Since that 0-2 start, the Vols are holding their opponents to 62.1 ppg. For the season, UT is forcing their opponents to turn the ball over on 21.6% of their possessions per game. That's among the top 40 in the country for that stat. And for an Alabama team that seems incapable at times of ball security, that stat doesn't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Should Alabama turn the ball over 15 or more times Saturday, I'm not convinced they can win the game. Alabama has been good at home this season with a 10-2 record in Coleman; with a sellout crowd on hand, I wouldn't be shocked if the team comes out ready to play and wins this game. Unfortunately, I have to agree with DJC in his recap post that UT is the most complete team in the league. I think they control the tempo, force Alabama into a halfcourt game, and, well, we've all seen how that's gone for Alabama this season. Tennessee - 65 - Bama - 58

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Mississippi $tate holds on late, Bulldogs 67 Bama 63

This loss didn't bother me as much as some of the others.  I felt like the team was motivated and played hard, but they just didn't play well enough to get the win on the road. 

It was an ugly, hard-to-watch game.  I would imagine only the Bama and $tate die-hards managed to last through the whole thing.  Neither team could make a shot, and the refs called so many fouls it became a long, drawn out, free throw shooting contest, as the teams combined for 58 attempts.  This game is exhibit A as to why men's basketball needs to go to quarters.  Nobody wants to watch nearly 60 free throws in a two and a half hour game.

Neither team was able to take control of the game.  We led by 5 for much of the first half, but trailed by 2 going into halftime.  Donta Hall landed on his injured wrist late in the first half, and had to leave the game, but thankfully he returned and seemed fine in the second half.  The $tate fans booed his injury, and if you've ever been to a game over there you know that's not surprising.  They are mostly a classless bunch, but they make up for it by being totally unknowledegable.

A slow start to the second half allowed $tate to build a 9 point lead, but our guys kept grinding and managed to come back and eventually re-take the lead.  Sexton and Hall combined for an amazing steal around half-court when Sexton knocked the ball loose to Hall, who gave it back to Sexton, who threw an amazing over the shoulder alley-oop back to Donta.  One key play in the game was around 5 minutes left, JP finally made a 3 to give us a one point lead, then after a defensive stop he hoisted a 30+ feet, contested brick about 3 seconds into the possession with nobody under the goal.

The perimeter shooting was atrocious in this game.  We were 3 of 18 from three point range.  Key made one, Petty made the one wide-open shot referenced above, but was otherwise 0 for 7, and AJ made a desperation prayer late in the game, but then picked up a technical for calling a timeout that we didn't have.  MSU missed the free throw, but then made one of two to put the game away.  It's interesting that our last two trips to Starkville have resulted in late game technical fouls for calling timeouts.

My biggest beef with this game was our shot selection in the final 4 minutes of the game.  I don't know whether to put more blame on the players or the coaching staff, but as mentioned above, the refs were calling the game fairly tight, and we were not making any perimeter shots.  We totally abandoned the post game and the dribble drive in the final minutes in favor of chucking 3s, despite not trailing by more than 4 until the final 30 seconds. 

Dan Giddens fouling out was a big factor in the game.  He played well the 15 minutes he managed to stay on the court, scoring 11 points, but his foul trouble meant 8 minutes of mostly unproductive playing time from Galin Smith.  We were also forced to go smaller late in the game, which hurt us on the glass. 

Sexton had a good game with 18 points and 5 rebounds, but he did go 0 for 7 from beyond the arc.  I've been critical of AJ at times, and while he is a liability on defense and tends to dribble too much, he always plays hard, never quits, and is shooting as well as anybody on the team now.  I would consider playing him more over Petty and maybe running him through some of the same screens to see if we can get him some open looks.  He ended up with 9 points in 15 minutes.  It was also good to see Key play fairly well, he ended up with 11 points and 6 rebounds.  JP is killing us right now, he's a defensive liability, he's not making any shots, and he's compounding the problem with poor decision making.  It's time for Herb to replace him in the starting lineup, in my opinion.  I'm also a little surprised we didn't give Alex a chance to come in and break the perimeter drought, but I suppose Coach Avery was concerned he wouldn't be able to match up with $tate's physicality. 

Due to the early start I watched this game at a local establishment on my way home from work, and am pleased to report there were another 7 or 8 Bama basketball fans there, and they even put the audio on for us.  Speaking of which, SEC Network's coverage was terrible.  We missed live action at times because they were showing replays of Howland's "mic'ed up" segments, they routinely failed to explain whistles when the ref was not in the screen shot, and they neglected to show replays of several controversial foul calls. 

The loss drops us to 6-5 in the SEC and a four way tie for the coveted 4th seed in the SEC tournament.  Due to some other games not going our way lately, we have dropped to 43 in the RPI.  I still think we need 3 more wins to feel good about our chances on selection Sunday.

Up next, the 15th ranked Tenneessee Vols come to Tuscaloosa for a 5pm start Saturday evening.  I know auburn beat them and has a better record, but UT is the most complete team in the SEC in my opinion.  The game is a sellout, and hopefully a good atmosphere can will our guys to another very high quality, and much needed, win.  SEC Network will be handling the television broadcast again. 

Monday, February 05, 2018

Game Preview - at Mississippi State

This crazy, random Alabama men's basketball season continues following their big win in Gainesville over the weekend. The team will next travel to sunny Starkville, Mississippi on Tuesday night for a return game vs Mississippi State. Alabama won the first matchup 68-62, and enter this game with a 6-4 conference record. State enters with a 5-5 record, and have won three straight. Game time is 6 P.M. CT. SEC Network will televise the game. Swallow your pride and click those links for team and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: I have no idea. Trying to figure out what you're going to get from this Alabama team is an exercise in futility. If inconsistency breeds among the young, there is no greater example than this team. Saturday was a microcosm of this season. Alabama was pretty bad in the 1st half, turning the ball over fifteen times. Fortunately, Florida didn't play much better, and Alabama only trailed by six at the break. If Florida goes into halftime with a double digit lead, I'm not sure Bama comes back to win. Or maybe it wouldn't have mattered. Our guys smashed Florida in the face with a brick in the 2nd half, outscoring the Gators 41-17 en route to the largest margin of victory ever by an Alabama team in Gainesville. However, I'm not going to get too excited because we've seen this movie before following big wins. Will Tuesday night be any different?

The win in Gainesville did take a little pressure off the game in Starkville. With nine games remaining, I thought the four game stretch beginning at Florida and ending with a home game vs LSU would be important. I thought Alabama needed to go 2-2 in that stretch, and at least 2-3 in the final five game stretch that includes road games at Kentucky, Auburn and A&M, along with tough home tests vs Florida and Arkansas. With the quality wins already on their schedule, plus their overall schedule strength, I figure 18 wins is the magic number for Alabama to feel positive about their postseason hopes heading into St. Louis. If Alabama can find a way to consistently play at the level they did in the second half on Saturday, they should easily reach or surpass that number. If.

Players to Watch: Collin Sexton may not be at 100% right now, but he's been fantastic in the last three games, averaging 19.3 ppg, 5 rpg, 3.3 apg, and 1.0 spg. That game at Florida was arguably his most complete day of the season, as he scored, rebounded, made some sweet passes that led to baskets, and played under control, even with the poor overall play of the team in the first half. I think we were all worried at various times this season that Collin's expected lone season in Tuscaloosa may not include an NCAA tournament appearance. It's not set in stone yet of course, but Collin's doing everything in his power to get this program to that finish line. Despite the ups and downs of the team this season, it's been a joy to watch this young man play the game of basketball in an Alabama uniform.

You may remember Lamar Peters leading the charge for Mississippi State in the first game at Coleman when the Bulldogs came storming back from a 19-point deficit in that game. Peters was on fire again this past Saturday vs Georgia, finishing with 20 points, 2 assists, and 4 steals. At times I watch Peters and wonder if he's a legitimate SEC guard, and then he has games such as he did against our guys in Tuscaloosa, and the game he had on Saturday, and I realize I just need to stop thinking that. Peters can play, and if this goes south for Alabama on Tuesday night I won't be shocked if it's largely because of his performance.

Prediction: The way this season has gone, I should just drop this portion of the previews because it's become impossible to predict what will happen nightly in this league. In that way, Alabama is perfectly in harmony with the league in that nothing makes much sense. Auburn and Tennessee (picked 9th and 13th in the preseason poll) are at the top of the league, while Florida, Kentucky and pretty much every other team is chaos theory in action. However, I like to predict the games for a bit of fun. I actually went back to see what my record was in picking the games and was surprised to see that I have a 16-7 record in picking the winners this season. Better than I thought. Only a game off from Alabama's current win/loss record. Having read that now, you should bet your house on my predictions going worries.

I'll bet Ben Howland wishes now he had scheduled a better non-conference schedule. State sits at 5-5 in the league, but the non-conference schedule was so laughably bad (ranked 310th, 8 of their 17 wins have come against sub-200 RPI teams). A better non-conference schedule and State would be in the bubble conversation. As it stands, I believe they must win 10-11 conference games just to get on the bubble, despite their current RPI ranking of 58. I think this team is destined for an NIT postseason (not bad considering recent history), but that doesn't mean they're not playing well lately. As I mentioned, they've won three straight and enter this game with momentum. With Alabama's second half surge at Florida, does that mean we get only one good half of basketball Tuesday to even things out? I really want to pick Alabama to win this game, but I think State is playing well; and we can't just forget that 1st half happened in Gainesville on Saturday, can we? Mississippi State - 71 - Bama - 69