Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Game Preview - Auburn

The Alabama men's basketball team picked up its first road win of the season this past Saturday at LSU to move to 3-2 in conference play. But they may find themselves facing a greater challenge when they return to Coleman Coliseum on Wednesday night to play the Auburn Tigers in the first of two matchups this season. Auburn is ranked 17th in the current AP poll, 4-0 in league play, and as hard as it is to write this, look like the best team in the league at the moment. Game time is 6 P.M. CT. Once again our fine friends at the SEC Network will be televising the game. Click the links for team and KenPom stats if you're into that sort of thing.

My Two Cents: Anyone who has read my posts at this blog since Bruce Pearl was hired at Auburn know that I don't think very highly of his persona or the negative stories that have followed him like a bad smell at every stop he's been at in college basketball. But I also believe in giving credit where it is due. And the fact of the matter is that Bruce Pearl has done a hell of a job coaching this team, despite all of the outside noise regarding the FBI investigation, the arrest and subsequent dismissal of Chuck Person as a result of that investigation, and the eligibility status of arguably the two best players on the roster, Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy.

Auburn's non-conference schedule wasn't particularly impressive (not one KenPom top 50 team in the bunch) so it was easy to think that Auburn's hot start was due to a mediocre schedule. But this team has ripped their way to a 4-0 start in league play with the best offensive efficiency rating in the league, and a much-improved effort on the defensive end (currently ranked 6th in d-efficiency in the league at KenPom). There's also more toughness and leadership on this Auburn team than we've seen in many years. Consider for instance that this Auburn team is 4-1 in games in which they've trailed by double digits. You don't do that without mental toughness and an improved defensive effort. This team is not a pretender.

Despite the ranking and the good vibes that radiate from a team and fanbase that have won fourteen straight games, we all know that Auburn lives for beating Alabama in any sport. Bruce Pearl knows how much this game means to his fanbase. He's known it from day one, while I think Avery figured it out the hard way last season after being swept by the Tigers. And while I think Pearl struggled to motivate his first three teams on the Plains, this group appears to have better chemistry and leadership that has made it easier for Pearl to get the most out of this team. They'll be ready to play.

Donta Hall will miss this game as he recovers from wrist surgery. The initial word was that he would miss up to ten days. That means he could return for Alabama's trip to Ole Miss on the 23rd of this month, but I've also heard he may not be back until the Oklahoma game on the 27th. Alabama overcame his absence last Saturday, but I think his absence is coming at a crucial point on the schedule, and it will be vital that this Alabama team survive this stretch of games until he returns. I thought Donta would be important in this game, and his absence makes me very wary about Alabama's chances. Alas, the game must go on.

Players to Watch: How about the whole Alabama team? Galin Smith and Alex Reese were huge for Alabama in Baton Rouge. With Daniel Giddens only playing 8 minutes due to foul trouble, Galin and Alex stepped up and scored a combined 17 points and 7 rebounds, while only committing two turnovers, and only had three fouls total. They, and Daniel, will need to be a presence once again on Wednesday. Actually, the team as a whole will have to be present on the glass, because I think the team that wins the rebounding stat on Wednesday night likely wins the game.

Despite no player over 6'8, Auburn was the top team in the league in offensive rebounding efficiency entering their game at Mississippi State. But State's size caused some problems for Auburn in the 1st half, playing good first-shot defense, and limiting the Tigers on the offensive glass. Auburn flipped the script in the second half, torching the Bulldogs from the floor and getting to the free throw line for 24 attempts. But State's size nevertheless was a factor in that game. Donta Hall's presence on the floor as a rim protector would have presented challenges for Auburn. Without him, Daniel and Galin will have to hold their own in the post, while guys like Dazon, Braxton, Alex and Herbert will have to assist on the glass. This Auburn team is deadly enough on offense without the luxury of second and third chance points. If Alabama can't control the Auburn possession count, I don't think Alabama has a chance to win this game.

Desean Murray, a transfer from Presbyterian College, gets my vote as Auburn's MVP up to this point in the season. Having watched several Auburn games, I'm always struck by how hard this guy plays, how vocal he is, and how his teammates appear to listen to him when he speaks. In some ways, he reminds me of the role Chris Hines played in his two years at Alabama: a tough, physical guy on the floor that can elevate his teammates with his leadership. The difference in Chris and Murray (11.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.0 spg) though is that Murray is also capable of dropping 20 on you any night. Take him off this Auburn roster, and this is a very different Auburn team we're talking about.

Prediction: This Alabama team showed us some toughness on Saturday when they won short-handed on the road, but there were still plenty of things to be critical about. For starters, 19 turnovers to just 8 assists (Collin had nine turnovers himself). There were also stretches where Alabama struggled to run efficient offense, resulting in another poor shooting night. What got Alabama through it was an old gameplan: slow the tempo down and gut one out on defense. That likely won't be enough against the league's best offensive team. Against LSU, limiting Tremont Waters was key to slowing down the LSU attack. But Auburn is a more balanced team, with four guys averaging double figures. Alabama will have to shoot well, protect the ball, rebound well, and do it all for 40 minutes because this Auburn team has shown they're never out of a game. I'll be honest: if I was betting on this game, I'd bet on the Tigers. But the thought of losing two in a row on the home floor to that team is too much for me to bear. Screw it: Bama gets a big boost from the student section, the young guys play well in the comfort of home, and get the upset victory. Bama - 78 - Auburn - 70

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Bama Blasts Bayou Bengals, Alabama 74 LSU 66

Next man up!  Donta is out for at least 10 days following wrist surgery, but the team came together and responded by getting their first true road win of the season. 

Full disclosure, I watched this game in a bar with no sound, thanks to the NFL game that was on at the same time, so it wasn't ideal viewing conditions.  Also, while it's rare that I'm privy to inside info, I did get the news of Donta's injury about 2 hours before it broke in the media, and promptly put $50 on LSU -4.  You're welcome, I'm taking credit for buying this W with the emotional hedge bet.

With Donta out, we went with a starting lineup of Collin, Herb, Dazon, Braxton, and Dan.  Conventional wisdom would suggest Dan would be the key guy needed to step up, but he only played 8 minutes thanks to foul trouble.  Instead, Galin and Alex came off the bench and both had awesome games.  Galin gave us 29 minutes and scored 8 points and had 4 rebounds. 

Overall, I thought this was our best defensive effort of the season.  In fairness, LSU seemed a bit flat coming off their big win at Arkansas.  It was an ugly, sloppy game for the first half, but I felt pretty good only being down 2 at halftime with Collin only scoring 3 points. 

I'm sure a lot of NBA scouts and most casual observers were excited about the Collin Sexton vs Tremont Waters matchup.  We wisely put Herb on Waters for most of the game, and he did a good job of containing him.  As mentioned above, Sexton only scored 3 in the first half.  Collin must value the basketball more.  Nine turnovers is totally unacceptable, and will get us beat most nights.  That being said, it says a lot about how good these guys are when they score 15 and 19 respectively on a "bad night."  Waters played 37 minutes for LSU, please take notes CAJ, this is how you use your one and done.  Despite Waters having the better stat line, I thought Sexton's play at the beginning of the second half was a big part of the reason we were able to build a 15 point lead. 

Dazon Ingram was clearly the MVP of the game.  He finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, and was big factor on both ends of the floor.  Braxton Key played fairly well despite having a rather pedestrian stat line of 6 points and 4 rebounds.  His jump shot is not falling, but he played his best defense since his return from injury in my opinion. 

LSU was cutting into the lead, but Wade's technical (arguing a correct call I might add) seemed to stymie their momentum and we were able to hold on.  For a moment, I was having flashbacks of a game I attended a few years ago when we blew a 9 point lead in the final minute of a game at Baton Rouge. 

We're now 3-2 in an SEC that appears to be a total crap-shoot.  auburn is the only remaining unbeaten team in the conference and we are just 5 games into league play.  South Carolina bounced back after looking like garbage in Tuscaloosa to beat UGA in Athens.  Texas A&M was nationally ranked in the top 5 at one point, and are now 0-5 in SEC play. 

Up next, we stick with the Tiger meat diet as red hot auburn comes in with a top 25 ranking and a 14 game winning streak.  auburn's marketing people are sending out links to our ticket office and urging their fans to "take over Tuscaloosa."  Let's support our team and make sure that doesn't happen.  It's an early 6 pm start on Wednesday night, and will be televised by the SEC Network. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Game Preview - at LSU

The Alabama men's basketball team will take their fourth crack at a true road win on Saturday when they travel to Baton Rouge to face the LSU Tigers. Alabama enters with a 2-2 record in conference, while the Tigers have a surprising 2-1 start to league play, thanks to back-to-back road wins at Texas A&M and Arkansas. Game time is 7:30 P.M. CT. SEC Network will handle the television duties. Click the links for team and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: Will Wade has the natives excited in Baton Rouge. The Tigers are 11-4 with three true road wins already, and a nice neutral court win over Michigan in the Maui Invitational. They also have one of the best freshman players in the country in Tremont Waters. Unless the harsh winter weather expected this weekend keeps fans at home, Alabama will likely walk into a hostile environment on Saturday night. Our guys will also be searching for their first back-to-back wins since November. Both teams appear to match up well on paper: LSU ranks 7th in the conference in offensive efficiency, Alabama ranks 9th; both teams are ranked in the top three in conference in defensive efficiency. LSU plays at a quick tempo (top five in the conference at KenPom), which is in Alabama's favor as long as our guys can protect the ball and be efficient on the offensive end, something they have struggled to do consistently. If both teams are prepared to play, all signs point to this being a competitive game.

Players to Watch: The competitiveness of Collin Sexton is one of the things that brought people out to watch him during his high school career. He famously (or infamously, depending on your point of view) told Penny Hardaway that his son was "trash" during a game. To borrow a phrase, Collin is a different cat. My guess is he's aware of how good Tremont Waters has been, and I expect Collin will come out ready to accept the challenge. The same for Tremont Waters. His emergence as a freshman is a big, if not the sole, reason why LSU has been one of the surprises in the league up to this point. While Sexton is fast, physical, and can score at all three levels, Waters is a wizard with the ball in his hands. His handle, his court vision, his ability to shoot the ball is a joy to watch, unless he's playing your favorite team, that is. In my opinion, these two guys have been the top two freshmen in the league this season. They will meet at least twice, and both games are the better for that. While that matchup will get a lot of attention, I think the team that gets the most from its post players will win the game. For Alabama, that means they need a repeat performance from Tuesday night of Donta, Daniel and Galin.

Prediction: I was feeling confident in our guys' ability to maybe steal one on the road in Baton Rouge on Saturday. And then I watched LSU run through Arkansas in Fayetteville, and I'm much less confident now. But, again, I do think that Alabama matches up well in this game, assuming they don't turn into "zombies" (gotta give Avery credit for that description) pregame, as they did in Athens last weekend. After consecutive road wins, including their best performance of the season at Arkansas, is it possible LSU comes out a little flat in this one? All things equal, I think LSU is playing the better basketball at the moment, but I'm going to have some faith and pick Alabama to win this one. Bama - 77 - LSU - 75

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Tide Blocks Cocks, Bama 76 South Carolina 62

Alabama protected its home court in convincing fashion against South Carolina to improve to 2-2 in SEC play. 

Coach Johnson went with a big starting lineup of 1. Collin 2. Herb 3. Key 4. Hall 5. Dan.  Many of us have been hard on CAJ lately, but let's give him credit for coming up with a great game plan.  South Carolina is a big, physical team.  MSmilie's preview was spot on, they want to pound it into the paint and they need Silva to stay on the floor.  The staff apparently did a good job of scouting because they seemed to realize that while Silva is a beast, their other bigs are stiffs.  Going with our bigger lineups, we were able to create and take advantage of some mismatches and actually win the rebounding battle.  Dan, Donta, and Galin combined to go 14 of 15 for 30 points and 12 rebounds.  We attacked Silva and were able to foul him out of the game. 

The successful post play opened things up for the wings, and JP came in off the bench and scored 15, going 3 for 6 from 3 point range.  We were 7 of 17 as a team from downtown. 

It was a physical game and the officials let them play, particularly in the first half.  One would think that would be an advantage for South Carolina, but I think it actually helped us keep Dan on the floor while he was having a productive game.  Carolina's physical defense and frequent double teaming of Sexton on the drive limited his offensive game, but I thought he did a lot to create opportunities for others. 

We built a 17 point lead in the first half, but a scoring drought, a flurry of turnovers, and some more bad perimeter defense allowed Carolina to cut it to 7 by halftime.  We were able to speed up the tempo for a stretch in the second half and stretch the lead back out to 20, and the game was never really in doubt. 

I've been critical of AJ's playing time, but he was a difference maker in this game with Sexton in early foul trouble and otherwise struggling to score.  AJ ended up with 10 points and 2 assists in 16 minutes.  Key played better, with 7 points, 5 assists, and 6 rebounds in 22 minutes.  He was much better off the ball, but still had some terrible turnovers.    Dazon returned and played 17 minutes off the bench, and while he only had 4 points and 3 rebounds, I thought he contributed a lot on defense. 

The whole team struggled with turnovers, 18 will get you beat against most teams in this league, and we still had a few more defensive lapses than I would like, but overall it was a solid performance and I thought the guys gave a good effort. 

The crowd was extremely sparse, I would guess no more than 4,500 were actually there, and it was pretty quiet most of the night, even with the big lead.  The student section was about half full.  How much of that was due to the 6pm Tuesday tipoff time and the hangover from Monday night's football National Championship versus the fan base's reaction to recent performances against Texas and Georgia remains to be seen. 

Up next, we travel to Baton Rouge to play a much improved LSU Tigers team this Saturday night at 730 pm central.  It will be televised on the SEC network.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Game Preview - South Carolina

Where to start. Losers of six of their last ten games, the Alabama men's basketball team will look to put their season back on track when they host the South Carolina Gamecocks on Tuesday. The Tide is coming off a humbling 65-46 beatdown to the Georgia Bulldogs this past Saturday, a game that wasn't as close as that final score. Game time for Tuesday is 6 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. Click the links (if you dare) for team and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: Things are bad for the program at the moment. Six losses in their last ten games. A 1-2 start in conference play. The possibility of no postseason play becoming more of a reality. A team beset by injuries. A team trying to play through its youth and the mistakes that accompany young basketball players at this level. Inconsistent (at best) coaching. A team with no obvious floor leadership. A program that has struggled to create a culture of winning and the confidence needed to sustain that culture once it's established. And a fanbase that has witnessed so much mediocrity in this program over the last decade that many of us throw our hands up in frustration at the first sign of adversity. There are so many positive things that have happened off the floor in the last two seasons, specifically recruiting and raising the profile and interest in the program. But the continued struggles on the floor have tempered most, if not all, of the enthusiasm that surrounded the program entering this season.

With sixteen games left on the schedule, plus the SEC Tournament, it's too early to toss this season into the trash heap. But if this team is going to salvage this season, it has to start in practice and the games right now. Alabama will play five of its next seven games at Coleman Coliseum. How this team performs in those games will determine this season. Not overall, because, short of an earth-shattering run through the remainder of the schedule, I don't think this team will be able to match the expectations many Alabama fans had coming into this season. But with a schedule full of resume opportunities left, if this team can grow and improve, they may be able to play their way back into postseason contention. There will be some fans that will not be satisfied with merely making the NCAA tournament in a season in which many predicted this team to be top 25 good, perhaps good enough to win an SEC title. But there should be little argument among fans that it's important for the program to find a way to end its six year NCAA Tournament drought, no matter what circuitous route is taken to achieve that goal. Things are not good right now, but they won't get better if we abandon this team. I encourage all of you that can make it to the game on Tuesday night to set aside your frustrations as a fan and go cheer this team on to victory. It's not about preseason expectations at this point; it's about getting a win, and generating some kind of confidence to help this group of players off the mat. We can be vocal as fans about frustrations with the coaching staff or this player doesn't need to play this many minutes, but we can also remain steadfast in cheering on this team to repair its problems and start playing winning basketball. I feel confident in saying that every one of these players wants to win. By all accounts, this is a group of good guys. And I always want to pull for the good guys to win.

Players to Watch: You don't miss your water until your well runs dry. Or something like that. Dazon Ingram missed Saturday's game with the flu. His status for Tuesday is unclear. At the moment he's likely a game-time decision. His presence on Saturday probably doesn't change the final score, but Dazon has quietly had a good sophomore season in terms of production. He's averaging 11.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg (2nd on the team), and 3.0 apg (2nd on the team). An unfortunate stat that he leads the team in is turnovers (2.4), but guys that have the ball a lot (Collin is right behind him with 2.3 per game) are going to have elevated numbers in that category. Nevertheless, Dazon does a little bit of everything for this team. I'd like him to take on more of a leadership role if he's capable of that kind of personality. But more importantly, I'd like to have him back on the floor Tuesday night.

Chris Silva is the best player for this Gamecock team, and the kind of physical low post scorer/rim protector that has given Alabama fits in recent weeks. Silva is also a foul machine at times. In Carolina's five losses this season, Silva is averaging four personal fouls per game. In their ten wins, he's averaging 2.9 fouls per game. I'd be willing to bet that Silva's minutes on Tuesday night will have a direct impact on the final score of the game.

Prediction: I hate using this term, but Tuesday is a must-win for this Alabama team. Forget conference standings, postseason, all of it; this Alabama team just needs a win. South Carolina appears to be in a rebuilding mode after a historic season a year ago. But Frank Martin is also one of the best coaches in the league so I expect he'll have his team ready to play. Once again, pace will be a huge factor in this game. South Carolina would love nothing more than to play this game in the mud and keep Alabama in the half court. While I don't believe Carolina has the imposing size that Georgia did that resulted in the Bulldogs devouring Alabama on the boards, the Gamecocks still have size and skill in the paint, particularly when Silva is on the floor, that can give this Bama team trouble if the game gets slowed down. The gameplan should be to go right at Silva early and make him defend without fouling. And our guys have to improve their 3-point defense. Too many poor shooting teams are having season best numbers against them. The Gamecocks don't make it easy, but our guys find a way to bounce back. Bama - 69 - South Carolina - 66

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Tide Lays Huge, Steaming Log against Bulldogs, Georgia 65 Alabama 46.

You probably don't want to read any more about this game than I want to write about it, so I'll keep this relatively short, at least by my standards.  It was a pathetic, embarrassing, pitiful performance.

Dazon Ingram missed the game with the flu, but was on the bench and looked horrible.  I'm not a doctor, and I commend him for wanting to support his teammates, but given the highly contagious nature of the flu, I question the wisdom of allowing him on the trip, much less his presence on the bench. 

The rest of the team played as if they had the flu.  Herb Jones got the start in place of Ingram, and despite being the only player on the floor even attempting to play defense in the first half, he was horrendous on the offensive end.  We've spent a lot of time discussing the playing rotation here, and Ingram's illness further complicated things there for this game.  Let's look at some numbers.  Sexton played 33 minutes, that's closer to the 35 I've been calling for from him.  He was the only guy who showed up today.  Unfortunately, he still shared the backcourt with AJ for extended periods, including the run in the first half that allowed UGA to gain their first 20 point lead. 

Speaking of AJ, he got 22 minutes in this crap-show (edited to save bobbyjack some work).  Donta has played fairly well at times, and actually led the team in rebounds with 6 (lol) despite playing only 16 minutes.  He did appear visibly frustrated at times, which I actually appreciated, as his body language at least indicated that he gave a damn, unlike everyone else on the team not named Collin Sexton.  Meanwhile we dusted off Galin Smith for 18 minutes, and Alex Reese got 8, mostly in the first half. 

The first half was one of the worst defensive efforts I have ever seen.  We didn't block anybody out, we had the same issues we've had with switching on screens in the man, and our rotation in the zone was criminally lacking.  We did press a little more, with some limited success, but never controlled the tempo.  To compound matters, we tried to speed things up on offense after giving up big scores by taking quick, ill-advised shots.  I felt like I was watching a game during the Gottfried era, wide open 3's galore and getting blown out on the road by a team we should probably beat.

Sexton played well.  Key seemed to regress after making some improvement at Vandy.  JP actually played some defense in the second half, but was a liability otherwise.  We are a below average team when he isn't shooting well, and right now, that's more often than not. 

The defensive intensity improved a lot in the second half, even if the technique did not.  We committed a ton of fouls, but at least put forth some effort.  I can't comment on the last 5 minutes as I decided to get a head start on the drive back to Birmingham.  I very rarely leave games early, and I'll support the team as long as I feel they are giving maximum effort.  I don't think that was the case in the first half, and if they aren't going to give me 40 minutes, I don't feel obligated to give 40 minutes of support either. 

Yes, we are young.  Yes, we've had injuries.  Those are all parts of the game, especially the college game.  This is our most talented roster in 20 years, and we're losing to inferior teams.  At the end of the day, responsibility for that lies at the feet of the head coach.  I don't get a sense of urgency from CAJ.  The assistants seem more passionate on the sidelines.  One of the big questions when we hired him was, could he adapt to the college game?  He's proven he can recruit.  He's proven he can market the program.  I don't think anybody can question his basketball knowledge from an Xs and Os standpoint.  Can he manage and motivate a roster of talented college kids?  It's only year 3, but we need improvement in this area, and fast.  He needs to realize every game is much more important in a 30 game schedule versus an 82 game schedule.  Also, waiting until the 4th quarter (or late second half) to start bringing it on defense isn't going to cut it here.  We are basically seeing what happens when a good college team thinks they are an NBA team and plays accordingly at this level.

Stegeman Coliseum is an underrated venue.  They've made a lot of improvements over the years, and it's a fine place to watch a game.  It holds about 10,500, and it was  sold out, with over 10,000 in attendance.  We only had a couple-hundred fans there, including athletic director Greg Byrne.  He walked up the stairs past us to the concourse in the first half when things were going badly, and did not look very happy, but I did see him down on the floor later in the game.  The UGA fans were respectful.  Football culture still rules there, as I over head a lot of conversations focusing on Monday's game.  To their credit, they were supportive of their team while mostly just leaving us alone. 

Up next, we play the South Carolina Gamecocks in Tuscaloosa Tuesday night at 6 pm on the SEC Network.  I'll be there, and I'm curious to see how many will join me.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Game Preview - at Georgia

In the wake of another frustrating trip to Memorial Gym, the Alabama men's basketball team will hope to win a true road game for the first time this season when they travel to beautiful Athens, Ga to face the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday. You couldn't have asked for better timing for this game as the two schools will meet for the national championship in football on Monday night.  Game time is 11 A.M. CT. SEC Network will handle the television duties. Alabama is 3-2 in their last five trips to Athens. Click the links (don't be shy) for team and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: Basketball may only be served as the appetizer for the big football game on Monday night, but this game will nonetheless be very important for both programs. Both teams have solid, not great, non-conference resumes entering the game, along with 1-1 starts in conference play. A win here adds to the resume for two teams currently viewed as being on the bubble if the tournament was selected today. Furthermore, the winner avoids dropping below .500 in conference play. A conference by the way that looks bonkers if the early results are any indication. We're only one week into the conference season, but there is no clearcut favorite at the top of the league, and no team from 1-14 in the standings right now looks like an easy out. The winner(s) of this league race could have as many as six losses once it wraps up. This young Alabama team has to grow up and gel quickly or this conference will reduce a once-promising season to a bitterly disappointing one.

Players to Watch: I may have been in the minority on Tuesday night, but I wasn't as upset with the loss at Vandy as much as maybe I should have been. For one, I think Vandy is much better than their record; and, two, I thought Alabama played well despite John Petty scoring only two points. John is a great talent, and I think his ceiling is very high in all areas of the game. But right now, what this Alabama team needs from him is scoring. When John's shot is falling, this Alabama team is noticeably better because it forces opposing defenses to extend out to the 3-point line, opening up the floor for guys like Collin and Dazon to get into the paint and make plays. Keep an eye out for Herbert Jones in this one as well. With Riley now out for the season, I think Herbert's role on this team will begin to expand.  

The Georgia frontline (Yante Maten, Derek Ogbeide and Rayshaun Hammonds) is stacked. In fact, a key stat in this game will be how Bama competes on the boards against Georgia's size. But, in my opinion, Georgia's ultimate success comes down to the play of their guards. They didn't exactly come into the season as a heralded group, but their play, particularly that of William Jackson II, is a big reason that the Bulldogs have overachieved to some extent up to this point. The Alabama gameplan must involve making those guys uneasy, not allowing them to find a rhythm with the big guys inside. If that happens, it's going to be a very long day in Athens.

Prediction: This is a similar matchup to the one with Texas a few weeks ago. No one on this Georgia team is a dominant presence like Mo Bamba is (very few are, to be honest), but with their size they could significantly control this game if  the pace is slowed and this becomes a half-court game. And another key aspect of that game with Texas was that their guards controlled the pace and shot the ball well. I think Alabama must come out early, set the tempo, and attack the Georgia guards in the open court in an effort to get them off balance, creating turnovers and transition opportunities. Make it a little chaotic, take Georgia (and their home crowd, which could be sizable as a result of the expectation of Monday night) out of their comfort zone. This Alabama team simply isn't capable right now of consistently producing points or defensive stops in the half-court against a team with Georgia's size. If this game is in the 50s or low 60s, be afraid. Be very afraid. Alabama - 73 - Georgia - 66

EDIT: No, you're not crazy. I've changed this prediction three times now.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Tide too poor for Commodores, Vandy 76 Bama 75

As I said in my last recap, when you play in Memorial Gym you can expect Vandy to make a bunch of 3s, and the officials to blow some calls in their favor at key moments.  Last night was no different. 

I'm not as upset about this loss as many people seem to be.  I mostly just chalk it up to the fact that we can't win in that place.  We've had better teams lose to worse Vandy teams in Nashville over the last 30 years.  There were a few positives to take away from this game. 

The team never quit despite falling down by 15 at one point.  The press was very effective at the end of the game, and we almost pulled off a great comeback.  Braxton Key is improving, I thought he actually helped us on both ends of the floor at times last night and he ended up with 9 points and 6 rebounds.  The rotation, while still not ideal, was much better.  We only played 8 guys for meaningful minutes.  I still don't like having AJ and Sexton in at the same time, and I think AJ is playing way too many minutes. 

I still think we are switching on screens way too much in the man to man defense, and not doing so effectively.  We gave up a ton of open perimeter shots in the first half, and Vandy shot over 50% from downtown to take a 10 point lead into the half.  My biggest beef with CAJ this game was starting the second half in a 2-3 zone.  I get the thinking, Vandy was uncharacteristically one of the worst teams in the league at perimeter shooting coming into the game, but the first half and common sense from past experience should have told us that playing a zone against them is never a good idea.  They promptly stretched the lead to 15 before we switched back to a man.  I thought the defense played reasonably well for the rest of the game, but give Vandy some credit for getting to the rim on the dribble drive. 

One key turn of events happened around the 8 minute mark.  We had cut the lead to 4 despite Sexton being on the bench for the previous 2-3 minutes taking a breather.  I think we waited too long to put him back in.  Dazon turned it over, and of course Vandy made a 3.  So instead of possibly cutting the lead to one possession, the Dores had a comfortable 8 point cushion going into the final 5 minutes. 

We started pressing and trapping in the final 2 minutes and forced a number of turnovers to make a run to get back into the game.  We had the ball down 3 with about 14 seconds remaining, and Collin drove to the basket for a quick layup with 6 seconds left on the clock.  The defense forced yet another turnover, as the Vandy player stepped on the line trying to avoid the trap on the in-bounds pass.  Of course, the officials did not call it, nor did they review the play.  Instead, we had to foul with 3 seconds remaining.  Vandy missed the front end of the one and one, but with no timeouts left all we could do was let Collin heave it from the half court line. 

I understand that we can't trap and press the entire game, but we should have done more of that earlier in the game.  We have too much depth and athleticism to allow a team like Vandy to control the tempo and make it a half court game. 

After playing well against Texas A&M, JP was frankly terrible on both ends of the floor.  In 28 minutes of playing time he only scored 2 points, was 0 for 3 from the perimeter, and was a liability on defense.  This team desperately needs more consistency from him.  We are a much better team when he is playing well. 

Sexton had another great night with 24 points and 5 assists.  If he's on the court for 35 minutes instead of 30, the outcome may have been different.  Donta had another nice night with 14 points and 6 rebounds.  I thought we should have ran the offense through the post more.  It's virutally impossible to win a shooting contest up there. 

Up next, we travel to Athens, GA to take on the UGA Bulldogs Saturday at noon eastern.  The game will be televised on SEC Network. 

Monday, January 01, 2018

Game Preview - at Vanderbilt

The Alabama men's basketball program will seek a 2-0 start in league play for a second straight season when they travel to Nashville on Tuesday night to face the Vanderbilt Commodores. Game time is 6 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. Click the links for team and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: Both teams challenged themselves in non-conference play with mixed results. Vandy enters this game at 5-8 overall; but, like Alabama, they've played a top 25 schedule, making it difficult to judge this team by their record alone. It's also important to remember that Vandy's record was 6-6 a season ago entering conference play, but they were able to play their way comfortably into the tournament nonetheless. And as all Alabama fans know, Memorial Gym has been a nightmare for Alabama for decades. The win vs A&M this past Saturday was exciting, and it showed that this Bama team has some fight in it. Now it's time to see how this young team (made even younger by the fact that Riley Norris will miss the remainder of the season with a hip injury) handles back to back road games. As always, defending the 3-point line will be crucial vs Vanderbilt. If you go back and watch the A&M game closely, the Aggies got plenty of open jump shots, they just didn't make them. Vanderbilt will make those shots in Memorial.

Players to Watch: After struggling against Texas in his worst game of the year, Donta Hall found himself facing off against the elite duo of Tyler Davis and Robert Williams. Donta held his own, finishing with 17 points on an efficient 7-8 from the field. Plus, he made all three free throw attempts. He also added 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. He's been a very important part of the team this season, going from being a raw but talented role player to a guy who may have a legit shot at being drafted in June if he continues his progression. Post play has not been a strength for this Vanderbilt team so far. Donta and the other Bama post players could have a big impact on this game as a result.

Jeff Roberson is the leader for this Vanderbilt team, and one of my favorite players to watch in the league. He's had a great senior season so far: 14.7 ppg (45.2% FG, 41.8% 3-pt, 91.4 FT), 8.2 rpg, and 1.0 apg. Matching up with him will be a challenge because of his versatility. He can beat you from the perimeter, driving to the basket, and he's the most consistent option in the paint for Vandy at the moment. His numbers will likely say a lot about how this game goes.

Prediction: Alabama's performance this past Saturday was encouraging on the heels of that terrible performance vs Texas. If our guys can stay healthy, continue to improve, this team is still capable of ending the program's NCAA Tournament drought. But winning road games in the SEC this season is going to be tough. It's going to be even tougher when you consider how young this Alabama team is. KenPom has an experience ranking. Out of 351 teams, he has Alabama ranked at 347 (only Kentucky is younger in the league). I don't care how talented you are, when your team is that young, they're going to have some ups and downs all season, but certainly in road environments. And Vanderbilt still play their home games in Memorial Gym. Alas, Vanderbilt - 73 - Alabama - 71

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Alabama Antagonizes Aggies, Bama 79 Texas A&M 57

Before we get too excited about a 22 point win over a top 5 team; I think it's important to note that the Aggies were missing two starters.  Nevertheless, they still had the talent to make this a difficult game, but our guys came to play and got a much needed, relatively easy win that should look very nice on the resume in March. 

The day started with news of Riley Norris' scheduled hip surgery, taking him out for the rest of the year. The injury likely explains why Riley has appeared a bit slow and over-matched in recent games.  I hate it for Riley, missing most of his senior season, but perhaps this will help CAJ figure out a sensible playing rotation.  My understanding is Riley will be eligible for a medical redshirt, and it would be great to have him back for one more year. 

We stuck with the same starting lineup and overall they played very well together.  I would still rather have Braxton Key come in off the bench until he gets back up to speed.  I would prefer to start both bigs or maybe even Herb over Key for now.  While Braxton still only scored 2 points, I thought this was his best game since returning.  He didn't let his offensive struggles effect other parts of his game.  He contributed with some nice stops defensively and a few huge rebounds.  He ended up with 6 boards.  One of the key plays came after an offensive rebound that Braxton saved from going out of bounds, all 5 guys touched the ball and it ended with alley-oop to Donta which brought down the house.

Sexton scored 9 points very quickly in the first half and it looked like he was going to carry the team himself.  I think this early explosion opened up a lot of opportunities for our other guys who took advantage.  Collin also played very smart.  I don't think he gets enough credit for his court vision, and anticipating his double-teams and setting up guys to get good looks. 

We led by as many as 12 in the first half, but didn't take full advantage of the Aggies' cold shooting.  They went 0 for 10 from 3 point range in the first half, but we got stupid with the substitutions again and had a scoring drought to the end half, going into the locker room with only a 7 point lead.  I don't understand why we decided to randomly throw Alex Reece and Galin Smith into the game, along with AJ.  That being said, Galin played well in his 7 minutes, coming up with a couple of blocks and a big rebound, along with a few other hustle plays that won't make the box score.

Back to the rotation again, I thought it was much better in the second half.  It's no coincidence that we built the lead to 15+ primarily with the starters playing together.  We also didn't use Alex and Galin didn't come in until later when Donta had some contact issues.  Collin Sexton played 29 minutes and AJ played 12.  That split needs to be more like 35/5, and they shouldn't be on the court at the same time.

Collin was the victim of a flagrant 1 foul, and that just seemed to re-focus the team.  We stretched the lead back out to 13 and the outcome was never in doubt again.  The Aggies seemed to be frustrated and started taking some cheap shots, but Sexton wouldn't let the guys lose focus.  Even though Collin was only 1 for 6 from 3 point range, I like that he's pulling up from out there a few times, as it opens up his dribble drive game, and his dribble drive game opens up so much for the rest of the offense. 

They tried to zone us, as we've struggled with that in recent games, but when JP is feeling it, that's not going to be a wise decision for our opponents.  It took us a few possessions to figure out how to create for him, but once we did, he did not disappoint.  We can play with anybody in the country when JP is shooting well and taking care of the basketball.  He ended up with 18 points and only 2 turnovers. 

In general, we took better care of the basketball.  We ended up with 12 turnovers, but some of that was Collin trying to show out a little bit after we already had a huge lead. 

Donta Hall had another great game, running the floor and finding the open space close to the basket.  He ended up with 17 points and 6 rebounds.  Dazon quietly had a stat-line worthy of MVP consideration, with 16 points and 6 rebounds.  He had a few steals and did a good job of getting us into transition. 

I was shocked by how awesome the crowd was!  Despite the team's struggles in recent games, the students not being back on campus yet, it being the day before New Year's Eve, and a huge chunk of our fan base already in New Orleans for the football game tomorrow, there were 13,000+ in attendance.  The fans were into the game and loud throughout, and if the team can play like this consistently, Coleman Coliseum is going to be a very difficult venue for SEC teams to come in and get a win. 

Up next, speaking of difficult venues, we travel to Nashville to take on Vandy in a place where we've won only once in the last 30 years. I think we are the better team, but no doubt we'll get some bad calls and they'll shoot about a thousand 3s.   Tipoff is set for 6pm Tuesday night on the SEC Network.  Happy New Year, and Roll Tide!