Alabama Arkansas State
My Two Cents: Any Bama fans expecting this to be a bounce-back game against an over-matched mid-major should lower their expectations. This Arkansas State team has been pretty good through eleven games. They're 5-2 in road/neutral site games, including a win at Georgetown earlier this season. The 9-2 start for the Red Wolves is their best start in program history. The numbers are also impressive: Arkansas State is currently ranked in KenPom's top 30 when it comes to 3-point offensive efficiency and are ranked 2nd in 3-point defensive efficiency. They're also ranked in the top 75 in 2-point offensive efficiency (though their 2-point defensive efficiency is in the 200s so Alabama should strive to get the ball into the paint). For an Alabama team that has struggled to make and defend 3-point shots, those are scary stats. On the plus side, if Alabama can win this game, this could be a sneaky good win for their resume if Arkansas State goes on to be a factor in the Sun Belt conference race (KenPom currently projects them to finish tied for 2nd in the conference).
Players to Watch: For Alabama, who the hell knows? No one has stepped forward as a consistent offensive threat for this team. The offense-by-committee approach simply hasn't worked. Avery and his staff have to identify 2-3 guys who they can trust to be volume shooters. This team has been solid defensively, but the long-time enemy, the scoring drought, has continued to plague this team. They've gotta find a way to be more efficient on the offensive end, and improve their tempo (currently ranked 299 in adjusted tempo by KenPom).
Devin Carter has been fantastic for Arkansas State so far with averages of 17.6 ppg (46.9% FG, 44.3% from 3). He's taken 53 more shots than the next guy on his team so there is no mystery here, Alabama will have to be locked in on him.
Prediction: The season is slip-sliding away from this Bama team. If they can't put the foot on the brake soon, this season could get away from them entirely, and Wednesday night of the SEC Tournament may be the only March basketball we can realistically look forward to. First things first, they need to build some momentum with conference play a mere two weeks away (whew, this season is flying by). Arkansas State is not going to make that easy. As I've pointed out, this is a good team, and I doubt they've seen anything on film that makes them fear Alabama. They will enter this game expecting to win. Our guys will have to play well to spoil the Red Wolves trip to Huntsville. Sadly, my confidence in this team is low at the moment, but I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt. Alabama - 72 - Arkansas State - 67.