Monday, February 29, 2016

Bama Bubble Watch, RPI 58

We are still a 10 seed in Jerry Palm's new bracket, but we are now in the West Regional, playing Pitt in Spokane.  His projections would set up a possible second round re-match with Oregon.  Joe Lunardi has moved us to his first four out, behind Florida, Gonzaga, Tulsa, and St. Bonnie.  Here's yesterday's results:

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bama Bubble Watch, RPI 58

Things haven't been going our way lately, as the RPI is clearly trending in the wrong direction.  That's life on the bubble, much of what happens is beyond our control.  Hopefully our luck will improve over the next couple of weeks.  Let's look at yesterday's results:

Tide Over Takes Tigers, Alabama 65 auburn 57

It wasn't pretty, but Bama managed to survive and advance against rival auburn. We got off to a great start defensively, as the Tigers did not make a basket from the field for the first five minutes of the game.  We built a 10 point first half lead, but then went cold and struggled to hold onto the ball, allowing auburn to cut the lead to 2 at halftime.

 The tigers made their first 5 or 6 shots of the second half, and suddenly we were looking at a 10 point deficit with 15 minutes to play.  Coach Johnson called a timeout and switched to a zone defense, which was much more effective.  Despite some poor shooting, we were able to chip away at the lead before regaining it for good in the final five minutes.

Several guys stepped up at key moments to keep our NCAA tournament chances alive.  Donta Hall was a beast on both ends of the floor.  He had 10 points and 8 rebounds, and I think all of his points may have came from dunks. Unfortunately, he fouled out after just 16 minutes of playing time.  Kessens had struggled for much of the game, but came up with 2 huge dunks after Donta fouled out that sparked the come back. It was great to see Art get his shot back, scoring 15 points.  Retin scored 16 despite being limited to 29 minutes due to foul trouble.  auburn defended him similar to the way Mississippi State did, which opened up some opportunities for Hall and Kessens.  Riley Norris had 8 rebounds, and we did a much better job on the boards than we did in the first meeting between these two teams.  

I question why we did not try to press them at any point in the game.  They don't have anybody who can handle the ball, and had Bowers running point guard at times.  That being said, they did just beat Arkansas on the road, and I would assume Arkansas pressed them most of the game.

It was a packed house thanks to the Iron Bowl trophy presentation.  I am happy to report that everybody stayed for the second half, and the crowd was very much into the game at key moments, despite being temporarily silenced by auburn's early second half run.

Up next, the Arkansas Razorbacks come in for an 8 pm tipoff Wednesday night in another must-win game for the Tide.  I'm really worried about this match up, Justin Coleman is going to have to be stronger with the basketball against the Hogs pressure defense.  It's senior night and a huge game, so try to be there to show your support for Retin and the rest of this team. The game will be televised on SEC Network.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Bama Bubble Watch, RPI 53

Last night's Results:

Bad News:

Valpo 80
Milwaukee 76

Monmouth 79
Rider 58


Friday, February 26, 2016

Game Preview - Auburn

Round two with the Auburn Tigers takes place tomorrow at 4:00 PM in Coleman Coliseum. The game will be televised by the SEC Network. Forget the rivalry for a second. This game is bigger than the rivalry for Alabama. 16-11 overall, 7-8 in conference play, clinging to the bubble, Alabama needs a win to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Another "bad loss" (i.e., a loss to a team with an RPI ranking of 100 or worse) could sink Bama's at-large chances. Auburn's RPI is currently in the 130s so a second loss to the Tigers would certainly be considered a bad loss. Rivalry or not, Alabama needs to win this game. Auburn (11-16, 5-10) is headed for their second straight losing season with Bruce Pearl at the helm. The Tigers have dealt with injuries and their leading scorer leaving the team, but, to their credit, have shown some fight in the past two weeks, winning two of their last three games.

Stats


Alabama
Auburn



67.0 PPG 72.1
67.5 OPP 77.7
.426 FG% .400
.403 OPP .443
49.8 EFG% 47.7
45.8 OPP 50.3
.334 3PT% .348
.320 OPP .344
.653 FT% .636
.674 OPP .694
40.4 FTRATE 41.0
39.9 OPP 39.6
35.3 RPG 37.1
37.8 OPP 40.8
28.5 OREB% 28.2
33.5 OPP 31.5
13.8 TOPG 13.8
12.1 OPP 13.0
20.6 TO% 18.8
18.1 OPP 17.7

When Auburn's leading scorer Kareem Canty left the team in the midst of a 7-game losing streak, the perception was the wheels were going to come off for this team. The return of T.J. Dunans (Jr. 6'5, 174 lbs) from injury has helped Auburn avoid total disaster. Auburn has had struggles all season, but I felt the best player on their team was Dunans before he missed 15 games with a knee injury. Most importantly, he's been able to step in and take over the ball-handling duties, relieving Cinmeon Bowers of his short-lived stint as a point guard. Dunans worries me. He's a big, physical guy to guard on the perimeter. A little like Retin. Maybe not as polished as Retin has been this season, but Dunans has also only played in 12 games this season. His averages in those 12 games: 11.9 ppg, 36% from 3, 3.0 apg, 1.2 bpg, and 1.3 spg. He is a problem.

Tyler Harris (Sr. 6'10, 228) is also expected to return after he sustained a concussion in the Ole Miss game, missing a good chunk of the second half of that game as well as Auburn's home win over Georgia. With Canty gone, Harris is now the leading scorer for the Tigers (14.0 ppg) and is 2nd on the team in rebounds (7.5). Cinmeon Bowers (Sr. 6'7, 250 lbs) drew the ire of Alabama fans last season in Coleman with his showboating during a tense, tight game that went down to the wire. Unfortunately, his averages in the three games vs Alabama (16 ppg, 11 rpg) haven't exactly inspired him not to showboat. Bowers dominated Alabama in the earlier contest this season, grabbing 18 rebounds. If our guys allow a repeat performance, they and the Alabama fans in attendance can expect to see more flexing. Our guys will also have to be wary of Auburn's shooters, Bryce Brown (10.5 ppg, 37% from 3, knocked down 9 3-point shots at Arkansas) and TJ Lang (40% 3-pt shooter). You look at this Auburn roster, even with the injuries and the Canty defection, and you wonder why they haven't won more games. There is certainly talent, but it seems that the chemistry has been absent. The Tigers have looked better in recent games, and Alabama should expect the Tigers best shot tomorrow at 4 PM. The Auburn coaches, players and fans would love nothing more than a season sweep of Alabama and the final nail in their NCAA Tournament hopes.

What Alabama team will we see tomorrow? The tough, balanced, confident team that won their first five games in February to get into this bubble discussion, or will it be the team of the last two games that was inconsistent on defense, tentative on offense, and lacked the toughness and confidence that made us fall in love with them in the first place? As a fan, you can't ask more from Retin at this point so Alabama's destiny lies with the next group of guys (Shannon, Art, Riley, Justin, Mike, Jimmie) who have stepped up in some form or fashion when Alabama has been at their best. And it can't be one of those guys either; it needs to be all of them. They have to bring something to the table, be it points, assists, rebounds, making plays on defense, whatever. Avery mentioned in his press conference that the team has had some good practices this week, which hopefully will carry over into the game on Saturday. 

Bama Bubble Watch, RPI 52

Joe Lunardi's new bracket is out, and not surprisingly he has bumped us down to "next four out" meaning there are 5 teams ahead of us for the last play-in game in his mind.  He has teams like Gonzaga and Butler ahead of us, with Cincinnati in the play-in game and VCU even receiving a bye.  His disregard for the actual criteria that the committee will be using is laughable.  Anyway, here's last night's results


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Bama Bubble Watch, RPI 51

Jerry Palm's new bracket is out, and we are still in, although we've slipped a seed down to the 10 line.  He has us playing Texas in the East Regional in Raleigh.  That actually would not be a bad draw, in my opinion.  He's also moved us to his "on the fence" category.

Last night's results:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Bama Bubble Watch, RPI 50

Last night's results:

Good News:

Dayton 52
St. Louis 49

Bad News:

Kentucky 78
Bama 53

Georgia Tech 75
Clemson 73

Texas Tech 83
TCU 79

Arkansas 85
LSU 65 (on the plus side, LSU is DONE, unless they win the SEC tournament)

Tonight's Friends:

ROLL MUSKETEERS: Hope Xavier can beat Villanova in a potential battle of top seeds.

ROLL HAWKEYES:  Iowa needs to beat Wisconsin

ROLL IRISH!  Notre Dame should beat Wake Forest

ROLL SPARTANS! Norfolk State should beat Morgan State

ROLL SPIDERS! Richmond can help us against George Washington

ROLL TIGERS!  auburn needs to beat Georgia

ROLL DUKES! Duquesne needs to beat St. Bonaventure

ROLL MINUTEMEN!  Maybe UMass can upset St. Joe's.

ROLL WILDCATS!  Northwestern needs beat Michigan.

ROLL PATRIOTS! Hopefully George Mason can knock off VCU.

ROLL SHOCKERS! Wichita State should beat my mother's alma mater, Loyola Chicago.

ROLL HUSKIES! Washington beating Oregon State helps.

ROLL COCKS!  South Carolina needs to take care of Tennessee

ROLL DUCKS!  Oregon should beat Washington State

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Cats Castrate Crimson, Kentucky 78- Alabama 53

We got destroyed, again, by a much better team.  I would like to say that it was expected, margin of victory doesn't matter, and this doesn't really hurt us, but I don't honestly believe that to be the case.  We had a great opportunity on national television, on the road against one of the most talented teams in the nation, and we laid a big, fat egg.

Other than Retin, who did all he could scoring 29 points, nobody else could put the ball in the basket against Kentucky.  Justin was our next highest scorer with 8 points, and frankly, he took some God-awful shots, including a couple of air-balls, and really did not take good care of the basketball.

Credit to Kentucky, they had 4 guys in double-digits including, once again, Poythress with 14, who we didn't even expect to play.  We were competitive early, but once they got the lead to double-digits we seemed to panic and things snowballed from there.  We missed several bunnies close to the basket, but even making those would have merely made it somewhat respectable.

They played a man to man defense against us and we couldn't find a shot.  We played tight on offense, passed up the very few good looks we had, and couldn't stop them on the other end.  Retin was literally our only player who had a decent game, everyone else struggled with some, if not all, aspects of their game.

Congrats to Kentucky.  They were coming off of a tough loss, and they asserted themselves as kings of the league.  They are what we, and everybody else in this conference, aspires to be.  We aren't even close right now, but based on what I've seen throughout the year, we can get there.  Still, tonight was embarrassing, but we need to just forget about it and move forward.

In theory, it's a road loss against a top 25 RPI team, so it shouldn't be a big deal, but this game was on national TV, and I'm sure when the selection committee is deliberating, there's a good chance some of them saw this performance.  At this time of the year, it's important to at least be respectable in losing efforts, and we failed miserably in that tonight.  It hurts us in the "eye test" category if nothing else.  It's not the end of the world, we have 3 regular season games left, and if we go 2-1 we have at least a 50/50 shot of seeing our name on selection Sunday.  Win three and we are almost certainly in.  

Up next, auburn comes to Tuscaloosa for a 4 p.m. start Saturday.  It's a must-win, and is a sell-out, mostly because the Iron Bowl trophy will be presented at halftime.  I think this is a stupid, out-dated tradition that is disrespectful to basketball, but whatever.  Our basketball fans haven't been showing up in the first place, so maybe our football fans can be convinced to stick around past halftime and support this team that is so desperately trying to do everything in their power to put us on the national basketball map.  The game will be televised on SEC Network.  


Bama Bubble Watch, RPI 48

Last night's results:

Good News:

Norfolk State 85
Coppin State 77

Tonight's Friends:

ROLL TIDE!  Let's shock the world at Rupp Arena!

ROLL TIGERS! Root for LSU and Clemson over Arkansas and Georgia Tech

ROLL FLYERS! Let's hope Dayton can take down St. Louis.

ROLL HORNED FROGS!  TCU needs to knock off Texas Tech.




Monday, February 22, 2016

Game Preview - at Kentucky

Alabama's 5-game winning streak was snapped on Saturday by Mississippi State. To avoid a 2-game losing streak, our guys will have to earn it the hard way on the road at Rupp Arena vs the Wildcats. Game time is 6 PM on Tuesday. ESPN will televise the game as part of its "Super Tuesday" coverage. Kentucky is also seeking to bounce back after a controversial loss on the road to Texas A&M. Despite the loss, Kentucky still sits at the top of the league standings with a 10-4 record, but their schedule is brutal in these final two weeks of the season. Home games with Bama and LSU along with road trips to Florida and Vandy is as tough as it gets. If Kentucky is the 1 seed in Nashville in three weeks for the SEC Tournament, they will have earned it.

Stats


Alabama
Kentucky



67.6 PPG 78.8
67.1 OPP 67.5
.428 FG% .474
.401 OPP .393
50.1 EFG% 53.1
45.8 OPP 44.1
.333 3PT% .357
.322 OPP .330
.651 FT% .677
.668 OPP .713
40.5 FTRATE 37.5
39.6 OPP 41.9
35.6 RPG 39.0
37.7 OPP 33.5
28.8 OREB% 38.0
33.3 OPP 31.6
13.9 TOPG 11.8
12.5 OPP 12.9
20.6 TO% 17.0
18.5 OPP 18.6


Kentucky is dealing with some injuries. Emerging forward Derek Willis (Jr. 6'9, 220 lbs), whose insertion into the starting line-up provided a spark to this UK team, sprained his ankle in the A&M game, and is doubtful for this game. The status of Alex Poythress (Sr. 6'8, 230 lbs), who logged a career high of 25 points against Alabama in the first meeting this season, is also unknown for this game. Poythress has missed the last five games due to injuries, but is expected back this week.

Unfortunately for Alabama, the dynamic duo of Tyler Ulis (5'9, 160 lbs) and Jamal Murray (6'4, 207 lbs) are healthy and will be available. Murray is a projected top 10 draft pick who has become a scoring machine at 19.3 ppg along with 4.8 rpg, 2.1 apg and 1.1 spg. Ulis (16.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 6.6 apg and 1.4 spg) is one of the top point guards in the country and the unquestioned leader for this team. With LSU and Ben Simmons' struggles, he may also now be the leader for the SEC Player of the Year award. Keep an eye on Isaac Humphries (Fr. 7'0, 260 lbs). He played a heck of a game at A&M (6 pts, 12 rebs, 2 blks), but was whistled for a controversial technical foul late in that game that led to the A&M win in overtime. If he's moved past that unfortunate moment, he could be an x-factor for the Cats against an inconsistent Bama front line.

Alabama did not respond well when placed in the role of favorite this past Saturday. At times they looked tight, as if the realization of what they had accomplished in winning 6 of their last 7 games and placing themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble had finally hit them. No worries though, they will be in the familiar role of underdog once again on Tuesday night. That may be to their favor. Not many are giving Alabama a chance in this game, but they may be catching this Kentucky team at just the right time. This will be Kentucky's third game in six days, and when you factor in the injuries this UK team is dealing with, Alabama may be able to catch them flat-footed. It will take a tremendous effort from Alabama to walk out of Rupp with a win, but many didn't think they could walk out of Gainesville or Baton Rouge with wins either.

BAMA Bubble Watch, RPI: 48

Jerry Palm's new bracket is out, and he still has us in as a 9 seed in the East Regional, playing Pitt in Brooklyn.  That would be great for me, as I have an office in NYC and could go to the games without missing much work.  Palm did move us back to his bubble watch in the "in for now" category.

Joe Lunardi, somewhat surprisingly to me based on his history this season, also still has us in his bracket, albeit in the play-in game against Butler for the 12 seed in the East.  In his scenario, the winner would go to Denver to play Purdue in the East Regional.

Bottom line is that despite the significant hit to our RPI, the loss did not hurt us much in the eyes of the experts.  We still have a strong resume.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bama Bows to Bulldongs in their own Building

DJC already has summarized the game.  I wanted to watch a couple of calls on my recording before commenting from my seat in Coleman Coliseum.

First and foremost, M$U deserved to win this game. They played better and their defense seemed to keep the Tide's shooters off their timing which caused plent of missed shots that had been falling in the last few games.

My perspective was that the officials were helping us for the first 25 minutes.  I thought the third foul called on M$U's Ware was a bad one.  He must have cussed, because the official gave him a technical foul almost immediately after the personal foul.  I thought Taylor's second personal foul, which followed promptly after the two on Ware, was a makeup call by a vey inconsistent officiating group.  I don't really fault the official for Teeing up Coach Avery Johnson when he complained about the last call.  The Bama bench had been warned earlier in the game, but Coach Avery did the right thing by defending his player.  Taylor has made great strides since early in the season when he seemed to get two fouls early in every game for setting moving screens.  I almost wish Coach Avery had slammed his suit coat to the floor ala Wimp Sanderson, but he would have been ejected at that point.  Besides, Johnson's style sense is much better than Wimp's and only us old guys really would have appreciated it.

Again, M$U deserved to win the game.  They played with poise and did not get rattled in a hostile environment.  I do have a question about the foul called on Riley Norris when he took the charge from Witherspoon in the first half. I thought he had set a clean pick, but watching my recording of the game his heels clearly were on the arc around the basket. I thought that meant no charge would be called but that no foul should be whistled agains the defender either.  What is the correct call there.

The Good:  Coleman Coliseum appeared to have between twelve and thirteen thousand people inside it for this game, and the crowd finally took a proactive approach to fan participation.  Our fans need to learn to make noise to support their team BEFORE they do something good.  This was a good first step back in the right direction.

The Bad: Our shooters let the M$U defense impact their shooting motions even when they had open shots and we continue to perform poorly at the free throw line.  If we'd just hit our foul shots we would have won this game.

The Ugly:  We allowed our most heated rival to possibly knock us out of contention for the NCAA Tournament.  I doubt many, if any, of us expected to make the Big Dance this season; but we had gotten so close we were almost beginning to expect an invitation.  This loss will hurt, but if anybody can help the team bounce back it is Coach Avery.

Roll Tide and Buclke Up!

Bama Bubble Watch, RPI 50

Unfortunately, we've added a second bad loss to our resume, the dreaded 100+ RPI loss at home.  This probably negates the LSU win.  A lot happened over the weekend, and most of it wasn't good for us.  Let's recap:


Bummer, Bulldogs Beat Bama, Mississippi State 67 Bama 61

This one hurt.  We are right back on the bubble, and probably the wrong side of it, after losing at home to Mississippi State.  Many of us were worried about this game for a number of reasons, and while we all know State is a reasonably talented team that has been playing well lately, it is still a bad loss at home to sub 100 team.

Things looked good early as we came out to an 11-4 lead.  It was obvious we were committed to not letting Ware push us around like he did in Starkville.  Jimmie seemed to be in his head a bit, and Ware had to go to the bench with a couple of fouls.  Unfortunately, we could not take advantage of his time on the bench.  We had a long scoring drought in the first half that allowed State to come back and take a 3 point lead into halftime.  The optimistic side of me said, "we're just following the script."  In our last few wins we jumped out to early leads, trailed at the half, made some adjustments and took control of the game late.  The pessimistic side of me said, "uh oh, we aren't scoring and we're trailing despite Newman being out and Ware being on the bench most of the first half."

There were a lot of fireworks early in the second half.  Ware picked up his 4th foul on a technical just a couple of minutes into the half.  Moments later, Jimmie Taylor was called for a questionable foul, which prompted Coach Johnson to draw a technical.  While that seemed to energize the crowd and the team, it didn't do anything to help the shots to start falling, and State held a 7 point lead that we were never able to overcome.

Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other team.  State showed tremendous poise, playing without one of their best freshmen, in answering all of our runs.  Every time we got the lead down to one possession with the crowd into the game, State made a play on offense.  When we doubled down on Ware, their guards made their open shots.

I was little surprised they brought Ware back with almost 10 minutes remaining in the game.  He immediately went to work on Donta, and I thought we were a little too slow to react and bring Jimmie back into the game.  Jimmie did a good job on him earlier in the game and seemed to be in his head a bit, but Donta had no answer for him.  I also thought we should have made more of an effort to get his 5th foul.  State did a great job of protecting the rim, but was giving us open jump shots.  Unfortunately, Art, Hale, and Retin all missed several wide open 3s that could have changed the game.  It seemed like we kept opting for the open jump shots that weren't falling instead of attacking the rim, either with Retin on the dribble drive or even Jimmie in the post, to put some pressure on Ware defensively.

Retin had another solid game, but State made him earn every basket.  He only made 5 of 8 from the free throw line, where the team was only 11 of 21.  Even Justin, who is usually reliable at the charity stripe, only made one out of 3.  We were only 6 of 21 from 3 point range.  Hale had a good game, matching Retin's 22 points, but outside of Jimmie playing decent with 8 points they just didn't have any help.  This game was lost primarily due to not making free throws or wide open jump shots that normally fall. Whether that was a result of the guys being a little tight due to what was suddenly on the line, or if it was just one of those off-days remains to be seen.

I was a little surprised we didn't foul down by 5 with 50 seconds to play.  I understand the thinking behind just playing defense.  With a stop, you get the ball back with around 20 seconds, can get a quick score then it's a one possession game, but State isn't a very good free throw shooting team and I would have extended the game to make them earn it at the line.

Up next, it doesn't get any easier as we travel to Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena Tuesday night at 6 p.m.  The game will be televised on ESPN.  My guess is that we are going to need to end the season on a 3 game winning streak to feel good about our chances on selection Sunday.




Saturday, February 20, 2016

Game Preview - Mississippi State



Round 2 with the Bulldogs takes place on Saturday at 1:30 PM. SEC Network once again does the honors for television. The game has been announced as another sell-out for the program this season (though it remains to be seen if actual human bodies will show up to claim those seats). Both teams enter this game with some momentum. Alabama of course has won five straight and six of their last seven, including back-to-back road wins at Florida and LSU, which has accounted for the best stretch of basketball we've seen this program play in years. Mississippi State is coming off a thrilling comeback victory at home against Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs were down 17 with 14 minutes left in the game before putting together a fantastic run that ended with a buzzer beating 3 pointer by freshman Quinndary Weatherspoon.

Stats


Alabama
Mississippi State



67.8 PPG 75.8
67.1 OPP 73.5
.429 FG% .460
.398 OPP .433
51.7 EFG% 51.7
49.1 OPP 49.1
.334 3PT% .323
.319 OPP .344
.656 FT% .732
.672 OPP .688
29.2 FTRATE 29.2
36.0 OPP 36.0
35.6 RPG 35.0
37.8 OPP 37.3
30.1 OREB% 30.1
34.0 OPP 34.0
14.0 TOPG 12.2
12.5 OPP 12.8
17.3 TO% 17.3
18.2 OPP 18.2

Gavin Ware (Sr. 6'9, 260 lbs) had quite the performance in his last game vs Alabama with a career high of 28 points. Alabama had no answer for him, and his performance alone kept Mississippi State in the game when our guys had opportunities to pull away in the 2nd half. It will be interesting to see how the Bama coaches game plan for him this time around.

Quinndary Weatherspoon (Fr. 6'4, 202 lbs) was a four star recruit coming out of high school, and was arguably the highest rated recruit that Rick Ray signed during his tenure. When top 10 recruit Malik Newman signed with Mississippi State, Weatherspoon was overlooked coming into the season; however, it's been Weatherspoon that arguably has had the better freshman campaign. Weatherspoon (11.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.2 spg) and Newman (12.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg) will both be considered for the All-Freshman team, and are only going to get better as their careers progress. If they get off to a good start tomorrow, Alabama could be in for a real fight. Another guard I will spotlight is I.J. Ready (Jr. 5'11, 170). I've been impressed with Ready when I've had the opportunity to watch Mississippi State. He's quick, distributes the ball (4.2 apg), protects the ball (1.4 topg), and has improved on offense (in three seasons his scoring average has improved from 5.9 to 9.8).

Ware is a focal point inside, but I think the Alabama coaches are more concerned with the talent State has at the guard positions. Howland has gone with a smaller line-up so he can have his five best players on the floor. The surprise in the first game is that guys like Art, Riley and even Mike were effectively able to defend State's smaller, quicker line-up. That will be the challenge once again, while inside the Bama big men will have to play more physical with Ware and use their length to disrupt him. Easier said than done, but Jimmie is playing much better in recent games, and he should be fired up for the challenge after Ware toyed with him in Starkville. 

These three remaining home games for Alabama are crucial to the team's NCAA hopes. All three opponents in those games are triple digit RPI teams. A loss to one of them could undo much of what Alabama has accomplished to this point. And Mississippi State is very capable of beating Alabama. They enter this game with a record of 11-14, but 8 of those losses were by 6 points or less. And if you just compare the raw physical talent of each roster, one could make a valid argument that State is the slightly more talented team. Their biggest problem has not been talent so much as the need to rely so heavily on freshmen to produce, and a veteran group that just never established a winning culture under Rick Ray, and has struggled in that regard in Howland's first season. Nevertheless, you can see the potential in this team when you watch them. If there's a team currently near the bottom of the standings that could make trouble for teams in the final two weeks of the season and beyond in Nashville, Mississippi State may just be that team. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Scouting the Enemy: Mississippi State

You will notice I've slightly changed the title for this edition, because obviously we must maintain at least some standards around here.

I reached out to Daniel Black from For whom the cowbell tolls to get their perspective on the game.  I really appreciate him taking the time to give us his thoughts below.  If you visit For Whom the Cowbell Tolls, follow their rules and be a good representative of the University of Alabama.

Mississippi State's team this year has revolved around three players - Gavin Ware, Quinndary Weatherspoon, and Malik Newman. Gavin Ware is our team leader, a senior and the team's leading scorer. Gavin is pretty much our only big man down low. The biggest weakness for State is our lack of depth down low. Because of this, Gavin Ware tends to get the ball the most and can score. Quinndary Weatherspoon and Malik Newman are our freshmen that have found themselves carrying a pretty large load this year. Malik Newman was supposed to be the one who kept us in games, shooting lights out and scoring in double digits every game. Obviously, Malik hasn't panned out like we were expecting, and many of us will not be surprised if he comes back for his sophomore year. With that being said, he's had some flashes of greatness; the Ole Miss, Missouri, and South Carolina games come to mind. Q Weatherspoon has become what we were expecting Malik to be. He's averaging over 11 points per game and has become a very clutch shooter, as was shown by his buzzer beater three to beat Vanderbilt on Tuesday. Other contributors to State's team include Craig Sword, I.J. Ready, and Travis Daniels, but the three I highlighted are the most important. 

Another weakness is just the fact that we can't seem to finish. Time and time again, Mississippi State has found themselves in close games, with which they just can't pull away. We saw it against Texas A&M, Kentucky, Florida, and most recently, your Alabama Crimson Tide. I think our experience plays a role in that. Our juniors and seniors have been a part of the Rick Ray era the last two-three years. We were so bad that it seemed like winning isn't something they can do. With that being said, maybe the win against Vanderbilt can spark some life into this team and give it some confidence. 

As for Alabama, I've labeled the Crimson Tide as the "weirdest team in the country". My reasoning behind that is you can't predict what you're going to see from the Tide. You got murdered by Dayton and Xavier, followed that up with wins over Wichita State and Notre Dame, barely sneaked by a god awful Southern Miss team, beat Clemson on the road, beat Jacksonville State in overtime, got beat down by Kentucky, murdered South Carolina, and after your overtime win over State, you're on an absolute tear. Alabama has been a roller coaster this year, but now you're starting to figure it out. You're starting to become a freight train that is barreling over everyone in its way. When Avery Johnson was hired, I was a bit skeptical. Now, I'm incredibly impressed by your team and his ability to keep the team together after games like Dayton, Xavier, Kentucky, and the first game against LSU. In my opinion, Coach Johnson has locked up the SEC Coach of the Year award, and he deserves it more than anyone else.

Even after the Vanderbilt win, it's hard to have much confidence in Mississippi State. Sure, that win was huge and could be the biggest win the program has pulled off since the Rick Stansbury era, but now we have to face the nuclear missile that is Alabama. As mentioned earlier, you're clicking, and I don't think State can hold on. I think State will keep it competitive and give you a run for your money, but in the end, Alabama pulls away.

Prediction: Alabama 78, Mississippi State 67

While I appreciate the kind words, I don't think I'm quite ready give our team "nuclear missile" status just yet.  I hope he is right, and I think we match up fairly well with them, but they will come in with confidence after the Vandy win and motivated to get back at us for stealing one in Starkville.  It could be a bit of trap game for us, coming off the big road wins, riding the streak and all the tournament talk, and with Kentucky looming Tuesday night.  Hopefully a good crowd can help keep us focused and rattle a young State team.

Bama Bubble Watch, RPI 32

Jerry Palm still has us as an 8 seed in the Midwest playing in Des Moines, but now the projected opponent is Oregon State.  He has also removed us from the bubble!

Last night's results:

Good News:

Michigan State 69
Wisconsin 57

Kentucky 80
Tennessee 70

Winthrop 79
Coastal Carolina 67

Wichita State 99
Missouri State 68

Kennesaw State 92
Stetson 82

Cal 78
Washington 75

Bad News:

UCONN 68
SMU 62

Chattanooga 85
VMI 59

Gonzaga 90
Pacific 68

UTEP 78
Southern Miss 73

St. Mary's 74
Portland 72

Tonight and tomorrow's friends:

ROLL TIDE!  Obviously we MUST beat $tate.

ROLL GOLDEN FLASHES!  Kent State should beat the Akron Zips.

ROLL SPIDERS! Hopefully Richmond can claim their city against VCU.

ROLL GAELS!  Root for Iona over Monmouth

ROLL GOLDEN GRIZZLIES!  Hopefully Oakland can beat Valpo

ROLL WILDCATS! Villanova over Butler; Kentucky over Texas A&M; Davidson over St. Joe's

ROLL FLYERS!  Dayton over St. Bonaventure would be a big help.

ROLL DUCKS!  Oregon needs to win the civil war against Oregon State

ROLL IRISH!  Notre Dame over Georgia Tech

ROLL COCKS!  South Carolina over Florida; Jacksonville State over Tennessee State

ROLL EAGLES! Winthrop over UNC-Asheville; Southern Miss over UTSA; Kennesaw State over FGCU

ROLL HOKIES!  Virginia Tech over Florida State

ROLL TIGERS!  Clemson over NC State; auburn over Ole Miss; LSU over Tennessee

ROLL SPARTANS! UNC-Greensboro over Chattanooga

ROLL COWBOYS!  Oklahoma State over Texas Tech






Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bama Bubble Watch, RPI 32

Jerry Palm's new bracket is out, and we are now projected as the 8 seed in the Midwest Region, matched up against Pitt in Des Moines.  Joe Lunardi has us as the play-in game for a 12 seed against Cincinnati.  With all due respect to Lunardi, there is no way a team with an RPI of 32, in our conference, is going to Dayton.  ESPN uses a lot of advanced metrics (BPI, Kenpom) etc, that are neither part of the official criteria, nor have they historically been used by the selection committee.  I believe Lunardi will make some drastic changes to his bracket in the week before selections.

Let's look at last nights results:

Good News:

ALABAMA 76
LSU 69  ROLL TIDE!

Georgia Tech 86
Florida State 80

Clemson 65
Boston College 64

Auburn 90
Arkansas 86

LaSalle 71
St. Bonaventure 64

Xavier 85
Providence 74

Villanova 83
Temple 67

Bad News:

George Washington 81
Duquesne 74

Saint Joe's 79
Dayton 70

Texas Tech 65
Oklahoma 63

Tonight's Friends:

ROLL EAGLES!  Root for Kennesaw State, Southern Miss, and Winthrop to beat Stetson, UTEP, and Coastal Carolina

ROLL WILDCATS!  Pull for Big Blue Nation over Tennessee

ROLL SHOCKERS!  Let's hope Wichita State beats Missouri State

ROLL RAGIN CAJUNS!  UL Lafayette over UT Arlington helps.

ROLL KEYDETS! A VMI upset of Chattanooga would be nice

ROLL TIGERS!  Here's to Pacific upsetting Gonzaga

ROLL PILOTS!  Pull for Portland over St. Mary's

ROLL BEARS!  Hope Cal beats Washington


Bama Buries Bayou Bengals, Alabama 76 LSU 69


Alabama ran the winning streak to 5 games with another impressive road win over a good LSU team.
In many ways this game followed the script from the Florida game.  We jumped out to an early lead, but then fell behind in the first half, fought our way back in the second and overcame adversity to make the plays in crunch time, and held on late to close it out.

It's amazing how much our zone defense has improved over the course of the year.  We only used it sparingly early in the season, and it wasn't very effective.  We've won these last two games in large part because we are disrupting the opponent's passing lanes and closing out on their shooters.  We did a much better job of rebounding out of it this game than we did in the Florida game.  LSU hurt us some in transition, as expected, but when we forced them into their half-court sets they had a very difficult time scoring.  I thought Coach Johnson was masterful at calling timeouts at key moments to re-group and make adjustments to get the tempo under control.

Simmons had 20 points and 10 boards, there's not much you can do to stop him, but Jimmie, Hale, Riley, Donta, and even Mike all played great defense to keep him under control.  When Jimmie got into foul trouble, others stepped up their game with defense and rebounding.

Offensively, it was the guards that won this one for us.  Retin should be 1st team ALL SEC.  He's always been an unbelievable athlete, and with his intelligence it should be no surprise that he's developed into an outstanding point guard.  35 points and he took over the game in the second half, including 11 for 11 at the free throw line.  Speaking of which, we somehow made 15 out of 18 free throws.  If we can start doing that consistently, we will win a lot of games.

Justin Coleman is not going to quietly concede next year's starting point guard position to Dazon.  Sure, he had some bad turnovers in the first half, but he also made some huge shots and did a great job of running the offense.  He ended with 21 points, 5 assists, and only the two turnovers.  His 4 point play when we were down 6 early in the second half was one of the turning points in the game.

Art Edwards also contributed to the scoring with 12 points.  Another key moment was his 3 which broke the 62-62 tie, and then hustling back on defense to take the charge immediately after.  Riley Norris doesn't even look like the same player we saw back in November.  Even when he isn't scoring, dude is all over the court, rebounding, forcing turnovers, and making every hustle play.  He had 16! rebounds against a bigger team.

One thing that bothered me a little bit was the announcers harping on how we want to play slow and keep the score down.  We practice with a 25 second shot clock; I don't think Coach Johnson wants our identity to be that of a half-court team.  He's done a great job of adapting to the skill set of the current roster to put us in position to win, but I think the media is doing him a disservice by painting this narrative that we need a slow paced game to win.

I will post the daily "bubble watch" shortly, but the bottom line is if we win our 3 remaining home games, it's LOCK CITY.  While we will be favored in each of those games, any of those teams are capable of beating us, and then we are right back on the bubble.  Florida thought they were easily in until the buzzsaw that is Alabama basketball came strolling through Gainesville Saturday.  After what this team has accomplished over the last couple of weeks, every one of these 3 home games better be PACKED!  If you have access to a ticket, either use it or get it to someone who will.  The least we can do as fans is be there and be loud to help our guys bring that tournament bid home.

Up next Mississippi $tate comes to Tuscaloosa Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. tipoff.  We only beat them by 2 in Starkville the last game, and they are also playing pretty good basketball right now.  Only single tickets remain, and the game will be televised on SEC Network.


GUMPING- Now let's talk possible NCAAT seeding

Win our home games and lose the road one + 2 in the SECT = 8 seed
Win our home games + 1 road game + 2 in SECT = 6 seed
Win our home games + 2 in SECT = 9 seed
Win our home games + early exit in SECT = 10 seed

Folks, I don't think we are going to be on the bubble anymore... no 11/12/13 (rarity for power conference to be a 13).

This has been a FUN ride so far. I'm glad we lucked into Avery Johnson and glad Mrs. Marshall didn't want to come here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Bama Beats Bengals In The Bayou

Retin Obossohan scored 35 points, including a perfect 11 for 11 at the free throw line, to lead Bama over LSU 76 to 69 and avenging the loss suffered to the same team on their home court.  Bama's defense held LSU 13 points of their season average, allowing Bama's guards to lead them in scoring in the victory.  Riley Norris gathered 17 rebounds to lead the Tide in that area.  Here is a Box Score.

This game does not get the Tide into the Tournament, but who among us thought we would even be considering the possibility at this point.   If this keeps up, Avery Johnson will earn SEC Coach of the Year honors.

Bama hosts M$U this Saturday and DJC should have more complete reports on tonight's game for you soon.

Roll Tide!

Bama Bubble Watch, RPI 37

Note:   Joe Lunardi tweeted last night that we are now in his last 4 in.

Let's recap last night's action:

The Good News:

Ohio State 76
Michigan 66

Mississippi $tate 75
Vandy 74

Texas A&M 71
Ole Miss 56

The Bad News:

Butler 88
Creighton 75

Akron 80
Buffalo 79

Valpo 66
Cleveland State 43

Mizzou 72
South Carolina 67

VCU 83
Rhode Island 67

Tonight's Friends:

ROLL TIDE!  First and Foremost, we can help ourselves be extending our winning streak to 5 with a road upset over LSU.

ROLL TIGERS!  Clemson and auburn will try to help us out against Boston College and Arkansas.

ROLL FLYERS!  A Dayton win over St. Joe's helps us on two fronts.

ROLL MUSKETEERS!  Xavier needs to beat Providence.

ROLL WILDCATS! Root for Villanova over Temple.

ROLL SOONERS!  Oklahoma needs to beat Texas Tech.

ROLL EXPLORERS!  LaSalle over St. Bonaventure would be nice.

ROLL DUKES!  Duquesne needs to take care of George Washington.

ROLL JACKETS!  Root for Georgia Tech against Florida State.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Sleeping with the Enemy, LSU Tigers

I reached out to Dylan Akers at And The Valley Shook to get his thoughts on the LSU team and our upcoming game.  He was kind enough to send along the response below.  If you visit And The Valley Shook, please follow their rules and be a positive representative of the University of Alabama.

So this team lives and dies with Craig Victor on the floor. When he’s in foul 
trouble, the half-court offense dies, and the defensive swagger and effort 
dissipates. The Tigers are excellent in transition, where Simmons can make plays 
both scoring and distributing the ball, but struggles when put into a must score 
situation in the half-court. The talent is at a top 25 level but, the execution 
and coaching haven’t been near at that level. As for the match-up with Bama, I 
just don’t see how the Tide can score at a level that can keep up with LSU. 
Maybe if Victor picks up early fouls (which he’s prone to) and you guys can take 
care of the ball, then it’ll come down to late game execution which would tip 
the game in the Tides favor. Coach Johnson has done a wonderful job with this 
group though, obviously, and the Tide could be a real force in the SEC once he 
gets a couple recruiting cycles under his belt. They probably have a better 5 
year projection than the Tigers, all things considered (Johnny Jones is the 
worst in-game coach in the conference, and David Patrick doesn’t have any more 
Australian basketball prodigy godson’s to bring to Baton Rouge.) 

It sounds like Coach Jones' underachieving relative to his recruiting classes is starting to wear thin on the Bayou.  We'll need another big game from Jimmie Taylor, contain Simmons and Quarterman, get Victor into foul trouble, and limit turnovers.  Easier said than done.

Bama Bubble Watch: RPI 37

Last night's results:

Good News:

Wichita State 71
New Mexico State 41

Bad News:  

Monmouth 79
Manhattan 70

Our Friends Today:

ROLL COCKS!  South Carolina needs to beat Mizzou
ROLL DOGS! $tate can help us by beating Vandy (This time of year can make for strange bed-fellows.  Get used to it).
ROLL BLUEJAYS!  Creighton needs to beat Butler
ROLL BUCKEYES! Ohio State over Michigan helps.
ROLL BULLS!  Pull for Buffalo over Akron
ROLL VIKINGS! An unlikely Cleveland State upset of Valpo would help.
ROLL RAMS!  Root for Rhode Island over VCU.
ROLL AGGIES! Texas A&M can help us by getting into the top 25 RPI and avoiding a loss to Ole Miss (But this one is tricky, with Ole Miss's current RPI of 87, we need them to stay in the top 100 so that loss doesn't look as bad).

Game Preview - at LSU

Fresh off a satisfying road win at Florida, which was the first win over the Gators in the last 11 attempts, Alabama will travel to Baton Rouge for their second tussle with the Tigers. Game time is Wednesday at 8 PM on the SEC Network. Alabama almost beat the Tigers in Tuscaloosa a few weeks back, losing by two, 72-70. LSU is currently tied with Kentucky at the top of the league standings with a 9-3 record. Alabama sits at .500 in the league with a 6-6 record, but the Tide are hot right now, having won four straight and five of their last six.  This is a big game for both teams, as Alabama is trying to prove it belongs in the NCAA Tournament discussion, while LSU has a very thin margin of error in making the tournament because of a disappointing non-conference showing.

Stats


Alabama
LSU



67.5 PPG 81.1
67.0 OPP 76.0
.427 FG% .474
.398 OPP .441
49.9 EFG% 52.6
45.5 OPP 50.4
.335 3PT% .339
.322 OPP .350
.650 FT% .666
.679 OPP .669
40.8 FTRATE 42.1
39.1 OPP 34.2
35.4 RPG 38.6
38.0 OPP 36.8
28.7 OREB% 31.1
33.8 OPP 29.1
14.0 TOPG 12.2
12.8 OPP 14.0
20.7 TO% 17.1
19.0 OPP 18.8

Ben Simmons (Fr. 6'10, 240) has not faltered in his play since the last time Alabama played the Tigers. He remains the heavy favorite to win the SEC Player of the Year award, and will probably finish in the top 3 for the national award. In the first game, Simmons had a nice outing with 23 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. That along with four other Tiger players who scored in double figures played a big part in the LSU road win. Many believe Simmons is the best college freshman since Kevin Durant so limiting his production is a challenge. Even more difficult when his teammates are playing well.

Simmons gets most of the press but Tim Quarterman (Jr. 6'6, 190 lbs) may be the most important player on this roster. Like Simmons, he's a pro prospect, but he struggles at times with his decision making and his effort at the point guard spot. He's a match-up problem with his length, and I would have loved to have seen him match-up with Dazon Ingram (a more physical, though possibly less athletic version of Quarterman) if not for Dazon's unfortunate injury. Quarterman played well in the first game, finishing with 11 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal, and only two turnovers, and scored the winning basket to top it all off. While the coaches have to game plan for Simmons, I really believe forcing Quarterman into a bad game is the key here. Unfortunately, this LSU team is so deep it really is a game of "pick your poison". Even if Alabama can limit Quarterman, and even Simmons, there's still Keith Hornsby (13.6 ppg, 41% from 3), Craig Victor (12.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Antonio Blakeney (10.9 ppg) to deal with. All three of those guys had solid games in Tuscaloosa. And the LSU bench has a number of guys who would likely start at many D-1 schools. I don't envy the coaches having to prepare a game plan to defend this bunch.

This is an improved and far more confident Alabama team that strolls into Baton Rouge than the team that LSU defeated the first time around. And even then the Tigers were fortunate to get out of Tuscaloosa with the win. Unless Alabama comes out flat following an extended period of competitive games, the Tigers can expect another fist fight from the men in crimson. Our guys believe they can win games now, and that makes them dangerous. LSU has played steady basketball during league play, but are still prone at times to the unorganized play, particularly on defense, that hurt them in November and December. This LSU team is efficient on offense (top 30 at KenPom) so Alabama must shoot the ball well themselves, and cannot allow a repeat performance on the boards like they had in Gainesville on Saturday (Florida was +19 on the boards; 23 of them were offensive). Giving a team with this kind of offensive firepower 2nd and 3rd chances is not likely to go well for Alabama. The win in Gainesville takes a little pressure off Alabama in this one, but another big road win would make yet another loud statement that this Alabama team isn't satisfied with merely going up the mountain, but over it as well. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Bama Bubble Watch, Current RPI: 37

Jerry Palm projects us to be the 10 seed in the South Region, playing against 7 seed California in Raleigh.  Joe Lunardi has us as the first team out in his new bracket.

Our Friends today:

ROLL SHOCKERS!  We need Wichita State to beat New Mexico State.
ROLL JASPERS!  Manhattan can help us out by upsetting Monmouth.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Alabama Finally Flames Florida, Bama 61 Gators 55

For the first time in 21 years, Alabama goes to Gainesville and gets a win!  It wasn't exactly a work of art, but the team grinded it out and found a way to get the job done.

You could tell we were ready to play when we jumped out to an early 8-2 lead that took their crowd out of the game.  Unfortunately, the offense went stagnant and the Gators were able to come back and take a 27-23 lead into the half.  Justin had a great buzzer beater to end the first half.

We played a 2-3 zone much of the game that was very effective.  Florida was only 3 of 21 from 3 point range.  Unfortunately, we could not rebound out of it.  They had 23 offensive rebounds to our 6.

Despite being dominated on the glass and having our entire starting back court foul out with nearly 5 minutes remaining, we managed to hang on for the win.  Jimmie Taylor really stepped up on both ends of the court and was the MVP in my opinion.  He ended up with 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots.  He had a couple of dunks late in the game that seemed to really energize the rest of our team while demoralizing the Gators.

It was another great team effort, with 4 players scoring in double-digits.  In addition to Jimmie, Retin had 15 and Justin and Hale each added 10.  Justin's game was huge, and he did a great job of leading the team and protecting the ball after Retin fouled out.

The O-Dome may be the worst facility in the SEC.  It's basically all temporary bleachers.  My seats were plastic benches with no backs, and I didn't have an unbostructed view of any of the scoreboards, so I had to look to one board to see Florida's foul information, and another to see ours.  Thankfully, they are planning to renovate.  They had a good crowd, that place holds about 11,500 and it was more or less full. There were only about 40 Bama fans scattered throughout.  For the most part, the Gator fans were great, although the lady next to me politely asked me to "watch my language" after I yelled at Riley to "shoot the damn ball!"  which was ridiculous given the F bombs the Gator fans behind us were dropping.  I also got a little irritated at a guy who said, "your NBA coach is a dumb-ass, guess he forgot you don't get 6 fouls," when Retin fouled out.  Retin's 4th foul was BS, but regardless, I did not disagree with the decision to leave him in the game at that point.  I also had several fans congratulate me after the game.  I was really surprised by the mass exodus when we went up by 8 with still over a minute to play.  Between stupid fouls and missing free throws, we nearly let them back into it.

One of my favorite things about Florida is that they leave their football stadium open.  The location is great, the basketball arena is right next to the football stadium, and both are a short walk from Midtown, which is basically their version of the Strip.  

With the win, our RPI is now up to 37, and Jerry Palm projects us as a 10 seed in his latest bracket!  If we just win our 3 remaining home games, I think we will make it.

Up next, we stay on the road with a trip to Baton Rouge to take on the LSU Tigers Wednesday night. Tip off is set for 8 pm on the SEC Network.  



Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bama Bubble Watch, RPI 47

Last night's results:

Good News:

Dayton 66
Rhode Island 64

Bad News:

Monmouth 79
Riders 78

Our Friends today:

ROLL TIDE!  Obviously most important we can help ourselves by upsetting Florida on the road.

There are others, but I'm about to board a plane to Gainesville and will update this if my wifi connection allows.

Game Preview - at Florida

It's been a big week for Bama Hoops. The team notched their fourth win over a top 25 opponent on Wednesday when they defeated 15th ranked Texas A&M 63-62. Those four wins over top 25 opponents leads the conference. In the aftermath of that win, Alabama is being mentioned by prominent "bracketologists", Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm. The fact that we're even talking about this team and the NCAA Tournament on February 12th is a testament to these players and this coaching staff.

Unfortunately, the conference schedule cares nothing about these happy things. As proof, Alabama must now return to the unforgiving road for back-to-back games at Florida and LSU. The Gators have been a royal pain in the butt for Alabama in basketball, with a current 11-game win streak and 23 of the last 28. It's time for Alabama to get some wins in this series. Easier said than done as Florida, coming off a losing season in 2014-15, look to be on track for a return trip to the NCAA tournament in Mike White's first season as head coach. Game time is 4:30 (CT), with the SEC Network handling the television coverage.

Stats


Alabama
Florida



67.8 PPG 74.5
67.6 OPP 66.7
.427 FG% .430
.404 OPP .398
50.0 EFG% 49.0
46.2 OPP 45.3
.333 3PT% .328
.330 OPP .329
.653 FT% .646
.683 OPP .673
40.5 FTRATE 40.0
38.9 OPP 35.5
35.4 RPG 40.3
37.3 OPP 37.5
29.3 OREB% 33.8
33.2 OPP 29.7
14.2 TOPG 11.9
12.9 OPP 13.6
20.9 TO% 16.9
19.0 OPP 19.3

This is a very balanced Florida team. Dorian Finney-Smith (Sr. 6'8, 220 lbs) is having an All-SEC campaign in his final season in Gainesville. Smith enters this game with an impressive stat line of 15.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 41% 3-pt and 73% FT. John Egbunu (So. 6'11, 255 lbs) has been a positive addition to this Florida team after transferring from South Florida with averages of 10.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg and a physical presence inside that the Gators lacked last season.

The biggest difference in this Florida team this season vs last season is the guard play. They're not flashy, but KeVaughn Allen (11.6 ppg, 1.2 spg), Kasey Hill (8.3 ppg, 3.0 apg, 1.3 spg) and Chris Chiozza (7.2 ppg, 4.6 apg, 1.0 spg) have all been solid for this team. Chiozza in particular is a criminally underrated player. X-factors for this Florida team are Devin Robinson (9.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Justin Leon (4.7 ppg, 47% 3-pt).

Avery Johnson has been understandably reticent to discuss the NCAA Tournament or the "bubble", but opportunities abound for this Alabama team to make a real case for an NCAA bid. With their non-conference resume, RPI and strength of schedule, if they can get to 18 or more wins they will have a strong chance to make the field. A win in Gainesville would be a great start. However it ends, enjoy this team and the remainder of this season; it's been a joy to watch. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Bama Bubble Watch, Current RPI: 50

Jerry Palm has released his new bracket and we are currently last four IN!  He's projecting us to match up with UConn in Dayton.  I would take it, and I'm sure you would too.  Let's recap last night's action.

The Good News:

Pepperdine 69
St. Mary's 63

Kennesaw State 101
North Florida 91

Winthrop 88
Longwood 80

Louisiana Lafayette 83
Arkansas State 73

UMass 69
VCU 63

Hofstra 86
William and Mary 80

Western Carolina 67
Chattanooga 61

The Bad News:

UAB 80
Southern Miss 77

Cal 83
Oregon 63

Gonzaga 92
Portland 66

Indiana 85
Iowa 78

Oregon State 62
Stanford 50

Tonight's Friends:

ROLL FLYERS!  Dayton takes on Rhode Island

ROLL BRONCS!  Root for Rider over Monmouth

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Bama Bubble Watch: Current RPI: 50

We are only a month away from selection Sunday, and we are legitimately in the bubble discussion.  While we are probably on the outside looking in at this moment, we have a very realistic chance of playing our way in.  I've decided to start a new, hopefully daily series that will explore our current position and things that can help us.  This post will be longer than future editions, as I want to explain a bit of what goes into it.  Also, I hope everybody enjoys this, because I don't think we will be in this position very often in the future.  We will more likely be having "Seed projection" watches instead in upcoming years.

First, let's remember this team was picked to finish 13th in the SEC.  I thought we would be on the NIT bubble at best.  Barring a total collapse, we will at least be in the NIT tournament, and likely hosting a couple of games as the higher seed.  If we somehow fight our way into the NCAA tournament, Coach Johnson should receive serious Coach of the year considerations, and I'm not just talking about the SEC award.

There are several bracketology and RPI sites out there, but I will primarily use the official NCAA RPI Ranking as that is what the selection committee will be looking at.  In addition to RPI, the committee will consider things like record versus the RPI top 25 and 50, "bad losses" to teams outside the RPI top 100 or 150, ability to win away from home, and strength of schedule.  If you are interested in all the nuts and bolts of this complicated process, here are the NCAA's official guidelines and rules.  Also, here is a great article from a few weeks ago breaking down the recent of history of team's chances depending on their RPI at season's end.

The best known bracketologist are Jerry Palm at CBS and Joe Lunardi at ESPN.  As of now, Lunardi has us in his  "next 4 out," behind Vandy, Wisconsin, George Washington, UCLA, and Oregon State.  In other words, those are the 5 teams ahead of us for the last spot in the play-in game in Dayton.

Jerry Palm breaks down his bubble watch as "in for now," "on the fence," and "work to do."  He currently has us in the top position in the "work to do" category, but that was before the win over Texas A&M.  It will be interesting to see where we fall when his new projected bracket comes out.

Note, I've listed our RPI as 50, but that comes from CBS rather than the NCAA official site.  Although the NCAA site claims it was updated today, it fails to reflect our win last night, so I'm trusting CBS's analytic s for now.

As for our resume, we are 2-5 against the top 25, but 4-5 against the top 50.  We have a respectable 3-5 road record and 2-1 on neutral sites, including quality wins over Wichita State and Notre Dame.  We have only one loss outside the top 100, and that was to auburn on the road.  Thank God we pulled out those close games against number 301 Jacksonville State and number 314 Southern Miss, otherwise we are not having this discussion.

It's a good year to be on the bubble, as two teams that would normally qualify, SMU and Louisville, are ineligible for post season play, opening the door for two more teams that normally would not get in.

Looking ahead, we have no margin for error at home.  A loss to auburn, mississippi $tate, or Arkansas in Tuscaloosa would almost assuredly kill us, assuming we don't miraculously win 3 of 4 road games.  It's possible we could get in just by winning those 3 home games, but we would probably need a lot of other things to go our way.  While not a lock, if we can win just one of the 4 road games and take care of business at home, we should be in assuming there's not too much crazy stuff happening elsewhere.

Finally, here are our friends today:  I will try to do this on a daily basis, posting games that impact our RPI or other teams we are competing with on the bubble.

ROLL EAGLES!  Root for Kennesaw State, Winthrop, and Southern Miss to beat, North Florida, Mike's old buddies at Longwood, and our sister school from my hood, UAB, respectively.

ROLL DUCKS!  We really like birds today, as we need Oregon to beat Cal.

ROLL RAGIN CAJUNS! Lafayette needs to beat Arkansas State.

ROLL MINUTEMEN!  UMass could knock VCU down a notch.

ROLL WAVES! Pepperdine over St. Mary's would be nice.

ROLL PILOTS! Portland could pop Gonzaga's bubble

ROLL HAWKEYES!  Iowa needs to beat Indiana.

ROLL PRIDE! Hofstra can help with William and Mary

ROLL CATAMOUNTS! A Western Carolina upset of Chattanooga would be helpful.

ROLL CARDINAL!  Stanford can help us against Oregon State.


Alabama Assaults Aggies, Bama 63 Texas A&M 62

Coleman Coliseum, where ranked teams come to die!  Bama got its 4th win over a top 25 team this season with the thrilling one point upset over the Aggies.  In the five seasons previous to this one, we were 1-22 against ranked opponents.

It was a great team effort, but the post players really stepped up and won this game for us.  Rebounding has been a problem all year, but we won the battle of the boards.  Bama had 14 offensive rebounds, and we limited the Aggies to just 8.  Most of those came during a stretch in the second half when Jimmie had to play a bit tentative due to foul trouble.

The game plan of forcing the Aggies to take jump shots appeared to back fire early.  Texas A&M made their first 3 from beyond the arc to build an early 17-12 lead.  The Tide did a nice job of contesting their shots, and as I noted earlier, limiting them to one shot per possession.  Riley knocked down some incredible 3s in the first half, and we were able to come back and take a 5 point lead into the locker room at halftime.

As the game went on, you could tell the Tide's confidence continued to grow.  The bigs all did a fantastic job on the defensive end.  Texas A&M had 13 turnovers, and I bet at least 8 of those were in the paint.  We were disrupting their passing lanes, stripping the ball, and effecting their shots.  Things looked bleak when Jimmie picked up his 4th foul early in the second half, but Donta Hall came in off the bench and promptly began dominating the game!  He ended up with 10 rebounds and 6 points in 21 minutes of play, but he did so much more that doesn't show in the stat sheet.


Through tenacious defense and a balanced attack with lots of ball movement on offense, we were able to build an 11 point lead with about 6 minutes to play.  Texas A&M made a great come back with their backs to the wall.  Jones, House, and Collins all started to find their groove as they were able to attack the basket and get to the free throw line.  We looked a little tired in those final minutes, and I think we may have took the air out of the ball just a little too soon.  We started shortening the game after the 4 minute timeout.  The fouls and second chance opportunities we gave up really hurt us in the final minutes.  We also made some bad decisions in transition and blew a couple of scoring opportunities that could have made the final seconds a lot less stressful.  I read somewhere that the statistical probability of Jimmie Taylor going 2 for 2 from the line, while Collins, a 93% shooter, misses both with the game on the line, was something like one in a thousand.  I'm not sure if I've ever heard Coleman Coliseum louder than it was during those final two free throws.  It was almost as if the crowd willed the ball away from the hoop.


It was great to see both Levi and Coop back at the game!  They were both going crazy and celebrating with Retin at the end.  Levi spent a lot of time talking to fans, signing autographs and taking pictures.  



The crowd was really disappointing.  For a top 25 game that could give us serious NCAA tournament consideration, I was hoping for much more than the 9,000 or so that showed up.  The student section was mostly full, but even that wasn't completely packed.  The atmosphere was lacking for much of the game, but the crowd did really get into it when we had our runs in the second half.  I thoroughly enjoyed singing Rammer Jammer to $tansbury after the game.

Up next, we travel to Gainesville, FL to take on the Gators.  Florida currently has a top 25 RPI ranking, so a road upset would put us in a great position for an at-large bid.  I'm going to make a separate post discussing our NCAA tournament possibilities.  Tip off is set for 5:30 pm EST.  There are still tickets available, hopefully some of our South Alabama fans and Florida alumni contingent will be there to lend the guys some support.  I will be making the trip and will be sure to post a first hand recap, probably at some point Sunday.  If you can't make it to Gainesville, the game will be televised on SEC Network.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sleeping with the Enemy, Texas A&M

I reached out to JDMyatt over at Good Bull Hunting to get the Aggies' perspective on tonight's game. I appreciate him taking the time to provide us with the insightful response below.  If you visit Good Bull Hunting, please follow their site's rules and be a positive representative of the University of Alabama.

Thoughts on the Matchup

This game represents a bit of a gut check for the Aggie men. After reaching the Top 5 for the first time in school history, A&M has now lost 3 out of their last 4 and are starting to give football fans the cold sweats. Throughout the season, the Ags have won a number tough close games and bounced back well from losses (their most humbling defeat of the year against Arizona State was followed by a 10-game win streak). Now for the past two weeks, the team has looked disjointed and continuously comes out flat to start each game. Tonight, they'll face a Bama squad who ranks 52nd in the RPI and has done the opposite of A&M and won 3 of their last 4. 

Both teams enter this matchup in the midst of season-defining stretches in their respective schedules. Bama follows this game with back to back road tests against Florida and LSU; a tough slate but a tremendous opportunity to build the NCAA tournament resume. After tonight, 2 of the Aggies's next 3 games will be against the 1st (LSU) and 2nd place (Kentucky) teams in the SEC and will most likely determine their chances at a SEC Regular Season title. It'll be interesting to watch how either team responds with the potential stakes on the line. 

Strengths 

Last year, A&M averaged 52.5 points in their two matchups against the Tide. Needless to say, those two games didn't turn out so well. A big reason for the ineptitude on offense was the lack of scoring options. Their first game did not feature Jalen Jones and the second took place after Danuel House broke his foot. With the highly touted freshmen class, the Aggies now have the depth to pick up the slack if and when one of their primary scorers, Jones and House, has an off night. 

The Ags are at their most dangerous when they create turnovers of the defensive end and turn them into transition points. Alex Caruso and company can turn up the intensity and once they start getting steals, they gain confidence and become more active on the offensive end. Despite their recent woes, A&M still has the fire power to go on a 10 or 12-0 and change the course of a game in less than a couple of minutes. 

Weakness

While they are aggressive and like to get steals on defense, the Ags struggle mightily at guarding the 3-point line. In the losses against Vanderbilt and South Carolina, the Ags gave up 25 3's at a near 50% clip. This isn't just hot shooting, but opponents are getting wide open looks and A&M's defense simply will not close out on them. It seems like their strategy is to dare teams to settle for 3's, and most of the season it's worked, but once a team starts making that shot consistently, it really throws the Ags out of sorts. 

On the offensive end, since the surprising departure of Top-50 recruit Elijah Thomas, the A&M frontcourt starts hurting when they get into foul trouble. The duo of Jalen Jones and Tyler Davis is as good as it gets, but if one of the two gets early fouls and has to sit then things get dicey. Junior Forward, Tavario Miller, fights underneath the basket and gets tough rebounds but is a complete non-factor on offense. Tonny Trocha-Morelos started the year off white hot from 3, but now has become pretty inconsistent where you don't know whether he'll have 10 or 0 points every time he goes out. 

Player to Watch

I'm going to go a little off the beaten path and say that point guard Anthony Collins will be an X-factor in tonight's game. The senior transfer never lights up the scoreboard, but plays with amazing poise and brings more fluidity on offense. During this slump though, Collins has made uncharacteristic turnovers and his assist numbers were down. Last Saturday against South Carolina, he was surprisingly aggressive on offense attempting 10 shots but only made 3 of them and the team only looked more out of sync. 

Tonight, he doesn't have to have big number, but if Collins can get back to being the floor general he's been all season, it'll go a long way towards righting the ship for the Aggies. 

Prediction

This is a tough call. I think the Tide will be fired up for tonight because of the boost it could give them on their tournament resume. Also, I'm sure Aggie transfer Avery Johnson Jr. will be an assistant coach with his dad tonight and give some inside info. Plus, A&M does not do well on the road. I'm thinking the Aggies recognize their SEC title hopes slipping away and will play with a sense of urgency and ramp the defensive intensity. I'm going to say it'll be a tight matchup for most of the game, but I think the Ags pull away in the final two minutes. 

Aggies win 75-68

Thanks again, JD.  I think for Alabama, we must do a better job of taking care of the basketball, limit turnovers, and hope Art, Justin, Riley, and or Retin get hot from downtown.  Defensively, force them to take jump shots, and limit them to one shot per possession as much as possible.