Saturday, March 17, 2018

Know Your Enemy- Villanova Wildcats

Before I start... for those that wish we were in UVA's bracket... UMBC would've beaten everyone the way they played last night. Still... the 1st #1 seed to go out in the 1st round and it being the overall #1. WOW!

Nova has been one of the 8 teams people have been picking to win the tournament this year. They come into this game 31-4 overall with a Big East Tournament title under their belt.

Starting five are 4 juniors and a freshman... experienc, but not a deep roster. More often than not 6 get the majority of time on the court.
Common opponent- Tennessee (85-76 win in the Bahamas)
Nova likes the 3 ball... shot around 47% of their shots from beyond the arc led by Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson (43.5 and 42%). Those 2 are also the leading scorers.
Omari Spellman grabs 8 boards a game while adding 10.7 PPG.

More stats:
- 87.1 PPG
- .507 FG/.401 3pt FG
- +2.9 rebound margin
- 104. TOs/game with a +2. TO margin
- 6.7 steals
- 4.0 blocks

Prediction- My realist side says this isn't a good match up for us. A team that scores a lot, shoots the 3 well and have multiple slashers could make for a long day BUT I'M GUMPING IT!

Bama wins 84-79 with Donta Hall being the surprise tonight going for 18/11. Sexton opens the door for others and I see Avery Johnson Jr also contributing with 8 or so.

Game time is 12:10PM EST on CBS.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Tide Pokes Hokies, Alabama 86 Virginia Tech 83

Alabama advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in twelve years with an 86-83 win over Virginia Tech. 

It was a slugfest of a game that neither team was able to fully take control of.  The score was within 5-6 points either way until the final minute.  Our guys relentlessly attacked the basket and finally got them in foul trouble and wore them down in the second half. 

Things did not look good in the first half.  Buzz schemed to limit Sexton's touches, and he had only 3 points at the half.  To make matters worse, Virginia Tech was shooting over 60% in the first half, including a ridiculous 7 of 9 from 3 point range.  Despite all of that, Petty made a basket at the end of the half to send us to the locker room only down 2. 

Collin was a beast in the second half and ended up with 25 points, including going 10 of 14 from the charity stripe.  Donta did not look 100% to me, but he still played 25 minutes and ended up with 10 points and 3 rebounds.  Dazon had a nice game with 9 points and 7 boards.  AJ played very well with 8 points in 10 minutes, and I thought he was crucial in keeping us in the game during the first half after Collin picked up a couple of early fouls.  JP was the MVP in my opinion with his 6 of 8 shooting for 20 points.  Key really struggled, he had one rebound, four fouls and did not score in 17 minutes of playing time.  He's got to be more aggressive on the offensive end.  He is playing tentative right now. 

Dazon got the benefit of a block/charge call in the final minute when we were clinging to a 4 point lead.  Buzz lost his cool and was hit with a technical foul, which allowed us to finally stretch the lead to 7.  While we only made 18 of 27 free throws, we converted enough down the stretch, and got a few stops on defense to put the game away. 

It was a great win for the team and program, and anything we accomplish beyond this point is gravy.  If we're going to continue playing next weekend, we will have to defend the 3 better, limit the turnovers, and get another great performance from Sexton and Petty.  It's a tall task, but not totally impossible. 

PPG Paints Arena is a nice venue that holds around 19,000.  It was nearly packed for the Villanova game, but probably a third left before our game tipped off.  We were probably outnumbered 3 to 1, but I would say half of the crowd was neutral observers from fans of other teams.  Villanova clearly brought the most fans, followed by Duke.  While we were outnumbered, I don't think we were out yelled.  Our little section was very vocal, to the point I'm actually a little hoarse today, and I never lose my voice.  The team seemed appreciative and all came over and acknowledged us after the game.  It was great to see President Stuart Bell and Athletics Director Greg Byrne in attendance.  Byrne actually went through the crowd shaking hands.  He introduced himself to me, shook my hand, and said "thanks for making the trip."  I thanked him for supporting basketball and he seemed appreciative. 

Up next, we face top seeded Villanova tomorrow at 12:20 EDT.  The game will be televised on CBS.  Honestly, it's hard for me to see us pulling off the upset, but if Buffalo can beat Arizona, anything can happen.  It's that time of the year, and after today we will be one of only 32 teams still playing meaningful basketball.  Enjoy this, it's been far too long, and we deserve it.  If anybody is thinking about making the trip (or local alumni reading this) I will likely have an extra ticket to the game, so hit me up. Roll Tide.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Know Your Enemy- VA Tech Hokie (pokies)

Been a while since I've done this so I'm going to throw a bunch of stats at you:

Season schedule and results
Season stats
Game by game stats

I'll highlight some things here:
- Biggest conference win- @ UVA 61-60 in OT
- Best non-conference win- @ Ole Miss 83-80 OT
- Conference record- 10-8
- Other wins of note- UNC, Clemson

Team stats:
- .498 FG/.385 from 3
- 71% FT
- -1.5 rebound margin
- 12TOs/game
- 79.7 PPG

I have not watched much of them this year, but what I noticed is the team is balanced with 5 in double figures in scoring. Justin Robinson leads the team in scoring and has a better than 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. He also leads the team in assists and is by a few percentage points their best FT shooter.

Prediction- I'll keep this short and sweet... if the Hokies can stop Sexton they win by 7, but I don't think they have the talent to contain him. Sexton goes for 25 and Bama advances... 78-68.

Tip-off... around 9:20PM EST

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Mark Gottfried to Cal State Northridge

Close to his old stomping grounds of UCLA so him and Alford can take shots at each other.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Official Bamahoops Blog Bracket Contest

For entertainment purposes only.  To celebrate our return to March Madness, I thought it would be fun to have a bracket contest.    The password is Buckleup  You will need a yahoo account.  Please name your bracket the same as your username here, so we'll know who you are. 

Bamahoops Bracket Contest

Good luck!

Alabama is a 9 seed vs. Va Tech in NCAA tournament

Alabama was awarded a 9 seed, and will travel to Pittsburgh to play Virginia Tech in the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday.  The winner will play #1 seed Villanova.  This is a difficult draw for us.  I think we match up reasonably well with Virginia Tech, they are an up-tempo, but physical team.  I think Buzz Williams is an excellent coach, and we have a 50/50 chance at best.  Villanova has only lost 4 games all year and are a legit final four contender.   The committee didn't do us any favors geographically, as both potential opponents are in the same region and they will likely feel like road games.  I would have much rather had the 10 seed and been playing in Nashville in Texas' spot, but hey, we're in, and it's time for madness so anything can happen.   

Dancing! Alabama a 9 seed in the East Region

Alabama will play its first NCAA Tournament in six years when Alabama plays 8 seed Virginia Tech on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Time of the game is TBD. Click here for a printable bracket.

I like this first round matchup for Alabama from a talent standpoint. My concern would be that Virginia Tech is a very physical team, and Alabama has at times this season been soft, which is reflected in their struggles on the glass. If Alabama plays as well as they did in St. Louis though, not only do I think they can win on Thursday, I think they could give Villanove some headaches in round 2.

Feel free to discuss the tournament here. Make your picks, rip the format of the selection show, continue to laugh together over Gumbel referring to the Auburn head coach as "Mike Pearl". We're dancing again, folks. Let's enjoy it.

Roll Tide.

Cat Scratched from the SEC tournament. Kentucky 86 Bama 63

Despite the lopsided score, Alabama did not play that badly.  They just ran into a more talented team who played almost perfectly. 

We were short-handed with Donta Hall out due to his head injury, and went with a starting lineup of Collin, Herb, Dazon, Alex, and Smith.  I was a little surprised that Alex started over Key. 

It was obvious our game plan was to pack the lane and try to keep the Cats off the boards and away from the rim.  We played a lot of zone and soft man, generally going under screens.   With our primary rim protector out, and UK generally known as a big but poorly shooting team, it was a reasonable approach, and I would have done the same thing.     It worked, for a while.  The first 10 minutes or so of the game were an ugly, low scoring slugfest.  Unfortunately, we really struggled to hold on to the basketball and get good looks at the basket.  Most of the credit for that goes to Kentucky, they are a very good defensive team when properly motivated.  They finally started making some shots and stretched the lead to 10 at 29-19 going into the half. 

Kentucky shot 84% from the field in the second half.  Gabriel was 7 for 7 from 3 point range.  One can argue we should have switched defenses sooner, but it would not have mattered.  That's the game of basketball, sometimes a team defies their scouting report, and when that team is more talented overall to begin with, there's just not much that can be done. 

I thought the effort was outstanding, and there were a couple of positives we can take from this game heading into next week.  UK is a great rebounding team and we actually controlled the boards, which is especially impressive given Donta's absence.  We had 13 offensive rebounds to their one, but of course, they simply didn't miss many shots.  Dan led the way with 7 rebounds, and I was very pleased with his effort and strength displayed by often securing the basketball in traffic.  Key was too tentative offensively in my opinion, but he did his work on the glass and got 5 rebounds.  Collin was playing like his hair was on fire, and ended up 5 rebounds to go along with his 21 points.  Despite being double teamed much of the night, he kept us in the game as long as he could.  He seems to be taking his game to another level in March, and that gives me a lot of excitement going into the NCAA tournament. 

The team did not quit when UK pushed the lead to 17 in the second half.  John Petty responded in a big way, and we started pressing aggressively with Collin and AJ in the back court, which forced a few turnovers.  Petty was draining 3s from NBA range with a man in his face, and that opened things up a bit for Collin.  We managed to cut the lead to 9, but UK answered with more 3s of their own, and that was that. 

JP finished 5 for 9 from 3 point range and 18 points.  If he can continue to shoot like that, and we get Donta back and healthy, and Collin continues playing as his recent level, we could be a tough out for somebody. 

At the end of the day, this was a hugely successful tournament for Alabama.  We found a way to win a close one to keep the season alive, and then did exactly what was needed in convincing fashion to secure a tournament bid.  Sure, I would have loved to see us cutting down the nets today, but if this loss keeps us on the 10 seed line instead of the 8 or 9, it will be a blessing in disguise.  Personally, I'm sort of glad I was able to drive home last night so I can rest today and watch the selection show from the comfort of my own home and make plans accordingly.

Obligatory Arch Pic.  I know it's distant, but I've seen it plenty before and had no motivation to go down there.

I'm still not a fan of having this tournament in St. Louis.  Scottrade Arena is not a bad venue, it holds about 18,500 and was 80% full for this game.  We had a decent crowd of maybe 1,000 or so scattered throughout, but it otherwise felt like a UK home game.  The sight lines are good and the large scoreboard gives a lot of information along with a good view of video replays.  We watched the first 10 minutes or so in our seats in the 300 level, but then moved down to some open seats near my friend directly below us in the 100 level.  There are only a couple of escalators connecting the two levels, so it took a while to walk around, and there are no televisions on the concourse so we watched a portion of the first half standing in a portal.  Also, the scoreboard operator made a few mistakes, only putting up 2 points on a 3 or not putting made free throws on the board, and PA guy several times announced wrong information such as "fouled on the shot" when it was on the floor or "shooting one and one" when it was a 2 shot foul.  Moreover, it just isn't a focus of the city like it is in Nashville, New Orleans, or Atlanta.  The locals really didn't seem to follow it or care, and part of that is probably due to Mizzou's early exit.  St. Louis is not a southern town, and it really isn't a college sports town.  Honestly, it's not much of a sports city in general.  They will support their Blues when they are willing, but the only thing they are really passionate about is their obnoxious, cheating baseball team.

Up next, today is the most wonderful day of the year.  It's Selection Sunday, and it's almost unanimous among the experts that for the first time in six years we are going to see "Alabama" on the screen this afternoon.  The season has had it's ups and downs and been disappointing in some ways, but I for one am proud of this team for finding a way to keep playing meaningful games when everyone counted them out.  5 pm can't get here soon enough.  Just a reminder that it will be televised on TBS this year as opposed to CBS.  

Final Bracketology posts and guess seed/opponent in comments

ESPN has us as a 9 in the deadly UVA bracket. I don't want any part of that as if we escaped Creighton we'd probably score 28 against the Wahoos.
CBS put us in a better first round matchup as a 10 seed, but looming is UNC. Again... not a pretty sight.
The Big Lead has us as the last 9 seed
NBC has what I like to think is the most "favorable" projection as a 9 seed with a matchup with Xavier if we escape VA Tech.
Bracketville also has us in the UVA bracket.

Before I make a guess on what seed we'll get and first round opponent, it is nice to finally be talking about the NCAA Tournament instead of wishing for it. While I still say the season overall has been a disappointment, getting to the Dance is a big step in the program's direction despite the lower than expected results IMO.

So... I'm going to say we are a 10 seed facing Seton Hall in Charlotte.
For giggles I'm going to predict Auburn as a 4 in San Diego facing Charleston.

If I am correct, the last time Alabama AND Auburn made the tournament in the same year was 2003... and previous to that it was 1987. That is insane!

As a side note I want both to do well for the greater good of hoops in the state.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Tide Turns on auburn, Alabama 81 auburn 63

Shall we dance?


Collin Sexton took over the second half, finished with 31 points, and led the Tide to a comeback route of the top seeded auburn tigers.  The win moves the Tide 19-14 on the season, advances them to the semi-finals of the SEC tournament against the Kentucky-Georgia winner, and in all likelihood clinches at least an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. 

Things looked bleak early on.  We trotted out yet another starting lineup, this time going with Collin, Dazon, Herb, Hall, and Smith.  Why we keep insisting on starting 2 big men against their lineup I will never know. 

The first half looked a lot like some of our recent poor performances.  We turned the ball over, missed free throws, and gave up way too many second chance opportunities.  auburn predictably made a fair number of 3s, and they built a double digit lead.  We would make a run to cut it to 5, and they would stretch it back out to 10.  It felt like we were just hanging on by a thread, trying not to get blown out.  We went into the locker room trailing 41-31.

With our backs to the wall, the team came out played arguably their best half of basketball of the season.  It was similar to second half performance in Gainesville.  Defensively, we slowed them down, made them work, and actually dominated the boards.  Then, Collin Sexton went off!  I hope all the morons who said "we would be better off without him" will shut up now.  He did everything well.  He made SIX from 3 point range!  He got to the line and made his free throws.  He played lock down defense.  He played 35 minutes!  (Thank You Avery!  Finally!)

auburn did not score a basket for the first 10+ minutes of the second half.  We led by as many as 22, so it was a 32 point swing in the second half.  Besides Collin's contributions, Dazon Ingram also had a great game with 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists.  Donta had a solid performance with 11 points and 6 boards.  Galin seems to be coming on in his new starting role late in the season, he ended up with 8 points and 6 rebounds.  Braxton was still a little tenative offensively, but he managed to score 9 and get 10 boards.  Herb was a big part in slowing down their perimeter game.  We played much of the game with Herb and Key in foul trouble.  Even Collin had 2 fouls in the first half.  The officials called it tight but I thought they were consistent and did a fairly good job.

Bruce Pearl bumped into Lou Deneen and got into a heated exchange with him after the game.  Security had to escort Bruce off the court.  Bruce Pearl may be a  good coach, but he is pure trash.

Dan picked up a couple of fouls in his minute of play before having to leave the game with a knee injury.  Alex also spent some time in the locker room, and Donta left the game after taking a hard fall and hitting his head on the floor.  Let's hope we can get everyone healthy and ready to go tomorrow.

Since we beat Texas A&M yesterday, I decided to replicate my routine.  I went to the same place, and the crowd was overwhelmingly supportive of Alabama.  Of course, I was sitting next to the only 2 auburn fans in the place, but they were actually nice and reasonable.

Up next, we will play the winner of Kentucky-Georgia on ESPN tomorrow at noon.  As of this writing, it looks like it will be Kentucky, they lead 47-33 with 12 minutes remaining.  I'm hitting the road for St. Louis in the next hour or so, if any of the blog readers want to meet up and maybe go in together on tickets, email me at

Open post- Bama vs Barn round 3

Use the comments to vent/cheer/lament

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Staying Alive, Alabama 71 Texas A&M 70

Collin Sexton converted a buzzer-beater, teardrop runner in the lane to keep the Tide's NCAA tournament hopes alive and advance to the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. 

This game had a little bit of everything leading up to that climatic finish.  At times it looked like we had figured some things out and turned the corner, and at other times it reminded us all why we have been so frustrated with this team over the last couple of weeks. 

I'm going to take a bit of a different approach to this recap and start at the end.  The Aggies tied the game with about 40 seconds remaining, which put us in a precarious position with a 10 second differential between the game and shot clock.  There wasn't enough time left to do a 2 for 1, but there was too much time left to hold for the final shot.  Sexton made the most of it by delivering with a nice pull up jumpshot with about 17 seconds remaining. On the next possession, we switched on a screen but did not extend and allowed  TJ Starks a wide-open but deep 3, and he nailed it, putting the Aggies ahead by 1 with 4.4 seconds remaining. 

You all know what happened next.  I've probably watched this a dozen times already, and if you haven't heard Chris Stewart's call yet, it's definitely worth a listen.

Chris Stewart call

A lot happened before we got to that point.  We started Smith, which I didn't agree with at all, but he played fairly well.  He had 6 points early in the game and helped set the tone, despite having only 3 rebounds.  Some of the recent problems persisted.  I didn't like the substitution patterns, namely starting Galin and I thought we played Petty way too much on a day he clearly didn't have it.  We were also dominated on the boards again.  At one point in the first half, the Aggies had 11 offensive rebounds to our one. 

On the other hand, we looked much better offensively.  We moved Collin to the two guard for significant stretches and that seemed to get everyone more involved.  Our guards consistently beat their man off the dribble, and we did a good job in transition in the first half when the opportunity arose.  We led by 7 at halftime despite being killed on the boards.  It helped that Texas A&M played a very sloppy game. 

The Aggies switched to a zone and we actually did a good job against it.  On one possession we had great ball movement and reversed it to Dazon who made an open 3.  In another possession, we actually ran a high post set with Donta at the elbow and Galin on the low block getting a dunk! We stretched the lead to 11 and it looked like we were in total control of the game.

Then, bad Alabama returned.  The Aggies consistently converted on their 2nd or 3rd chance per possession.  While we were still in control of the tempo, Key and Ingram decided to start passing to the invisible man again.  We had at least 3 unforced turnovers when we had numbers on the break.  The few good looks we did get would not go down, and after a couple of close calls didn't go our way, the defensive effort lagged.  In a matter of minutes, the double-digit lead was gone. 

But none of that matters, Collin Sexton saved the day when it was crunch time, and hopefully that will give this team some momentum.  Sexton ended up with 27 points, and made 3 of 6 from behind the arc, where he has struggled in recent games.  Dazon also had 13 points and 9 rebounds.  He made some bad plays during our scoring drought, but really helped us overall.  Donta was also in double digits with 11 points.  Herb returned and made a big shot from the perimeter with a foot on the line and ended up with 6 points to go along with his usual outstanding defense.  We did a good job of attacking their bigs and getting Davis to the bench with 4 early fouls was key. 

I took a long lunch and watched this game at an establishment in downtown Birmingham.  It was cool to see the place packed with people who were doing the same, and it erupted in cheers when Sexton made the final shot. 

The win puts us squarely on the bubble.  I previously wrote that we would need 2 wins to make the tournament, but a lot of things have gone our way over the last couple of days, and even with a loss tomorrow I think there is a better-than-average chance we will be playing in Dayton next week.  Instead, let's get another win and be safely in the field. 

Up next, the rubber match in the quarterfinals against in-state rival and regular season SEC champion auburn.  The game will tip off at noon tomorrow on SEC Network.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

SEC Tournament Preview/Predictions

Instead of writing yet another Texas A&M preview, or writing a preview for each day should Alabama be fortunate enough to stick around in St. Louis for multiple days, I decided to write a preview of the conference tournament itself.The SEC tournament begins Wednesday night at 6 P.M. CT. The SEC Network will cover all games prior to the quarterfinals on Friday when ESPN will split with the SEC Network. ESPN will televise the semifinals and final.

Obviously, Alabama will be the big draw of the tournament for us. Can this Crimson Tide team end a 5-game losing streak on Thursday in the rubber match vs Texas A&M? It's survive and advance for Alabama at this point. Should they lose a sixth straight game on Thursday, their NCAA Tournament hopes will be dashed. Win on Thursday, and they remain very much in the discussion thanks to a strong strength of schedule and a number of good wins with few bad losses. Should Alabama win at least two games in the event, their resume should be strong enough to get them into the field as an at-large. Win on Thursday, but lose on Friday, the Alabama team and fanbase will likely be sweating it out through Selection Sunday.

Alabama is the only conference team on the bubble that can secure a bid without winning the tournament. Other teams on the bubble - Mississippi State, LSU and Georgia - all likely must win the conference tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Seven teams - Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas A&M - all appear to be safely in the field regardless what happens this week. Seven teams would be the most the conference has ever placed in the NCAA Tournament field. The hottest teams entering the tournament are Tennessee (four straight wins), Florida (three straight wins), Texas A&M (three straight wins) and those old underdogs, Kentucky (won four of their final five games). My guess is the winner of the tournament will likely be one of those four teams.

The SEC basketball awards were announced today. Alabama's Collin Sexton was named to the 2nd Team All-SEC and was voted Co-Freshman of the Year with Kentucky's Kevin Knox. I'm not a fan of awarding two players an individual award; I think it's just lazy. Furthermore, I don't think Knox had a comparable season to Collin. Nevertheless, congrats to Collin for both honors. He was of course also voted to the All-Freshman team. The other honor for Alabama went to Donta Hall. He was voted to the All-Defensive team.

Click here to check out the other awards and the complete All-SEC teams.

Last but not least: Here are my predictions for this weekend. My picks for this event have been abysmal in recent years so please be gentle in the coming days. This is a little long so click the link to continue.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

SEC Tournament Predictions

Here's mine, post yours in the comments. 

Georgia over Vandy
South Carolina over Ole Miss

aTm over Bama (Hope I'm wrong)
Mizzou over UGA
$tate over LSU
Arkansas over South Carolina

aTm over auburn
Mizzou over Kentucky
Tennessee over $tate
Arkansas over Florida

Mizzou over aTm
Arkansas over Tennessee

Mizzou over Arkansas for the championship.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Agony in Aggieland, Texas A&M 68 Alabama 66

The effort was better, but the results were the same.  Alabama dropped its fifth straight game to finish 9th in the conference with a 17-14 record, 8-10 in the SEC.

It was a physical, slow-paced, and at times ugly game.  Herb did not play due to the head injury he sustained in the Florida game.  For some reason, Dan Giddens has went from starting (which was preposterous to begin with) to not playing at all.  Galin Smith played 21 minutes for some reason and appeared to be over-matched much of the game by the Aggie bigs. 

Neither team could make an outside shot or a free throw, and we grinded out a one point lead in the first half.  We played a lot of 2-3 zone to try to pack the paint against their bigs, but as usual we were not able to rebound out of it.  The Aggies built an 11 point lead mostly on second chance opportunities.  I was hoping we would switch to a soft man, but that never happened.

Our guys battled back and actually took a lead with around 5 minutes to play, but the Aggies answered with another run of their own.  With just over 30 seconds remaining and the Aggies at the free throw line with a 4 point lead, Sexton baited TJ Starks into pushing him in the head, resulting in a technical foul and an ejection.  Unfortunately, Sexton was also called for a technical foul.  There's no doubt Sexton said something to provoke Starks, but I don't know how the official can assess a technical on that replay without definitively hearing what was said.  I'm disappointed CAJ did not argue that call.

Anyway, they made 3 of four free throws, then Collin made both of his and we got the ball back.  Key was fouled shooting a 3, made 2 more free throws, and we got an offensive rebound on the third, so we had the ball down 3 with a chance to tie, but couldn't get the shot to go down and that was that. 

Sexton played well with 23 points and 7 assists.  Donta contributed with 12 points and 6 boards, but his defense has not been as good lately for some reason.  Petty somehow ended up being the leading rebounder with 8. 

Up next, the SEC tournament.   We have a rubber game with these very same Texas A&M Aggies Thursday at noon in St. Louis.  The winner will move on to play top seeded auburn on Friday at noon.  Although Joe Lunardi still inexplicably has us in his bracket as a 10 seed, I think we likely need at least 2 wins in the tournament to feel good about our chances. 

Friday, March 02, 2018

Latest bracketology predictions

Hanging on by the skin of our teeth here:
ESPN has us as one of the last 4 byes
CBS has us in the First Four in Dayton. I bet Anthony Grant will want to see that!

After Saturday I fully expect to see us on the outside looking in.. and would need 2-3 wins in the SECT to get back to the First 4.

Game Preview - at Texas A&M

One could make the argument that the two most disappointing teams in the SEC will meet in the season finale for each on Saturday when Alabama travels to College Station to face the Texas A&M Aggies. Both teams enter under .500 in the conference standings with identical 8-9 records, but while Alabama has lost four straight, the Aggies enter this game on a 2-game winning streak on the heels of road wins at Vandy and at Georgia. Game time is 1 P.M. CT. ESPN2 is televising the game. Click the links for team and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: Perhaps it's unfair for me to label Texas A&M as a disappointing team. Even though they are under .500 in league play, their non-conference resume was so impressive that their RPI and other advanced metric numbers have remained strong. They're so strong in fact that these back-to-back road wins for the Aggies have probably put them in the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens Saturday or in St. Louis (don't quote me on that, by the way). That said, this team was picked to finish in the top four of the standings in the preseason poll, and many saw them as a trendy pick to win the league so 8-9 is less than ideal from an expectations standpoint. However, despite their ups and downs, they do appear to have evened out in the nick of time.

Meanwhile, Alabama is spiraling. Not only have they lost four straight games, but they haven't been competitive in long stretches during this losing streak. From a distance it seems like, at best, this team has run out of gas; at worst, they've quit on this coaching staff. I don't know which one it is, but it's not good either way. While many bracketologists still have the team in their mock brackets, my belief is the home loss to Florida on Tuesday night knocked Alabama from the field if the selection committee met today. While both teams could use the win Saturday, I think the game is more important for Alabama for that reason alone. Lose their fifth straight, and they're probably looking at having to win two games in St. Louis to get back into the field. The team have played themselves into a corner, and I'm hard-pressed to find an Alabama fan that believes they'll play their way out of it.

Oh, and depending on how results shake out this weekend, it's a very good possibility these two teams could meet again on Thursday in St. Louis. Best case scenario for Alabama at this point is a 7 seed. The worst case is a 10 seed. Either way, if Alabama is going to win multiple games in St. Louis, they will have to beat one of the top two seeds on Friday. If there is any silver lining to this week in Bama Hoops, it's that Alabama will avoid the indignity of having to play on Wednesday night of the tournament thanks to game results this week.

Players to Watch: How about this coaching staff instead of any player? What is their mental state coming into Saturday? Is Avery Johnson coaching for his job over the next 8-10 days? I know my fellow writers at the blog probably don't agree with me, but if this game is another blowout, and then the team goes kaput on Thursday in the SEC Tournament, I'm not convinced it's implausible that Avery Johnson's job is in jeopardy.

Consider these numbers. In his first three seasons Anthony Grant won 63 games, with an NIT runner-up finish in year two, and an NCAA appearance in year three. Avery in three seasons so far: 54 wins and no postseason wins in that span. Sure, we can break down the quality of the schedules (I don't think there would be much difference, honestly. Grant scheduled solidly during his tenure as well), and there's no debate that Avery has won more games against ranked competition, but Grant's three seasons so far eclipse Avery's from a basic wins/losses standpoint. And wins and losses matter, do they not? Consider these numbers. In the final 10 regular season games in Avery's three seasons the team has finished 6-4 in 2015-16 (lost four of their final five games), 4-6 in 2016-17, and are currently 3-6 in their last nine with a game to go. In all three seasons these poor finishes cost Alabama ground in the race for a postseason bid, maybe even an NCAA bid in 15-16. The point is this has now become a trend for Avery's teams, and there is no positive way to spin it. If this team loses out, that would be six straight losses to end the season for a team that was once solidly in the NCAA field. How does a university continue to confidently sell a coach with that kind of record to a fanbase hungry for basketball success?

I'm not going to pretend that I have any insight into what Greg Byrne and the other decision makers at the university are thinking right now in regards to Avery, but I do know that if social media is any indication, the Alabama fanbase is not happy with the current state of affairs. Factor into the mix what Auburn has done this season, and I repeat that it is not implausible to think that the next 8-10 days could weigh heavily on Avery Johnson's future in Tuscaloosa.

Texas A&M's struggles the last two seasons have had a lot to do with inconsistent point guard play or keeping guards on the floor due to injuries and suspensions. When Duane Wilson was lost for the season with a knee injury, I thought it would be trouble for the Aggies. It was. They lost three straight after he was sidelined for the season. Fortunately for A&M, freshman TJ Starks has stepped up and played well for the Aggies. In their road wins at Vandy and Georgia, Starks was great, averaging 16.5 points, 5 assists,  and 4 boards. In 30 minutes played at Vandy, he did not have one turnover. If we look up in a couple of weeks and A&M is playing in the second weekend of the tournament, I'd be willing to bet Starks is a big reason why.

Prediction: If there is a ray of hope for Bama fans heading into Saturday, it's that this A&M team has not exactly been a model of consistency either. In league home games, A&M is 5-3 this season. Not awful, but certainly not the mark you want to have if you have hopes of winning the league. If anything, there's a precedent that the Aggies have not been dominant at home in league play. The problem is this Alabama team has not offered a lot of hope over the last four games.

I really want to believe that this team hasn't cashed in all its chips yet, but Tuesday night was the lowest I've felt about this program in a long time. You will almost never see me write that a coach should be fired. I stuck it out with both Gottfried and Grant as long as I could before the results were too much to ignore. And my sincere hope is that the team finds a gear that we thought was lost and wins Saturday, and wins a game or two next week, and makes the NCAA field. I really hope that. I do not want to observe another coaching change and the rebuilding process that takes, but I'm also very tired of putting a lot of passion into following this program only to be dealt disappointment after disappointment.

And look, I live in another state; I'm lucky if I make it out to two basketball games in person a season. DJC is out there spending hard-earned dollars traveling to road games, and he's at every home game. I feel for fans like him more than myself because he's putting more of himself into this program as a fan than many do. We all love this program. Some of us are young, others are old, but I think we all have a shared hope to one day see this program play in a Final Four. That reality has never seemed so far away to me as it did on Tuesday night. I want to believe in this team again, but they have to give me a reason to believe. Texas A&M - 74 - Bama - 71

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

NCAA tournament projections? See ya later, Alligator. Florida 73 Bama 52

Alabama was run out of the gym in the last home game of the regular season, and now stands at 17-13, 8-9 in the conference.  The game was not even as close as the final score indicated.  The loss eliminates Bama from contention for one of the top 4 seeds in next week's SEC tournament, and puts them at risk of ending in the bottom 4 and having to play on Wednesday.

On the bright side, we finally dominated the boards!  Of course that's mostly because we missed about a thousand shots so we had tons of opportunities, and we pretty much sucked at every other aspect of the game.

Herb got the start over JP.  Herb has not given us any offense since the Oklahoma game, but he obviously plays much better defense than Petty.  I didn't agree with the decision, but I can see the logic behind wanting to start Herb to help shut down their perimeter game.

We actually got off to a good start.  Dazon hit a 3, we were running the floor, and got some stops.  We scored the first 6 points of the game, and led 7-2 at the first media timeout.  We then missed our next 19 shots from the field.

So why did it all fall apart?  A lot of credit has to go to Florida for picking it up on defense and controlling the pace of the game, but our team simply did not respond to adversity.  We had a couple of calls go against us, and then when some open shots did not fall, the guys stopped playing defense too.  Herb Jones had to leave the game with a concussion, and Donta picked up a couple of fouls in the first half.  I was surprised to see Galin replace Donta rather than Dan, but we can't really expect a lot out of any of the bigs at this point.  We didn't use a single timeout during the first half while Florida outscored us 35-11 over the final 16 minutes.

The second half started a little better with Key and Sexton able to find the basket, but the defense continued to be atrocious.  We finally called a timeout with 15 minutes left and trailing by 22.  Three minutes later, Coach Johnson effectively threw in the towel by subbing in Lawson Schaffer and Alex Reese for Collin Sexton and Braxton Key.

The crowd loved the move, but I hated it.  What was the point?  Yes, we were down 22 and playing uninspired basketball, but with 12 minutes remaining you still have to try to make a run to get back into the game.  It's no surprise this team quits when it sees their head coach quit.  Yes, Sexton was not playing well, but he was at least one of the few giving effort out there.  He looked totally dumbfounded and confused when he was taken out for Lawson.  I thought it was bad form to pull the best player on the court, a top 10 draft pick, in his last home game with 12 minutes to play for the walk-on at the end of the bench.  Was it a desperation move to ignite the crowd and hopefully get an unexpected spark to get back in the game?  Was he punishing the regulars for their poor effort and performance by taking away playing time and trying to send a message?  Was it a wave of the white flag to get Florida to ease up?  Was he conceding the game and resting up for the aTm matchup?  We'll probably never know his motivation for that decision, but I did not like the message that it sent.

Florida did more or less call off the dogs at that point, and both teams went through the motions of playing the last ten minutes or so as a formality.  Sexton did play somewhat better when he got back in the game.

Dan actually had a respectable showing in his 11 minutes with 7 points and 4 rebounds.

Key takes a lot of criticism, but I thought he played decent.  Of course, he had his standard two passes to the invisible man, and a few lapses on defense, but he ended up with 11 points and 8 rebounds.  I wish he had more confidence in his shot.  He passed up several open 3s that I thought he should have taken.  I heard people complaining about Key, AJ, and Collin at various times for driving into traffic with nowhere to go, but in most cases the problem was their teammates were not setting good screens or not making any effort to get open or come to the ball to help.  Our communication on defense is terrible, it seemed like every time we switched on a screen the big would stay with the guard after the original defender already switched back, leaving the screener wide open in space.

Just two weeks ago I wrote that we had five games remaining and likely needed only one win to feel good about our NCAA chances.  Now we are down to one game remaining, and we still need that one win.  It's hard to be very hopeful given the lack of effort we've seen recently.  I wonder if there is something going on behind the scenes that we are unaware of, because we simply aren't playing as a team right.  Donta has completely disappeared and routinely gets out-worked, after looking like a legit NBA prospect earlier in the month.  Dazon is good for an early 3 but then goes into a shell for the rest of the game.  Sexton, AJ, and Herb, are the only ones you can count on to bring their best intensity every game, and as I said earlier Herb is only helping on one end of the floor. This is the second time in the last three years we've had a late season, two game home-stand needing just a single win, and have failed to get it done. 

The crowd was disappointing for such an important game, but that's to be expected for a 6pm Tuesday tip-off.  I would guess about 8,000 or so, with a couple hundred Florida fans scattered throughout.  The halftime show was "The Amazing Tyler," who balanced ladders and bicycles and other random objects on his face.  He was also the halftime performer at the UGA game in Athens earlier this year, so I vote we ban him from Bama basketball games going forward.

Up next, a "must win" on the road in College Station versus the Texas A&M Aggies.  The game tips off at 1pm CT and will be televised on ESPN2.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Game Preview - Florida

The Alabama men's basketball team is on high alert. Currently mired in a three-game losing streak, this young team must find a way to get back on track in their final home game of the season Tuesday night vs the Florida Gators. Alabama enters the game with an 8-8 league record, while the Gators, fresh off an impressive win at home over Auburn, enter with a 9-7 record. Game time is 6 P.M. CT. ESPN is handling television duties. Click the link for team and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: Things can turn quickly in college basketball. Two weeks ago we all lamented over the inconsistency of this team, but felt confident they would end the program's six year tournament drought. Now in the wake of this three-game losing streak, that confidence has been eroded. This Alabama team now finds itself in a must-win situation on Tuesday night. Their resume is strong, and continues to prop them up as of today, but it's not an air-tight resume. If the bracket was selected today, I do think that Alabama would be in the field, but I also think that as of today they're probably one of the last 8-10 teams in the field. They must find a way to get back on track this week, and maybe next week in St. Louis, to avoid what would be one of the most disappointing finishes in the program's recent history.

As an Alabama basketball fan, I've tried to temper my expectations in recent years as the program has fallen on hard times. However, it was hard not to be excited entering this season. A top 10 recruiting class, a good class of returning players, and a head coach who was not shy about saying in public that the staff had been working towards year three. I didn't expect this team to win a conference title or make a deep tournament run (there's just too many variables in a college basketball season to put faith in those types of expectations), but I did expect a more consistent effort than what we've seen this season. Yes, the team is young (the fourth youngest team in D1 basketball to be exact). Yes, this team is playing in a much-improved SEC conference. Yes, they played a very difficult non-conference schedule. All the more reason to be frustrated by the lapses in effort, chemistry and leadership this season against such a difficult schedule. All the more reason to be frustrated by the appearance that Avery Johnson continues to struggle with the transition to the college game.

I think this struggle has been reflected in the head-scratching player combos he has put on the floor this season, and not leaning heavily enough on his star players to play major minutes. In the NBA you have a roster full of pros which gives you more options on your bench, but that's not the case in college. In the pro game you have an 82-game schedule, which allows you more freedom to rest players for long stretches, while developing guys on your bench. In the college game, you have a small window of time to identify your best players and assemble rotations that lean heavily on their talents to give the team the best chance to win. The best player on this team averages under 30 minutes per game. In fact, no player on this roster averages 30 minutes or more per game, but all ten available scholarship players currently average double figure minutes. That seems counter productive to me. But what do I know, really? I'm just a working stiff who writes for an obscure blog in my spare time. Avery Johnson is the coach as well as a former player. He knows more about the game than I do, I'm sure. That being the case, it's on him to figure things out and to deal with the criticism that follows when he doesn't.

Some fans are calling for a change on the bench, which I am not ready to support. It's fair to criticize Avery for some of the shortcomings we've discussed here this season, but this is also a man that has embraced the opportunity at the university, has worked tirelessly to promote the program, connect with the community, and has recruited at a high level up to this point. While I do think Avery could be a facing a hot seat situation in year four if the inconsistency continues, I'm not of the opinion that it's in the best interest of the program to fire yet another head coach and start over again for the third time in a decade.

I also don't share the opinion of some who read this blog or comment on social media that fans should abandon this team on Tuesday night. I've never been a fan of abandoning support for a team simply because the coach isn't meeting expectations. I'm definitely not a fan of doing it for the final home game of the season when the team desperately needs a win to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Regardless of what some think of the coaching staff or even the players, Alabama fans should first and foremost be supportive of what is best for the program. Returning to the NCAA Tournament, regardless if they're a 1 seed or last four in, would be a positive achievement for the program after only two tournament appearances in the last twelve seasons. I don't expect fans to flock to Coleman Tuesday night (frustration with the season or the early game time will likely be the popular reasons for low attendance), but if you're not going or can't go, and you have a ticket, I implore you to offer your ticket to someone who does want to go.

Whew. I think that was more than two cents......

Players to Watch: I'm going to focus on three players instead of one for Alabama. The three are Donta Hall, Daniel Giddens and Galin Smith. Let's start with Donta, whose disappearance in the last two games has been a major part of Alabama's struggles. I think the argument could be made that Donta has developed into the second most important player on this team this season. And when he's at his best scoring, rebounding and blocking shots he has shown NBA potential. In the last three games though, he has not been a physical presence in the paint. In fact, you can say that for the Bama interior players as a unit. In the last three games the combo of Donta, Daniel and Galin have combined for 29 points (27 of those have been scored by Donta, and 16 of those were in the first game of this slide vs Kentucky), and 22 rebounds (19 of those were grabbed by Donta).

Alabama has been outrebounded in its last three games, but it's not just grabbing more rebounds that's the issue as much as it is that Alabama, on the defensive end, has been extremely soft in the paint in the last three games. This has led to Bama's last three opponents scoring in the paint (40% of the opponents points were in the paint in the last three games) and giving up double figure offensive rebounds (opponents are averaging 15.6 offensive boards per game in the three game losing streak). Simply put, opponents have been out-working Alabama in the paint. To be fair, there's no guarantee that a better physical effort in the paint in the last three games ensures that Alabama wins any of those games, but I'd be willing to bet that we're sitting here today with a better feeling about this team if they had.

While Donta is not free of criticism, he is the only one of the three big men that has at least produced something on the floor. Daniel and Galin have produced a whopping average of 0.6 points per game and 1 rebound per game in the last three losses. In Galin's defense, he did not play in the Arkansas game. Why he didn't is unknown to me. Avery hasn't been shy about giving him minutes, and if he wasn't getting the desired effort he wanted from Donta and Daniel, why not see what Galin gives you? Perhaps Galin did not practice well leading up to the game? The media guys did not ask Avery about Galin's absence to my knowledge so we're only left to speculate. For Daniel, he simply can't stay on the floor long enough to have any positive impact. According to the box score he only committed one personal foul, but still only played 12 minutes. In the minutes he did play, he had more turnovers (2) than field goal attempts (0), and never looked comfortable when he was on the floor. I'm okay with Donta getting the majority of the minutes among the big guys, but if he's going to play 29-30 minutes, he's got to be more of a factor on the floor from a physical standpoint.

I'm not even going to preview a player for Florida. Tuesday night is all about this Alabama team having a sense of urgency and challenging themselves to come out, regardless of the crowd or the opponent on the floor. Show us something, guys.

Prediction: Tuesday night is a litmus test for this Alabama team. Do they have anything left in the tank? Is anyone going to step up and be a leader for this team, or will they as a unit play with the effort and intensity that you must play with consistently to have any measure of success at this level of basketball? There's a lot of fans out there at the moment that are certain this team is going to finish 0-5 in the regular season. Will this team show up with a chip on their shoulder on Tuesday or will the bad fog continue to envelop them? Once upon a time ago as a young man, I was in a relationship that consistently went in a negative direction. It left me bitter and emotionally exhausted. And yet, I could not bring myself to end my affection for the other person because of my belief in the relationship and my belief in this person to evolve their behavior. My feelings are similar for this team. This has been a frustrating and emotionally draining season for me as an Alabama basketball fan, but I still have a deep affection for this basketball program and believe it can be something greater than it currently is. I believe this team will come out ready to play Tuesday night, and will get a much needed win. Alabama - 74 - Florida - 69

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Bama in a Fog against Hogs, Arkansas 76 Alabama 73

Poor rebounding, free throw shooting, and turnovers were too much to overcome as the Tide dropped its third in a row to fall to 17-12 overall, 8-8 in the conference.  We are running out of time to get that one more win we need to feel good about selection Sunday. 

On the bright side, we finally used a starting lineup that makes sense with Key replacing Dan.  Unfortunately, they got off to a slow start and much like the auburn game we were playing from behind most of the day.  Dan still played 12 minutes, and had 2 turnovers, a foul, and no points or rebounds.  He's basically Carl Engstrom in Lebron James' body right now.

Our zone offense is terrible.  I get that we were trying to somewhat control the tempo, but I felt like I was watching an Anthony Grant team at times given the number of shot clock violations, and desperate attempts at the end of the shot clock. 

Other than Collin and AJ, nobody is displaying any real sense of urgency on this team right now.  For the third straight game, we were dominated on the glass.  Arkansas' second, third, and fourth opportunity points in the second half ultimately proved to be the difference in the game. 

On a positive note, JP actually shot the ball well, but was still a defensive liability.  Braxton played decent with 16 points and 5 rebounds, but continues to make too many bone-headed turnovers.  We ended up with 18 turnovers as a team, many of them unforced.  We weren't strong with the ball in the post and we continue to make bad passes. 

We made 11 of 27 3s against the zone, which is pretty good, but we had no inside game to go along with it.  Donta finished with just 4 points and 1 rebound.  As I mentioned above, I think Bruce Pearl exposed us a little bit with his zone defense last game.  The elbow and short corner seem to be foreign concepts to this team.  There is no high post game whatsoever.  We either try to spread the floor and rotate the ball to an open shooter (and that's another issue, the ball is sticking, Collin got visibly upset at times with both Key and Ingram for holding the ball too long) or we drive in looking for a foul or dish at the rim.  Our spacing was not good, and there was no inside-out game. 

After looking like a legit NBA prospect for several games, Donta Hall has gone completely MIA.  He ended up with 8 rebounds but only 4 points.  What's really frustrating is that he was not running the floor like I know he is capable of.  We really needed him to get back on defense and protect the rim against the up-tempo hogs, but he was beat to the basket many times.    At one point, CAJ took him out of the game after a poor defensive effort, and of course Dan immediately picked up a foul, and coach looked over at Donta and screamed "GET READY TO PLAY!"

Coach Johnson seemed a little more vocal and animated than normal, and I understand he was "mic'ed up" on ESPN.  I suspect a little bit of that was his increased animation for this game was put on for the cameras. 

Herb is still playing solid defense, but we need at least some offensive production from him.  He really hasn't given us anything on that end since the Oklahoma game. 

Despite all the other issues, if we could make a decent percentage of free-throws the outcome may have been different.  We were 18 of 27 as a team, and Collin was only 9 of 13. 

Our guys tried to rally late after falling behind by 8 with just under 2 minutes to go.  Sexton made a couple of free throws to cut the lead to 3 with 44 seconds left.  There was a loose ball situation, and it went out-of-bounds off of Alabama with 34 seconds remaining.  From my vantage point, it did not appear that we ever had possession, but it was ruled a steal and subsequent turnover by Donta.  That was a huge call because it re-set the shot clock and instead of being able to play straight up defense, we had to start fouling. 

Nevertheless, they missed a free throw and we had the ball down 3 with 20 seconds or so remaining.  We had a timeout, but opted not to use it.  In fairness, there were several "free" timeouts due to officials reviews in the final moments, so I suspect Coach had already discussed what to do in that situation.  Given that we were shooting the ball fairly well, I would have tried to set something up for JP there, and crash the boards on a miss.  Instead, Collin passed up an open 3 at the top of the key just under the 15 second mark to drive in, when he inexplicably passed to Donta, who was fouled on the shot but of course missed both free throws.  Nevertheless, Collin had one more chance to tie it at the buzzer with a half-court shot that came up short. 

I know we are all frustrated with the team's play right now, but let's let the season play out before we start all the "should we replace Avery" talk.  I suspect we aren't as good as we looked when we were routing Tennessee and Florida, and we aren't as bad as we looked against auburn and at times against Arkansas. 

The crowd was disappointing.  It was listed as a sellout, but there was almost nobody sitting in the corners and lots of empty seats throughout.  I would guess probably 11,000 or so, which isn't terrible, but that's a lot of unused seats for a sell out, and other than the student section it wasn't very loud.  Also, there were several rows in the student section that were blocked off as "reserved," but maybe half of them were used and only in the second half.  I heard those were for the football team, but I'm not sure.  In any event, we shouldn't be reserving large blocks of seats for people who aren't going to use them. 

Up next, the Florida Gators game to Tuscaloosa Tuesday night after a big win over auburn.  It's our last home game of the season (hopefully), and let's not forget we've had some good moments this year.  I hope everyone will come out and help our guys get a badly needed win.  Tip off is set for 6pm on ESPN.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Game Preview - Arkansas

Let the past be the past. The Alabama men's basketball team must adopt that mantra as they seek to end a two-game losing streak on Saturday when they host the Arkansas Razorbacks. Both teams enter with 8-7 conference records. In fact there are six teams in the league currently sitting at 8-7 so this game suddenly looms large for both programs as they seek to land a top four seed in the conference tournament. The university has announced that the game is a sellout. Game time is 5 P.M. CT. SEC Network is handling the television duties. Click the links for team and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: When I post my season review in the next month or so, I probably won't point to this game as the biggest game of the season for Alabama. However, right now, this is the biggest game of the season for Alabama. Yes, I can understand the frustration for Alabama fans after a 19-point blowout loss at Auburn. It's been one of several frustrating nights we've spent with this team. I would ask though that fans pause a moment and realize that this team still has a chance to finish in the top four of the standings (they were picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll), and play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six seasons. For a program that is under construction that would have to be considered progress. Also something to remember is that Alabama has probably not yet locked up a bid. They likely need another one to two wins to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday. It would be ideal if our guys could lock those wins up in the final two home games of the season before finishing the season on the road in College Station. What adds to the tension of this next week and a half is that all of Alabama's remaining opponents are also trying to lock up bids (or avoid a slide onto the dreaded bubble) so our guys have to expect the best effort from the opponent, while also giving their best effort. Needless to say, I'm happy that the team finishes with two of the three remaining games at home (6-1 at home in conference play so far).

The university has announced that Saturday is a sellout, and I hope that everyone with a ticket is in Coleman and ready to get and stay loud. If you can't make the game, please give your ticket to someone else, or offer it on social media (I'm already seeing fans on social media asking if any tickets are available). These next two games in Coleman are crucial games, not just for this team, but the program. The program desperately needs to break the tournament drought as it seeks to reestablish national relevancy. Forget your sour feelings after the game on Wednesday night; get out to Coleman and cheer this team to a victory. Arkansas is a really good team and our guys can use the support.

Players to Watch: I thought John Petty might be breaking the road curse after he had a respectable outing in Lexington, but the road woes returned at Auburn. He made a late three to avoid his second goose egg in scoring this season (did not score at Florida). He did have four assists, but also three turnovers. He also seemed rattled by the environment. Needless to say, it wasn't a great night for John. For all of his struggles on the road, John has been great most nights in Coleman, therefore I expect John to bounce back on Saturday.

Anyone who watches SEC basketball knows how good Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon are for Arkansas, but it's been the emergence of freshman Daniel Gafford that has helped this Razorback team become a more balanced team on both ends, helping to offset the loss of Moses Kingsley. Gafford is similar to Donta Hall in that he is a long, athletic forward that can be a disruptive force on the defensive end, and an exciting finisher on the offensive end. It's quite possible that Donta and Gafford are the two best dunkers in the league this season, and I wouldn't be surprised if both guys put someone on a poster Saturday night.

Prediction: Alabama has been one of the top, if not the top, team in the league when it comes to defensive play. Which is what made the poor defensive efforts the last two games so disappointing. The hope is that the team figures things out on that end because, frankly, they're not beating Arkansas on Saturday if they don't play better defense. Say what you want about this Alabama team, but they've been able to bounce back strong each time they've gone through a rough stretch this season. I expect a better effort from our guys on Saturday, spurred on by a loud Saturday night Coleman crowd. Alabama - 82 - Arkansas - 69

Thursday, February 22, 2018

War Eagles make Tide look Feeble. Auburn 90 Alabama 71

Auburn looked like a real tiger and Bama was their prey last night.  The Tigers pounced hard on the Tide early, inflicting near fatal wounds, and then began to toss us around and play with us.  Every time we thought we might be getting away, they would inflict another serious injury and drag us back. Finally they pounced hard one last time, and devoured us late in the game.  With the win, auburn improves to 24-4, 12-3 atop the SEC standings, while Bama falls to 8-7, good for a 6-way tie for 3rd.

There are a number of factors that contributed to this humiliating loss, and most of them start with the Coach.  I know you all are probably tired of reading about the substitution patterns, but I was enraged when I walked into the arena and saw we were sticking with the same starting lineup.  We're playing a team with only 7 players, that lives and dies by the 3, yet we're starting our two bigs again?  Dan shouldn't be starting anyway, but particularly against a team like auburn.  The results were predictable, we spotted them 8 points and called a timeout.

Collin Sexton had a great game, as did Jared Harper for auburn.  The difference was Harper had some help from his teammates.  I thought AJ played hard, though not great, but he and Alex Reese gave us a spark in the first half.  We managed to weather the first storm and come back to tie the game at 30.  Collin made a buzzer beater to end the first half and cut the lead to 5.  We stayed within 2-5 points for the first 6 minutes of the second half, but when auburn stretched it to double digits around the ten minute mark, I felt like the team just ran out of gas and threw in the towel. 

We had a piss-poor gameplan and failed to make adjustments.  Playing on the road against the best 3-point shooting team in the conference, we decided to get into a 3 point shooting contest.  Both teams took half of their shots from beyond the arc.  auburn ran a tight zone, and I understand the thinking was to shoot them out of it or at least force them to extend, but when that doesn't work early on, you have to try something else.  We had a height advantage at every position, but there was almost no posting up.  I would have ran some high post sets. 

Defensively, the biggest problem was not getting in position to rebound, and frankly getting outworked even when we were in position.  Nobody wanted to secure the basketball.  A UAB friend of mine watching at home even sent me a text asking, "do your guys even know they are allowed to grab the basketball when auburn misses?"  Contrary to popular belief, auburn did not really torch us from the 3 point line.  They shot 35%, which is solid, but only slightly better than our 34%.  The problem is they were getting 3 or 4 shots at it per trip, particularly in their last run that put the game away.

I was especially disappointed in Donta Hall.  He's improved throughout the year and I thought this would be a very favorable matchup for him, but he totally disappeared.  He finished with 7 points and 5 rebounds, and was dominated on both ends of the court by Chuma Okeke.  We tried putting Reese in, but they exploited the defensive matchup on 3 straight possessions, so we had to go back to an ineffective and seemingly unmotivated Donta.  With the exceptions of AJ and Sexton, I thought the defensive effort was poor.  auburn was driving to the basket at will, and our rotations were slow, leading to wide open shots on the kick outs. 

In addition to getting worked on the boards again, we continued to turn the ball over.  Key's turnovers were particularly egregious.  It's not just that he telegraphs his passes and allows defenders to jump them, on at least two occasions he inexplicably just threw the ball directly to the defender.  I've seen about enough of him trying to run the point forward. 

In addition to the bad passes, we also missed a lot of opportunities for easy buckets.  On our very fist possession, JP was wide open in the corner, jumping up and down, but Dazon didn't see him and that ended up with a Dan turnover.  In retrospect, maybe that wasn't such a great opportunity given the way JP shot.  I'm normally a proponent of "keep shooting with confidence and they'll eventually start to go down," but at some point you have to realize it's not your night and try something else.  Also, I can think of at least 3 or 4 instances where Braxton or Donta were WIDE OPEN under the basket because the au defense blew an assignment, but either Herb, Dazon, or AJ didn't see them because they were too busy dribbling around the perimeter with their heads down. 

When we did get the ball into the paint, we failed to capitalize.  Herb missed a layup that would have cut the lead to 5 just before au's big run.  Our bigs either got stripped, or put the ball on the floor to be stolen by the smaller, quicker defenders.  Auburn had 14 steals, and we ended up with 17 turnovers.  As usual we were brick masons at the line, 14 of 22. 

In conclusion, we were out-coached, out-hustled, and out-played.  We had a terrible game plan, sloppy ball-handling leading to too many turnovers, dominated on the glass by a smaller team, and couldn't make a free throw.

Bruce Pearl may be a fat sleazebag, but he's a very good basketball coach.  He's about to win the SEC regular season championship with maybe the 5th most talented squad in the league, and some glaring weaknesses. 

I was not able to find our postgame show on the radio, but I understand CAJ said something to the effect of "well, I guess this just evens up the series, right?"  It's probably a good thing I wasn't able to hear those comments, I may have drove my car into the nearest ditch.  "Buckle up," Indeed.

The small but nice arena was packed out with mostly loud, rabid auburn fans.  It was a good atmosphere and I think their team definitely fed off of it.  There was a fewer percentage of Bama fans there than we had in Lexington, I don't think we had more than a couple hundred, though there may have been more in the upper level that wasn't visible from my seat.  Remember all the nice things I said about the experience in Kentucky?  Yeah, everything is pretty much the exact opposite in auburn.  Their fans were rude and their basketball knowledge woefully lacking.  In fairness, I probably brought some of it on myself by wearing my "2017 CFB National Champions" t-shirt along with a crimson "FBI" hat.  Many of them don't have much of a sense of humor.  We ate at an establishment near Toomer's corner before the game and got horrible service at the bar.  The less-than-average food came quickly enough, but we had to wait 10 minutes to get silverware.  After waiting over 15 minutes for the check, and fearing I would miss tip-off, I left just enough cash to cover food and drinks and walked out.  I'm sure he's telling all his auburn buddies about the "jack-ass Alabama fans that don't tip," but I'm always a 20% minimum tipper, and gladly would have despite the poor service if we weren't willfully ignored. 

At the game, when Dazon drew a blocking foul because the official ruled the aubie defender was inside the circle, the guy sitting next to me says, "you have to admit that's a terrible call."  I said, "it was on the other end of the court, I couldn't see, let's watch the replay."  We both watch the replay, and neither angle shows the defenders feet OR the circle.  "He's way outside the circle!  That's a BS call!"  I just rolled my eyes, it's not even worth conversing with some people.  Another guy sitting near me was actually very nice and expressed disappointment in their fans booing while our SGA president tried to give a classy speech starting with "the schools go back to being teammates as soon as the game is over."    He asked me about several of our players, but when I would ask him about their guys he didn't even know what class they were in or where they were from.  As I was walking out of the arena with 4 minutes still left to play, a mid 50s overweight gentleman grabbed his crotch and yelled "Suck this tiger dick" in my direction.  I politely declined and congratulated him on the win.  I didn't even mind the profanity, but at least have more originality than to rip off an LSU student section chant.  It's actually kind of amusing when the drunk college kids do it in Baton Rouge, but not so much from an old, fat redneck who probably doesn't even have a properly functioning that-part-of-his-anatomy anyway.  To their credit, another auburn fan immediately called him out on it and apologized to me. 

As bad as this was, it's only one game, and we've bounced back before this year.  Up next, a very good Arkansas comes to Tuscaloosa for a 5pm tipoff on the SEC network Saturday.  We still need at least one, preferably two wins to feel great about selection Sunday.  This is when the team needs fan support the most.  Let's pack the house for the last two games and give our guys a push like the auburn crowd did last night. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Game Preview - at Auburn

This just in: Kentucky has grabbed another offensive rebound. Sorry, couldn't resist. The Alabama men's basketball team will look to rebound (heh heh) Wednesday night when they travel to Auburn to play the league-leading Tigers. Alabama enters this game with an 8-6 conference record, while the War Eagles enter with an 11-3 record. Game time is 7:30 P.M. CT. SEC Network will televise the game. Click the links for team and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: I'll give credit where it's due, and the Auburn fans have packed out games this season, turning that arena into a tough place to play. DJC remarked in his Kentucky recap that he was envious of the Kentucky crowds. I'm envious of the environment Auburn has had on a consistent basis. I'm envious that their students are given prime seating that allows them to have a direct impact on the game. Whether Bruce Pearl remains the coach at Auburn in the wake of the FBI investigation and subsequent NCAA investigation, or whether Auburn remains relevant in college basketball, the decision makers at UA have to take a long look at the facility improvements at long-time basketball doormats like Auburn and Ole Miss and realize that the current state of affairs at Coleman isn't going to cut it. There's a lot of rumors blowing in the wind about facility upgrades for basketball that will be announced in the offseason. I hope it turns out to be more than just another band-aid for Coleman because if Ole Miss and Auburn can build awesome new venues for their basketball programs, surely the University of Alabama can produce a better basketball environment for students, faculty and fans.

That said, Alabama will likely enter a very loud environment on Wednesday night. Not only is it Alabama vs Auburn, but the Iron Bowl trophy will change hands (even though the Iron Bowl really meant nothing this season heh heh haha haha heh hahah....ahem...where was I?). Alabama has already beaten this Auburn team once, but much worse Auburn teams than this one have made life difficult for Alabama teams down there in the past. It will take a tremendous effort for our guys to get out of there with the win and season sweep. You'll notice I didn't write "impossible". That's because Auburn lost more than the game this past Saturday at South Carolina. Anfernee McLemore, arguably the team's best interior player, who led the team in blocks and was top 3 nationally in block percentage, was lost for the season after a leg injury. McLemore was an emerging player for this team on both ends, and I believe his loss will impact this team. For starters, his loss leaves Auburn with only eight available scholarship players on the roster, and one less interior player for a team that wasn't big to begin with. Then again, no one expected Auburn to be as good as they have been so perhaps this team finds a way to overcome another road block. Regardless, Alabama will have a size advantage on Wednesday night that they need to exploit on the glass as well as driving the ball to the basket with Auburn's best rim protector unavailable.

Players to Watch: We've discussed Collin Sexton's competitiveness before. It shows up in how hard he plays on both ends, his cheering for his teammates when he's on the bench, but it also manifests itself in trash talk. Collin likes to talk trash to opposing players and fans. He's the type of guy with an edge that every program needs if it's going to win games it shouldn't like Wednesday night. While the environment at Auburn would be intimidating to most, it could be the type of environment that a competitor like Collin thrives in. If he's playing his A game on Wednesday night, he and the Auburn student section are going to just love each other.

I feel that in my first Auburn preview I didn't give enough respect to the guards for Auburn. They're the motor of this team, and their improvement across the board has played a big role in this resurgence for the program in Pearl's fourth season at the helm. These days in basketball, if you have great guards you can go a long way. Auburn has three great ones in Jared Harper (13.5 ppg, 39.7% from 3, 5.8 apg, 1.1 spg), Bryce Brown (16.4 ppg, 40.5% from 3), and Mustapha Heron (16.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.2 spg). Heron is a physical force that can score anywhere on the floor, Brown is one of the best shooters in the league, and Harper is the mastermind of it all, running the team at an extremely efficient level (157 assists vs 58 turnovers). The scary thing if you're not an Auburn fan is that all three of these guys could be back next season. In the first game, our guys did a great job defending all three, holding them to a combined 27 points, 4 assists and 9 turnovers. It will take a similar defensive effort on Wednesday night.

Prediction: Alabama will have a size advantage in this game, but I suspect a smaller line-up for Auburn will force Avery to ditch the Daniel/Donta line-up early, if he even plays it at all. Auburn is going to try to space the floor and bomb Bama from the three, or try to use their quickness at the guard position to take advantage of mismatches when our guys switch on defense (and there have been mismatches after a switch on a consistent basis this season so expect it). Auburn is a great offensive team so when they do miss our guys must grab rebounds and prevent Auburn second chance opportunities, a stat that doomed Bama in Lexington. On offense, with Auburn's best rim protector out, our guys must attack the rim. Auburn is not a deep team; Alabama must make them guard for 40 minutes without fouling. I believe Alabama has a great chance to match up and win this game on Wednesday night, but with a likely strong home environment in their favor I'll pick the Tigers to win. Auburn - 81 - Bama - 72 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Cat Scratched. UK 81 Alabama 71

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sleeping with the enemy, Kentucky Wildcats

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

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

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

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

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