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