Monday, January 21, 2019

Game Preview: Ole Miss

The games are coming fast and furious now. Alabama (11-6, 2-3) will have to rebound quickly from a tough road defeat in Knoxville because the Ole Miss Rebels (AP: 18; KenPom: 31; NET: 24) will be in Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday night. The Rebels (14-3, 4-1) have been one of the surprise teams in the league under first-year coach Kermit Davis Jr. after being picked to finish last in the preseason media poll. I didn't think Ole Miss would be this good, but with the experienced talent they returned, and my respect for Kermit Davis, I certainly didn't think they'd finish last. Game time is 8 P.M. CT. ESPNU will televise the game.

The university is offering "buy one, get one free" tickets so they're begging people to come out and support the team for a mid-week game. If you live in Tuscaloosa and can easily make it out to Coleman, please do. This team still has a lot to play for, and they're going to need all the support they can get.

My Two Cents: Alabama was oh so close to what would have been a monster win on Saturday. It's rare in recent years that we've seen an Alabama team put a top five team on its heels the way Alabama did in that second half on Saturday. While it's disappointing that they lost, the team has to come away from that game with some level of confidence in knowing that if they don't shoot themselves in the foot late in the second half, they're not only winning that game, but doing so by multiple possessions.

Ole Miss enters this game as one of the elite offensive teams in the country. The Rebels are ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency, 11th in effective field goal pct (56.2%), 56th in 3-pt pct (37,1%), 16th in 2-pt pct (56.5%), 32nd in free throw pct (75.5%) and, you guessed it, are an effective rebounding team with a 33.5% offensive rebound rate (ranked 40th). It's been a struggle at times for this Bama team on defense. If it's a struggle on Tuesday night, our guys are going to have a tough time hanging with this Rebel team.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Tennessee Tops Tide, Vols 71 Bama 68

Alabama took a top 3 team to the wire on the road, but ultimately fell to 11-6 on the season, 2-3 in conference play, in a game that came down to the final shot.

The starting lineup of Kira, Herb, Dazon, T-Mack, and Donta came out flat.  We repeatedly turned the ball over and looked completely helpless on defense as UT jumped out to a quick 16-4 lead.  They were out hustling us for every loose ball, which was epitomized by one possession when they got 4 shots at the goal, eventually scoring on an alley-oop dunk.  I thought to myself, "well, we accepted defeat before we even arrived, and we're going to get killed like everyone else who's come here this year."

Then, John Petty entered the game.  He played one of the best games I've ever seen from an individual Alabama player.  His road struggles have been well documented here, and for him to score 30 points in that environment against a top 3 team is remarkable. He wasn't just relying on the 3 either.  He got to the rim and finished some layups early that really established the game for him.

For the rest of the first half we pretty much matched them offensively, but we struggled to get stops.  We couldn't stop their penetration and they got to the rim at will.  I was adamant that we should try a zone, and we finally did for a couple of possessions, but the results were disastrous.  We had guys caught out of position and they ended up with easy layups or dunks.  Nevertheless, we did enough on offense to get into the half with a semi-respectable 44-32 deficit.

We came out blazing in the second half.  Frankly, I think UT took their foot off the gas a bit.  We made some minor adjustments on defense, disguising a very soft man as a 2-3 and they were a bit impatient settling for early jump shots, which we did a good job of closing out on.  We also started matching their intensity in going after loose balls and limiting them to one shot.  Riley, JP, and Donta all did a lot of work on the glass, tipping loose balls to their teammates, that won't really show up on the stat sheet.  After a 13-0 run, we had the lead!
There was a part of me that thought, "well, that was fun, but they will probably put it together and blow us out now."  Nope.  They did make an adjustment and started fronting JP to deny him the ball, but they continued to struggle with our "soft man" defense.    The game went back and forth for most of the second half.  They built a 6 point lead but we were able to get JP free for a couple more 3s to get back in it.  We had a 5 point lead at one point but missed free throws and took some bad shots from the perimeter when we had a chance to extend it.

Grant Williams made a great play with a minute and a half remaining to close out and block a JP jump shot from the corner.  JP said in the post game that he should have pump faked, but he made that exact same shot earlier in the game, and Donta was in good position under the goal to get the rebound, so I was okay with the shot.  Hats off to Williams for making a great play. 

Down the stretch UT had the ball with a one point lead but Donta drew a charge on Grant Williams to foul him out and give us a chance to win with 13 seconds left.  The UT fans were beyond upset with the call, and I agree that there was a bit of acting on Donta's part, but ultimately Williams did lower his shoulder and create the contact which gave him an advantage.  It was the right call.

So we had the ball with 13 seconds and a chance to actually pull the upset.  We got the ball to JP who created space but was called for a travel.  From my vantage point, it was so loud in the arena we couldn't hear the ref's whistle, and we were blocked from seeing his initial signal, so we didn't know what he called, but from the reaction of the crowd and CAJ we knew it went against us.  They showed the replay on the scoreboard, but the ref wasn't in the shot so we still didn't know what was called.  The UT fans around us theorized he was called for hooking, and admitted even that was  was a ticky-tack call at that point in the game.  It wasn't until my Dad called me after the game and told me that even the announcers said it wasn't a travel that I knew that they called a walk.  I certainly didn't see it in real time, and even the UT fans around us didn't notice it when they showed the replay, but, when I returned home and watched the replay on a clear screen in slow motion, I agree he did travel.  I know that won't be popular here, but he shuffled his feet before he dribbled.  It was a bit of a late call, but it was the right call.  That being said, it's also a call that probably isn't made if we're playing this game anywhere other than Thompson-Boling arena.  I also feel really confident that JP would have made the game winning shot, and even if he missed it, Donta was in great position for the put back.  We win if that travel isn't called, and rightfully or not, that travel isn't called 90% of the time.

While everyone is understandably upset about that call, it's not the reason we lost.  We lost this game because we shot a laughable 44% from the free throw line.  If we shoot just 60% we have at least an 8 point lead in the second half and it doesn't even come down to a single possession at the end.  We knew going into this game it would take a nearly perfect effort and a UT off day for us to have a chance.  The Vols obliged, and we played nearly as good as we could, but you don't upset a national championship contender on the road by missing over half of your free throws.  We played very good, but not perfect.

JP ended up with 30 points and was the main reason we were able to stay in the game.  I don't expect this every game, but if he can give us anything like this consistently going forward, we are a much better team.  The fact he did this in arguably the most difficult road environment we'll face this year is very encouraging.  Donta had another double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.  Kira scored 12 points in 33 minutes.  T-Mack struggled in the first 7 minutes of the game and didn't play after being replaced by JP.  Herb was terrible. He picked up 3 fouls, only scored one basket and missed both of his free throws.  He's great defensively, but he's fouling more than usual on that end and is a complete liability on offense.  He missed a couple of 3s badly, one of which was at a key point when we had momentum and could have taken a 3 possession lead.

We played 10 guys in the horrendous first 10 minutes of this game, and only played 8 in the second half with Kira and JP playing the entire second half.  Note to Coach, take a lesson from this, less is more in the playing rotation.  My only other complaint with our coaching in this game was the use of timeouts.  We used two when we had momentum and the ball and a media timeout coming up.  The one with a little over 8 minutes left was most egregious, and it would have been nice to have that at the end to draw up something other than a 65 foot heave to force overtime.

It was a sellout and there were very few empty seats with over 21,000 in attendance.  There were much fewer Alabama fans there than in some of my other recent trips there.  We were the only ones within at least 3 sections of us, and I would guess we had no more than 100, most of which were in an upper corner across from us.  The atmosphere was great.  The Vol fans were loud at appropriate times, but they did seem to turn on their team a bit when we had the lead in the second half.  That said, it's obvious they are still a wannabe football school given their over the top reactions to announcements for Jeremy Pruitt and Tee Martin.  With the exception of a few obnoxious jerks behind us running their mouth about the Clemson football team (they've been reduced to taking great pride in sharing the same color as the one team that can actually compete with us in that sport) for the most part their fans were very nice, welcoming, and complimentary of our team.  The group in front of us was awesome, they were knowledgeable and  passionately cheering for their team but at the same time cordial and understanding of us doing the same.

Personally, I hate Tennessee with a passion.  I hate them more than auburn.  I was in school when Fat Phil was trying to put our football team "out of business."  That orange is ugly as hell, and rockytop is undoubtedly in the top 5 of most obnoxious songs ever written.  Nevertheless, what Rick Barnes has done with that team is amazing.  They all seem like great guys and they play very well together, and as I said, for the most part their fans actually aren't that bad.  If their uniforms didn't say "Tennessee" I would actually like their team a lot.

Up next, the Ole Miss Black Bears/Rebels/Admiral Ackbars/Landsharks/whatever they decide they want to be this week will come to Tuscaloosa for an 8pm tipoff Tuesday night.  If you don't have tickets yet, they are offering a buy one get one free promotion (which is embarrassing in and of itself but I'll save that rant for another day).  Ole Miss is a top 25 team and it will be interesting to see how the team responds to this loss as we really need to get back in the win column at home.  The game will be televised on ESPNU.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Game Preview: at Tennessee

Alabama (11-5, 2-2) bounced back on the road for a much-needed win at Missouri. They will stay on the road when they travel to Knoxville to play the Tennessee Volunteers (AP: 3; KenPom: 5; NET: 3). The Vols enter with a record of 15-1 (4-0). Game time is 1 P.M. CT. ESPN2 will televise the game.

My Two Cents: Big win for our guys on the road. It wasn't a clean game by any stretch, but they remained poised when Missouri made some runs at them in the game. With four of their next five games vs teams currently in the AP poll, that was as close to a must-win in January as it gets.

This trip to Knoxville is going to be an extreme challenge. I watch my fair share of college basketball, and Tennessee is truly one of the best teams in the country. And it's not just because they're balanced on both ends of the floor (top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency at KenPom), it's because they are mature, well-coached, and have a chemistry that is rare in today's college basketball. There's a leadership on the floor that's palpable, every player seems to accept his role on the floor, the coaches don't seem to have to get after guys on this team often. I know Tennessee is a rival, but I really have to respect how this Vols team plays. As long as they remain healthy, they have as much chance to win the national title as any team.

Not surprisingly, they do a lot of things well. They are top 50 at KenPom in effective field goal pct (7), turnover pct (36), offensive rebound pct (39), free throw rate (41). You name it, they do it good to great on the offensive end. When Alabama has struggled on defense, the root of the problem has been limiting points in the paint so the fact that Tennessee is 5th in the country in 2pt pct (58.2) isn't comforting. They're also a good 3-point shooting team (36.9), they shoot free throws well (76.7%). Defensively, they are top 20 at KenPom in limiting their opponents effective field goal pct. They are top 15 in block pct so they don't give up a lot of easy baskets. I can't say it enough times: Alabama has played some good teams this season, but Tennessee is a great team. Add in a Saturday road environment, and our guys are going to have to play their absolute best (or hope for Tennessee's absolute worst) to have a chance in this one.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

SEC Win Number Two is over Mizzou, Alabama 70 Tigers 60

Alabama bounced back nicely from the buzzer beater loss at home to Texas A&M with a 10 point road win over Mizzou to get back to .500 in conference play. 

Dan Giddens did not make the trip due to "family reasons."  I hope all is well with Dan and his family, but I have heard rumors that a mid-season transfer may be imminent. 

Both teams played fairly even for the first 10 minutes or so of the game, but Alex Reese came off the bench and gave us a spark.  We took advantage of a 6 minute Mizzou scoring drought to build a nice lead that we were able to maintain for the rest of the game.  I thought the team did a great job of keeping their composure on the road.  Every time Mizzou made a run we had an answer, and they never got it back to within real striking distance. 

Donta was a beast again.  He had another double-double with 12 points, 11 rebounds, and a couple of blocked shots.  He's really playing well right now, and has diversified his game.  It's not all dunks on offensive rebounds anymore. 

AJ came off the bench and was the leading scorer with 14 points!  I've been critical of his playing time, and I still think he dribbles too much, but on this night a lot of the crazy shots he was putting up were going in.  He's seemingly perfected the off-balance, high off the glass bank shot in traffic.  In all seriousness, he had a great game and was a huge part of why we were able to comfortably win.

Kira was off by his standards but still finished with 9 points and had one of the biggest 3s of the game to push the 6 point lead back to 9 down the stretch.  Dazon also had 9 and more importantly did not turn the ball over, though he was a bit sloppy with it at times.  The team only had 10 turnovers and remarkably made 12 of 15 from the free throw line.  More of that, please. 

Overall it was a solid, badly needed road win with great contributions all the way around. 

Up next, we continue our road trip by visiting the number one ranked team in the country Saturday.  Tip-off against the Tennessee Vols is set for 2 pm EST in Knoxville.  The game is a hard sell out and will be broadcast on ESPN2.  I may be nuts, but I think we actually match up with them reasonably well and have a chance to keep it close, and possibly even pull off the upset.  I am making the trip and will post a first hand account when I return. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Sleeping with the enemy-Mizzou

Our friend Josh Matejka from Rock M Nation kindly provided us with some insight into tonight's opponent below.  If you visit Rock M Nation, please abide by their site's rules and be a good representative of our University.  

It's been a turbulent year for Mizzou hoops, and much of it stems from a player who's not even on the floor. 

Jontay Porter - by all accounts, a first round NBA draft pick - returned to school for his sophomore year, but went down with an ACL tear during one of the Tigers' preseason exhibitions. It's the second time in two years Mizzou has lost its best player before the season can get started, and Jontay's loss might have been more impactful than his brother, Michael Porter, Jr.'s. Jontay checked a lot of boxes for Cuonzo Martin's team - he was the most consistent scorer, rebounder and passer from last year's team - so his loss left a lot of holes to fill.

The team has been about as good as Mizzou fans had expected, though. Jordan Geist has stepped up and become a solid SEC-caliber point guard. Mark Smith - a transfer from Illinois - has shot the lights out as a sophomore. Freshmen Javon Pickett, Torrence Watson and Xavier Pinson have all had their strong moments, especially Pickett, who has started all season.

It's been a tough start to SEC play though, mostly due to turnover and foul troubles. Missouri is a young team - their experience ranks 283rd in the country by KenPom - and is prone to long scoring droughts and unforced errors, leading to easy buckets for capable teams. It hasn't helped that the team's most talented player, center Jeremiah Tilmon, has his struggles with fouling. When he's on the floor, he's a terror - as evidenced by his streak of double-doubles in the non-conference slate - but that has been a lot to ask of him in the past 3 games.

The Alabama game represents the most appealing match up for Missouri in the early conference schedule. The Tide does a lot of its damage on the boards, but Missouri has the size to potentially even things out. And while Alabama does get to the free throw line a lot, which is not a good omen for Missouri, they don't force a lot of turnovers or guard the three-point line particularly well. If Missouri can do anything, it's shoot the long ball (15th in the country by KP), and that keeps them in a lot of games in which they are otherwise outmatched.

Ultimately, I wouldn't be shocked to see this game go either way. Alabama is the better overall team at this point, but Missouri has some good wins at home and will be motivated to prevent a three-game losing streak. I would probably predict a Missouri win, but it's closer to a coin flip than a sure thing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Game Preview: at Missouri

It's must-win Wednesday for these two teams. Missouri (9-5; KenPom: 93; NET: 85) returns home with an 0-2 start to conference play, while Alabama (10-5) squandered an 11-point halftime lead in their loss to Texas A&M, dropping to 1-2 in conference play. Game time is 8 P.M. CT. SEC Network will televise the game.

My Two Cents: Even though I felt confident that Alabama would win when I posted my previous game preview, by Saturday morning I was texting a buddy of mine that I had a bad feeling about the game. The reason being that the only consistent thing we've seen from this program in the better part of the last 25 years is inconsistency. I've lost count of how many times over the years, now decades, that I've felt the team was moving in the right direction, only to watch them lay an egg that halted the momentum they had built. That was, once again, the case on Saturday.

Not that it lays waste to the season, but it is a gut punch to the fanbase to see two almost similar losses take place (Georgia State and Texas A&M) in Coleman within the same season. Even more difficult was the Saturday loss because a great crowd turned out to cheer on the team. I know I sound like a broken record, but you don't have to win every game to move a program forward, but you do have to take advantage when the momentum and fan interest is in your corner. You can't play great to beat Kentucky, only to drop two straight after that and expect to build any momentum within the fanbase. 

And so here Alabama is again, in a similar position to where they were at following the Georgia State game. The team did respond to that loss with a five-game winning streak. It's probably too much to expect that kind of success with the schedule that Alabama has on tap, but they do need to get over the loss on Saturday quickly because how Alabama handles the next six games, which is the toughest stretch of the season in my opinion, will likely go a long way in determining their season.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Agonizing loss to Aggies, Texas A&M 81 Alabama 80

Alabama falls to 10-5 on the season and 1-2 in league play after blowing another sizable home lead to one of the worst teams in the conference. 

The starting lineup played well.  We generally took care of the basketball in this game, we only had 8 turnovers and that's been an issue in some recent losses.  Unfortunately, our defense was only able to force 3 turnovers. 

We jumped out to an early lead and had a 43-32 edge at halftime thanks to some nice ball movement and great outside shooting.  Unfortunately, we also accumulated a lot of fouls and that would prove to be an issue later on. 

Texas A&M made an adjustment at halftime to focus on pounding the ball into the post, and we had no answer.  The hot shooting cooled off, and the Aggies methodically chipped away at the lead.  Herbert picked up his 4th foul early in the second half and was limited to just 11 minutes of playing time in the game.  This really limited our ability to keep them out of the paint on defense. 

The Aggies took their first lead with around 7 minutes left and it was back and forth the rest of the way.  We missed too many free throws down the stretch, and frankly, made too many boneheaded coaching decisions to close the game out. 

With a one point lead and the ball with just over 30 seconds remaining, we used our last timeout.  I get the idea of wanting to set your defense and get the best free throw shooters in the game, but, it also allows aTm to set up a couple of last second plays, and more importantly, as I told the people sitting around me at the time, "now we have to in-bound the ball without a timeout."  Sure enough, Dazon held it and got a 5 second call.  You absolutely cannot take a 5 second call in that situation.  If nothing else, lob it in the direction of the basket and hope Donta can go up and get it, it's a 50/50 ball at worst.  I can't fathom that was not discussed during the timeout.

As irritating as that was, it's not what ultimately cost us the game.  We got one of our three turnovers on the ensuing possession.  The bigger issue, to me, is the lack of adjustments on defense in the second half.  Against one of the most turnover prone teams in the country, we didn't run a single full-court press.  Against LSU, we got back into the game running an effective 2-3 zone defense.  Saturday, we stubbornly stayed in a man to man defense against a team that was killing us in the paint while shooting about 15 % from behind the arc.  If we switch to a zone when Herb picks up his 4th foul, I think we win the game by double-digits, but we'll never know.

JP was our leading scorer with 22 points.  I don't think we did enough to get him shots down the stretch.  Donta had a nice offensive game with 14 points and 16 rebounds, but he was getting pushed around on defense.  We put Dan in for 6 minutes in the second half, but he did not fair much better.  I wonder if Galin would have been a better option?  We would give up some height, but he's a bigger body to push around. Kira and T-Mack were also in double digits with 14 and 10 each. 

The crowd was great and the student section was packed.  There was close 13,000 in attendance and there were very few Aggie fans.  It was loud throughout most of the game.  I thought the effort from the players was good.  The guys played hard, the fans did their part, but the coaching staff failed miserably.

Up next, we travel to Mizzou for an 8pm tipoff Wednesday night.  The game will be televised on the SEC Network. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Game Preview: Texas A&M

Alabama (10-4, 1-1), fresh off their first conference road trip, will return home for a Saturday contest vs the Texas A&M Aggies (KenPom: 94; NET: 102). The Aggies enter the game with a 6-7 (0-2) record. Game time is 2:30 P.M. CT. SEC Network will televise the game.

My Two Cents: Alabama did not play well enough over the course of forty minutes to escape Baton Rouge with a win, but I was encouraged by the team's effort to get back into the game after falling behind by as many as 19 points. LSU is a very talented team, and I suspect Alabama won't be the last team to struggle at the PMAC this season. That said, Alabama needs to bounce back at home this weekend. A&M is going through a rebuilding season, and if Alabama is going to put itself back into position to make the NCAA Tournament, these are the types of games they need to win.

And yet, what fun is a preview without some drama? Consider this: Alabama has had a frustrating tendency in recent years to struggle at home in league play. Let's break it down by seasons under Avery. Year 1 (15-16), Alabama finished league play with a 8-10 record; their home record that season was 5-4. Year 2 (16-17), Alabama finished league play with a 10-8 record; their home record was once again 5-4. Last season, Alabama finished league play with a 8-10 record; their home record was a bit better, finishing with a 6-3 record (though I'll note that they did lose their final two home games in league play). And this isn't me being overly critical; Avery has said that the team needs to be stronger on its home floor.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Tigers Tackle Tide, LSU 88 Alabama 79

First of all, thanks again to MSmilie for doing an excellent job re-capping the big win over Kentucky in my absence.  I watched that game on a plane, and my language during the final minute may have traumatized any small children who happened to be on the same flight, but on to the business at hand...

The five game winning streak came to an end in Baton Rouge last night as Alabama fell to 1-1 in league play.  The game started slow, but LSU was able to pick up the pace and make an absurd 8 of 10 from  3 point range in the first half, including two that banked in off of the glass.  We still could have kept it within shouting distance, but a couple of bad turnovers in the final minute of the half allowed LSU to stretch the lead to 15 going into the locker room. 

Once again the substitution patterns were questionable at times.  We played 11 guys in this game, and AJ got 8 minutes and had two costly turnovers, including one at the end of the first half.  Dan Giddens returned after sitting on the bench for a month and actually showed a decent little jumper to score 6 points in 10 minutes.  Unfortunately, he gave up at least that many defensively, as he was often out of position and picked up 3 quick fouls. 

After falling behind by 19, the team showed great effort and did not quit.  The coaching staff made a great adjustment by switching to a 2-3 zone defense in the second half after the Tigers finally cooled down from 3-point range.  We cut the lead to 4 but just couldn't quite make the plays to get over the hump.  A couple of key plays that stand out in my mind, we nearly had a steal from Tremont Waters at midcourt, but he made a great one-handed pass from the floor for an assist on the dunk.  Next, trailing by 6 with 1:08 remaining, LSU missed two free throws, but JP failed to block out the shooter and they got the offensive rebound and stretched the lead back to 8.

There were a lot of positives to take from this game, but we just had too many turnovers and mistakes to beat a good team on the road.  Kira ended with 15 points despite only going 3 of 11 from the field.  The offense just seems to run much more smoothly when he's in the game, and he should be getting closer to 35 or 36 minutes per game, than the 31 he got, in my opinion.  Herb had another good game and even ran the point at times.  He ended up with 10 points, 5 assists, and only one turnover.  This wasn't a great matchup for Donta and his streak of double-doubles came to an end with 7 points and 6 rebounds in 25 minutes of play.  Riley contributed with 8 points, 3 rebounds, and some solid defense before fouling out.  JP made a couple of 3s, scoring 9 points to go along with 8 rebounds. 

We've got to get better defensively, in addition to the flukish 3s they were killing us in the post.  Waters is one of the best players in the league, so it's no surprise he put up 19 on us, but Bigby-Williams should not get 14 points and 13 rebounds against our bigs.

I'm normally not one to complain about the announcers, but Andy Kennedy and David Neal are terrible.  I think Andy is a solid basketball coach, and would do a great job at a mid-major.  I would love to see UAB can Ehsan and hire him, but his personality just doesn't translate to the broadcast, and it seems like they don't have any chemistry together. 

Up next, we return home to face the Texas A&M Aggies Saturday at 12:30pm.  The Aggies are currently a quad 3 team, and we must protect our home court if we want to make the tournament.  Hopefully the fans will come out and support this team on the heels of the big win over big blue.  If you can't make it to Tuscaloosa, the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Game Preview: at LSU

Good lord, that football game sucked, right? Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, the Alabama basketball team is playing a game tonight when they head to Baton Rouge for a date with the LSU Tigers (KenPom: 42; NET: 26). This will be the conference opener for LSU; the Tigers enter this game with a 10-3 record. Game time is the always popular 8 P.M. CT. SEC Network will televise the game. I'm sure the LSU fans and students will not have anything to say about the football game.

My Two Cents: Alabama's win over Kentucky on Saturday was big for a number of reasons, but the biggest reason may be that it took some pressure off our guys coming into this game. Lose on Saturday and a possible 0-2 start in conference was staring them straight in the face. Now they're playing with house money on Tuesday night. This will be another quad one opportunity for Alabama.

On paper, LSU is one of the more intriguing teams in the league. Will Wade returned two impact players in Tremont Waters and Skylar Mays, and enrolled a top three recruiting class. They are a very young team, but very talented and capable of beating any team in the league on any given night. The Tigers are a borderline elite offensive team, currently ranked 29th in offensive efficiency at KenPom. As you would expect with a young team, the Tigers have been more hot and cold on the defensive end, currently ranked 84th in defensive efficiency.

The two areas to keep an eye on in this game will be turnovers and, once again, rebounding. Both LSU and Alabama turn the ball over at an above average (19.1%) clip (19.9% for LSU; 19.7 for Alabama). Unlike Alabama though, LSU is much better at forcing its opponents into turning the ball over (22.4%). Both teams thrive on getting out in transition for easy scoring opportunities. In a game that likely will be high tempo already, I think it's safe to say the team that protects the ball better, thus keeping the transition opportunities for the opponent to a minimum, will be the likely winner.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Bama Edges Kentucky, 77-75

If the lack of cleverness in the title of this post didn't give it away, DJC is in California for the football game and asked for someone else to handle the recap duties for this game. Alabama kicked off the conference season with arguably one of the bigger wins of Avery Johnson's tenure, a 77-75 victory over the 13th ranked Wildcats.

Both teams came out hot, scoring 31 combined points by the first media timeout. Kentucky got most of their points in the paint with Reid Travis, while Alabama was hot from the three point line, courtesy of Tevin Mack, who had his best game in an Alabama uniform scoring 22 points on 8-12 shooting (6-8 from 3). He scored 20 of Alabama's 38 first half points, which kept the game close as Kentucky scored 40 first half points.

It was high level offensive basketball for both teams in the first half, but it was Alabama's defense in the second half that allowed them to build some separation in the game. After shooting 50% from the field in the first half, Kentucky only made 37% of their shots in the second half. Alabama also won the rebounding battle (40-32), limiting the Wildcats to only six offensive rebounds. Kentucky entered the game as one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country with a 40% rate, but finished this game with only a 15% rate. That stat was arguably the biggest of the game for Alabama.

Alabama appeared to have the game well in hand when John Petty made a layup with 1:01 left in the game, making it an 8 point game. Unfortunately, our guys, particularly Dazon Ingram, (who had a very good game if not for his five turnovers) got loose with the basketball in the final minute. Dazon had two crucial turnovers in the final minute which led to five Kentucky points, while Kira Lewis also had a turnover against the Kentucky press that led to another basket. The result was a one-possession game with thirty seconds remaining. Fortunately, Alabama did make 3-4 from the free throw line in the final minute, but the sloppy ball-handling leading to Kentucky points meant the Cats still had a chance to win, down only two, with four seconds left. Tyler Herro had a great look at the basket, but fortunately his shot didn't fall. In total, Alabama had 17 turnovers in the game, but still found a way to hang on late for the win.

In addition to T-Mack's performance, I thought Herb Jones had his best game of the season with a 10 pt, 8 reb, 6 asst and 0 turnover performance. He also knocked down both of his free throw attempts. Donta Hall had his sixth double-double of the season, and his third straight. There's a long way to go, but Donta is having an All-Conference type of season. Kira Lewis didn't have his best game, but he was aggressive throughout, ending with a solid stat line of 12 pts and 3 assts (along with 4 turnovers). JP and Alex Reese also had their moments on Saturday. And as I mentioned, Dazon had a very good game if you take away the turnovers.

In sum: what this game showed is that Alabama has the talent to play with most, if not all teams, on any given day. The team is deep, they're an improved team on the offensive end, they've been a much better team on the glass than I thought they would, and the chemistry of the team seems to be improving week to week. If they can continue to improve on the defensive end, they've got a chance to finish much higher in league play than I think many of us thought coming into the season.

I've got to give the fans a lot of props. I wasn't sure what to expect from the turnout with the football game on Monday and the students still out on break, but not only did fans turn out in force, they were loud and into the game from start to finish. It was the kind of environment that will hopefully become commonplace if the program can attain more consistency. 

Next up is the first road game in conference at LSU. Three of the next four will be on the road for Alabama so this win today along with this upcoming stretch will be crucial. More about LSU in my forthcoming game preview. Toodles.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Predicting the SEC Standings

With the pre-conference portion of the schedule complete and the SEC slate ready to tip-off with the New Year, I thought now would be a good time to post some predictions on how we think the conference standings will play out.

1. Tennessee- Their only loss was in a close game to Kansas.  They've played a brutal schedule and beat Gonzaga.  Rick Barnes has the team to beat in the league this year. 

2. Kentucky- Perpetually young and super talented, they will drop a couple on the road early in conference play and ultimately finish a game or two behind the Vols.  They seem to be getting it together after their loss with impressive wins over Louisville and UNC in their last 2 games. 

3. auburn- As much as it pains me to say it, they are a legit top 20 team, and are capable of beating anyone in the country on a given night.  They rely a bit too much on the 3 and will have a few off nights that will get them beat.  We've already seen this when a bad UAB team took them to overtime and they lost to NC State on the road. 

4. Mississippi $tate- At 12-1 with a handful of quality if not great wins, it seems Howland is finally getting some production out of all the talent he's recruited there.  It's going to be painful watching ut, au, and m$u all get double-byes in the SEC tournament, but unfortunately that's how I see it shaking out.

5. LSU- 10-3 against a solid schedule, Will Wade's team has been ranked in the top 25 for much of the season, and they have a couple of wins over ranked teams already.  The days of Johnny Jones wasting talent down there appear to be long gone.

Note:  I think there's a big gap here and the next 5 are more or less interchangeable.

6. Florida- 8-4 against a tough schedule.  They have two wins over Butler but were blown out by rival Florida State.  If they continue to develop, they could challenge the top tier teams for one of the top 4 spots.

7. Ole Miss- They are 10-2 following the pre-season Canada trip that we did last season.  It's hard to get a read on them because they haven't really played anybody, but their two losses were at Butler and Cincinnati, two decent teams, and they've won most of their other games in convincing fashion. 

8. Alabama- Depending on where the wins come, this likely puts us squarely on the bubble.  Same as it ever was.

9. Mizzou- Once again dealing with an early injury to their best player, they've won 6 in a row to get to 9-3 including decent wins over UCF, Xavier, and Illinois.

10. Arkansas- 9-3 against a weak schedule.  I expect them to be tough at home as usual, but a young team that will struggle a bit away from Bud Walton.

11. Texas A&M- 6-5 against a pretty tough schedule, but they were blown out by Texas Southern. 

12. Vandy- They are 9-3 against a weak schedule, but they do have a nice win over Arizona State.  I should probably have them higher than this because they will win some games they shouldn't in that goofy gym of theirs.

13. Georgia- 8-4 but against a weak schedule.  They were blown out by Georgia State.  I watched them scrimmage against UAB and was not impressed.  I expect it to be a difficult year for Tom Crean. 

14.  South Carolina- They played Michigan relatively close, but were blown out by Wofford and currently sit at 5-7.  It's a rebuilding year for Martin's squad.

Game Preview: Kentucky

Happy New Year! I hope everyone has had a safe and peaceful holiday season. Alas, it is time to look ahead to a new calendar year with that mix of optimism and dread that have become old companions to the Alabama basketball fanbase. Conference play begins this Saturday in style when the 13th ranked Kentucky Wildcats (KenPom: 13; NET: 12) pay a visit to Coleman Coliseum. The Wildcats are 10-2. Game time is Noon. ESPN will televise the game.

My Two Cents: This is a huge opportunity for Alabama. Not only would a win mean a 1-0 start in conference play over a ranked team, but it will also provide an opportunity for a quad one win. Alabama is currently 1-1 in quad one games (at UCF, vs Liberty) because Liberty has been in and out of the NET top 50 (neutral site wins over a team ranked 1-50 in the NET count as quad one). That likely won't stick so Alabama needs to take advantage in games like this as they present themselves in conference play. Another reason this game is huge: three out of the next five games for Bama are on the road. Taking care of business at home gives them a little wriggle room in those road games.

Avery has no control over how the league schedules the games, but I'm guessing he's frustrated that this particular game is happening the Saturday before the Alabama football team plays in the national championship game and while the students are still on break. Between the fans traveling to California for the football game, and the lack of students on campus, the hope is that there will be enough Alabama fans in attendance to create a home court environment. For those of you that will be in Coleman on Saturday, get loud and stay loud. Top 2019 prospect Trendon Watford will be in Tuscaloosa this weekend for his official visit so show him some love.