Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Game Preview: Texas A&M

The win vs LSU this past Saturday was a big one for Alabama (14-11, 6-6; KenPom: 46; NET: 35), which included one of the best individual performances from a college basketball player that I've ever seen. Unfortunately, that game Saturday was just one of several important games for the team as the regular season enters its final three weeks. Let's be real: they're all important at this point. Next up: the Texas A&M Aggies (12-12, 6-6; KenPom: 170; NET: 132) come to town on Wednesday night. Game time is 6:00 P.M. CT, and will be televised on the SEC Network.

My Two Cents: Herb's performance on Saturday was so inspiring (for a lack of a better word) that it overshadowed great games by a number of other players such as Kira, Galin and Shack. If Alabama reaches the NCAA Tournament, Herb's one-handed free throws late in the game will join Collin Sexton's buzzer beater in the SEC Tournament and Trevor Releford's half-court buzzer beater vs Georgia as notable moments of the program in the last decade. Even if the team doesn't make the tournament, I won't ever forget the toughness, mentally and physically, that Herb showed in that game. It leads me to believe that if Herb had been healthier this season the team would be well on the right side of the bubble right now.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Tide Tames Tigers, Alabama 88 LSU 82

Confession:  I have a bit of a man-crush on Herb Jones.  He is quickly becoming one of my favorite players, ever.  This dude is out there two weeks after surgery for a broken wrist, on one arm, helping his teammates and having a huge impact in big games.  He doesn't have to be playing, and probably shouldn't be playing if we're being honest, but he WANTS to play, and it's obviously inspiring his teammates as well.  You might even say it was a "strong-ass" performance.  (Okay, I promise I'm done making fun of L$U's shenanigans, unless we play them again in the tournament of course).

Alabama held on for an exciting 88-82 win over a top 25 ranked LSU team to improve to 14-11 (6-6).  The win improves our NET ranking to 35 and revives our NCAA tournament hopes.   We are now the highest ranked NET team NOT being mentioned in the prominent bracket projections.  All we need is more wins, and we should be favored in most of the games remaining on our schedule.

LSU controlled the tempo early and the game got off to a slow start.  The teams were even through most of the first half.  We've struggled to finish the first half and start the second at times this year, but it was actually a strength in this game.  We made some 3s down the stretch to take an 11 point lead into the locker room, and then picked up right where we left off in the second half.

Galin provided us with a spark early in the second half as LSU struggled to defend the pick and roll and gave up some easy dunks.  LSU was not very good defensively in general.  We made 4 or 5 threes from the corner because they left it wide open helping on the drive from the opposite side baseline. 

I was also surprised by their decision to get back on defense rather than crash the boards on offense for most of the second half, after dominating us on the boards in Baton Rouge.  They seemed more concerned with limiting our pace than playing to their strength on the glass.

We built a 15 point lead and more or less answered their runs until Kira headed to the bench with his 4th foul with about 7 minutes remaining.  I thought we should have slowed things down at that point and tried to limit the number of possessions until we could get him back in at the under 4 timeout.  Meanwhile LSU started to press and crash the offensive boards, and we had some bad turnovers to allow them to make a run. 

It was a two possession game by the time Kira returned, and LSU had all of the momentum.  It felt like if we ever relinquished the lead, it would be bad news.  LSU's success in close games, and our lack thereof, to this point in the season is well documented.  Shack made a huge 3 to stretch a 1 point lead back to 4 in the final minutes.  And, of course, there was Herb Jones, shooting free throws using only his right hand and somehow making them both to maintain a two possession lead.  He's apparently even been practicing that, and it paid off.  If you've ever tried to shoot with your off hand just fooling around, you understand how amazing that feat was, particularly under those pressure circumstances.  As I told my gf at the game, if I try to shoot a free throw using only my left hand, it's probably not getting within 5 feet of the rim. 

Herb started and played 29 minutes, scored 6 points, had 2 blocks, a steal, and 17(!!!) rebounds against one of the best rebounding teams in the SEC.  Again, literally with one arm, and not even his good arm.  It was one of the most impressive performances I've ever seen, not just watching Alabama basketball, but in my entire life of watching sports.  It's not Michael Jordan playing with the flu in the NBA finals, but it's pretty close.

Kira had 27 points, 4 assists, and only one turnover for the second game in a row.  As noted above, I think his fourth foul was the main reason LSU was able to get back into the game.  He seemed to always come up with a big basket or assist when the Tigers would try to make a run.  As a team we only had 9 turnovers, though Beetle had 3 late in the game, and JP had a bad one in the back court that really hurt us down the stretch.  

Shack scored 26 and went 5 of 13 from 3-point range.  He's shooting with confidence, and I'd like to see him get more chances in high pressure situations.  He came through big time when given the opportunity in this game.  I also want to give some props to Galin Smith.  The perception from most was that Davis has passed him at the 5 spot, but Galin scored 10 points in 17 mnutes, was great in the pick and roll, and somehow made 6 out of 7 free throws.  He also added 6 rebounds.  

We were only out-rebounded 44-42, which given their size advantage we can live with that.  A lot of that was due to Herb's 17, and some of it was due to them opting not to crash the offensive boards for a significant portion of the game.  

As most of you know, Wendell Hudson's jersey was retired at halftime.  He is the first and only Alabama athlete, in any sport, to have his number retired, and this was long overdue in my opinion.  I've had the honor of briefly meeting Wendell on a couple of occasions, and you won't find a more classy and likable person. His love for the game and for our University is evident.  I was happy to see a great, near sell-out crowd on hand to show their appreciation.  It included several former players, including Mikhail Torrance, Donta Hall, and Lawson Schaeffer who were also recognized during the game.  Also, Coach Nick Saban and Miss Terry were present and sitting behind the basket to honor Wendell.  It was good to see them there, but also notable that they were not part of the official ceremonies, they clearly didn't want to do anything to take the spotlight away from Wendell and the basketball game.  Miss Terry was very much into the game, cheering on the team throughout and seemed to be having a good time.  Perhaps she will drag Coach out to some more basketball games in the future?  The whole crowd was in it from start to finish, the student section was awesome with several clever (but not crossing the line) chants directed toward Trendon "traitor" Watford and Will "Paid" Wade and the rest of his over-compensated roster.  It was one of the most fun games I've been to at Coleman in the last decade.

Up next, Buzz Williams brings his Texas A&M Aggies into Tuscaloosa for a 6pm tipoff Wednesday night.  This is a huge game,and a place where we've struggled in recent years, coming off a huge wins that bolsters our NCAA hopes.  There won't be the excitement of a top 25 team, Wendell's jersey retirement, and unfortunately probably not the level of crowd support due to the start time.  This team still has a lot of holes, and we'll need to bring our A-game to beat a very well coached team.  It's on SEC Network if you can't get to Coleman.  Roll Tide!


Friday, February 14, 2020

Game Preview: LSU

Alabama (13-11, 5-6; KenPom: 48; NET: 39) has battled valiantly this season, but are running out of chances for quality wins for their postseason resume. Another opportunity presents itself on Saturday when the LSU Tigers (18-6, 9-2; KenPom: 34; NET: 28; AP: 25) come to town for the second meeting of the season. LSU won the first game 90-76. Game time is 3:00 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN2. As of Thursday, the university announced that there were less than 1,000 tickets remaining for the game. If not a sellout, it's going to be close to it for the biggest game of the year so far.

My Two Cents: I hate to say that any game is must-win, but this game feels like that. Alabama is 1-6 so far this season in quad one games. LSU will be a quad one opponent. In quad one/two games, our guys are just 5-10. Strong metric numbers and a strong schedule have kept Alabama in the bubble picture, but, having lost four of their last five, they have to start winning some games.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Barners Barely Beat Bama, auburn 95 Alabama 91 (OT)

The short-handed Tide gave it a great effort, but dropped to 13-11 (5-6) with an overtime loss on the road at auburn.  There are no moral victories, but there are a lot of positives to take from this game.

We didn't score in the first four minutes of the game while auburn jumped out to a 16-0 lead.  We probably should have called a timeout when it got to 8-0 or 10-0, but the team responded with a 7-0 run after the first media timeout to get back into the game and quiet the crowd.  I thought our guys showed a lot of poise in a very difficult environment all night.  Every time it looked like auburn might run away with the game, we would knock down a few 3s and claw back into it. 

We shot an SEC record 59 threes, and made a respectable 22 of them.  The barn's interior defense was very good, but I'm surprised Pearl stayed in the zone as much as he did allowing us wide open looks from the perimeter.  We even ran some ourselves this game, which I thought was the right call, but we just couldn't protect the rim or do anything with Austin Wiley in the paint defensively.

We only trailed by 3 at the half, but auburn stretched the lead back to 11 about midway through the second half.  Once again, our guys battled back, and auburn missed some late free throws allowing JP to make a 3 to tie the game with 14 seconds left.  Herb came up with a big defensive stop to force the game into overtime, but our guys were out of gas by that point, and after missing the first 4 threes in OT, auburn had an 8 point lead that was too much to overcome. 

Defensively we struggled to keep them out of the paint.  They killed us on the dribble drive, getting to the free throw line, and with Wiley in the post, where he also dominated the glass.  We were out-rebounded 60-44, Wiley had 18 points and 17 rebounds. 

Herb showed a lot of heart in coming back early from wrist surgery despite still having a cast on his arm.  Obviously he was very limited offensively, but he gave us 7 minutes of great defense, including 3 rebounds and an awesome blocked shot.  Shack had a great game with 28 points and 8 rebounds.  JP had 20, including 6 of 11 from 3-point range.  Kira had the team's first triple-double since 1996(!) going for 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists with only one turnover!  We only had 8 turnovers as a team, despite auburn pressing a good bit of the game.  Beetle had 11 points and 6 rebounds, and played solid defense, but he's still making some bad decisions by dribbling into traffic.  Jaylen stepped up big time with 11 points in 15 minutes.  He's developing nicely with the increased playing time in Herb's absence and seems to be playing with more confidence.  Alex had a rough night, only scoring 9 points in 30 minutes and shooting 2 for 10 from 3-point range.  I think unsuccessfully trying to defend Wiley took a lot out of him.

Up next, we're still dealing with SEC leading Tigers as LSU will bring a strong ass team to Tuscaloosa Saturday for a 3 pm tip-off.  If we can somehow get a win, we will be very much back into the NCAA tournament discussion, so let's pack the house and give this team the support they deserve!  If you can't make it Coleman, the game will be televised on ESPN2.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Game Preview: at Auburn

With their three-game losing streak in the rearview mirror, Alabama (13-10, 5-5; KenPom: 49; NET: 42) will remain on the road when they travel to mojo land to face the Auburn Tigers (21-2, 8-2; KenPom: 30; NET: 15; AP: 11) on Wednesday night. Game time is 6:00 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN2.

My Two Cents: 21-2 is 21-2, don't get me wrong. But it's worth pointing out that the computers don't love Auburn. Despite their lofty record, they're only ranked 30th at KenPom and their composite ranking when taking all of the metric sites into consideration is just 15. It should be pointed out here that Auburn does have the highest composite ranking of any team in the league, but it's rare for a power conference team with Auburn's record to be ranked outside the top 10. To their credit, Auburn has found ways to win games this season. In recent weeks, they've overcome double digit second half deficits in games at Ole Miss, Arkansas and at home this past weekend vs LSU. All three of those games went into overtime. For the season, Auburn is 4-0 in overtime games. In games decided by 1-2 possessions, the Tigers are 5-0. In the least surprising news where it concerns an Auburn athletic team, this Tigers team is ranked 1st in the country in KenPom's "Luck" metric......because of course they are. Alabama is ranked 326 in the country in that same metric.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Bama's Bleeding Stops with Bulldogs, Alabama 105 Georgia 102 OT

Alabama snapped a 3 game losing streak by going on the road and beating Georgia in overtime, 105-102. Bama improves to 13-10 overall, 5-5 in the SEC.

I missed the first few minutes of the game, because the first bar we went to only had 3 TVs and there was one group watching a race, another group watching a soccer game, and another group watching the XFL game.  Unfortunately, that's where Bama basketball ranks in the sports world around here these days.

The first half was back and forth, with neither team playing any defense.  We weren't shooting particularly well, but the dribble-drive was working.  We led 45-41 at the half.  Another slow start to the second half allowed the Bulldogs to build a 12 point lead, but our guys kept fighting and responded in a big way.  We made a few 3s in a nice run to re-take the lead just 4 minutes later.  We should have won in regulation, but once again failed to finish the game strong.  Kira and JP missed several free throws down the stretch that gave UGA the opportunity to force overtime.  The same thing happened after we had a lead late in the overtime period, but thankfully UGA missed a 3 at the buzzer that would have forced a second overtime.

It helped that Anthony Edwards was not 100%.  We played pretty good defense on him, but he still ended up with a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.  Wheeler killed us going left with 24 points, and I wish we would have tried to force him to go right at some point.  With the exception of Beetle and to some extent JP, our defense was poor.  Their guards were getting to the rim at will, but thankfully we were able to to do the same.

Kira had a great game with 37 points, 7 assists, and perhaps most importantly only 3 turnovers.  We only had 14 turnovers, which is still too high but at least manageable.  JP had 21 points and 7 rebounds and I thought played a solid game overall.  Davis had 13 points and 8 rebounds.  Getting those kinds of numbers from him in the 5 spot is huge.  Beetle had 11 points and 6 rebounds and was one of the few playing good on ball defense.  I thought he made a little bit better decisions with the basketball, not over-dribbling quite as much as he has in recent games.  Shack was also in double figures with 10 points. 

Thanks to the Atlanta United FC being in town (and shout out to my Legion for giving them a hell of a game before falling 3-2), there were as many UGA fans as Bama fans where we ended up watching it.  They seem to be losing patience with Crean, and I can't say that I blame them.

Up next, a trip to the cattle college on the other side of the state.  Tip-off is set for 6pm Wednesday night on ESPN2.  My advice is to drink heavily, as it will probably not be pretty.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Game Preview: at Georgia

Well, it's February. The month of broken dreams if you're a Crimson Tide fan. Tuscaloosa News columnist Cecil Hurt pointed out on Wednesday night that, since 2017, the program is 11-21 in conference regular season games in February/March. That record includes a 6-10 home record. Nate Oats wasn't the coach over that entire span, but an 0-2 start to the month - both losses at home - doesn't fill one with confidence that the February blues are going away any time soon. But Saturday brings a new opportunity, this time on the road, when Alabama (12-10, 4-5; KenPom: 49; NET: 44) travels to Athens for a date with the Georgia Bulldogs (12-10, 2-7; KenPom: 95; NET: 90). Game time is 5:00 P.M. CT, and will be televised on the SEC Network.

My Two Cents: Both of these teams have been guilty of losing games in which they have led by double digits. Both teams led the Florida Gators by 21 in the second half in Gainesville, but lost. Georgia also led by 20 at Missouri, and lost. We all know the struggles that Alabama has had holding onto to big leads. There has been no shortage of jokes about the team that falls behind early by double digits in this game will be the likely winner.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Tennessee Tackles Tide, Vols 69 Bama 68

Alabama blew another big lead at home to Tennessee to drop to 12-10 (4-5).

Things started sluggish for both teams, until we made a barrage of 3s to go on a 16-2 run which helped build a 15 point lead with around four minutes remaining in the first half.  Another poor end of the first half and an even worse start to the second allowed Tennessee to go on a 18-2 run, and soon the lead was gone. 

Monday, February 03, 2020

Game Preview: Tennessee

If one were to meet someone that believes the Alabama (12-9, 4-4; KenPom: 46; NET: 41) men's basketball program is snake-bitten, it would be difficult to argue otherwise based on the number of players that have missed game and practice time this season. With three players already on the bench due to injury or eligibility, the team was without Herb and Beetle on Saturday. The team responded with a good effort despite the limited roster, but fell short to a good Arkansas team. Now they must recover quickly because another tough game awaits on Tuesday night when the Tennessee Volunteers (12-9, 4-4; KenPom: 65; NET: 70) come to town. Game time is 6:00 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPNU. Coach Oats anticipates Herb being out of the lineup for three weeks, but he did mention in his postgame press conference that Beetle is "probable" for Tuesday night.

My Two Cents: Losing Herb indefinitely could not have come at a worse time for this team as they struggle to put together a postseason resume. Herb may not be the best player on the team, but he's arguably the most important. As DJC pointed out in his recap of the Arkansas game, Herb has the best plus/minus on the team. For a team that already had its fair share of issues on defense, losing arguably the best defender in the league is not ideal.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Hog Wild, Arkansas 82 Alabama 78

The short-handed Tide dropped their second home game of the year, losing to Arkansas to fall to 12-9 (4-4).

The big news of the day was that Herbert Jones had surgery on his wrist and will likely miss about three weeks.  To say that's a huge blow to this season is an understatement.  This team was already thin, and we simply don't have anybody else capable of defending and rebounding like Herb.  For all the complaints about his inability to shoot or finish on the offensive end, he's consistently had the best plus/minus rating on the team and is the most frequent winner of the coveted hard-hat award.  It's going to be very difficult to win games without him.

In addition to Herb's absence, Beetle was still out with his GI issue, and Raymond Hawkins was quarantine from the team with the flu.  So the team went to battle with only 7 players, which is not ideal for this system.

Alabama started out on fire, building an early 12-0 lead, but they just didn't play well enough defensively to maintain it.  Arkansas chipped away and took the lead in the first half, but Alabama managed to lead by 3 going into the break.  It was a back and forth game, with the Tide leading as late as 4 minutes to play, but they simply made too many turnovers and couldn't get enough stops.  Arkansas made their free throws down the stretch to put the game away.

We ended up with 17 turnovers that Arkansas converted into 27 points.  Conversely, we only scored 13 points off of the Hogs 10 turnovers.  Credit to Jones and Whitt from Arkansas who killed us on the dribble drive and ended up with 30 and 26 points respectively.  Shack played great defense on Isiah Joe, but everyone else struggled defensively.  Alex fouled out, and we had 3 other guys playing a number of minutes with 4 fouls. 

Shack had a great game with 28 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and only one turnover.  Alex had 14 points and 7 rebounds.  Kira played the whole game and ended up with 12 points, but only 3 assists to 7 turnovers.  JP was back in the starting lineup and scored 8 points with 9 rebounds, but also coughed it up 4 times.  We really need Kira and JP to step it up on both ends of the floor with Herb out, but it wasn't the best performance from either of them.  Jaylen played 18 minutes and had 9 rebounds. 

It was another good crowd of about 12,000, and the fans were loud and supportive till the end.  I thought it was a good atmosphere and the team played hard, they just didn't have the depth necessary to beat a solid team. 

Up next, a quick turnaround as the Tennessee Vols will come to Tuscaloosa for a 6pm tipoff Tuesday night.  The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.