Friday, February 28, 2014

Know Your Enemy- Auburn War Eagles

Changing it up as this is a dreadful matchup between two bad teams that means nothing in the scope of the SEC... here's a Barner article on 'if they win, the people will come.'

Auburn is 13-13... we are 11-16. Both of us are 5-10 in conference and sitting in the 11th position (only M$U and SC Lite are worse). Neither team has an inside game. Auburn is on a one game winning streak. We are on a one game losing streak. If we weren't fans no one would know we play tomorrow.

Auburn does have a road win (@ SC Lite) so they got a shot. Saying that, 4 of their 5 wins in conference have come against teams in the 11-14 range (they did beat UGA).

Season stats
- +1.8 scoring margin
- 44.8% FG and 31.2% 3pt FG
- -.6 rebound margin
- Only lost 1 SEC game by more than 12 points (@ Arkansas)

Chris Denson and KT Harrell score roughly half of the Barn's PPG. Both also pull down 4 boards a game. Keep both of them in check and we win... allow both to score their average and we in trouble. Tatum should have his way inside if Auburn wants to try. I doubt they do.

Prediction- I imagine it being close throughout with Releford saving us in the last 2 minutes as we win by 4.

Game is on ESPNU at 3PM EST (2PM CST). I'm going to miss all of it due to baseball games... that might be a blessing.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Rebels Rebound, Rip Bama, 79-67

I watched this game on ESPN3 by connecting my laptop to my television.  The picture was decent, but the transition to plasma seemed to make it a bit choppy.  For whatever reason, I couldn't get the sound to work, and my laptop speakers are pretty weak, so I just muted it and listened to Chris Stewart and Bryan Passink instead.  That proved to be a better option anyway, even with the radio broadcast being about 1.5 seconds behind.

Despite our usual offensive struggles, we lost this game on the defensive end.  We tried to play man to man early, but our defensive fundamentals were atrocious in the first half.  We did not communicate on screens, or tried to go behind screens without switching, allowing Marshall Henderson to burn us early and give the Rebels their initial lead.  I lost count of how many times they drove to the basket and we either double teamed the guy with the ball, but failed to rotate on the double leaving them any easy drop pass for a layup, or we would get beat and there would be no help side defense, or if there was help side defense, again the next man would fail to rotate.  We compounded the problem by failing to move our feet to stay in front of the Rebels ball handlers, which led to a ton of fouls in the first half, creating a whole other set of problems.

Jimmie Taylor picked up a couple of fouls right off the bat, leaving us with nobody to protect the rim, and greatly limiting our rebounding ability.  He picked up his 3rd and 4th in the first 4 minutes of the second half as well.  We had 4 guys with 2 fouls by the 9 minute mark in the first half, which resulted in Dakota Slaughter getting meaningful minutes.  With no size to speak of, Carl only played 8 minutes and picked up 2 fouls and frankly looked lost out there, we had to switch to a zone, further limiting our ability to get rebounds.  On the rare occasion we had a good defensive possession, the Rebels would get an offensive rebound and score second chance points.  Conversely, we had a 6+ minute stretch in the first half where we did not score a fg and every trip was one and done.  This allowed Ole Miss to build a 17 point lead.

The team played hard in spite of their self inflicted limitations, and actually made a couple of runs.  They cut the lead to 5 in the first half, primarily on the back of Shannon Hale, but Ole Miss immediately answered with an 8-0 run.  Levi and Relly stepped up in the 2nd half after being mostly shut out in the first, and Bama got within 6, but once again the Rebels were able to answer and stretch the lead back to double-digits almost immediately.

When Taylor picked up his 4th foul forcing us to go small in the second half, we started pressing which was very effective and got us back into the game.  Unfortunately, with the aforementioned foul trouble and the already short bench, it was not feasible to continue doing so for as long as we would have liked.

As I said above, the bright spots are Shannon Hale with a career high 27.  He was very effective in the high post against the Ole Miss zone, and was more aggressive than he has been against the man, getting to the line and converting 10 of 11 free throws.  If anyone would have gave him any help at all in the first half, this would have been a much different game.  After having an absolutely horrible first half, scoring only 2 points and going 0 for 2 from the free throw line, Relly bounced back to his old self and finished with 16 points.  He uncharacteristically only went 2 for 5 from the line and had 6 turnovers.  Levi also stepped up in the 2nd half to finish with 13 points.  Cooper only scored 6 points, but I felt like he had a solid game and helped us in other ways.

With the loss, the Tide will in all likelihood roll into the SEC tournament winless away from Coleman Coliseum.  We only have one more theoretical chance to win on the road, and that's at Kentucky next week.  Frankly, there's a better chance of monkeys flying out of my ass than this team beating UK at Rupp.

Up next, we return to sweet home Tuscaloosa where we will try to avenge an earlier 19 point loss to in-state rival auburn.  Tip-off is set for 2 pm on ESPNU.  It is a must win if we want to cling to any hope of clawing into the 10 seed and avoiding Wednesday games in the tournament.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

@ Ole Miss thread

The day job got the best of me this week... I'll try to get a preview up for the next game tomorrow.

Anyways, we are 0fer on the road. Despite the good showing on Saturday I don't feel good about this one.

Link to previous preview.

Again... let Eminem score... stop Summers... hope for Randolph/Cooper to support Releford on the scoreboard.

Updated season stats

ESPN3 is the only ticket to this one I believe at 8PM EST (7PM CST)... which is in about 10 minutes.

Ole Miss preview

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tide Tramples Top 50 Tigers, Bama 80-Mizzou 73

Welcome back Levi Randolph!  This is why I've been saying all year that he should be more aggressive and shoot the ball.  I'm not saying he's going to give us 33 points every night, but he can certainly be a 15-20 ppg guy that this team so desperately needs.

We actually scored first in this game, which was a refreshing change.  Both teams ran a lot of zone, and as expected Mizzou initially focused their defensive efforts on stopping Releford.  Levi was able to find some soft spots both through the backdoor and in transition to get a couple of dunks in the first half that seemed to build his confidence.  At halftime, Levi had 19 points and we held a 42-35 lead.  Mizzou was able to make enough jump shots over our zone to keep it close.

Levi got us started in the second half with another 3 right off the bat, and Bama stretched the lead to 11 within the first 4 minutes of the second half.  We went through a stretch where we made some poor decisions with the basketball on offense.  A couple of plays that really stick out in my mind: Algie drove in and the lane collapsed leaving a wide open Levi on the wing, and Algie threw up a desperation off balance shot, then a couple of possessions later, Retin drove to the basket and tried a drop pass to Carl in traffic, predictably resulting in a turnover.  Meanwhile, Mizzou had one guy who was able to burn our zone for 3s, but otherwise was able to attack the basket and get to the free throw line where they were 22 of 29.

I feared if we ever relinquished the lead, we would not be able to come back.  Mizzou had cut the margin to around 2 with about 4 minutes left, when Levi once again stepped up and knocked down an open 3.  This prompted the Mizzou defense to shift their focus to Randolph, double-teaming him, which left Relly open for a 3 on the next possession.  The 2 point lead quickly grew to 8, and that was pretty much the game.

While the story of this game was Levi's career high 33 points, it was a great team effort.  The defense was not great, and I thought we should have played a bit more man when Earnest Ross was torching us from the line, we made the stops and got the rebounds when we had to down the stretch.  Everybody who played, saw double-digit minutes, and with the exception of Carl, everybody scored.

I think a lot of us watched the aTm game and thought this team had quit.  It's great to see them battle back and get a win against a quality team.  We put a big dent in Mizzou's tourney hopes, and hopefully this will be a springboard to clawing out of the bottom 4 of the SEC standings and making a run in the SEC tournament.

The crowd was one of the most sparse of the year, I would estimate about 2,500 in the house, including about 300 Mizzou fans scattered throughout.  That being said, those who did show up were loud, energetic, and into the game, and the players and coaches seemed to appreciate the support.

Up next, we go to Oxford, MS for the rematch with the Ole Miss Rebels Wednesday night at 7 pm.  As far as I know, the game will only be televised on ESPN3.  I think it is imperative for us to get a road win before the tournament in order to build some confidence, and this is our last semi-realistic chance to do so.  

Tide Tames tigers

Alabama held on to beat Mizzou 80-73.  Any win is big, especially this year.  Here is your chance to share your thoughts on the game.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Aggies Join Hands and Skip Past Bama

There is some serious kumbaya action going on in College Station, folks. These people like to put their arms around each other and sway back and forth while singing songs about Aggies and what not. For those like myself in the curmudgeon family, it's a bit much. Whoever coined this bunch as the Auburn of Texas was right on in their assessment.

This recap is really late, for which I apologize. Real life responsibilities were cranked to 11 today and this is the first time all day I've had a chance to sit down and even begin to think this out. Fortunately, I keep a trusty bottle and a sterling record collection handy for such occasions.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Know Your Enemy- Mizzou Tigers

I watched the aTm game on my cell phone, and didn't really pay that close attention to it in the second half.  Hopefully MSmilie will give us a first hand account.

Mizzou comes in with a 19-7 record, riding a 3 game winning streak, all at home against Arkansas, Tennessee, and most recently a 67-64 win over Vandy Wednesday night.  They are currently 7-6 in the SEC, and fighting to hold on to that coveted 4th seed and double bye for the tournament.  They have road wins at NC State, auburn, and Arkansas.

They beat us by 21 last time we played them in Columbia.  Here is a cut and paste from Bobbyjack's preview of that game. I'm too lazy to update the stats, but I assume these numbers are still fairly close:

Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown lead the offense at 18.8 and 18.4 PPG. Clarkson also leads in assists. Brown is their best 3pt shooter (.422)

On the boards Earnest Ross and Johnathan Williams pull 6.5 and 7.0 a game. Ross also drops 14 per (you might remember him from his cup of coffee at Auburn).

Offensively they score 75 a game while giving up only 66.4. They don't force a lot of turnovers (roughly 10 a game), but don't turn the ball over much either.

Season stats

Here is a link to my recap of the previous meeting: Misery in Missouri

I thought we were exposed a bit in that game, we still haven't found an answer for teams that double up on Releford.

Keys to the game:

-Shannon Hale plus one more (Levi, Coop, Retin?) needs to step up and help Relly with scoring.
-Limit 2nd chance opportunities
-Get to the line and make free throws
-Force some turnovers and get into transition.

Prediction:  From the body language of the coaches and players in the final minutes of the aTm game that I saw on TV, it appears to me that this team is done.  Mizzou 68 Bama 56.  The game tips off at 7pm CST on ESPN2.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nick Jacobs, Processed

Well, maybe not, but he will take an "indefinite leave of absence" according to Coach Grant.  I can't say that I'm shocked by this.  I sort of had him in mind as a possible attrition candidate during the off season.  We will miss the good Nick Jacobs that shows up once every 4 or 5 games, but not so much the slow and seemingly disinterested one we get the rest of the time.

A great opportunity now for Jimmie Taylor to step up.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Know Your Enemy- @ Texas A&M Aggies

I'm going to be honest... I feel like a Houston Astros fan right now... just playing out the string on this season.

Season stats

A&M has lost 2 games at home this year.. a perplexing blowout to North Texas and recently to Vanderbilt. They haven't beaten anyone at home of note outside of LSU, but do have a road win @ Tennessee.

Jamal Jones is their go to guy dropping 15.6 in conference (12.5 overall). He has taken 100 more shots than the next player on the team, but he's not been really good doing that as he is shooting 37% from the field (and 37.4% from 3). Jones could be a match up problem though... at 6'8" we will probably see Randolph and Cooper getting the assignment of stopping him.

Kourtney Roberson leads the team in boards and is 2nd on the team in scoring at 9.8/game. He is a 6'9" forward that could give us some trouble inside as he is shooting 60% overall.

Alex Caruso runs the point and takes care of the ball nicely. While he only scoring 8/game, he is another tall guard that could make Releford work on the defensive end. He also leads the Aggies in blocked shots which is not saying much as his average comes up to be... 1 per game.

Jordan Green is the other player to watch as he is a spark off the bench (was a starter, but been coming off the bench the last 3).

- scoring 60.5 giving up 65.3 in conference
- losers of 7 of their last 9
- 40% from the field and 33.5% from 3 in conference
- -6.4 rebound margin in conference

Game time is 2/20 at 7PM EST (6PM CST) on ESPN2.

NOTE- there will be no preview for our game vs Mizzou as I won't be available (or around) for this.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Cock Blocked, 67-66

We lost to the worst team in the SEC because we only made 4 FGs and were held to 19 points in the first half.  Releford tried to carry us in the second half, but once again he had no help.  We missed free throws and surrendered offensive rebounds at the worst possible moments.  We had several unforced turnovers, especially in the first half, and failed to convert some easy opportunities.  I thought this was a good matchup for us, as South Carolina is not particularly strong in the front court.  It didn't work out that way, once again we got no production from our bigs in a game that they should have been able to help.

I could write more, but really what is the point?  Up next, another road game, this time at Texas A&M.  Tipoff is at 6 pm Thursday night on ESPN2.  I'll be watching it at the bowling alley, and honestly I'll probably be paying more attention to my bowling match than the game.  Unfortunately, I've been bowling like Alabama plays basketball this season, so both endeavors are probably equally futile.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Know Your Enemy- @ South Carolina

Our Crimson Tide travel to Columbia to play Frank Martin's South Carolina Gamecocks in a matchup of 2 sub .500 teams. In SC Lite's last game they beat Vanderbilt 65-59 at home. Note they played Thursday so it's an obviously quick turnaround for them... but at least they were at home.

SC Lite preview.
Season stats

The Gamecocks are 2-9 in conference, but all of their home losses have been close ones (losses by 1, 3, and 5 points). They did lose to Auburn at home so that gives me hope.

Brenton Williams leads the team at 13.8 PPG and is shooting 42.3% from beyond the arc. Sindari Thornwell is just behind at 13.5. Other than those 2, nothing else they have has been consistent thus why they are 9-15 overall. Like Grant, Martin has tinkered a lot with the starting lineup without much success. Let's hope that continues.

Overall, this team sucks. My only concern is them on the offensive boards as they pulled down 26 against Vandy in their last game. Keep them in check there and I think we win this one.

Some numbers to look at:
- +3.1 rebound margin
- turnover margin at -.5
- .693 FT (mostly lifted up by Williams .963)
- .429 FG

Game is on SEC TV at 4PM EST (3PM CST)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Releford Rally Repels Renegade Rebels, 67-64

Many people have questioned why I continue to go to games this season.  Last night is exactly why.  If you missed it, you missed a game that had a little bit of everything, including an exciting buzzer beater finish. 

Ole Miss was a good matchup for us, as they are guard-heavy and not particularly strong in the post. We used the same starting lineup as the Florida game, but with much more success.   After being outscored 49-0 before getting on the board in our last 6 games, it was great to get an early 4-1 lead.

We finally gave Releford some help in the first half.  Shannon Hale and Nick Jacobs both had excellent games.  Ole Miss ran a zone defense almost exclusively, and I loved the way we attacked it with Shannon in the high post and Nick on the low block.  Between the high post and pick n pop we ran with Hale, he really made the offense flow in the first half as we were able to take a 12 point lead.  We went into halftime with a 7 point lead, that should have been closer to 13 if we could have made some free throws.  We shot under 50% from the charity stripe in the first half.

Defensively, we did not press at all, I suspect out of respect for the Rebels guard play.  We ran a man to man for much of the night with some zone in the second half.  It seemed like Andy Kennedy's game plan was to run Marshall Henderson all over the court and run him through screens so he could get up some 3-point shots.  I thought Algie did a great job initially of fighting through the screens and forcing contested shots.  When Retin came into the game, he would usually switch with Shannon on the screen.  Henderson made his first 3 when Hale was slow to switch, but after that they executed the defensive switch very well and he wasn't able to get squared up before throwing up his wild shots.

Regarding Marshall Henderson, like him or hate him, and I hate him, I think he's a classless white trash punk (which makes him a good fit for Andy Kennedy and Ole Miss in general, now that I think about it), and his rap sheet speaks for itself, the guy is entertaining to watch.  He plays with a lot of emotion and energy, not to mention a level of confidence/arrogance/cockiness that I'm not sure I have ever seen.  Oddly enough, I think the small crowd actually helped us some in this game.  Henderson seems to feed off the negative energy from opposing fans.  Before the game in warmups, he was going out of his way to draw attention to himself, repeatedly dunking, dancing around to the pregame music, looking around to the stands, etc.  It's almost like he was begging someone to taunt him, but with only about 50 people in the lower rows of the gym at that time, it just wasn't happening.  When they took him out of the game, he stood up on the bench yelling directions and coaching his teammates almost the entire time.  He probably did more coaching in this game than Andy Kennedy did.  I thought he really hurt them with about 2 minutes or so to go in the game, he was clearly upset with his teammates after they turned the ball over in a possession where he didn't get to touch the ball.  I just knew he was shooting the next possession no matter what, and predictably, he threw up an air ball with his team down 6.

Back to the good guys, we had a 5 minute scoring drought in the second half that allowed Ole Miss to get back into the game.  There were 3 or 4 questionable calls in a row that did not go our way, and I think we allowed that to effect our game a little bit.  Given the 4 game losing streak and the way close games have turned out this season, it would have been easy to throw in the towel when Ole Miss went up by 4 with about 5 minutes remaining, but give credit to the guys for not letting that happen.  Releford took over the game and simply would not be denied.  The outside shots were not falling, and our bigs had some turnovers and missed shots under the basket, so Relly decided he was just going to attack.  He found the seams in the Ole Miss zone, opened up by the earlier production of Hale and Jacobs, and took advantage.  There was a key "And one" and when he didn't finish, he got to the free throw line, where he was perfect after missing one in the first half.  Releford had 14 of the final 16 points, and had the assist on the other one.

We've lost a lot of games this year because we either miss free throws or fail to get rebounds at crucial times, or both.  It almost happened again.  With a 6 point lead, we gave up a 4 point play when Ole Miss got an offensive rebound on a missed free throw and Henderson knocked down a 3.  Hale missed a 3 at the other end, and Releford fouled Summers who made both free throws to tie the game with 12 seconds left, which set up the final shot.

I normally prefer to call a timeout and draw up a set play in these situations, but Coach Grant obviously made the right call in letting them play.  We only had one timeout remaining, and with the score tied, it would be nice to carry that timeout into overtime if necessary, not to mention the possibility of not being able to get the ball in and giving Ole Miss a chance to set their defense.  We knew Ole Miss was in a basic 2-3 zone, so odds were pretty good we could get a decent look at a long range shot.  I've heard some people question the decision to pass it to Cooper with 5 seconds left, but that pass created just enough movement to get Releford a bit of space when he got the ball back.  Hale came up to set a screen to Relly's right, and Henderson tried to get in front of it, allowing Relly to take a step to the left and get a good look at the basket.  I knew as soon as he let it go that it was going in.  I was glad Relly had the confidence to take the shot to win the game, as opposed to driving in hoping to get bailed out with a foul call.  I was surprised Kennedy did not use his final timeout with .6 seconds still remaining on the clock.

For those of you who say Coach Grant doesn't care or show enough emotion, I wish you could have seen what I did last night.  Coach Grant chewed some ass!  From the officials, to Coach Pujol, to the players.   He spent the better part of the first timeout of the second half yelling at one of the officials.  While I didn't like some of the calls, I do give credit to the ref for walking away before it became necessary to call a technical foul.  At one point he turned around and ripped Coach Pujol a new one.  I believe he was mad because a few moments earlier Pujol was also complaining to the officials, and Coach Grant was letting him know that was his job.  At least, that's what it looked like to me, it could have been about something totally unrelated.  During a timeout with around 12 minutes left, Coach Grant really lit into the team after some careless turnovers and bad defensive possessions.

The only real coaching decision that I disagreed with was not giving Jacobs a breather late in the game.  Nick Jacobs had a great game offensively, and was adequate on defense for the most part, but he did give up some baskets at the rim in the final 6 minutes.  When we were shooting free throws with just under 5 minutes to play, I noticed Nick had his hands on his hips and appeared to be panting like a sheep dog on a July afternoon in Alabama.  He was obviously winded.  We could have done some offense/defense putting Jimmie Taylor in on defense, or taken Jacobs out at that point and put him back in at the 3:30 mark.  Between the media timeouts and Ole Miss calling 2 timeouts, he would have only missed 3 offensive possessions, one minute of playing time, and received about 7 minutes of actual time rest.  Regardless, it was a great effort from Jacobs, 18 points and 8 rebounds, I don't expect him to do that against the Jarnell Stokes and Patrick Youngs of the world, but if we can get that kind of consistent effort from him on both ends we are a much better team.

I'm really happy for the players to be able to win a close game like this.  Hopefully it will give them some confidence going forward.  When Ole Miss went on their run to take the lead, I got the sense that the guys were starting to point fingers a bit.  That's only natural when you are on a 4 game losing streak and things are going south.  Hopefully being able to come together and get the win will give them a boost going into these next 2 road games.

Statistically, if you told me before the game we would have 3 guys score 15 or more points, one of them would be Nick Jacobs, and we would hold Eminem to 14 points on 4 of 15 shooting and we would out rebound them 42-34, I would have thought we would win this game easily.  On the other hand, if you told me Ole Miss would play a 2-3 zone the whole game and we would only shoot 3 of 17 from 3 point range and 16 of 24 from the free throw line, I would have expected a sure loss.

As I said, there wasn't much of a crowd at all for this game, maybe 2,500 or so.  Ole Miss brought a couple of hundred fans, who were thankfully mostly way up in the corner so I didn't have to deal with them.  The northern part of the state is dealing with winter weather, and the Birmingham area was under a winter storm warning for snow that is predicted later today (I have my doubts that it will materialize here, but whatever), and I suspect that, along with the losing streak, probably kept some folks away.  Even the couple who sits behind us, whom I can't recall missing any games that I've been to in the last 5 years, wasn't there.  The crowd that was there was very much loud and into the game, especially during the final minutes.

Up next, we travel to Columbia, SC for a 3 pm tipoff against the Cocks Saturday.  The game will be televised on SEC TV.  It will be a short turn around for South Carolina, as their game tonight against Vandy has been rescheduled for Thursday due to an ice storm.  Looking at the weather forecast for that area, they may be lucky to play tomorrow.  If there is a winnable road game on our schedule, this is it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Know Your Enemy- Ole Miss Black Bear Rebels

This is a big game for Ole Miss as they sit on the bubble for a NCAAT berth. We are in the role of spoiler so hopefully we can send the Black Bears back to Oxford on the wrong side of said bubble.

Ole Miss official preview.

Ole Miss brings in a 2 man scoring attack in Marshall "Eminem/Slim Shady" Henderson dropping 19.4 PPGs with Jarvis Summers averaging 17.4. Eminem isn't having a good year despite the scoring average as he's under 40% overall and from beyond the arc. That doesn't stop him from chucking it up though. Summers on the other hand is having a solid year shooting over 50% from the field and from 3. He also leads the team in assists. I would like our D to focus on Summers and let Slim Shady throw up a bunch of shots providing we can grab some boards (we are last in the SEC in this).

Watch Aaron Jones and Sebastian Saiz inside as both are pulling over 6 boards a game. Both are not big offensive threats, but could get some cheap baskets due to our inability to block out/rebound.

Those are the ones to watch... and to be honest outside of Slim Shady/Summers they don't have much on the offensive end yet somehow drop 77.5 PPG.

Season stats

Some numbers:
- -2.9 rebound margin
- 7.7 steals
- 6.5 blocks

On paper we match up well with them and on the court this is a winnable game for us. I would like to see Jacobs or Taylor produce inside so Releford can drop 20 or so on them. I'd also like to see Cooper continue being aggressive with the ball... as long as he plays under control.

Game is on ESPNU at 9PM EST (8PM CST) and on if you have appropriate access (meaning you pay for ESPNU in your cable/satellite plan). Or you can get creative...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gators Get Grant's Goat [A]Gain

I confess.  I did not watch the game.  It was over before I could get home from a meeting I could not avoid.  The post-game show was on the radio when I got to my car.  I also confess I did not bother to record the television broadcast to watch after my meeting was over.  I am not a masochist so there was no reason for that.  I have not felt this way since the David Hobbs era.  That is a very sad commentary on the state of our program.  I am an Anthony Grant fan and hope he can get our program moving in the right direction again.  I am presently committed to attend two more of our home games.  I hope my travelling partners do not bail on me. 

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming. 


Saturday, February 08, 2014

Florida Flushes Tide, 78-69

After being outscored by 40-something before getting out first points in the last 5 games, Coach Grant decided to change things up and go with his 12th different starting lineup this year.  This one consisted of 1. Relly, 2. Key, 3. Hale, 4. Coop, and 5. Jacobs.  It didn't work, as the Gators jumped out on us 8-0.  I didn't mind the starting lineup so much as the decision to open the game in a man to man defense.  Last time we played these guys, we were pretty much able to keep it close with them the whole game running zone.  Generally speaking, when the other team is better/more athletic than you at every position on the floor, it's normally not a good idea to play man.  When we switched to the 1-3-1 with soft trapping we had our most success and were able to come back and take the lead.

It was tied at halftime, but Florida got hot from 3 point range against our 2-3 zone and we had a number of turnovers allowing Florida to run out to a 15 point lead.  Give the team credit for continuing to battle and actually getting the margin back down to a somewhat manageable and respectable 7 points at one point.

Releford had another great game, but he had absolutely no help.  Relly scored 25 points, and nobody else was in double figures.  Jimmie Taylor played his best game so far, and I don't understand why we didn't go to his jump hook in the post after he went 3 for 3 in the first half.  Nick Jacobs did not take advantage of his start, he was poor on defense as usual and only scored 5 points with 2 rebounds.  Carl Engstrom has went from starting to only playing 3 minutes today.

A couple of key plays stick out in my mind.  We were only down 3 with around 17 minutes to go in the game, and Cooper missed a wide open 3 from the corner, Florida immediately made a 3 at the other end to double their lead.  That started the run that Florida would eventually make a 15 point margin.  Late in the game, we had cut it to 7 with 1:40 left and got a defensive stop and had Releford open on a run out that would have quickly cut the lead to 5, but Retin made a bad pass leading to a turnover.  That pretty much ended any hope of a comeback.

Algie Key really needs to make better decisions with the basketball.  His 6 turnovers were horrible, including screwing up a 4 on 1 fast break opportunity.  While it was the right call, I hate the rule that led to his intentional foul call early in the game.  Basically, any contact with the elbows to the head is to be called an intentional foul.  I understand the concern about concussions, etc, but I think it gives the defense an unfair advantage when they can get so close to you once you pick up your dribble that a natural passing motion is impossible without picking up a foul.  Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I actually played basketball, we were taught to "chin and spin it" on rebounds, and to "clear out" with the elbows if a defender was reaching or crowding if you picked up your dribble.  The game has changed, and I'm not sure it's for the better.

Watching games on TV can be frustrating at times.  There were 2 occasions where the whistle blew, but they didn't show the officials nor did the announcers let us know what was going on.  At one point when we were making our comeback, after we scored there was a whistle, and Florida made a substitution, but there was no explanation as to why play was stopped.  I see in the box score that we were given a bench warning at some point, so I suspect that was the cause.  One time when we were down 8, I think, we had a good trap in the back court and Florida appeared to turn the ball over, but the whistle blew and Florida was awarded possession, again no explanation of the call.  I'm still in the dark over that one, play resumed too quickly for there to have been a foul called.

Also, Duke Vitale needs to shut his pie hole.  To hear him tell it, Coach Grant would have us in the elite 8 if only Lacey and Pollard were still on the team.  We could use Lacey's shot and we would be better, but there was certainly no guarantee that Pollard would even start for this team.  As is always the case with him, it's not enough for him to state his opinion once, he has to yell it ad nauseam the entire game.  He gave me a headache.

Up next, we return to the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum to take on the Ole Miss Rebels and their Eminem wannabe at 8pm Tuesday night.  The game will be televised on ESPNU.

In other news- SEC Attendance down and current SEC Standings

 In an attempt to improve declining men's basketball attendance, the SEC is talking with ESPN about finding better start times and offering ESPN content only accessible for fans at arenas.

SEC teams enter the final month of the regular season averaging 10,126 fans per game in announced attendance, down 1 percent from last year at this time. SEC teams averaged 10,571 fans in 2012-13, third in the country but its lowest since 1986-87.

Half of the SEC's teams' crowds are up and half down in 2013-14. Many of the teams that are down possess some of the largest fan bases: Missouri (23 percent decrease), Tennessee (11 percent), Vanderbilt (11 percent) and Alabama (10 percent). All four of those teams may be left out of the NCAA Tournament.

From Note- this counts paid attendance not ACTUAL attendance as we know we are down more than 10% from last year.

Unless a miracle happens I don't think the SEC gets more than 4 teams in the NCAA Tournament. That is beyond sad. I'm counting Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ole Miss (Mizzou could fall out if they are not careful).
Updated SEC Standings (from ESPN):

Ole Miss6-315-7
Texas A&M4-513-9
Mississippi State3-613-9
South Carolina1-88-14       

@ Florida Gators- Today at noon EST (11AM CST)

Unless Billy the Kid takes it easy on his student this might be a slaughter.
Here is a quick link from a previous preview.

Season stats

If it makes anyone feel better we played the #2, 4, and 11th ranked teams close this year at home and at a neutral site so if you want hope there it is. Oh yeah, we led the #22 team at a neutral site by 15 early in the 1st half. If  you want reality then look at how we fared so far on the road...

Only chance we win this is for Releford, Hale, AND one of Cooper/Obasohan/Key/Randolph to score a bunch. And ditch the half-court altogether.

Game is on ESPN and for those not near a TV or without a cable provider. Chances are if you don't have cable you'll have to find other ways to watch this (firstrow... cough... firstrow).

For those in the area or thinking about going... tickets on stubhub right now are around $25... and falling.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Portis Punches Pachyderms, Hogs win 65-58.

Once again, we dug ourselves a 6-0 hole early.  It was 8-1 before we finally scored a FG.  Turnovers killed us early in the game.  While there was some contact on a lot of the turnovers, we've got to be more strong and physical with the ball.

Once the guys finally scored and got settled down they actually played very well for stretches.  After falling behind early, we fought back to take a 6 point lead early in the 2nd half.    We started making the extra passes and finding the open man against the Hog's trapping defense.  Rodney Cooper stepped up big time offensively, unfortunately Shannon Hale and Retin both had off nights.

The game was close throughout the 2nd half until Arkansas stretched their lead out to 8 with around 4 minutes to play.  I don't think it is a coincidence that we were down 1 when Rodney Cooper came out of the game with 6 minutes left and we were down 6 when he finally came back in around the 2 minute mark.  I wasn't there so maybe he was showing signs of fatigue or asked for a breather, and I understand wanting to rest a guy for the stretch run, but I just don't think you can put your hot scorer on the bench during a key stretch of the game, especially for 4 minutes.

Arkansas also did a better job of making defensive adjustments.  Once we figured out their full court and half-court traps, they went to a 3-2 zone.  This really slowed down our offense.  I disagreed with the announcers assessment that the uptempo game would really favor Arkansas.  In some regards, I thought this was a good matchup for us because we aren't very good in the half court game.

The story of the game was Bobby Portis dropping 35, setting a new record freshman record at Arkansas.  When a guy with his size is able to shoot with that kind of range, he will present matchup problems for everybody.  Still, at some point, I think we should have forced them to make somebody else beat us.  We could have ran more zone and fronted him to try to deny him the ball.  It seemed like Jimmie Taylor was on him in the man to man much of the night, and he just couldn't defend away from the basket.  At one point Shannon Hale was trying to guard him.  Why not put Cooper on him in the man and then double team every time he touches the ball?

Once again we got killed on the boards.  It seemed that Arkansas got an offensive rebound every time we were able to come up with a big stop.  We have about 4 guys on this team that never blocks anybody out.

Despite everything, Arkansas missed some free throws late and we had the ball with a chance to tie only down 3 in the final minute.  Coop passed up an open but long shot, and Retin had a decent look from the corner, but instead decided to drop his head and charge toward the basket for some reason.  Retin plays as hard as anyone, and he may be the most athletic player on the court most nights, he's fun to watch, but he's got to start making better basketball decisions.

One small positive, I was glad to see Levi shooting the ball.  Sure, he's in a slump, and he had a bad night, 1 for 7 from the field and 0 for 3 from downtown, but he needs to keep his confidence and shoot his way out of it.  It would help if he would be a little more physical and aggressive and get to the free throw line once in a while.

Up next, we go to Florida for an 11 am Central time tip off Saturday morning.  Hopefully Billy Donovan will show some mercy on us.  I originally planned on going to this game, but after calculating the amount of money and time I've already invested in this lost season, I've decided to sit out the away games at least until the SEC tournament.

Speaking of the SEC tournament, this is off-topic, but the SEC Hockey tournament will be played at the Pelham Civic Complex this weekend.  Our Frozen Tide is the #2 seed in the West and will take on Vandy Friday night at 7pm.   You can see the bracket and more info here.  Since these are club teams, the SEC's prohibition on alcohol sales does not apply, for those who are so inclined.  I just thought I would throw it out there for anybody in the Birmingham area looking for something to do this weekend.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

An Armchair Quarterback's Dream

(Side Note: I have been forced to divert my focus away from Alabama Basketball for the next few years, as I have a relative playing Ivy League football, so a decent amount of my free time and resources are geared in that direction. It turns out that this season has been a good one to be partially distracted from, so at least I'm not suffering as much as my other Brethren on this board. With that in mind, on with my post....)

This came across my Ivy League feed the other day, and I thought....There is no way this would ever work for Alabama during a season like this!

In a nutshell, there is an auction for the opportunity for two fans to serve as Assistant Coaches For a Day at Yale's basketball game against Princeton on Feb. 15.

Could you imagine the dynamic duo of Finebammer and MSmilie teaming up on the court trying not to gouge each other's eyeballs out?
Could you imagine DJC getting tossed by being that much closer to Ted Valentine?

The possibilities are endless!

Back to my hole I go...

Know your enemy- @ Arkansas Baconbacks

The Hogs come in a disappointing 13-8 (2-6 in conference) led by 3rd year coach Mike Anderson. I thought this would be the year he broke through, but it's not happening and I suspect the fans are getting restless (sounds familiar?).

Arkansas is fresh off a home loss to rival Missouri on the 28th and a road thumping at LSU. Looking at the rest of their schedule they will be lucky to end up with 8 wins as they are winless on the road (again, sounds familiar).

Arkansas official preview of the game.

Season stats

To be honest I haven't watched Arkansas play since the Maui Invitational where I was somewhat impressed at their showing despite losing 2 there, but obviously I was wrong about them. They do lead the league in scoring so they are playing uptempo, but have a hard time stopping folks on the defensive end.

Rashad Madden leads the team in scoring and 3PT percentage. He is also their best FT shooter with more than 12 attempts. Bobby Portis works the inside at 12.3 a game and 6.5 boards. We probably don't have an answer for him,, but I suspect they'll not utilize him the way they should. Michael Qualls also averages doubit digit scoring. He's a high flyer (a poor man's Tony Mitchell) that'll cut and slash to the basket. Moses Kingsley mans the middle and leads the team in blocks. Aladise Harris is 4th in scoring at 9.1

Note- Quallis and Harris have been reinstated from their 1 game suspendy.

Something has to give tonight and I suspect it is us... I don't have a good feeling about this game.

Tip-off is 8PM EST on the SEC Network and WatchESPN

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Tennessee Terminates Tide, 76-59.

Once again we got off to a horrible start, falling behind 9-0 and taking nearly 4 minutes to score.  In the last 4 games, we have been outscored 35-0 before scoring our first points.  While we were able to get back into each of those games, it would be nice to not start behind the 8 ball for a change.

Retin was back in the starting lineup, and Cooper started over Levi.  Releford did all he could to carry the team with 23 points, and Jacobs had a solid game with 13 points and he even pulled down 6 rebounds.  He probably should have played more than 16 minutes.  Beyond that, nobody provided much help on offense.

Tennessee is a very good team, but they are inconsistent.  McRae is a ball hog, and when he's off they are very average, but when he's on, they can beat anybody in the country.  He was 5 for 10 from 3 point range and scored 26 points.  Jarnell Stokes dropped 22 on us in the post, despite the fact that our defensive scheme appeared to be designed to limit him.

The defensive game plan made a lot of sense on paper.  They have a young, turnover prone PG playing on the road, so we pressed a lot.  Give credit to the Vols for taking care of the basketball.  In the halfcourt, Stokes was obviously the biggest matchup problem for us, so we ran a lot of 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone to try to deny him the ball and double team him, while hoping McRae would have one of his off nights from outside.  Unfortunately, McRae was able to knock down the open shots, which opened things up for Stokes inside.  I was disappointed by the lack of defensive adjustments, at some point it became obvious that what we were doing was not going to work, so why not run man for a few possessions just to see what happens?

We were only 3 of 15 from 3 point range.  It seemed like everytime we were able to get the deficit back down to a manageable margin, we would give up a big 3 or a 2nd chance basket.  Tennessee led wire to wire, and the game was never in doubt after we got within 2 possessions early in the second half.

The student section was nearly full, but the rest of the crowd turnout was not quite as good as it was for the LSU game.  Due to the white T-shirts placed on all of the seats, it looked a little more crowded than it actually was.  I would guess there was around 9,000 total in the house, and it was loud the 2 or 3 times we actually had something to cheer about.  Tennessee brought nearly 1,000 fans clad in their ugly orange that could be heard singing "Rockytop" near the end of the game.  I was disappointed with a couple of things from our fans:  1) The students started a "We've got Kiffin" chant when UT started to pull away.  It's not like Kiffin did anything worthwhile at UT, but beyond that, I'm not a fan of "football smack talk" at basketball games.  It reaffirms the basketball is 2nd rate perception around here, which is another reason I think it's long past time to scrap the iron bowl trophy presentation at halftime, but I digress.  2) A small group of fans started chanting "We want Bruce!" toward the end of the game.  First of all, I don't think that's the proper manner in which to express displeasure with the current coaching staff, but beyond that, no matter how much any of us may want Bruce Pearl to become our next basketball coach, it simply is not going to happen.  We can argue whether it should happen until we are blue in the face, but I know for a fact he will not be given consideration under any circumstances.  I'm not saying I agree with that decision, but it is what it is, so forget about it already.

Up next, we go to Bud Walton arena to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks at 7pm in Fayetteville, AR Wednesday night.  I will be watching this one on the SEC Network.  Arkansas has suspended some key players, but they are very tough to beat at home regardless, and until I see this team win away from Coleman, I will have my doubts that they can do it.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Know Your Enemy- UTK Volunteers

The Viles come in 12-7 (4-3 in conference). They have one road win @ LSU. Other common opponents... they beat Auburn at home, Xavier in the Bahamas, lost @ Xavier, @ Florida, and @ Wichita St. Only one of their losses has been by more than double digits (@ Florida).

Season stats

Jordan McRae leads the offense at 18.9 PPG. He has taken 73 more shots than Jarnell Stokes who is 2nd at 13.6 PPG. McRae could give us some match up issues due to his size. I suspect Randolph gets the assignment to stop him. Stokes, while only being a 6'8" forward is pulling down 10 boards a game and will give us headaches inside since we know we are soft like cotton candy there. Jeronne Maymon is another tough forward that might push us around inside. He is also 6'8" 260 (I think he's stronger than Stokes, but less polished offensively) and is also dropping 11.3 and 8.2 boards a game.

From the outside watch Josh Richardson and Antonio Barton (41.5% and 35.3% from 3). McRae is obviously one to watch as well. Barton is technically the PG, but truth be told the ball is in McRae's hands for the most part.

Game notes from Vile site.

Keys to winning this game (going to sound like broken record):
- Which Nick Jacobs do we see?
- 3rd scoring option behind Releford and Hale
- Keep game in 60s
- Be respectable on the boards

This is a similar match up to the one we had last Saturday against LSU. On paper it doesn't favor us, but if we can jump out on them early and hold on we get the W in a 'whiteout' game.

Tip-off is 9PM EST on ESPN2