Monday, March 31, 2014

Got legs to it... Grant a candidate @ USF

I've commented on this before... I still think it is probably in everyone's best interest something happens.

By the time UNLV announced a two-year contract extension for Rice on Saturday night, by the time it looked like a successfully executed leverage move, Harlan already had long turned his attention to other candidates.

Potential USF targets include Massachusetts coach Derek Kellogg, New Mexico coach Craig Neal, Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua, Florida assistant John Pelphrey and Florida State assistant Stan Jones.

Another name to consider is Alabama’s Anthony Grant, who once was a key member of Billy Donovan’s Gators staff and interviewed for the USF job in 2003. Grant has head-coaching experience at VCU, where he defeated Duke in a 2007 NCAA tournament game, and Alabama, where he has gone 99-71 in five seasons.

But this season, the Crimson Tide slipped to 13-19 – the most defeats by an Alabama basketball team in 45 years – and AD Bill Battle felt compelled to give Grant a written vote of confidence. Grant, who was Jeremy Foley’s choice as UF replacement in 2007 when Donovan flirted with the NBA’s Orlando Magic, makes $1.9-million per season.

Rest is here

Friday, March 28, 2014

Riley Norris Leads Alabama Boys To 3rd Straight Victory in Alabama-Mississippi All Star Game

Alabama signee Riley Norris (#2 in the photo) from Albertville turned in an outstanding all-around game to help Alabama’s boys defeat Mississippi for the third straight year in the 24th annual Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Basketball Game played Friday night at Jackson State University’s Lee Williams Athletics Assembly Center.

The box score shows that Norris had 16 points on 4 of 9 shooting, 2 of 6 from 3pt range. He was also 6 of 11 from the FT line....not so good. However, he pulled down 9 rebounds and had 3 assists. Alabama's other in-state signee, Justin Coleman, was not on the Alabama roster for this game.

The star of the game was Kentucky signee Devin Booker from the Mississippi team, a 6-6 guard, with 31 points, a record for the AL-MS series.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Revised Final Four prediction

South- UCLA (beats UF and Dayton)
East- Virginia (beats Michigan St and UConn)
West- Arizona (beats SDSU and Baylor)
Midwest- Louisville (beats Kentucky and Tennessee)

I believe the winner of the West/Midwest Final Four matchup wins the tournament.

I might have let my sheer hatred for all things Gators get in the way of logic...

Unrelated, I suspect a lot of coaching vacancies will be filled in the next 10 days.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Final Four prediction


Kansas over Arizona

Not up for debate :)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

auburn hired Bruce Pearl

I am afraid Coach Grant is about to get a lesson in how to market a program in this state.  We will soon be battling UAB for the leftover recruits.  This is a bad day for Alabama basketball.

On the other hand, auburn becoming decent in basketball may be the only thing that will prompt our administration and boosters to actually give a crap and try to compete, so maybe there is a silver lining somewhere down the road.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

xCMG makes the NCAAT @ NCSt for a 3rd straight year- discuss

I hate how he ended his career here, but I no longer hold ill will towards him. Guess I'll root for them vs Xavier.

Friday, March 14, 2014

2013-14 End of Season Manifesto and State of the Program Address

I posted the following in last year's end of season manifesto:

"Next year will be a defining season for the future of the Alabama program.  We lose only Andrew Steele.  Assuming no major injuries or attrition, we should have a very talented group returning with the additions of Jimmie Taylor and Shannon Hale.  Obviously, it's difficult to make predictions or set expectations this far in advance without seeing schedules, having a final roster, etc, but my initial thoughts are that we should make the tournament fairly easily next year."

Then, the off season happened.  Trevor Lacey decided to go play for Gottfried at NC State, Gueye left for Valpo, and Pollard's mom got him into some legal trouble.  On top of that, the rules were changed in a way that had a very negative impact on our physical defensive style of play.  So, instead of entering the season with the lofty expectations outlined above, once again we had a short bench and a lot of uncertainty.  I think most fans were just hoping to be a bubble team and maybe sneak into the tournament at best.

End of season review and what the immediate future holds for Alabama Basketball

End of season review
Well, this is the worst season the program has had in... forever (40 years roughly). Quite honestly I'm too lazy to dig to find a worse season of Alabama basketball than this one and I've been a fan since 1989.

Several factors resulted in this AUful season from the surprise transfers of Lacey and Gueye, the weird situation of Pollard, issues shooting the ball besides Releford,  and the general inability of finding a big man to work inside (a re-occurring theme under Grant). In the end all of this falls on Grant as this is his 5th year as head coach with another year of a depleted roster. When was the last time we had more than 10 scholarship players?

Quick, gimme the biggest win of the season for Alabama? It's either Missouri or Arkansas and neither will be in the NCAAT unless Mizzou wins the SECT. That's is pretty damn sad.

- Trevor Releford had an amazing senior year. IMO he should've been SEC POY. His final stats are the following: 18.5 PPG, 3.1 AST, 3.5 REB, 85% FT, 2.2 STL, .496 FG, and .393 from 3PT range. It is a crying shame his talent was wasted for much of his career here.
- Shannon Hale and Levi Randolph stepped it up in conference play (Levi much later on, but still) as secondary options to Releford.
- Jimmy Taylor can hold his own inside if put in the right position.

Tigers Terminate Tide's Terrible Season, LSU 68-56

We played well early in the game, and it was back and forth for the first 12 minutes or so.  I actually thought we had a good game plan coming in.  We played a zone defense and double and triple teamed Johnny O'Bryant forcing some turnovers.  We played an inside out game and got some open perimeter shots to fall.

Unfortunately, Coleman went off from 3-point range against us.  LSU has a very talented roster, and based on the odds, we picked the right poison so to speak.  In order to play the type of zone we were trying to play (and double when we went man) it was necessary to leave somebody open on the perimeter.  Coleman is not their best 3 point shooter and he had been struggling of late.  Historically, a lot of teams have struggled to shoot in the dome, so I had no problem with our emphasis on stopping their inside game.  You have to give LSU credit for making us pay, and Coleman credit for making the shots.

Making those first few perimeter shots may have ultimately been a bad thing for us.  I thought Coop and even Releford a couple of times settled for some bad contested jump shots too early in the possessions.  While we started the game playing with a lot of confidence, all of that went away and we looked tentative once we encountered some adversity.  We had about a 5 minute scoring drought in the first half that allowed LSU to take an 11 point lead into halftime.

Watching the earlier game in Tuscaloosa, we got out to a great start playing uptempo and shot really well, but when LSU started playing and pressing they made a run and we were lucky to hold on.  I felt then that they were the better team, but they made some dumbfounded coaching decisions in the first 25 minutes of that game.  They were a bad matchup for us not only because of their size, but because their guards are so good at handling pressure.  We were burned nearly every time we tried to press, and that killed our ability to speed up the tempo.

I thought the team played with good effort, but so did the more talented Tigers.  We never got the lead back to within 2 possessions in the second half.  We had a few chances, but once again we missed free throws, failed to convert open shots, and allowed second chance points at inopportune times.  On some of those missed free throws, one by Cooper and one by Taylor that sticks in my mind, we didn't even bother to have someone on the lane to try to get the rebound.  I understand how unlikely it is that this team could get a rebound on a missed free throw, but we should have at least had somebody there to try.  Given how many games we've lost this year due to giving up offensive rebounds on missed free throws, it's certainly worth a shot.

With about 5 minutes left in the game, LSU made back to back 3s to stretch the lead back to 15.  At that point, I went ahead and cancelled my Atlanta hotel reservations and sold my tickets for tonight's session to Kentucky fans, because I knew our season was over.

On the bright side, Jimmie Taylor had another solid game.  He held his own with Bryant, and scored 9 points with 5 rebounds.  Shannon, Levi, and Relly all finished in double digits.  We weren't out rebounded as badly as I feared, 38-31, and actually had one more offensive rebound than they did, but we couldn't finish around the rim.

Up next, the offseason for us, as there will be no postseason tournament bids for this team.  Despite our absence, I am really looking forward to the NCAA tournament this year.  I truly believe there are at least 15-20 teams that have a legitimate shot at winning the whole thing, depending on how the matchups shake out.  It's truly the most wonderful time of the year, and maybe one day soon we can be a part of it again.

I know Bobbyjack is working on a state of the program type post.  I will wait till he gets it up before I post my own annual end of season manifesto either as a separate post or in a comment to his.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

SEC Tournament- vs LSU thread

No sense in doing a 'Know Your Enemy' since I already covered them this season... I'll update stats and give an updated preview.

LSU preview
Season stats
Previous 'Know Your Enemy' post

Some positives about this match up:
- LSU usually runs 7 out there... being that we only have 8 we trust we shouldn't expect to be pressed much.
- LSU has limped into the SECT going 5-6 since February 1st with no 2 game winning streak
- Jimmy Taylor has been playing much better and I think he's up to task to somewhat keep the LSU's bigs in check if Big Carl can help out with O' Bryant, Mickey, and Martin .
- In the previous match up in Tuscaloosa we had balanced scoring from Releford, Hale, Cooper, and Randolph. I think we get that again plus some quality minutes from Taylor.

Keys to the game:
- Make the LSU guards beat us.
- Uptempo the game (goes against the philosophy of this year's team, but IMO the best approach today)
- Don't get beat too badly on the boards
- Get Randolph and Cooper active on the offensive end

As you saw in my prediction post earlier I picked us to win. Nothing has changed in my mind. I actually think we win comfortably. Maybe it's the Sudafed kicking in again.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bama Continues Late Recruiting Push

It is obvious that the Alabama coaching staff is determined to add another player or two from the 2014 class. This week the staff offered Jeff Garrett, a 6'7 210 lb PF from Oldsmar Christian High School in Oldsmar, FL. Garrett is originally from Gadsden City, but transferred to Oldsmar for his senior year. He will be taking an official visit to Alabama at some point in the near future.

Most recruiting sites list him as a PF. As you can see in the video below, he's long, athletic and shows some versatility in the way he runs the floor and his ability to score off the dribble. The video doesn't show much in the way of a perimeter or mid-range game so that may be something he needs to develop. And as always, how good he is on the defensive end will determine how much he plays early. He may also need a year in the weight room to successfully play the 4 at the college level, but the kid definitely shows some promise in the clips below. 

Nevertheless, this is good news that the staff is continuing to try and stock the 2014 roster with more pieces. Obviously they recognize the need for more size and depth to complement the returning players for next season. If the Bama staff can land Garrett or Jackson Davis or both, it will only strengthen what is, arguably, the best recruiting class that they have signed during Grant's tenure.

Also of note is that Cecil Hurt tweeted today that Alabama is showing interest in JC recruit JJ Nganga, a 6'10, 250 lb C from Northern Oklahoma College. Nganga originally hails from France. He averaged 5.8 pts, 5.3 reb this season. He could be a bit of a project in the mold of Moussa and Carl, but he would bring more size to the table, something the program desperately needs. For what it's worth, he was a decent FT shooter for a big man (63%) and he also knocked down 5-14 3pt shots (35%).


Monday, March 10, 2014

SEC tournament predictions

If you want to go to the tournament Thursday, don't have tickets, and not comfortable dealing with scalpers check for tickets (I was not paid to put this link up... you can use other sites as well). The link should take you to the Thursday night session. If we make it to Friday I'll link that in the next preview (after I buy said tickets I need).

Here is a link to the SEC tournament bracket and here are my predictions:

- South Carolina over Auburn (and Barbee's days at the Barn are over)
- Vanderbilt over M$U
(anyone that paid for a ticket to Wednesday's session should get free alcohol for the day)

- Missouri over aTm
- Arkansas over South Carolina
- Alabama over LSU
- Ole Miss over Vanderbilt

-  Missouri over Florida
- Arkansas over Tennessee
- Alabama over Kentucky
- Ole Miss over UGA

- Arkansas over Missouri
- Alabama over Ole Miss

- Alabama over Arkansas (going full on homer here)

Puff, puff, pass. Heh.

If I play the realist I see us exiting Friday with Kentucky winning the SECT. I stand by the other predictions as I think the Gators would rather have the extra rest.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Releford Ravages Razorbacks, 83-58

It was Trevor Releford's day, and what a way to send out one of the all-time best at UA.  Between the 5 writers and dozens of contributors here at the blog, it's very rare that we can find much common ground on anything, but I feel comfortable speaking for all of us in saying that we have really enjoyed watching Trevor Releford play basketball and represent our University in a first class manner over the last four years.

Relly, Levi, and Shannon all had great days, but I am going to start where this game was won, and that's in the post with the bigs!  Our inside game has been universally criticized all year long, by people including myself, but they came to play this weekend.  Jimmie Taylor put up 10 points and 6 rebounds before finally fouling out.  He has made tremendous progress since the beginning of the year.  He seems to have finally realized he can do more than just block shots.  If we can get him to understand the rule of verticality on defense, or at least make his fouls a little less obvious, he's going to be a stud in the near future.  Carl somehow pulled down 7 rebounds!  Carl, Jimmie, Shannon, and Coop, were all outstanding in getting their body on a man and boxing out.    As a team, we out rebounded them 41-25, and held them to just 8 offensive rebounds.  I'm too lazy to go back and look at the stats, but I don't think we've out-rebounded anybody by that margin all year.  Cooper didn't shoot well, but he made good decisions and led the team with 7 boards.  If our bigs can play like this on a consistent basis, this team is more than capable of making some noise next week.

Once again, I thought we had a great game plan.  We essentially beat Arkansas at their own game.  The Hogs like to press and take a lot of chances on defense.  Rather than obsess over the tempo, we took advantage of our opportunities when their gambles in the press failed.  I thought we were very well prepared for the press.  Our guys would immediately move to the open area after releasing a pass, and when they tried to take the short passes to the middle away we weren't afraid to go over the top.  Coach Grant also did a great job of using the bench, to the extent we have one.  With a nearly 20 point lead in the first half, he gave Dakota Slaughter some playing time to rest some of the starters, and we were able to maintain the lead.

We played a man to man defense early which put a lot of pressure on the hogs.  There's an old adage in basketball that says "pressing teams don't like to be pressed," which runs against the tenets of common sense as one would think a pressing team who sees full-court pressure in practice everyday would be used to it, but, even with a short bench, Coach Grant judicially used the press to prove the old adage correct. I particularly liked going to a full court man to man with a 20+ point lead out of a timeout late in the first half.   We even pressed with a 23 point lead and under 8 minutes remaining in the second half.  For a team that's had trouble finishing, this was a great message.  It wasn't about trying to run up a score, it was about sending a message to finish the game.   The hogs look totally shocked and confused.

Releford especially, but all of the guards, did a fantastic job of adapting to the way the game was being called.  Despite the "new rules," it seemed like Arkansas was doing a lot of hand-checking and otherwise playing very physical on defense.  Our guys kept their composure, and were strong with the basketball without being suckered into throwing elbows or hooking, and we only had 13 turnovers which isn't bad against a team like Arkansas.  When we beat the press, we attacked the basket, rather than allowing them to set their defense like we did last time we played them in Fayetteville.

When Arkansas did set up their half court defense, we actually threw the ball into the post to challenge Portis.  By attacking him, rather than shying away as we did in our first meeting, we got him in early foul trouble which seemed to throw their whole offense into a funk with him on the bench.  Again, Jimmie Taylor deserves a ton of credit for his work in the post.  

Also, when we beat the Arkansas press, they mostly settled into a 2-3 zone.  Shannon and Levi did a great job of exploiting the short corner and burning them along the baseline.  This opened things up for Releford to drive to the basketball and also knock down some open perimeter shots.

We led by 23 at halftime, and played mostly a 2-3 zone in the second half.  Arkansas did get hot and make some 3s in the second half, but the design was to force them to take some time to work for their shots in every possession.  We continued to double down on Portis in the post, and while they did make some 3s, they were never able to get into a transition game like they wanted, nor were they able to stop our offensive attack at the other end.  I don't recall them ever cutting the lead to under 19 in the second half, the game was never in doubt.  We did an outstanding job of getting back on defense every possession and moving our feet to stop the ball.  Arkansas was never able to get into the type of game they prefer to play.

From the very beginning, I felt like this team was determined to win this one for Relly.  We seemingly out-hustled them to every loose ball and played with more energy from the opening tip.  Hopefully they carry that attitude to Atlanta.

While Releford rightly gets most of the attention on senior day, we shouldn't forget about Isiah Wilson, the walkon senior from Troy, AL.  I thought it was a class act by Coach Grant to allow Wilson to start, and he even got an offensive rebound and a put back before being taken out of the game.  With the big lead, he got to finish his career on the court, and got an old-fashioned 3 point play to finish with 5 points in his final game.  He more than did his part in this victory, and it's great to see him finally get some meaningful playing time.  A lot of fans don't realize how important guys like Isiah Wilson are to a program, challenging the regulars in practice on a day to day basis.

If I'm being nitpicking and looking for a negative, it's that we continue to struggle from the free throw line.  Even Relly, who was once automatic, has struggled the last few games.  He was only 7 of 10 and we were a respectable 19 of 25 for the game.

The crowd was decent, not great, but not awful for senior day.  I would estimate close to 8,000 in the house.  I was particularly disappointed in the student turnout, as less than half of the student section was full.  Of course, the weather was nice and the baseball team was playing at the same time, and fans can bring alcohol into the outfield there, so it's somewhat understandable why that was the case.  Nevertheless, the fans who did show up were knowledgeable, loud, and into the game even before the tip.  As Tony Giles read off the lengthy list of Releford's accomplishments, it was impossible to hear the details, as all of the fans in attendance were appropriately showing their appreciation.  Coach Pujol was visible shaken up during the ceremonies, and Releford couldn't manage to smile, as he was obviously fighting back emotions.  It seemed to effect his game in the first couple of minutes, but he quickly settled down and was back to his old self.  I'm glad his family was able to make to the game.  They seemed to really enjoyed being here, and I was happy to see several fans after the game thanking Trevor's mother for sharing her son with us for these last four years.  She seemed truly appreciative of the support.

Up next, the new season!  The great thing about college basketball, is nothing that has happened to this point matters.  Theoretically, we still have a chance to win a national championship.  Everybody has a clean slate, and we just beat a team on a 6 game winning streak who was playing arguably the best ball of anybody in the conference.  With the win, we get the 10 seed which means both avoiding the Florida side of the bracket and not having to play on Wednesday.  We will face LSU Thursday night at 6pm CST.  The winner will play Kentucky at the same time Friday night.  LSU is a tough matchup for us, even though we beat them at home earlier in the year.  We will need another great game from our bigs to advance to Friday night.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Know Your Enemy- Arkansas Razorbacks

This is the final regular season game of the year... I'm not sure if I am thankful or sad to see it. Anyways, it's senior night and we should all take a minute to praise Trevor Releford for what he has done here the last 4 years. I say he's the best PG we've had here in two decades (sorry Ronald... you're one of my all-time favs, but TR has a full 4 years). I have no idea how we come close to replacing him next year...

The Hogs are on a 6 game winning streak and obviously are peaking at the right time. From the projections I have seen they are in the NCAAT by the skin of their teeth... unless they lose Saturday. The Hogs have a balanced scoring attack with Rashad Madden (12.5), Bobby Portis (12.3), Michael Qualis (12.1), Coty Clarke (9.1), and Alandise Harris (9.0) putting up respectable offensive numbers. Arkansas is averaging 81.4 PPG... and if you read anything about the recent game vs Ole Miss you know they about killed them (up by 40 at one point and scored 110).

Portis and Clarke lead the team in boards at 6.6 and 5.8 a game. Another thing to note is Mike Anderson regularly runs 11 guys out there... vs our depleted roster this causes concern.

Only twice in SEC play have the Hogs lost by more than 10 (@ A&M opener and @ LSU)

Season stats
- +10.6 point differential
- -3.3 rebound margin
- 44.8% FG and 37.1% from 3
- 72.2% FT

Game is on ESPN3 tomorrow at 4PM EST (3PM CST). I debated driving over for it, but obligations call (kid's baseball game) so I cannot make it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Cats Cut Crimson, UK 55 UA 48

I actually thought we had a great game plan and executed it well for the most part.  Kentucky is clearly more talented and more athletic than us, so we slowed the game down and made it an ugly slug fest.  We primarily ran a 2-3 zone on defense and quickly double-teamed their bigs when they got the ball in the post.  In the early goings, we did not do a good job of closing out on the 3 point shooters, and their token white zone buster burned us on his first two shots.  After that, they only went 3 for 26 for the rest of the game.  Forcing Kentucky to take 28 threes when they have such a favorable matchup in the post is a win.

Randle was the only Wildcat in double figures with 12, and we somehow held Cauley-Stein to just 3 points and 5 boards.  As expected we were badly outrebounded, but even that wasn't as bad as I feared, at 41-27.  We "only" gave up 15 offensive rebounds, which against a great rebounding team like UK and considering we played zone most of the night, that is actually not too shabby for this team.  We did as good of a job of finding somebody to get a body on and boxing out as any reasonable person could hope for.  Overall, I thought our guys had great effort and energy, and appeared to want it more than Kentucky.

Offensively, I thought Releford played well and did a good job handling their pressure.  We only had 8 turnovers as a team.  Shannon Hale had a good game despite making a couple of freshman mistakes, but he should have been more aggressive offensively.  Levi seemed to regress a bit in this game, he missed a couple of 3s which appeared to hurt his confidence, as he passed up some open looks during key possessions in the second half.

We took a 5 point lead early in the second half but that quickly disappeared with a 4 minute scoring drought.  It seemed to me that our guys got a little frustrated when they didn't get the benefit of some calls where there was some contact in the paint, and we started settling for jump shots.  As I said above, Levi and Shannon should have been more aggressive in the second half, and conversely Cooper demonstrated some very poor shot selections.

As much as I liked the game plan and think the coaches did an excellent job in preparing for this game; I am completely perplexed by what happened in the final 3 minutes.  Down 7, we switched to a press, and actually got a steal and a stop.  We failed to score, then went right back to the soft 2-3 zone and allowed UK to milk the clock.  I can understand playing for a stop there, and I know why we didn't press more throughout the game, but in that situation you have to try to force a turnover in my opinion.  At the very least, where was the 1-3-1 zone halfcourt trap?  I don't recall seeing much of that all game, and it's something UK has struggled with this season.  Furthermore, still down only 7 with one minute to go, we STILL didn't foul, against a team that is not exactly known for great free throw shooting.  I just felt like we threw in the towel too easily there at the end.  We had a great game plan, the guys bought in and played hard all night, and I feel like the players deserved to be given a chance to try to come back and win.  By staying in a zone and watching Kentucky dribble out the clock, the coaches deprived the players of that opportunity.

Up next, Mike Anderson brings his Arkansas Razorbacks to Tuscaloosa for a 3 p.m. tipoff Saturday afternoon.  The only way to see it is to buy a ticket, or watch on ESPN3.  Arkansas badly needs the road win to hang on to the coveted 4 seed in the SEC tournament and to enhance their NCAA resume.  Beyond playing the role of spoiler, Alabama can possibly jump up to the 10 seed and avoid having to play on Wednesday, depending on what happens with Vandy's next 2 games (v. LSU and @Ole Miss).  There is a lot on the line, so it should be an exciting game.  More importantly, Trevor Releford will be honored on senior night.  That alone should be enough of a reason for EVERY Bama basketball fan who is able to be in Coleman Coliseum Saturday afternoon.  Relly is one of the best point guards we've ever had, and it's a shame he hasn't had much help over the last 4 years, but I'm hoping there will be a large crowd and we can help him get a win in his last game in Tuscaloosa.


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Recruiting News: Bama offers 2014 PF

It appears that Anthony Grant and his staff are not yet finished recruiting for 2014 as they have officially made an offer to 2014 recruit, Jackson Davis. Davis is a 6'8, 215 lb PF from Lexington, KY (Lafayette HS). While in Lexington to face Kentucky, Grant made an in-home visit with Davis and his family.

Davis is an emerging recruit. Originally committed to Rice, Davis re-opened his recruitment as more programs began to notice his talents. He has been offered by a host of other schools including Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Texas Tech, VCU and many others.

His senior numbers, according to Max Preps, were an impressive 25 pts, 14 rebs per game. In his final game this season, he had a fantastic performance, scoring 32 points and grabbing 31 rebounds. I don't know the level of competition he was facing, but 32 and 31 is staggering no matter who you're playing. For a Bama program desperately in need of big men who can rebound the ball, it's no wonder that Grant and his staff have taken an interest in this young man. He would be an excellent addition to what is already shaping up to be an outstanding class.

This could also mean the staff expects some attrition in the offseason. The scholarship limit is currently full for next season, but that could change should Carl elect not to return for a fifth season or Nick Jacobs does not return to the team.

Here's a video I found on Youtube.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Know Your Enemy- @ Kentucky Wildcats + more

We are probably getting an ANGRY Wildcat squad that has lost 2 in a row to teams they have no business losing to on their worst day. They lost @ home to Arkansas 71-67 (OT) and then to lowly SC Lite 72-67 on Saturday. The current group of one and dones @ Kentucky still haven't gelled... and I suspect when they hit the NCAAT they'll be gone in the first week.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Bama Blasts Barn 73-57

Levi was back in the starting lineup and continued his hot shooting to lead us to a relatively easy win over auburn.  Releford struggled again in the first half, but our zone defense was very effective, and as I mentioned Levi got things rolling with a couple of dunks and some 3's in the first half.  Shannon Hale didn't light up the stat book, but had another solid game, and actually made a dunk (in fact, he should have got an AND-1, but no foul was called).

We learned our lesson after Denson and Harrell burned us on the dribble drive in the first matchup.  We ran just enough man to keep them off balance, but primarily played a 2-3 zone.  I was concerned they would hurt us from the perimeter, but thankfully after making their first shot they never got going.  Mixing in some matchup zone helped us to get a hand in their shooter's face and prevent them from getting into a groove, although I thought our bigs struggled in the matchup.   Remarkably, auburn settled for 27 three-point shots, and made only 5.  Personally, I would have ran a triangle + 2 defense since auburn only has two decent players, both of which are guards, but obviously the game plan worked well.

After Levi carried us in the first half, Releford stepped it up in the second to help out.  Relly finished with 16 points, and Retin quietly had a solid game with 13.  We still had issues on the glass and at the free throw line, but auburn was not good enough to make us pay.  They out rebounded us by 8, including getting a ridiculous 24 offensive rebounds to our 8.  On one possession when they were trying to make a run in the second half, I counted 7 shots at the basket.  We were only 15 of 23 from the free throw line.

While some of the stats are worrisome, they don't really tell the story of this game.  We got a 20+ point lead, and although auburn was able to cut it to 11 or 12 at times, they were never a serious threat to steal the game.  Nevertheless, if we are going to make a run in the SEC tournament, we must improve our free throw shooting and rebounding, while continuing to get good perimeter shooting with Levi and Shannon Hale helping Releford with the scoring duties.

We had a strange timeout with 12 minutes remaining in the game. auburn had cut our lead to 12 and we had just had the aforementioned possession where auburn got about 7 shots, plus we got beat back on defense giving up a transition basket, and were generally playing very sloppy at the time.  Coach Grant appeared quite upset on the sidelines just moments before, but during the timeout, I don't think he said more than 5 words to the players.  Coach Pujol talked to the team, then Coach Grant appeared to calmly ask a couple of the players some questions, to which they responded, and then Releford spoke for the remainder of the timeout.  Obviously, I couldn't hear all of what was being said, but I was concerned that it seemed quite unusual at the time.  We immediately put together a 5-0 run out of that timeout, so whatever was said obviously worked.

I thought the officiating was very inconsistent. I'm hesitant to criticize the officials, because I understand it's a very difficult sport to call.  Furthermore, the most difficult games to call, at any level, is a rivalry game between two bad teams, and let's face it, that's exactly what we had Saturday.  Officials have a tendency to "call it tight" and "keep control" in rivalry games.  The problem is, it seemed to me that they were calling it much tighter on the perimeter than in the post.  Furthermore, there were some obvious "game management" tactics that officials use (that I don't necessarily agree with), that were on display Saturday.  Officials are taught that when one team is obviously in control of the game, to give the other team the "benefit of the doubt" or, worse, "only call the obvious" against them.  The thinking is that a team that is down by 20 is already frustrated and looking for any excuse to go off, whereas the team with a big lead will not be quite as upset over getting the short end of a questionable call when they are winning big anyway.  I've always had a big problem with that mindset; if one team is up 30-40 points and still pressing against a hopeless opponent, then I can understand it, but a 15-20 point game with 15 or more minutes remaining should still be officiated as if the score is tied in my opinion.  Also, Mike Thibodeaux has been calling since I was in high school.  He's not an awful official, in fact, I'm sure I'll never make it anywhere near as far as he has in the profession.  That being said, he just can't get up and down the court like he needs to, and is constantly out of position.

The crowd was much better than I expected, probably close to 8,000, including nearly 1,000 sad and delusional barners scattered throughout who were sent home feeling like the losers they are.  The student turnout was disappointing, but the Alabama fans who were there were loud from the tip, and the players seemed to feed off of the energy.  I'm normally not a big fan of making football references at basketball games, but the tomahawk chop when auburn was shooting free throws in the second half was worth it just to irritate basketball ignorant barners who were in attendance.  

Up next, we travel to Rupp Arena for our final away game of the season.  If you are looking for reasons to have hope:  Arkansas got their first road win of the year at Rupp, Kentucky is now on a 2 game losing streak, and they've had problems with the 1-3-1 halfcourt trap at times this year, a defense that we run fairly effectively.  Plus, we are more experienced.  On the other hand, they lead the conference in offensive rebounding, and we have absolutely no answers for Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle. For entertainment purposes only, I would take the Cats if the line is single digits.  The carnage begins at 8pm CST on Fat Tuesday, if you are looking for a miserable end to the Mardi Gras season.

 Big Picture:  We are one game behind Vandy, and have the tie breaker with them, for the 10th spot.  They play LSU at home Thursday, and finish up on the road against Ole Miss.  Geaux Tigers.