Saturday, January 31, 2015

Revisited Meat- @ Kentucky 7PM EST (6PM CST) on the SEC Network

Not feeling this guys... still on a Florida hangover loss. If we could escape January with a 4-4 SEC record we'd be in good shape. Unless we pull the upset of the century (at least in the SEC) we'll be 3-5 and losers of 5 of our last 6.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bama Belongs to Billy, Florida 52 Bama 50

Our NCAA tournament hopes all but went down the drain thanks to another ugly home loss to Billy Donovan's Florida Gators.  Coach Grant is now 0-10 versus the Gators in his tenure at Alabama, and they are the only remaining SEC team that we have not beat in 6 years.

We aren't playing very good basketball right now.  There has been a troubling trend over the last few weeks, where we routinely play poorly in the first half and/or early in the second half, and often find ourselves with double-digit deficits.  To this team's credit, they never fold in those situations, we've come back and won a few games and made others respectable on the road.  It finally caught up with us last night.

The first half was probably the worst we've played all year.  I get that we were playing in the 3rd game in 6 days, and the last two games were tough and physical, but there really is no excuse to come out that flat.  One would think the fact that, looking at the schedule, it was obvious this was a pivotal game for us, not to mention a chance to beat a team that has owned us for a decade, would be motivation enough to overcome any physical or mental fatigue.

Halfway through the first half we had more turnovers than points.  I lost track of how many times we had to settle for desperation, highly contested shots as the shot clock expired.  The defense wasn't much better, we were routinely beat back in transition.  The only thing that kept us in the game is that Florida played almost as sloppy as we did.  Our press hasn't been effective all year, but Florida struggled against the trap at times.  During our second half runs there were a couple of instances where the coaching staff called for the press after made baskets, but the team didn't recognize it in time to set up.

Florida is a better team than their record indicates.  They've played a brutal schedule, and like us, they have lost some close games.  They are a talented team, but you can tell they have not really gelled.  They seem to lack chemistry, and they don't have the dominating point guards they've had in the recent past.  Still, this is probably one of Donovan's weakest teams since his national championship run, and he just came into our house and beat one of Grant's better teams.

The second half was much better.  Once again, we played more aggressive on both ends of the court, secured the basketball, and played great defense.  Cooper was actually making some jump shots and Tarrant's dribble drive sparked the offense.  Levi also contributed with 9 points.  Unfortunately, Tarrant injured his ankle, but was able to return for the final minutes.  He was still limping and obviously didn't have the same explosiveness he had before his injury, and he is reportedly on crutches today.  It's fair to question if he should have returned, and if the reports of crutches are true, I would be surprised if he plays against Kentucky.

Taylor and Kessens were huge flops in this game.  Florida is not very strong in the post, so I thought this would be a great opportunity for our big men to have a productive game.  Instead, Taylor plays only 10 minutes because he picks up 4 fouls, 3 of which were for charging.  When he came back in the game late, he had a couple of good looks but failed to finish near the basket.  He's got to learn to stop fouling and to use the glass.  I don't agree with designing our last shot to go to him to force overtime given the horrible game he had up to that point.  Kessens only scored 4 points, and also had some bad turnovers and failed to finish around the rim on several occasions.  He often catches the ball in great position, but then puts it on the floor instead of going up.

Give credit to Florida for finding a way to win on the road despite not playing a great game.  We battled back from a 13 point deficit, but every time we tied the game they had an answer.

Throughout the game, I thought Florida really extended their zone.  Instead of bringing our bigs out to the top of the key to set ball screens, I would have liked to have used Coop or even Taylor to set an off-ball back screen in the corner for a slasher like Levi on the back door cut.

As for the final 2 possessions, Taylor followed his man, who was not an outside shooting threat, way too far toward the wing, and Kessens was slow to recognize he needed to come over and help from the opposite block, which left the lane open for the dunk.  It was good spacing and execution by Florida, but Taylor needs to be smarter and stay home there.  Our final possession was apparently designed to get the ball to Taylor, for reasons that I don't understand.  Given that we weren't even in the penalty, I would have preferred an earlier jump shot, preferably from 3 to play for the lead, but with plenty of time to get an offensive rebound.  When the play to Taylor didn't materialize, we cleared out for Levi who drove in presumably hoping to draw a foul, which you cannot rely on in that situation.  Florida had it well defended, and with so little time left, even if we could have fouled it would not have mattered.

From reading the comments here and other sites, it appears the overwhelming sentiment of the fan base is that we need to at least make the NCAA tournament this year to justify retaining Coach Grant. I like Coach Grant, but this is a results based business, and if we miss the tournament, that will be one appearance and zero NCAA tournament wins in 6 years.  It's hard to argue otherwise.

I stated at the beginning of SEC play that if we could get to 4-4 through the rough January schedule, we would be in great position to be in the conversation.  I literally can not envision any scenario in which we have a chance to win at Rupp Saturday, so let's go ahead and put us down for 3-5.  It is my opinion that to have a realistic shot at making the field, we will need to win all remaining home games plus away games at auburn, mi$$ $tate, Vandy, and one of either LSU/aTm.  This team is capable of doing that, but to say the margin is thin would be a gross understatement.

Other than pointing out the obvious above, I will not comment further on the subject of Coach Grant's job stability.  I feel that such speculation during the season is counter-productive.  There will be a time and place for those discussions, and that will occur after the season.  For now, he has a group of guys who are still fighting hard for him, and I will continue to support this team and this coach for the remainder of the season.

After two straight sell outs, the crowd was pathetic.  I would estimate no more than 8,000, with nearly 10% of that being Gator fans.  This was arguably a bigger game than the 2 sell outs.  Those, at least on paper, should have been a sure loss and a sure win.  This was THE game of the season, and the performance of our fans was not any better than that of the team.

Up next, we go to Kentucky to take on the top ranked Wildcats in historic Rupp Arena.  I normally don't bet against Alabama, but if anybody here is willing to bet on the Tide straight up (not against the spread), I will take all wagers.  Just name the stakes in the comments and we will work out the details.  Best game plan for this one is to drink heavily, use lots of lube, bite the pillow, close our eyes, imagine our happy place and hope they are gentle and quick.  The carnage will be televised on SEC Network, beginning at 7pm EST (6 Central).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fresh Meat- Florida Gators 9PM EST (8PM CST) on ESPN

The struggling Florida Gators come into Tuscaloosa riding a 3 game losing streak, but over the years we have been their slump-buster so don't think this game will be easy. The Gators have won the last 4 in Tuscaloosa.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Arkansas Agony Abated, Alabama Abolishes auburn, 57-55

You get a two for one deal today here at the Bamahoops blog thanks for my neglecting to recap the Arkansas game last Thursday.  

We played respectably well in Fayetteville, in a tough environment against a big team that is a bad matchup for us. Like we've done all year, we battled back when things looked bleak and got the game into overtime.  We were dominated on the boards, again, and that was ultimately the difference in the game. Justin Coleman had a breakout game, scoring 22 points, and Cooper had a great first half, while Levi stepped up late and in overtime.  

Once again, our clock management skills would make Les Miles cringe.  Down 3, with 20 seconds remaining, we pass up a wide open 3 only to throw the ball in to Kessens in the paint, WITH 2 SECONDS LEFT ON THE CLOCK, but Arkansas inexplicably bailed us out with a dumb foul giving Mike the And One. Hale finally stepped up and make a big 3 to tie the game late in the overtime period, but then proceeded to stare at the ball at the other end instead of blocking his man out, who got the rebound and the put back to end the game. 

So with a quick turnaround we had to play our in-state rivals Saturday afternoon.  auburn played over their heads, as we knew they would, and Bama did not match their intensity for the first 35 minutes of the game.  

auburn torched our zone early and forced us to switch to a man.  From there, the game just got extremely physical and ugly on both ends.  I usually try to refrain from criticizing the officials, and I know this was a difficult game to call, but they blew a number of calls on both sides and generally just let the game get out of control.  Our guys seemed to get frustrated easily, I think we let the officials take us out of our game a bit.  Bowers for auburn is one of the dirtiest, most classless players I have seen in a long time. He was taking cheap shots on Kessens and Cooper all day, running his mouth, talking trash, and even flexing and taunting our guys when they got a 8 point lead. There may be a bit of Karma involved in Levi and Coop beating him to key rebounds in the final minute as we came back to win the game.    

I was actually hoping Grant would do something to pick up a technical foul in the second half.  I thought the team needed to know he had their back, and it would help energize a team that looked lethargic.  Instead, it was Tarrant who picked up his 2nd technical foul leading to an ejection.  Tarrant's technical foul was a byproduct of the holding and pushing every time auburn pressed, and the officials not calling it all day.  To say auburn played physical would be an understatement.  It's almost as if Antoine Mason passed on the knowledge he learned from his Dad's cheap-shot artist NY knicks teams of the 90's to his auburn teammates.     Regardless, the team seemed to pick it up a notch after his ejection, with Levi getting a steal and a dunk and the comeback was on. 

Coleman did a nice job of running the point down the stretch, and Levi took it upon himself to get us back in the game.  As many games as we have lost on the boards this year, it was great to win won when Cooper got the put back from Levi's missed shot at the end.  

You guys know I am not a fan of this trophy presentation, as I believe it reinforces the notion that basketball is the little brother sport in this state.  That being said, I'm not sure we have a sellout crowd without it, and the atmosphere was actually great.  Nobody left at halftime and the crowd was loud and supportive down the stretch.  It was great to see Coach Grant actually encouraging the crowd to make noise late in the game.  auburn brought more fans than usual, I would say maybe 1,000 or so.  It was a little disappointing to see several of them sitting in the floor and other premium seating areas. 

Make no mistake, as long as that sleaze bag of a coach resides in Lee County, their talent level will improve, they will play dirty on and off the floor, and they will become more than a nuisance.  

Up next, another quick turnaround as the Florida Gators come in for an 8pm tip off Tuesday night.  Coach Grant has never beat Billy Donovan, but this is a Gators team that is a little down this year, and if we want to make the NCAA tournament this is almost a must-have game.  Let's see if we can make it 3 sell outs in a row.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fresh Meat- Auburn Tigers 8:30PM EST (7:30PM CST)

Auburn (10-8/2-3) visits Tuscaloosa to take on OUR Crimson tide (12-6/2-3)

This is a big game for both teams. Both are coming off disappointing losses... us to Arkansas in OT and the Barn to M$U at home. Auburn has yet to win a road game so we have that going for us.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fresh Meat- @ Arkansas 7PM EST (6PM CST) on ESPN2

Both teams are on 2 game losing streaks so something has to give. We got beat down by Kentucky at home while Arkansas got blown out by Ole Miss in Fayetteville. All signs point to this being the Hogs recovery game.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SEC Power Rankings

The season is flying by. Selection Sunday is a little less than 8 weeks from today. Will our beloved Crimson Tide hear their name called? That remains to be seen, but they've still got a puncher's chance. Something we couldn't say this time last season.

 I figure we can post a power ranking here every couple of weeks to create discussion, name-calling, silent nods of disapproval, etc. Please feel free to share your own power rankings in the comments section.

1. Kentucky - The safest bet in the conference. The Wildcats had some struggles to open SEC play, but have won their past two games by a combined 71 points, including Saturday's dismissal of Alabama by 22. This team is good enough to take nights off and survive. And when they play their best, forget about it. Unfortunately, the dominance Kentucky has shown so far this season has put them in a corner with the media and their own fans. Anything less than a national championship and this season will be seen as a disappointment.

2. Georgia - You could put any number of teams in this spot. Seven teams, including Georgia, currently sit at 2-2 as we begin the third week of conference play. The league desperately needs a few teams to distance themselves from the pack over the next couple of weeks in order to aid the chances of increased representation in the NCAA tournament. For now, I'll put Georgia here. They've got a solid resume. An RPI in the top 30. Good wins over Seton Hall (RPI: 18) and at Kansas State (currently in 1st place in the Big 12). They started 0-2 in league play, but bounced back with a win at Vanderbilt and an impressive showing this past weekend against Florida. Not a flashy team, but solid enough to pick up double digit victories in conference and make the NCAA Tournament.

3. Florida - The Gators challenged themselves in the non-conference, but didn't pick up any quality wins (and a loss to Florida State - RPI: 133 - is going to stick). As a result, Florida probably needs to win at least 12 games in SEC play to put themselves on the bubble. They're off to a good start at 3-1 in league play, but two of those wins were home wins over Mississippi State and Auburn, two teams not expected to finish anywhere near the top of the standings. Fortunately for Florida, they seem to be improving, and they're as healthy as they've been all season. I'm not sure Florida has enough firepower to return to the NCAA tournament, but I'm not ready to count them out either.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

CATastrophe. UK 70 UA 48

The stage was set for the biggest game at Coleman Coliseum in years.  Kentucky came in ranked number one in the land with an undefeated record.  There wasn't an empty seat to be found in the gym, and the game was nationally televised on ESPN.  Kentucky won the tip, but Levi Randolph got a steal and a fast break basket.  2-0 Bama, and the capacity crowd was standing and rocking.

Unfortunately, that was the highlight of the day.  Kentucky dominated every phase of the game.  It was 35-17 at halftime, and we got on a run to start the second half which cut the deficit to 9, but with our bigs in foul trouble Kentucky had the lead back to 20+ in short order.

Almost none of the things that I identified as being necessary to win before the game came to fruition.  We only shot 18 threes, making 5 of them.  I have no idea why we insisted on trying to attack the basket on the dribble drive.  It was an exercise in futility against their trees.  We also passed up too many decent shots early in the shot clock only to have to force something in desperation to beat the clock.

We played a lot of zone, but Kentucky shot the ball well from the outside, making 8 of 17 from three point range.  As we all feared, the Cats dominated the boards.  We didn't get a single rebound in the first 5 minutes of the game.

Retin Obasohan started in place of Ricky Tarrant who was playing through some type of foot injury.  Levi and Cooper both had good games with 13 and 10 points each.

When Kentucky plays reasonably well, they are unbeatable, and that was the case Saturday.  I thought they took the foot off the gas a bit in the second half, It could have been a lot worse.  They will make a lot of good teams look bad.  We can't let this game negatively effect our confidence.  Hopefully the team will bounce back with a good performance on the road Thursday night.  We have a very tough schedule over the next couple of weeks.

Kentucky probably had about 3,000 fans there, and in the second half their "Go Big Blue" chants were all that could be heard.  Our crowd was loud for the first 3 minutes or so, but got quieter as the Kentucky lead grew.

Up next, we go to Fayetteville, Arkansas to take on the Hogs Thursday night.  They are coming off a disappointing home loss to Ole Miss.  It's a chance to get a top 50 road win, but will be a very difficult task in a hostile environment.  Tipoff is set for 6pm on ESPN2.

Cats Clobber Crimsons

As expected, Alabama was no match for Kentucky. Their size, strength, quickness and depth were simply too much for the Tide. Randolph, Cooper and Kessens seemed tentative after being stuffed repeatedly under the basket. Taylor, our only true post player, picked up two unwise fouls after having been beaten while on the floor. The score at the half was something like 35-17. Bama adjusted well and cut the lead to nine. Taylor picked up his fourth foul about four minutes in and was over.  Kentucky played smart and and strong. They pressed our players all around the court without picking up fouls. They play defense mostly with their feet. We were beaten in every phase of the game. Hopefully we can bounce back.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fresh Meat- Kentucky comes to town... biggest game in 5 years 4PM EST (3PM CST)

The near unanimous #1 team in the land (2 votes for UVA) come to Tuscaloosa for a tilt that could be memorable... or a tail kicking like Kentucky did to Missouri earlier in the week.

We all know that their 1st nine are probably more talented than our best player, but it's BASKETBALL and the best team doesn't always win. We have a puncher's chance IF we shoot OUT OF OUR MINDS from outside (not the 30% 3pt FG we are shooting on the season). Let Cooper and Norris take most of those since they are our best shooters.

Friday, January 16, 2015

We can beat Kentucky

I'm sure Bobbyjack will have a more in depth preview, but on the eve of arguably the biggest game at Coleman Coliseum in the last 3 or 4 years, I thought I would offer my opinion on how we should go about slaying the giants.  Kentucky may be one of the best teams of all time, but it's very difficult to go undefeated in college basketball, particularly when you are facing your opponents best shot every night.  They've already been taken to overtime twice.  I have little doubt we will give the Cats our best shot.  My opinion is that UK will lose at least one road game in the SEC.  So, why not us?

1. Lots of zone defense.  Kentucky has a huge advantage over us in the paint.  They are long, big, and skilled.  We need to force them to take jump shots, and hope they have an off night on the road.  We need to get back in transition to limit their fast break opportunities.  I would not press them, our press has been ineffective and they are too quick and athletic.  Maybe throw in some half-court zone traps occasionally just to give them another look and keep them off balance.

2. Rebounding.  Kentucky is very good on the boards.  We haven't been.  Combine this with the above mentioned necessity of playing zone, and we could have a recipe for disaster.  We MUST block out and hold them to one jump shot, and limit their second chance opportunities.  In other words, more of what we saw in Knoxville, less of what we saw in Columbia, please.

3.  Up tempo pace on offence-  This may seem counter-intuitive.  Generally, when you are out-manned (and make no mistake, every team that plays Kentucky will be out-manned, to varying degrees) it's better to slow the game down, with the theory being you have a better chance of winning with fewer possessions for each team.  However, UK is an extraordinarily talented defensive team.  The later we get in the shot clock, the more likely we are to turn it over.  I would like for us to try to push the ball and get up a shot before they can get their defense set.

4.  Three point shooting.  We've been shooting a lot of 3s lately.  We have not been making them.  We need to keep shooting them, and hope that trend changes tomorrow.  It's very difficult to attack the rim or post up their bigs.  We must make the 3s.

So basically, push the ball up the floor, jack up the first decent open shot we get, many of which will be from beyond the perimeter, and hope we get hot, while retreating to a zone on defense, forcing UK to settle for one jump shot, and somehow keep them off the boards.

UK always travels well, and with them being #1 and undefeated, playing on a Saturday with a start time that is very conducive for them making a weekend trip, I expect there will be A LOT of blue in the stands.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, sometimes a vocal visiting contingent can motivate a normally docile home crowd.  We need to drown them out, and provide a great atmosphere that our guys can feed off of.  We can do this while still be courteous to our guests.  I hope everyone that goes to the game will be welcoming and respectful to the Kentucky fans.  I'm sure their fan base has a few bad apples like everyone else, but in general they are a first class bunch, knowledgeable of the game and passionate about their team.  Rupp Arena is by far my favorite venue to visit in the SEC, and we've never had a bad experience in my half a dozen or so trips there.  I'm very much looking forward to going back in two weeks.

Let's do this.  Roll Tide.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cocks Cream Crimson, 68-66.

Bama played well at times, but poor free throw shooting, shot selection, and rebounding was too much to overcome at times.  The Tide picked up right where they left off in Knoxville, holding the cocks scoreless through the first 5 minutes of the game while taking a 9-0 lead.  We missed some opportunities on offense, and could have easily had a 15 point lead in the first half.  Instead, South Carolina answered with a 9-0 run of their own to tie the game.

The announcers harped on it a little too much for my liking, but we settled for too many jump shots in the first half.  With the exception of a few back door cuts against their man, we made little effort to drive to the basketball or get the ball in to the post.  We were only 3 of 11 from downtown in the first half.  Nevertheless, Ricky Tarrant scored at the end of the first half to give us some momentum only down 5 at halftime.

The start of the second half was an unmitigated disaster with 3 straight turnovers.  Within 4 minutes, the lead was back up to 13.  Alabama fought back, started attacking the basket and slowly chipped away at the lead.  Ricky Tarrant led the charge, but picked up his 4th foul with 10 minutes to play after cutting the deficit to 7.  Tarrant would foul out with just under 5 minutes remaining, with 3 of his 5 fouls being called on the offensive end.  He still scored 15 points, and I believe the outcome would have been different if he were available down the stretch.  Nevertheless, I thought Justin Coleman did a nice job of running point, and Levi stepped up big time to put us in position to win the game.

This game was lost on the backboards.  South Carolina had 13 offensive rebounds to our 4, scoring 21 second chance points to our 6.  That's nearly a third of their points coming on second chance opportunities.  If Taylor, Kessens, and Coop box out like they did in the Tennessee game, we win this one going away.  I give South Carolina's Carrera a lot of credit for his hustle on the glass.  On the other hand, Chatkevicious should have been thrown out for his elbow to Norris in the first half.  That was as blatantly intentional and dirty of a play as you will see.  I'm not sure Riley should have stayed in to shoot the free throws after that.

Once again, we had horrible clock management at the end of the game.  We had the ball and a timeout down 2 with 30 seconds left.  I thought we should have called the timeout upon crossing half-court to put Justin in for Retin.  Retin is typically the "defense" PG in the late game offense/defense substitutions, and you just knew he was going to drive in out of control.  Coach Grant waited until he did exactly that, and called the timeout with 11 seconds to go.  It turns out, that out of control drive was probably better than the designed side-out play we called with 11 seconds.  That was a tough situation for a true freshman Justin Coleman to be in when they took away the initial designed pass to Levi.  I wish he would have attacked the basket with his quickness and looked for either a kick-out to the perimeter or an inside dish to Kessens or Coop.  Instead, he handed it to Levi with 3 seconds left, who could do nothing but heave it up.

Up next, the undefeated and top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats will come to Tuscaloosa for a 3pm tip-off Saturday.  The game is sold out, and I for one welcome our new Big Blue overlords.  The game will be televised on ESPN.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fresh Meat- @ SC Lite 9PM EST (8PM CST) on ESPNU

2-0 visits 0-2 in a pivotal matchup in Columbia. For them, the want their 1st SEC win as they have lost to UF and @ Ole Miss. For us, starting 3-0 is HUGE as we got Kentucky 2x, @ Arkansas, and UF to end the month. 

After winning 7 in a row the Gamecocks have lost 2 straight. The other losses have been to Baylor (@ home), Charlotte, and Akron (those in Charleston). They do have victories over Iowa State and Clemson.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Rocky Stopped, 56-38.

For the first time in almost 2 years Alabama won a true road game, and did so in convincing fashion, holding Tennessee to their lowest point total in the history of Thompson-Boling arena.

Both teams played a lot of zone in the first half, and I was surprised that the Vols pressed early.  With only 9 players and a history of foul trouble, that was an unexpected decision by first year coach Donnie Tyndall.  We did a good job of breaking the press but did not have much success in the half court against their zone.  Fortunately, our own zone defense was even better, or arguably Tennessee's offense was even worse.

Coming into the game, I thought the key to victory would be Kessens taking advantage of their lack of size in the post.  While Mike helped us out with some rebounds, he did not have a great offensive day.  Tennessee had a good plan to prevent him from getting the ball.  They fronted him in the zone and we weren't able to create passing lanes or go over the top.  I thought we settled for too many jump shots in the first half instead of attacking the basket on the dribble drive.  We were only 3 for 11 from downtown in the first half, and did not make a single trip to the free throw line.

Jimmie Taylor got a thunderous dunk at the buzzer to stretch the halftime lead to 5 and give us momentum going into the locker room.  As bad as Tennessee was playing, I felt we should have had a bigger lead at that point.

Tennessee's Josh Richardson was the best player on the floor, and he took over the game to start the second half.  The Vols took the lead, with Richardson having scored over half of their points.  The game was tied at 36 with 12 minutes left.  I told my gf at that time that I thought we had less than a 5% chance of winning the game.  We weren't playing aggressive enough on offense, Donaldson was heating up, and we have a history of melting down late in close games on the road.

I could not have been more wrong.  Tennessee did not score again until they got a garbage basket in the final minute, long after the outcome was determined.  Most of the credit goes to Ricky Tarrant for shutting down Donaldson.  The coaching staff also had a great scheme.  It was obvious that a lot of UT's players were basically standing around waiting on Donaldson to win the game for them.  Anytime Donaldson got some room from Tarrant, somebody else was coming over to help.  We forced him to pass, and his teammates could not make open perimeter shots.  Taylor, Kessens, Levi, and Cooper also rebounded the ball well, generally limiting Tennessee to one shot down the stretch.

Taylor had a nice stretch as we re-established the lead, scoring 13 points and somehow making 3 of 4 free throws with that screwball shot of his.  Tarrant added 14 points including a couple of nice base-line inbound plays where he threw the ball off of the Tennessee defenders' backs.  Cooper was awesome, putting them away with 3 of 5 shooting from 3 point range while leading all scorers with 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.

They had a solid crowd, I would estimate about 12,000 were there in the 22,000 seat facility. There were probably 300 or so Alabama fans scattered throughout.  Thompson-Boling arena is an eyesore on the river from the outside, but is actually very nice inside.  The slow pace of the game and the struggles of the home team created an atmosphere that was not overly hostile for us.  The loudest cheers of the day came when they showed football coach Butch Davis on the video screen.  Bill Battle was in attendance, giving me some hope that maybe he's taking up an interest in basketball, although I suspect it was just an excuse to get back to Tennessee for him.  The Tennessee fans were all very accommodating and knowledgeable.

Up next, the brutal January schedule continues with a road trip to South Carolina Tuesday night for an 8pm central tip off.  The game will be televised on ESPNU.  Let's keep it rolling.

Tide Tames Tennessee - or Welcome Back, Cooper

Alabama ended its long road loss streak in the best place available: Knoxville.  Levi Randolph had a slow afternoon, but Rodney Cooper regained his three point prowess and hit 3 of 5 from outside the arc. Cooper has been making huge contributions all season that do not always show in the box score . Saturday he was the Tide's leading scorer. Taylor and Tarrant also had big games . Kessens and Norris grabbed several huge rebounds.

Tennessee is not a great scoring team, but the Tide's holding them to one made shot the last 13 minutes of the game after having surrendered the lead was a huge improvement over what we have been seeing in close games this year.

These men are beginning to play well together and seem to be having fun again. It'so been a long time coming, but the players and chemistry might be in place for them to get back to the Big Dance.

DJC was at the game. He'll likely make a more informative contribution later. For now I am going to enjoy this win.

I'm with this guy!

Roll Tide!

Friday, January 09, 2015

Fresh Meat- @ Tennessee 1/10 @ 2PM EST (1PM CST)

2 undefeated teams (in conference play) battle in Knoxville, only one comes out a winner. Let's hope for the upset. UTK did beat a hapless Mi$$ $t squad on the road Wednesday which is as close to a bye week as one can have in hoops, but they do have impressive wins over KState and Butler.

UTK write-up.

Josh Richardson is dropping 16.1 a game shooting 39% from beyond the arc. Kevin Punter is the only other Vile in double digits at 10.8 a game. Armani Moore leads the team in boards and blocks. UTK plays 9 with Richardson and Punter playing 30+ a game.

UTK is defensive minded squad only allowing 62.8 a game... while scoring a mere 65.9. The offensive percentages look good, but they don't take a whole lot of them thus the low PPG.

More #s
- 44.2% FG
- 36.1% 3pt FG
- +2.2 rebound margin
- pretty much an even assist to TO ratio (150/154)

Overall, UTK is a smallish team with their tallest player seeing mop up duty so we have a couple of 6'8" guys (Carmichael and McGee) with the rest being guard-like players. Note the 2 listed don't play that much either so I'm hoping we combat them with Taylor, Kessens, and Norris inside.

Game is on the SEC Network

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Alabama Annihilates Aggies, 65-44

Sorry for the delay in posting the recap, the day job has been consuming a lot of my time lately.

Bama is undefeated and tied for first place in the SEC after a dominating 21 point win over Texas A&M.  The Aggies were missing their leading scorer, but I also thought we played great defense all night.  We settled for a lot of 3 point jump shots early in the game, and despite only making 3 of 15 in the first half we were able to build a 25-12 lead.  We got a little sloppy with the ball towards the end of the first half, and allowed the Aggies to go on a run and get back into the game.

The second half was all Alabama.  One thing I like about this team, is they have found many ways to win this year when the shots aren't falling.  I predicted this would be a "live and die with the 3" type of team, but Kessens is starting to score in the post.  Retin came in off the bench, played well, and gave us a spark.  Retin, Tarrant, and Levi were all effective with the dribble-drive, either finishing around the rim, pulling up for a runner, or getting to the free throw line.

Every time it looked like the Aggies might make a move, Alabama was answered with a run of their own. There were lots of good individual performances with Tarrant, Levi, Kessens, and Retin all scoring in double figures.  Kessens also had 9 rebounds, and if he continues to play like this we have the potential to be a pretty solid, balanced team. We were 18 of 25 from the free throw line, but if you take away Jimmie Taylor's predictable 1 for 5, that's a very good performance.

The game was somewhat of a grind.  It was very half-court oriented, as neither team ran or pressed much.  Again, its encouraging that we are winning games of all styles.

It was reported that Coach Grant spoke to the SEC observer of officials at the beginning of the second half.  I've ranted on here before about Ted Valentine, and while he didn't call an awful game, I just don't like the way he seemingly makes call in a manner to draw attention to himself, not to mention the fact that he reaches beyond his primary area way too often.  I've never understood why he seems to be so highly regarded, but I digress.  My gf pointed out that Coach Granted appeared to be wearing a mic.  For those who watched the broadcast on television, I would be interested to hear if they aired any of his conversations with Valentine, or if anything else interesting was picked up.  Coach Grant did seem to be a little more vocal than normal.  

Regardless of what was aired, I think it was a great decision by Coach to wear the mic. He's often criticized as being stand-offish, etc, but maybe this allowed the viewers to get an interesting glimpse into his personality.  Having a likable head coach can only help to generate interest.  

The student section turnout was great, but unfortunately most of the season ticket holders opted to stay home.  I would estimate about 7,500 in the house.  The loudest moment was definitely when Tarrant threw the alley oop to Levi off the backboard on a fast break with around 4 minutes left to play.  Those are the fun things you can do with a 20 point lead late in the game, and it got us the #7 spot on sportscenter's top 10.  It was also good to see us empty the bench in the final minute.  

Overall, it was a solid win over a border-line top 50 team, albeit at home and without their leading scorer.  The upcoming schedule is brutal, so we needed a win like this to build some confidence before going on the road.  We really need to at least split these next 2 road games.

Up next, we travel to Rocky Top Tennessee to take on the Vols at 2pm EST Saturday afternoon.  As I write this, UT has blown a 12-2 lead on the road to an AUful M$ $tate team to trail 17-16, and their best player picked up 3 fouls in the first 14 minutes.  We can't count on that in Thompson-Boling arena, where they've beaten Butler and K-State.  It will be my first road game of the year, so I'll try to post a recap at some point Sunday.  

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Fresh Meat- Texas A&M- 9pm EST (8pm CST)

The SEC opener matches the 9-3 Aggies vs YOUR 10-3 Crimson Tide. A&M has a win over New Mexico (down from last season) and a win over Arizona St, but really nothing OOC of note.  Dayton, Baylor, and KState have beaten them so far. One thing I can say is A&M played a decent OOC schedule and it should help them in conference play.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

SEC Preview/Predictions

We finish the non-conference slate at 10-3, which if you go back to the season predictions posts, is actually 2 games better than both Bobbyjack and I predicted.  We don't have any "quality wins" yet, but we've at least avoided the bad losses, so that's improvement over the last 2 or 3 seasons.  The conference actually appears to be improved this year, so we should have a few chances to pick up those top 100 and top 50 wins we will need to make the NCAA tournament.  I'm sticking with my 10-8 conference record prediction, which depending on where those 10 wins comes will likely put us square on the bubble.  We need to knock off a top 50 team and win a couple of games on the road.

Here's my prediction for the final SEC standings based on what I've seen so far.  Feel free to post yours in the comments, it will be fun to look back at this in March and realize how far off we are.  

1. Kentucky-  No brainer,not only are they the best team in the country, but they are the best in the nation, and may end up being one of the best of all time.  That being said, I still think they lose a road game somewhere.  It may as well be in Tuscaloosa in a couple of weeks.  


2. Florida- Don't be fooled by their 7-5 record.  They lost a lot from last year, have played a brutal schedule (Georgetown, Kansas, UNC), and have had a lot of injuries.  They are getting healthy and Donovan will have this team dancing by the end of the year.  

3. Arkansas- Mike Anderson seems poised to finally make a run.  They are 10-2, but like us, are lacking the quality wins.  They lost badly to Iowa State and dropped a close one to Clemson.  

4.  Georgia- They are 8-3, but with good wins over Colorado, Seton Hall, and Kansas State.  There's no shame in losses to Georgia Tech, Gonzaga, and Minnesota, and they've been competitive in every game.  

5. LSU- A very talented, deep, overall team, especially in the front court.  They have an impressive road win already on their resume over top 20 West Virginia, but a head scratching loss to Old Dominion.  Of course, ODU is 11-1, so maybe that won't be such a bad loss after all.  I would have them higher, but I'm still not sold on Johnny Jones as coach.  

6. Alabama- We could go as high as 2 or 3, or as low as 10 or 11.  I decided to split the difference.  

7.  South Carolina- They are 8-3 with a nice win over Oklahoma State and a big game today against Iowa State.  With the exception of 2 losses in a preseason tournament in Charleston to Akron and Charlotte, they've played well.  I expect this is the season we start to see some improvement from Frank Martin's squad, but inconsistency will still be a problem.  

8.  Tennessee- Speaking of inconsistent, this is a difficult team to figure out. They are 8-4 against a pretty tough schedule, with nice wins over Butler and K-state, but they've flirted with some bad losses and generally not played well away from home. I have them at 8, but would not be surprised if they finish in the top 4 in the league.  

9.  Texas A&M-  They are 8-3 and sort of like us with no real impressive wins or bad losses.  This is a team to watch for the future, they have a top 5 recruiting class committed which is no surprise given $tansbury's employment there.  

10.  auburn-  They will win a few they aren't supposed to, and Bruce Pearl has already brought some excitement to what has been  a dreadful program for most of its existence.  They are 7-5, with a good win over Xavier, but bad losses to Coastal Carolina and Tulsa.  

11.  Vanderbilt - 9-3, no real quality wins but their losses were to respectable teams (Rutgers, Baylor, and Georgia Tech).  They will always be a pain in Nashville because of their ridiculous gym, and while they should be improved from last season, I still don't seem them as a contender.  

12. Ole Miss- They are 8-4, but oddly only 3-3 at home. They have a good neutral site win over top 25 Creighton, but home losses to Charleston Southern, TCU, and Western Kentucky. It will be interesting to see how they adjust to life after Marshall Mathers, I mean Henderson.

13.  Mizzou-  It's a transition year with new coach Kim Anderson.  It's almost like they are trying too hard to fit into the SEC, they've won the East in football but a once proud basketball program is stinking it up at 5-7.  I'm cutting them some slack because they've played a brutal schedule (Arizona, Purdue, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Illinois), but they lost to UMKC (which I honestly didn't even know existed until I saw that score).

14. Mississippi State- They are 7-6, including an impressive 19 point loss at home to McNeese State.  They will finish dead last where they belong, and it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch.  

Osprey's Ousted, 76-61

After an ugly start, Bama took care of business in the final non-conference game of the season.  North Florida came into the game with a reputation of being a team that lives and dies with the three-point shot.  Our full court pressure early in the game was not very effective.  In fact, our press has been less than impressive most of the season thus far.  North Florida attacked the basket early and was able to build an 18-11 lead.  Frankly, we did not look motivated those first few minutes.  The Osprey's beat us in transition, came up with some loose balls, and appeared to be the only team on the court that wanted to be there.

Coach Grant called timeout with 14 minutes remaining in the first half, and we almost immediately looked like an entirely different team.  We switched to a zone and shut down the UNF inside game.  We became more physical, the effort and intensity improved by leaps and bounds, we started moving the ball around better on offense, and cruised to victory from there. 

Ricky Tarrant took an awful shot early in the game and Coach Grant put him on the bench for an extended period of time. I didn't necessarily agree with that, as Tarrant is the reigning SEC player of the week, and I think it's obvious at this point that we will have to live with the occasional head-scratching shot selection in exchange for the scoring he brings.  Nevertheless, Ricky played much better when he got back into the game.  

We all know  that the development of Michael Kessens would be a key to our success this season, given our lack of depth in the post.  He led all scorers with 18 points and perhaps more importantly, dropped a double-double with 12 boards. On the other hand, Jimmie Taylor only played 15 minutes and had 4 fouls.  We will desperately need his post defense against better teams, so it is imperative that he learn how to stay out of foul trouble.  

It was good to see Justin Coleman get some more playing time at the point guard position.  He didn't have a good day shooting the ball, but I thought he ran the offense well with 5 assists and only one turnover in 26 minutes of play.  We had 4 guys score in double figures, including Riley Norris having a solid game off the bench with 10 points.  Free throw shooting was better, with a respectable 72.2% for the game.  Unfortunately, Shannon Hale continues to struggle on both ends of the floor. He had 3 turnovers in 11 minutes and was caught terribly out of position a couple of times on defense.  If he can come out of his sophomore slump and be the player that he was at the end of last season, this team has a chance to be pretty good.

Official Pat Adams seemed to have it out for us.  He broke up the pregame circle at mid-court because some of our players/cheerleaders were on the UNF side (technically, that is the rule, but I've never seen it enforced that way at the college level).  He also warned Lou DeNeen for standing on the bench, again, technically the right call, but something that's rarely seen.  He also called Shannon Hale and one of the UNF bigs for a double-technical, but I was not able to see what they did.  I'm assuming they were exchanging words.  

There wasn't much of a crowd, it was a rainy Friday night, students are still not back on campus, and I suspect a lot of people were still down about what happened the previous night in New Orleans.  I would estimate about 2,000 or so were there, a big drop after the UCLA game.  Hopefully with football season over and SEC play starting, attendance will pick up.

Up next, we start the SEC slate with an 8 pm tipoff against the Texas A&M Aggies Tuesday night.  The game will be televised on the SEC Network.  

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Fresh Meat- North Florida Ospreys 1/2/15 7PM EST (6PM CST)

The 7-8 Ospreys come into Tuscaloosa tomorrow from a quick turnaround loss vs Austin Peay. They have lost five of their last 6. Some say this could be a trap game... I say if they are a trap game we are in trouble. While UNF has won 3 true road games, none of them scare me as the opponents were Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, and Purdue (who I don't think is very good this year).