Gavin Ware (SR. 6'9, 260 lbs) goes about his business quietly. He doesn't get a lot of attention when it comes to discussion of the best players in the league, but the numbers suggest he should. Ware enters Tuesday night leading the Bulldogs in points (15.7 ppg, 62% FG, 76% FT), rebounds (7.3) and blocks (1.3). He missed the last game at Missouri due to concussion symptoms (a 76-62 victory), but I expect him to return for this game. Ware isn't the most athletic big man Alabama has seen, but he's physical and experienced, and he's also developed a very dependable mid-range game. The Bama post players will have to limit Ware's production, while providing some themselves on the offensive end.
Some once considered Malik Newman (FR, 6'3, 190 lbs) a bust when the former 5 star high school recruit got off to a slow start earlier this season. That talk was perhaps premature. In conference play, Newman and fellow freshman, Quinndary Weatherspoon (FR, 6'4, 202) have come alive for this State team. If this Bulldog team finishes strong, the play of Newman (13.7 ppg, 42% from 3) and Weatherspoon (10.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.3 spg) will play a big part. Throw in veteran guys like Craig Sword (12.7 ppg, 2.9 apg, 1.2 bpg, 1.3 spg) and I.J. Ready (10.2 ppg, 4.3 apg, 1.1 spg), and the Alabama guards are going to be challenged on defense. If State elects to go with four guards along with Ware in the middle, Arthur, Riley and Shannon (not the quickest feet in the league) are going to have their work cut out for them on defense as well. This is one game that Justin, despite his recent struggles, would be needed for big minutes. Unfortunately, he's a game-time decision tomorrow night due to a lingering turf toe. Let's hope that the MSU players prefer the perimeter shot tomorrow. Their speed and quickness could make for a lot of foul calls on defense for Alabama. Unlike South Carolina, State can hurt Bama from the free throw line where they shoot 74% as a team.
At 11-9, 2-6, time is quickly running out for Alabama to put together a postseason resume. As a result, a game like this becomes very important. But this Alabama team has struggled on the road, and if you've watched this Mississippi State team you know they're better than their record (4 of their 6 losses have been by two possessions or less). Again, I think the quickness of the Bulldogs on the perimeter will be an issue for Alabama defensively. To negate that, does Avery go with the zone defense for long stretches of this game in an effort to force State to take and make 3 point shots (they shoot 32% as a team)?
If that is the case, Alabama must limit offensive rebounds out of the zone. I'm looking at you Jimmie, Mike and Donta (Shannon and Riley as well). I think the play of the post players for Alabama will go a long way in deciding this game. I want to see something from Jimmie Taylor. This season has been a grind for Jimmie after ending so well last season. He has been virtually non-existent in several games this season, this past Saturday being the latest example. His body language in the last two games has also been poor, and that's not what this team needs right now. Avery mentioned in his press conference today that he had spoken with Jimmie about doing more as the head coach to help him, but he needs more passion and effort in return from Jimmie. I'm very interested to see how Jimmie responds tomorrow night.