Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Bama Bullies Bulldogs, Alabama 83 Mi$$i$$ippi $tate 79

Welcome to Coleman Coliseum, where ranked opponents come to die!  Alabama held on for their 7th straight home win over teams ranked in the top 25 to improve to 13-7 overall, 4-3 in conference play.

This game was not a thing of beauty.  With TV Ted Valentine up to his usual tricks of bringing attention to himself and calling out of his zone, it dragged on for well over 2 hrs and featured 44 fouls and 58 free throws. 

Donta Hall was up to the challenge of facing their skilled big men and played a big part in building a lead in the first half.  He made the most of his time on the court by scoring 19 points, but he was limited to only 23 minutes due to foul trouble.  We built a 12 point halftime lead that we would push to 15 early in the second half, but once again we failed to put it away.

With Donta and Herb both on the bench in foul trouble, we struggled to get stops defensively.  The Bulldogs were able to get to the rim at will and went on a 9-0 run to climb back into the game.  Coach Johnson countered with a smaller lineup and found a mis-match with JP in the post that he was able to exploit and extend the lead back to 11 with just 4 minutes remaining.  Unfortunately, we turned the ball over 3 possessions in a row and allowed the Bulldogs to get  back within 3.  Kira Lewis saved the day with a great close out to block what appeared to be a wide open 3 from the corner that would have tied the game with 30 seconds remaining.  Donta and Herb made just enough free throws down the stretch to hold on for the win. 

Good teams find a way to win when they don't play their best game.  We barely shot 60% from the free throw line, made ONE out of 15 from 3-point range, and turned it over 11 times (seemingly all in the first 3 and final 3 minutes of the game), but still got the win over a top 25 team.  That is encouraging, of course it also helps that $tate was even worse from the free throw line and shot 3 of 19 from downtown themselves.

Donta had 7 rebounds to go with his 19 points, and JP and Riley were also in double figures with 13 and 11 points respectively.  I thought T-Mack played well with 8 rebounds and 6 points and helped pick up some of the slack on the boards with Donta on the bench.  I would have liked to see him playing more with JP and Riley.  Galin Smith was serviceable for 11 minutes, picking up 7 points despite being a bit of a liability defensively.

With most of the state being unnecessarily shut down yesterday the crowd was great.  I would estimate close to 10,000, with only a handful of obnoxious $tate fans sprinkled in.  The student section was packed, and though the crowd wasn't as energetic as the Ole Miss game, it did get loud during the key moments late in the game.  The poor flow of the game and the endless trips to the free throw line took a lot of the energy out of the building. 

Up next, we travel across the state to the ugliest village on plains to take on Bruce Pearl's War-Tiger-Eagle-Plainsmen.  That previously top ten ranked team has fallen on hard times lately, but I'll be shocked if they don't make about 20 3s against us and run us out of their band-box gym.  Tip-off is set for 7pm CST Saturday on ESPN2. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sleeping with the Enemy- Mississippi State

I reached out to Collin Wilmes of For whom the cowbell tolls to get their thoughts on tonight's game.  His response is below.  If you visit For Whom the Cowbell Tolls, please follow their site's rules and be a good representative of our University.

There's no question that Quinndary Weatherspoon is the leader of the squad (17.3 ppg). I would say the identity of the team is to be a perimeter offense (second in the SEC beyond the arc). However, the perimeter shooting of Alamar Peters and Aric Holman sets up drives to the basket for guys like Q. But at the same time I think Q needs to shoot more threes. He was 4-5 on Saturday and I think he needs to set the pace of the game. 

I like our chances against the Tide. I see rebounding as a weakness for Bama and I think the duo of Holman and Abdul Adu is as good as it gets. I think we'll pick up a close victory. 

Umm, rebounding a weakness?  okay...

Monday, January 28, 2019

Game Preview - Mississippi State

Let's step back into conference, shall we? Following a hard-fought loss in Waco to Baylor, Alabama (12-7, 3-3) will seek to get back on track on Tuesday night when they host Mississippi State (AP: 22; KenPom: 29; NET: 29). The Bulldogs enter this game with a 15-4 (3-3) record. Game time is 7:30 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on SEC Network. Due to inclement weather, there is a possibility that the game will be rescheduled so please keep that in mind if you are planning to attend. And if you do decide to brave the weather, please use caution.

My Two Cents: I don't have much to say about the Baylor game. It was a road game vs a tough, well-coached Big 12 team. Our guys had chances to swing the game in their favor, but both teams played hard and only one team can win. I didn't come out of that game feeling any less different about Alabama than I felt going in. I still believe this team is trending in a positive direction.

Mississippi State enters this game winners in three of their last four games. The Bulldogs are rated high at KenPom on the offensive end, ranking top 50 in three categories: Effective FG % (35), Offensive Rebound % (24) and 3-point % (43); and top 100 in another three: 2-point % (79), Free Throw % (53), and steal % (54). Their total adjusted offensive efficiency at KenPom ranks them in the top 20.

Defensively, the Bulldogs are not as highly rated, but their numbers are still solid. Where they really shine on the defensive end is using their length to be disruptive in the paint and in the passing lanes. Opponents are only making 47.5% of their 2-point attempts, and the Bulldogs rate very high in block % (14.3) and steal % (11.2). Alabama had a field day scoring in the paint against a smaller Baylor team, but will have to add more of a perimeter punch in this one. Opponents are shooting the 3-point shot well against the Bulldogs (35.4%) so hopefully our guys can have a better than average (34.4) day.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Baylor Baptist Bears Beat Bama, Baylor 73 Alabama 68

Alabama played hard, but ultimately fell to 12-7 on the season with the loss in Waco.  The team did not arrive until after midnight, which obviously isn't ideal for an 11 a.m. start on the road.

We started off slow, falling down by 5 early, but the bench provided a spark and we went on a run to gain a 5 point lead.  As would be the story of the game though, we were never able to extend that lead to a comfortable margin.  It seemed like every time we had the ball and a two possession lead we would commit some unforced turnovers.  We ended up with 13 turnovers in the game, but it felt like a lot more.

The last 3 minutes of the first half were an unmitigated disaster.  Poor shot selections, dumb fouls, bad turnovers, and a failure block out turned a 29-29 game into a 36-30 halftime deficit.

We came out on fire in the second half.  Riley Norris was bombing 3s and Donta and Mack had a great high-low game going that Baylor had no answer for.  We started the second half on a 7-0 run to re-take the lead, and the game went back and forth from there.  We had several opportunities to extend the lead but either turned the ball over or failed to get stops on defense.  Baylor had one stretch where they had dunks on 4 possessions in a row and I think there were 3 other possessions during that span when they made layups.  Overall, I think CAJ did a decent job this game.  We took advantage of mis-matches offensively and he obviously saw something he could exploit with T-Mack in the high post.   That being said, there were some substitutions and lineups that I didn't like, and again I thought we burned our timeouts too early.  I felt we left Galin in for Donta for too long when it was obvious that he was struggling to defend the rim.

We seemed to lose our composure a bit down the stretch.  We had a few questionable calls go against us, but we also benefited from a few as well.  The officials were generally letting the guys play, and it was a physical game.  One key turn of events came when we burned our last timeout with 2:53 to play and down by only 2.  I would have preferred to save that timeout, especially since we had not yet had the under 4 media timeout.  Immediately out of that timeout, we got an offensive rebound but Kira's put back attempt was "blocked."  It looked to me, and to our bench, as if it was goal tending.  I still haven't seen the replay, so I'm just going by what it looked like from my vantage point at the game.  At the other end, there was a critical out-of-bounds play that was reviewed and awarded to Baylor.  I have no idea what happened on that play as they didn't show that replay at the game either, but the Bears cashed in and went up 4.  Next Riley, who had played a great game, makes an ill-advised pass leading to a turnover and another bucket for Baylor, so now it's a 6 point game and that was just too much to overcome.

We were out rebounded, but there's no shame in that.  Our guys gave all they had going after 50-50 balls, but credit to Baylor for matching our intensity and getting a few bounces to go their way.  The difference in the game was their rebounding and our turnovers.  You also have to tip your hat to Makai Mason who made some tough, contested shots down the stretch to bail them out of several possessions.

Riley made 4 from downtown and was perfect from the field, finishing with 16 points.  I thought T-Mack was the player of the game for us, he ended up with 15 points.  Kira had a few more turnovers than I would have liked, but had a solid game with 15 points as well.  Donta's double-double streak came to an end, but he was a big part of why T-Mack had such a big day and still finished with a solid 11 points and 7 rebounds.  Herbert fouled out in just 15 minutes of play and was a huge liability on offense.  A lineup of Kira, Petty, Riley, T-Mack, and Donta would have been unstoppable in this game, but we never saw it.

The Ferrell Center holds about 10,500, and I would guess there was no more than 6,000 in attendance.  The 11 am tip-off on a cold and rainy morning likely kept a good number of their fans at home.  I was really proud of our fan base for representing, we had nearly an entire section and most of another, with more crimson scattered throughout the building.  I would guess we had over 700 fans total, and it wasn't just local alumni either.  We spoke to several groups who traveled from all over Alabama.

With the exception of the first 17 rows which are for their season ticket holders, ticketing is first come first serve general admission, so we got there early.  They don't open the doors until one hour before tip-off.  Lou DeNeen went around to all of the Bama fans he could find and thanked us for coming.  He even gave me his business card and offered to help us with tickets.

  The arena itself feels more like a cattle auction site than a basketball gym.  It's a plain, round, poorly-lit dome with bare bones concrete concourses and large doors separating the concourse from the seating area.  I will give them credit for having free guest wifi that actually works, something I wish we would do.   I was surprised by how late their students arrived, but their student section was packed and they were into it most of the game, but beyond that it wasn't a very loud atmosphere.  They also do this weird thing where they extend their arms and hands in unison as if they are actual bears clawing at prey, and chant "bears!" over and over.  We had no issues with Baylor fans, but I have no desire to ever return to Waco.  Also, I will not be making the Texas A&M trip this year.  Between this game and Stephen F. Austin, I've spent enough time watching basketball in bum-you-know-what Texas for a while.

Up next, it's back to the conference grind with another ranked team coming to Tuscaloosa Tuesday night.  The Mi$$i$$ippi $tate bulldogs are scheduled for a 7:30 pm tipoff on the SEC Network.  I should emphasize the word "scheduled."  The current forecast calls for snow and freezing temperatures from Starkville to Tuscaloosa to Birmingham, and if that holds true there's a good chance this one may be re-scheduled.  If the game is played and you can safely get there, please do so, we really need this one.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Game Preview: at Baylor

Let's step out of conference, shall we? Following a decisive home win vs a ranked Ole Miss team, Alabama will take some momentum to Waco, Texas for a Saturday showdown against the Baylor Bears (KenPom: 45; NET: 52) as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Bears enter the game with a record of 12-6, 4-2. Game time is 11 A.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

My Two Cents: Alabama played its best forty minutes of the season on Tuesday night vs Ole Miss. The team was balanced on offense, but it was the effort on defense that really set the tone of that game. Bama's length was a nightmare for Ole Miss, and it was yet another reminder of what this team can accomplish if defensive efforts like the 2nd half vs Tennessee and Tuesday night become commonplace. The team hustled after loose balls, dominated Ole Miss on the glass and in the paint, forced Ole Miss into a 25% turnover rate, and played with an edge to them that, frankly, has been rare for this program in recent years. Perhaps it was the dust-up that happened between the teams before tipoff, or maybe this team is just coming into its own. Whatever it is, if Alabama can bottle what we've seen over the last three halves, there won't be a bubble to worry about come March.

There are some college basketball fans that describe Baylor head coach Scott Drew as a "bad coach". It's a reminder that people typically don't think or research what they're talking about, whether it's basketball or any other subject. Drew inherited a Baylor program that came as close to the NCAA death penalty as you can come without actually receiving the penalty. What he has done in the years since is not something a "bad coach" could do.

A quick history lesson: the program was put on probation following a scandal involving former head coach Dave Bliss. A Baylor played named Patrick Dennehy was murdered in 2003 by a teammate, Carlton Dotson. In the ensuing investigation, it was discovered that Bliss had made improper payments to players, ignored reports of widespread drug and alcohol use among his players, and engaged in recruiting violations. The most egregious offense Bliss committed was lying to investigators, telling them that Dennehy was a drug dealer as a way of covering up the origin of the improper payments. Furthermore, he instructed players to also lie and tell investigators that Dennehy was a drug dealer. When it comes to scumbag pieces of you know what in not just the coaching community, but the human race as a whole, Dave Bliss is near or at the top of the list. The NCAA slapped a 10-year show cause penalty on Bliss, but rocketing him into the sun would have been a more appropriate punishment. As further evidence of the depth of corruption in our society, Dave Bliss would coach again after the Baylor debacle at a number of jobs, including a a college prep school and a high school.  

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Bracketology links

Since we always seem to be on the fringe (at least the past 4 years) here are some for entertainment purposes:

Blogging the Bracket

If you're too lazy to click the links... here's a spoiler... we're the 1st 4 out in all of them.

I say .500 ball (counting the game Tuesday) and we are in as a 9. I'm not going to dream big and assume better (for now).

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Baby Shark Drowns in High Tide, Alabama 74 Ole Miss 53

Alabama bounced back from a heartbreaking loss on the road to the top team in the country by dominating 20th ranked Ole Miss to improve to 12-6 (3-3) on the season.  The game was not even as close as the score indicated. 

About 40 minutes before tip-off there was a brief confrontation between the teams at midcourt.  I did not see how it started, but was told that Ole Miss had been occupying the entire court for most of the time during warmups.  All players from both teams were gathered near the division line with a lot of animated jawing back and forth going on while the coaches worked to separate the squads.  JP and Dan were at the forefront of our guys, while Terence Davis seemed to be the main instigator for the land sharks.  Any concerns that our minds would still be on Tennessee instead of the Black Bears was promptly alleviated. 

I was a little surprised that we stuck with the same lineup.  Given JP's recent success and the struggles of T-Mack and Herbert, I thought he might crack back into the lineup.  He had another outstanding game off the bench, and played 27 minutes, the most of anybody on the team, so it may be that he's more comfortable in the 6th man role. 

The officials had longer than usual conversations with the head coaches prior to tipoff, I would assume in regards to the pregame altercation.  It was no surprise that the game was called tight, especially in the early goings. 

After struggling out of the gate for the first couple of minutes, the Tide took over the game and never looked back.  Herb ran the offense a bit from a point-forward position in the early goings.  We were pushing the tempo and I suspect this was an attempt to get him to just play without over thinking his shots and build some confidence.  He failed to finish at the rim a few times, but on defense was back to his usual lock-down self. 

The effort and intensity from our guys was relentless.  We've been critical of Dazon at times, but I think he came up with every 50/50 ball he was involved in.  He grabbed a few rebounds despite being initially out of position.  One key play that epitomized this game occured in the first half when all five of our guys hit the deck in a scramble for a loose ball, Riley eventually came up with it and we scored in transition. 

Meanwhile, Davis continued to act a fool and picked up a technical foul late in the first half.  This helped us extend the halftime lead to 16 at 42-26. 

I was beginning to have flashbacks to Georgia State and Texas A&M, but this time, there would be no second half meltdown.  Instead, we kept our foot on the gas and came out attacking.  We went right at Terrence Davis and had him fouled out with 16 minutes to play in the game.  An 8-1 run pushed the lead to 23, and JP would nail a 3 a couple of minutes later to give us a 28 point advantage with 12 minutes remaining.  The Rebels were officially run out of the gym without ever making a run of their own.

We played solid defense down the stretch and controlled the boards to coast to an easy, impressive victory.  CAJ showed some mercy in the final minutes by emptying the bench and letting the walkons get a little playing time. 

JP ended up with 15 points in another fantastic effort.  He's controlling the ball on the dribble drive and finishing at the rim and making good passes, which is opening up his jump shot as well.  Hopefully he has turned the corner and has emerged as a legit go-to option for us. 

Donta had yet another double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.  He was a force on defense defending the paint with 3 blocks as well.  Much like Petty, Donta has benefited from diversifying his game and finding alternate ways to score.  He had a Euro-step move in transition that was a thing of beauty.  It's not all garbage put-back dunks anymore, though he still does that as well as anyone. 

It was a great all-around effort.  Galin Smith even came off the bench and played well with 10 points in 15 minutes. The most encouraging part of this game to me is that we seemed to address our previous problems.  I would argue that our three biggest weaknesses this year have been turnovers, free throws, and interior defense.  We only had 9 turnovers, made 17 of 22 free throws, and held the fighting Admiral Ackbars to just 16 points in the paint.

The bottom line is we need something close to this effort on a consistent basis going forward, not just against ranked opponents.  If we get it, we'll be dancing, and maybe even with a decent seed.

The student turnout was awesome as their section was more or less packed.  Not so much for the rest of the arena, I would estimate only about 7,500 were in attendance, which was disappointing for a top 20 game.    That being said, those who were there were very loud and appreciative of the blue collar effort.  There were about a dozen obnoxious Ole Miss fans up in the corner, who could be heard unsuccessfully attempting to distract our free throw shooters and chanting "air ball" after Herb missed a layup off the backboard and thus wasn't even an "air ball," at all.  All of this while they were down 15+ points, mind you. 

Up next, we travel to Waco, TX to take on the Baylor Bears in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.  Baylor is a hard team to figure, they have some dumbfounding losses but some great wins and seem to be playing much better recently (sound familiar?).  It's a huge game for both teams.  I'm looking forward to making the trip, and I actually know a few other Tide fans going as well, so maybe we'll have a decent contingent in the stands.  Tip off is set for 11 am Saturday, and it will be broadcast on ESPNU.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Game Preview: Ole Miss

The games are coming fast and furious now. Alabama (11-6, 2-3) will have to rebound quickly from a tough road defeat in Knoxville because the Ole Miss Rebels (AP: 18; KenPom: 31; NET: 24) will be in Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday night. The Rebels (14-3, 4-1) have been one of the surprise teams in the league under first-year coach Kermit Davis Jr. after being picked to finish last in the preseason media poll. I didn't think Ole Miss would be this good, but with the experienced talent they returned, and my respect for Kermit Davis, I certainly didn't think they'd finish last. Game time is 8 P.M. CT. ESPNU will televise the game.

The university is offering "buy one, get one free" tickets so they're begging people to come out and support the team for a mid-week game. If you live in Tuscaloosa and can easily make it out to Coleman, please do. This team still has a lot to play for, and they're going to need all the support they can get.

My Two Cents: Alabama was oh so close to what would have been a monster win on Saturday. It's rare in recent years that we've seen an Alabama team put a top five team on its heels the way Alabama did in that second half on Saturday. While it's disappointing that they lost, the team has to come away from that game with some level of confidence in knowing that if they don't shoot themselves in the foot late in the second half, they're not only winning that game, but doing so by multiple possessions.

Ole Miss enters this game as one of the elite offensive teams in the country. The Rebels are ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency, 11th in effective field goal pct (56.2%), 56th in 3-pt pct (37,1%), 16th in 2-pt pct (56.5%), 32nd in free throw pct (75.5%) and, you guessed it, are an effective rebounding team with a 33.5% offensive rebound rate (ranked 40th). It's been a struggle at times for this Bama team on defense. If it's a struggle on Tuesday night, our guys are going to have a tough time hanging with this Rebel team.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Tennessee Tops Tide, Vols 71 Bama 68

Alabama took a top 3 team to the wire on the road, but ultimately fell to 11-6 on the season, 2-3 in conference play, in a game that came down to the final shot.

The starting lineup of Kira, Herb, Dazon, T-Mack, and Donta came out flat.  We repeatedly turned the ball over and looked completely helpless on defense as UT jumped out to a quick 16-4 lead.  They were out hustling us for every loose ball, which was epitomized by one possession when they got 4 shots at the goal, eventually scoring on an alley-oop dunk.  I thought to myself, "well, we accepted defeat before we even arrived, and we're going to get killed like everyone else who's come here this year."

Then, John Petty entered the game.  He played one of the best games I've ever seen from an individual Alabama player.  His road struggles have been well documented here, and for him to score 30 points in that environment against a top 3 team is remarkable. He wasn't just relying on the 3 either.  He got to the rim and finished some layups early that really established the game for him.

For the rest of the first half we pretty much matched them offensively, but we struggled to get stops.  We couldn't stop their penetration and they got to the rim at will.  I was adamant that we should try a zone, and we finally did for a couple of possessions, but the results were disastrous.  We had guys caught out of position and they ended up with easy layups or dunks.  Nevertheless, we did enough on offense to get into the half with a semi-respectable 44-32 deficit.

We came out blazing in the second half.  Frankly, I think UT took their foot off the gas a bit.  We made some minor adjustments on defense, disguising a very soft man as a 2-3 and they were a bit impatient settling for early jump shots, which we did a good job of closing out on.  We also started matching their intensity in going after loose balls and limiting them to one shot.  Riley, JP, and Donta all did a lot of work on the glass, tipping loose balls to their teammates, that won't really show up on the stat sheet.  After a 13-0 run, we had the lead!
There was a part of me that thought, "well, that was fun, but they will probably put it together and blow us out now."  Nope.  They did make an adjustment and started fronting JP to deny him the ball, but they continued to struggle with our "soft man" defense.    The game went back and forth for most of the second half.  They built a 6 point lead but we were able to get JP free for a couple more 3s to get back in it.  We had a 5 point lead at one point but missed free throws and took some bad shots from the perimeter when we had a chance to extend it.

Grant Williams made a great play with a minute and a half remaining to close out and block a JP jump shot from the corner.  JP said in the post game that he should have pump faked, but he made that exact same shot earlier in the game, and Donta was in good position under the goal to get the rebound, so I was okay with the shot.  Hats off to Williams for making a great play. 

Down the stretch UT had the ball with a one point lead but Donta drew a charge on Grant Williams to foul him out and give us a chance to win with 13 seconds left.  The UT fans were beyond upset with the call, and I agree that there was a bit of acting on Donta's part, but ultimately Williams did lower his shoulder and create the contact which gave him an advantage.  It was the right call.

So we had the ball with 13 seconds and a chance to actually pull the upset.  We got the ball to JP who created space but was called for a travel.  From my vantage point, it was so loud in the arena we couldn't hear the ref's whistle, and we were blocked from seeing his initial signal, so we didn't know what he called, but from the reaction of the crowd and CAJ we knew it went against us.  They showed the replay on the scoreboard, but the ref wasn't in the shot so we still didn't know what was called.  The UT fans around us theorized he was called for hooking, and admitted even that was  was a ticky-tack call at that point in the game.  It wasn't until my Dad called me after the game and told me that even the announcers said it wasn't a travel that I knew that they called a walk.  I certainly didn't see it in real time, and even the UT fans around us didn't notice it when they showed the replay, but, when I returned home and watched the replay on a clear screen in slow motion, I agree he did travel.  I know that won't be popular here, but he shuffled his feet before he dribbled.  It was a bit of a late call, but it was the right call.  That being said, it's also a call that probably isn't made if we're playing this game anywhere other than Thompson-Boling arena.  I also feel really confident that JP would have made the game winning shot, and even if he missed it, Donta was in great position for the put back.  We win if that travel isn't called, and rightfully or not, that travel isn't called 90% of the time.

While everyone is understandably upset about that call, it's not the reason we lost.  We lost this game because we shot a laughable 44% from the free throw line.  If we shoot just 60% we have at least an 8 point lead in the second half and it doesn't even come down to a single possession at the end.  We knew going into this game it would take a nearly perfect effort and a UT off day for us to have a chance.  The Vols obliged, and we played nearly as good as we could, but you don't upset a national championship contender on the road by missing over half of your free throws.  We played very good, but not perfect.

JP ended up with 30 points and was the main reason we were able to stay in the game.  I don't expect this every game, but if he can give us anything like this consistently going forward, we are a much better team.  The fact he did this in arguably the most difficult road environment we'll face this year is very encouraging.  Donta had another double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.  Kira scored 12 points in 33 minutes.  T-Mack struggled in the first 7 minutes of the game and didn't play after being replaced by JP.  Herb was terrible. He picked up 3 fouls, only scored one basket and missed both of his free throws.  He's great defensively, but he's fouling more than usual on that end and is a complete liability on offense.  He missed a couple of 3s badly, one of which was at a key point when we had momentum and could have taken a 3 possession lead.

We played 10 guys in the horrendous first 10 minutes of this game, and only played 8 in the second half with Kira and JP playing the entire second half.  Note to Coach, take a lesson from this, less is more in the playing rotation.  My only other complaint with our coaching in this game was the use of timeouts.  We used two when we had momentum and the ball and a media timeout coming up.  The one with a little over 8 minutes left was most egregious, and it would have been nice to have that at the end to draw up something other than a 65 foot heave to force overtime.

It was a sellout and there were very few empty seats with over 21,000 in attendance.  There were much fewer Alabama fans there than in some of my other recent trips there.  We were the only ones within at least 3 sections of us, and I would guess we had no more than 100, most of which were in an upper corner across from us.  The atmosphere was great.  The Vol fans were loud at appropriate times, but they did seem to turn on their team a bit when we had the lead in the second half.  That said, it's obvious they are still a wannabe football school given their over the top reactions to announcements for Jeremy Pruitt and Tee Martin.  With the exception of a few obnoxious jerks behind us running their mouth about the Clemson football team (they've been reduced to taking great pride in sharing the same color as the one team that can actually compete with us in that sport) for the most part their fans were very nice, welcoming, and complimentary of our team.  The group in front of us was awesome, they were knowledgeable and  passionately cheering for their team but at the same time cordial and understanding of us doing the same.

Personally, I hate Tennessee with a passion.  I hate them more than auburn.  I was in school when Fat Phil was trying to put our football team "out of business."  That orange is ugly as hell, and rockytop is undoubtedly in the top 5 of most obnoxious songs ever written.  Nevertheless, what Rick Barnes has done with that team is amazing.  They all seem like great guys and they play very well together, and as I said, for the most part their fans actually aren't that bad.  If their uniforms didn't say "Tennessee" I would actually like their team a lot.

Up next, the Ole Miss Black Bears/Rebels/Admiral Ackbars/Landsharks/whatever they decide they want to be this week will come to Tuscaloosa for an 8pm tipoff Tuesday night.  If you don't have tickets yet, they are offering a buy one get one free promotion (which is embarrassing in and of itself but I'll save that rant for another day).  Ole Miss is a top 25 team and it will be interesting to see how the team responds to this loss as we really need to get back in the win column at home.  The game will be televised on ESPNU.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Game Preview: at Tennessee

Alabama (11-5, 2-2) bounced back on the road for a much-needed win at Missouri. They will stay on the road when they travel to Knoxville to play the Tennessee Volunteers (AP: 3; KenPom: 5; NET: 3). The Vols enter with a record of 15-1 (4-0). Game time is 1 P.M. CT. ESPN2 will televise the game.

My Two Cents: Big win for our guys on the road. It wasn't a clean game by any stretch, but they remained poised when Missouri made some runs at them in the game. With four of their next five games vs teams currently in the AP poll, that was as close to a must-win in January as it gets.

This trip to Knoxville is going to be an extreme challenge. I watch my fair share of college basketball, and Tennessee is truly one of the best teams in the country. And it's not just because they're balanced on both ends of the floor (top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency at KenPom), it's because they are mature, well-coached, and have a chemistry that is rare in today's college basketball. There's a leadership on the floor that's palpable, every player seems to accept his role on the floor, the coaches don't seem to have to get after guys on this team often. I know Tennessee is a rival, but I really have to respect how this Vols team plays. As long as they remain healthy, they have as much chance to win the national title as any team.

Not surprisingly, they do a lot of things well. They are top 50 at KenPom in effective field goal pct (7), turnover pct (36), offensive rebound pct (39), free throw rate (41). You name it, they do it good to great on the offensive end. When Alabama has struggled on defense, the root of the problem has been limiting points in the paint so the fact that Tennessee is 5th in the country in 2pt pct (58.2) isn't comforting. They're also a good 3-point shooting team (36.9), they shoot free throws well (76.7%). Defensively, they are top 20 at KenPom in limiting their opponents effective field goal pct. They are top 15 in block pct so they don't give up a lot of easy baskets. I can't say it enough times: Alabama has played some good teams this season, but Tennessee is a great team. Add in a Saturday road environment, and our guys are going to have to play their absolute best (or hope for Tennessee's absolute worst) to have a chance in this one.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

SEC Win Number Two is over Mizzou, Alabama 70 Tigers 60

Alabama bounced back nicely from the buzzer beater loss at home to Texas A&M with a 10 point road win over Mizzou to get back to .500 in conference play. 

Dan Giddens did not make the trip due to "family reasons."  I hope all is well with Dan and his family, but I have heard rumors that a mid-season transfer may be imminent. 

Both teams played fairly even for the first 10 minutes or so of the game, but Alex Reese came off the bench and gave us a spark.  We took advantage of a 6 minute Mizzou scoring drought to build a nice lead that we were able to maintain for the rest of the game.  I thought the team did a great job of keeping their composure on the road.  Every time Mizzou made a run we had an answer, and they never got it back to within real striking distance. 

Donta was a beast again.  He had another double-double with 12 points, 11 rebounds, and a couple of blocked shots.  He's really playing well right now, and has diversified his game.  It's not all dunks on offensive rebounds anymore. 

AJ came off the bench and was the leading scorer with 14 points!  I've been critical of his playing time, and I still think he dribbles too much, but on this night a lot of the crazy shots he was putting up were going in.  He's seemingly perfected the off-balance, high off the glass bank shot in traffic.  In all seriousness, he had a great game and was a huge part of why we were able to comfortably win.

Kira was off by his standards but still finished with 9 points and had one of the biggest 3s of the game to push the 6 point lead back to 9 down the stretch.  Dazon also had 9 and more importantly did not turn the ball over, though he was a bit sloppy with it at times.  The team only had 10 turnovers and remarkably made 12 of 15 from the free throw line.  More of that, please. 

Overall it was a solid, badly needed road win with great contributions all the way around. 

Up next, we continue our road trip by visiting the number one ranked team in the country Saturday.  Tip-off against the Tennessee Vols is set for 2 pm EST in Knoxville.  The game is a hard sell out and will be broadcast on ESPN2.  I may be nuts, but I think we actually match up with them reasonably well and have a chance to keep it close, and possibly even pull off the upset.  I am making the trip and will post a first hand account when I return. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Sleeping with the enemy-Mizzou

Our friend Josh Matejka from Rock M Nation kindly provided us with some insight into tonight's opponent below.  If you visit Rock M Nation, please abide by their site's rules and be a good representative of our University.  

It's been a turbulent year for Mizzou hoops, and much of it stems from a player who's not even on the floor. 

Jontay Porter - by all accounts, a first round NBA draft pick - returned to school for his sophomore year, but went down with an ACL tear during one of the Tigers' preseason exhibitions. It's the second time in two years Mizzou has lost its best player before the season can get started, and Jontay's loss might have been more impactful than his brother, Michael Porter, Jr.'s. Jontay checked a lot of boxes for Cuonzo Martin's team - he was the most consistent scorer, rebounder and passer from last year's team - so his loss left a lot of holes to fill.

The team has been about as good as Mizzou fans had expected, though. Jordan Geist has stepped up and become a solid SEC-caliber point guard. Mark Smith - a transfer from Illinois - has shot the lights out as a sophomore. Freshmen Javon Pickett, Torrence Watson and Xavier Pinson have all had their strong moments, especially Pickett, who has started all season.

It's been a tough start to SEC play though, mostly due to turnover and foul troubles. Missouri is a young team - their experience ranks 283rd in the country by KenPom - and is prone to long scoring droughts and unforced errors, leading to easy buckets for capable teams. It hasn't helped that the team's most talented player, center Jeremiah Tilmon, has his struggles with fouling. When he's on the floor, he's a terror - as evidenced by his streak of double-doubles in the non-conference slate - but that has been a lot to ask of him in the past 3 games.

The Alabama game represents the most appealing match up for Missouri in the early conference schedule. The Tide does a lot of its damage on the boards, but Missouri has the size to potentially even things out. And while Alabama does get to the free throw line a lot, which is not a good omen for Missouri, they don't force a lot of turnovers or guard the three-point line particularly well. If Missouri can do anything, it's shoot the long ball (15th in the country by KP), and that keeps them in a lot of games in which they are otherwise outmatched.

Ultimately, I wouldn't be shocked to see this game go either way. Alabama is the better overall team at this point, but Missouri has some good wins at home and will be motivated to prevent a three-game losing streak. I would probably predict a Missouri win, but it's closer to a coin flip than a sure thing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Game Preview: at Missouri

It's must-win Wednesday for these two teams. Missouri (9-5; KenPom: 93; NET: 85) returns home with an 0-2 start to conference play, while Alabama (10-5) squandered an 11-point halftime lead in their loss to Texas A&M, dropping to 1-2 in conference play. Game time is 8 P.M. CT. SEC Network will televise the game.

My Two Cents: Even though I felt confident that Alabama would win when I posted my previous game preview, by Saturday morning I was texting a buddy of mine that I had a bad feeling about the game. The reason being that the only consistent thing we've seen from this program in the better part of the last 25 years is inconsistency. I've lost count of how many times over the years, now decades, that I've felt the team was moving in the right direction, only to watch them lay an egg that halted the momentum they had built. That was, once again, the case on Saturday.

Not that it lays waste to the season, but it is a gut punch to the fanbase to see two almost similar losses take place (Georgia State and Texas A&M) in Coleman within the same season. Even more difficult was the Saturday loss because a great crowd turned out to cheer on the team. I know I sound like a broken record, but you don't have to win every game to move a program forward, but you do have to take advantage when the momentum and fan interest is in your corner. You can't play great to beat Kentucky, only to drop two straight after that and expect to build any momentum within the fanbase. 

And so here Alabama is again, in a similar position to where they were at following the Georgia State game. The team did respond to that loss with a five-game winning streak. It's probably too much to expect that kind of success with the schedule that Alabama has on tap, but they do need to get over the loss on Saturday quickly because how Alabama handles the next six games, which is the toughest stretch of the season in my opinion, will likely go a long way in determining their season.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Agonizing loss to Aggies, Texas A&M 81 Alabama 80

Alabama falls to 10-5 on the season and 1-2 in league play after blowing another sizable home lead to one of the worst teams in the conference. 

The starting lineup played well.  We generally took care of the basketball in this game, we only had 8 turnovers and that's been an issue in some recent losses.  Unfortunately, our defense was only able to force 3 turnovers. 

We jumped out to an early lead and had a 43-32 edge at halftime thanks to some nice ball movement and great outside shooting.  Unfortunately, we also accumulated a lot of fouls and that would prove to be an issue later on. 

Texas A&M made an adjustment at halftime to focus on pounding the ball into the post, and we had no answer.  The hot shooting cooled off, and the Aggies methodically chipped away at the lead.  Herbert picked up his 4th foul early in the second half and was limited to just 11 minutes of playing time in the game.  This really limited our ability to keep them out of the paint on defense. 

The Aggies took their first lead with around 7 minutes left and it was back and forth the rest of the way.  We missed too many free throws down the stretch, and frankly, made too many boneheaded coaching decisions to close the game out. 

With a one point lead and the ball with just over 30 seconds remaining, we used our last timeout.  I get the idea of wanting to set your defense and get the best free throw shooters in the game, but, it also allows aTm to set up a couple of last second plays, and more importantly, as I told the people sitting around me at the time, "now we have to in-bound the ball without a timeout."  Sure enough, Dazon held it and got a 5 second call.  You absolutely cannot take a 5 second call in that situation.  If nothing else, lob it in the direction of the basket and hope Donta can go up and get it, it's a 50/50 ball at worst.  I can't fathom that was not discussed during the timeout.

As irritating as that was, it's not what ultimately cost us the game.  We got one of our three turnovers on the ensuing possession.  The bigger issue, to me, is the lack of adjustments on defense in the second half.  Against one of the most turnover prone teams in the country, we didn't run a single full-court press.  Against LSU, we got back into the game running an effective 2-3 zone defense.  Saturday, we stubbornly stayed in a man to man defense against a team that was killing us in the paint while shooting about 15 % from behind the arc.  If we switch to a zone when Herb picks up his 4th foul, I think we win the game by double-digits, but we'll never know.

JP was our leading scorer with 22 points.  I don't think we did enough to get him shots down the stretch.  Donta had a nice offensive game with 14 points and 16 rebounds, but he was getting pushed around on defense.  We put Dan in for 6 minutes in the second half, but he did not fair much better.  I wonder if Galin would have been a better option?  We would give up some height, but he's a bigger body to push around. Kira and T-Mack were also in double digits with 14 and 10 each. 

The crowd was great and the student section was packed.  There was close 13,000 in attendance and there were very few Aggie fans.  It was loud throughout most of the game.  I thought the effort from the players was good.  The guys played hard, the fans did their part, but the coaching staff failed miserably.

Up next, we travel to Mizzou for an 8pm tipoff Wednesday night.  The game will be televised on the SEC Network. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Game Preview: Texas A&M

Alabama (10-4, 1-1), fresh off their first conference road trip, will return home for a Saturday contest vs the Texas A&M Aggies (KenPom: 94; NET: 102). The Aggies enter the game with a 6-7 (0-2) record. Game time is 2:30 P.M. CT. SEC Network will televise the game.

My Two Cents: Alabama did not play well enough over the course of forty minutes to escape Baton Rouge with a win, but I was encouraged by the team's effort to get back into the game after falling behind by as many as 19 points. LSU is a very talented team, and I suspect Alabama won't be the last team to struggle at the PMAC this season. That said, Alabama needs to bounce back at home this weekend. A&M is going through a rebuilding season, and if Alabama is going to put itself back into position to make the NCAA Tournament, these are the types of games they need to win.

And yet, what fun is a preview without some drama? Consider this: Alabama has had a frustrating tendency in recent years to struggle at home in league play. Let's break it down by seasons under Avery. Year 1 (15-16), Alabama finished league play with a 8-10 record; their home record that season was 5-4. Year 2 (16-17), Alabama finished league play with a 10-8 record; their home record was once again 5-4. Last season, Alabama finished league play with a 8-10 record; their home record was a bit better, finishing with a 6-3 record (though I'll note that they did lose their final two home games in league play). And this isn't me being overly critical; Avery has said that the team needs to be stronger on its home floor.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Tigers Tackle Tide, LSU 88 Alabama 79

First of all, thanks again to MSmilie for doing an excellent job re-capping the big win over Kentucky in my absence.  I watched that game on a plane, and my language during the final minute may have traumatized any small children who happened to be on the same flight, but on to the business at hand...

The five game winning streak came to an end in Baton Rouge last night as Alabama fell to 1-1 in league play.  The game started slow, but LSU was able to pick up the pace and make an absurd 8 of 10 from  3 point range in the first half, including two that banked in off of the glass.  We still could have kept it within shouting distance, but a couple of bad turnovers in the final minute of the half allowed LSU to stretch the lead to 15 going into the locker room. 

Once again the substitution patterns were questionable at times.  We played 11 guys in this game, and AJ got 8 minutes and had two costly turnovers, including one at the end of the first half.  Dan Giddens returned after sitting on the bench for a month and actually showed a decent little jumper to score 6 points in 10 minutes.  Unfortunately, he gave up at least that many defensively, as he was often out of position and picked up 3 quick fouls. 

After falling behind by 19, the team showed great effort and did not quit.  The coaching staff made a great adjustment by switching to a 2-3 zone defense in the second half after the Tigers finally cooled down from 3-point range.  We cut the lead to 4 but just couldn't quite make the plays to get over the hump.  A couple of key plays that stand out in my mind, we nearly had a steal from Tremont Waters at midcourt, but he made a great one-handed pass from the floor for an assist on the dunk.  Next, trailing by 6 with 1:08 remaining, LSU missed two free throws, but JP failed to block out the shooter and they got the offensive rebound and stretched the lead back to 8.

There were a lot of positives to take from this game, but we just had too many turnovers and mistakes to beat a good team on the road.  Kira ended with 15 points despite only going 3 of 11 from the field.  The offense just seems to run much more smoothly when he's in the game, and he should be getting closer to 35 or 36 minutes per game, than the 31 he got, in my opinion.  Herb had another good game and even ran the point at times.  He ended up with 10 points, 5 assists, and only one turnover.  This wasn't a great matchup for Donta and his streak of double-doubles came to an end with 7 points and 6 rebounds in 25 minutes of play.  Riley contributed with 8 points, 3 rebounds, and some solid defense before fouling out.  JP made a couple of 3s, scoring 9 points to go along with 8 rebounds. 

We've got to get better defensively, in addition to the flukish 3s they were killing us in the post.  Waters is one of the best players in the league, so it's no surprise he put up 19 on us, but Bigby-Williams should not get 14 points and 13 rebounds against our bigs.

I'm normally not one to complain about the announcers, but Andy Kennedy and David Neal are terrible.  I think Andy is a solid basketball coach, and would do a great job at a mid-major.  I would love to see UAB can Ehsan and hire him, but his personality just doesn't translate to the broadcast, and it seems like they don't have any chemistry together. 

Up next, we return home to face the Texas A&M Aggies Saturday at 12:30pm.  The Aggies are currently a quad 3 team, and we must protect our home court if we want to make the tournament.  Hopefully the fans will come out and support this team on the heels of the big win over big blue.  If you can't make it to Tuscaloosa, the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Game Preview: at LSU

Good lord, that football game sucked, right? Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective, the Alabama basketball team is playing a game tonight when they head to Baton Rouge for a date with the LSU Tigers (KenPom: 42; NET: 26). This will be the conference opener for LSU; the Tigers enter this game with a 10-3 record. Game time is the always popular 8 P.M. CT. SEC Network will televise the game. I'm sure the LSU fans and students will not have anything to say about the football game.

My Two Cents: Alabama's win over Kentucky on Saturday was big for a number of reasons, but the biggest reason may be that it took some pressure off our guys coming into this game. Lose on Saturday and a possible 0-2 start in conference was staring them straight in the face. Now they're playing with house money on Tuesday night. This will be another quad one opportunity for Alabama.

On paper, LSU is one of the more intriguing teams in the league. Will Wade returned two impact players in Tremont Waters and Skylar Mays, and enrolled a top three recruiting class. They are a very young team, but very talented and capable of beating any team in the league on any given night. The Tigers are a borderline elite offensive team, currently ranked 29th in offensive efficiency at KenPom. As you would expect with a young team, the Tigers have been more hot and cold on the defensive end, currently ranked 84th in defensive efficiency.

The two areas to keep an eye on in this game will be turnovers and, once again, rebounding. Both LSU and Alabama turn the ball over at an above average (19.1%) clip (19.9% for LSU; 19.7 for Alabama). Unlike Alabama though, LSU is much better at forcing its opponents into turning the ball over (22.4%). Both teams thrive on getting out in transition for easy scoring opportunities. In a game that likely will be high tempo already, I think it's safe to say the team that protects the ball better, thus keeping the transition opportunities for the opponent to a minimum, will be the likely winner.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Bama Edges Kentucky, 77-75

If the lack of cleverness in the title of this post didn't give it away, DJC is in California for the football game and asked for someone else to handle the recap duties for this game. Alabama kicked off the conference season with arguably one of the bigger wins of Avery Johnson's tenure, a 77-75 victory over the 13th ranked Wildcats.

Both teams came out hot, scoring 31 combined points by the first media timeout. Kentucky got most of their points in the paint with Reid Travis, while Alabama was hot from the three point line, courtesy of Tevin Mack, who had his best game in an Alabama uniform scoring 22 points on 8-12 shooting (6-8 from 3). He scored 20 of Alabama's 38 first half points, which kept the game close as Kentucky scored 40 first half points.

It was high level offensive basketball for both teams in the first half, but it was Alabama's defense in the second half that allowed them to build some separation in the game. After shooting 50% from the field in the first half, Kentucky only made 37% of their shots in the second half. Alabama also won the rebounding battle (40-32), limiting the Wildcats to only six offensive rebounds. Kentucky entered the game as one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country with a 40% rate, but finished this game with only a 15% rate. That stat was arguably the biggest of the game for Alabama.

Alabama appeared to have the game well in hand when John Petty made a layup with 1:01 left in the game, making it an 8 point game. Unfortunately, our guys, particularly Dazon Ingram, (who had a very good game if not for his five turnovers) got loose with the basketball in the final minute. Dazon had two crucial turnovers in the final minute which led to five Kentucky points, while Kira Lewis also had a turnover against the Kentucky press that led to another basket. The result was a one-possession game with thirty seconds remaining. Fortunately, Alabama did make 3-4 from the free throw line in the final minute, but the sloppy ball-handling leading to Kentucky points meant the Cats still had a chance to win, down only two, with four seconds left. Tyler Herro had a great look at the basket, but fortunately his shot didn't fall. In total, Alabama had 17 turnovers in the game, but still found a way to hang on late for the win.

In addition to T-Mack's performance, I thought Herb Jones had his best game of the season with a 10 pt, 8 reb, 6 asst and 0 turnover performance. He also knocked down both of his free throw attempts. Donta Hall had his sixth double-double of the season, and his third straight. There's a long way to go, but Donta is having an All-Conference type of season. Kira Lewis didn't have his best game, but he was aggressive throughout, ending with a solid stat line of 12 pts and 3 assts (along with 4 turnovers). JP and Alex Reese also had their moments on Saturday. And as I mentioned, Dazon had a very good game if you take away the turnovers.

In sum: what this game showed is that Alabama has the talent to play with most, if not all teams, on any given day. The team is deep, they're an improved team on the offensive end, they've been a much better team on the glass than I thought they would, and the chemistry of the team seems to be improving week to week. If they can continue to improve on the defensive end, they've got a chance to finish much higher in league play than I think many of us thought coming into the season.

I've got to give the fans a lot of props. I wasn't sure what to expect from the turnout with the football game on Monday and the students still out on break, but not only did fans turn out in force, they were loud and into the game from start to finish. It was the kind of environment that will hopefully become commonplace if the program can attain more consistency. 

Next up is the first road game in conference at LSU. Three of the next four will be on the road for Alabama so this win today along with this upcoming stretch will be crucial. More about LSU in my forthcoming game preview. Toodles.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Predicting the SEC Standings

With the pre-conference portion of the schedule complete and the SEC slate ready to tip-off with the New Year, I thought now would be a good time to post some predictions on how we think the conference standings will play out.

1. Tennessee- Their only loss was in a close game to Kansas.  They've played a brutal schedule and beat Gonzaga.  Rick Barnes has the team to beat in the league this year. 

2. Kentucky- Perpetually young and super talented, they will drop a couple on the road early in conference play and ultimately finish a game or two behind the Vols.  They seem to be getting it together after their loss with impressive wins over Louisville and UNC in their last 2 games. 

3. auburn- As much as it pains me to say it, they are a legit top 20 team, and are capable of beating anyone in the country on a given night.  They rely a bit too much on the 3 and will have a few off nights that will get them beat.  We've already seen this when a bad UAB team took them to overtime and they lost to NC State on the road. 

4. Mississippi $tate- At 12-1 with a handful of quality if not great wins, it seems Howland is finally getting some production out of all the talent he's recruited there.  It's going to be painful watching ut, au, and m$u all get double-byes in the SEC tournament, but unfortunately that's how I see it shaking out.

5. LSU- 10-3 against a solid schedule, Will Wade's team has been ranked in the top 25 for much of the season, and they have a couple of wins over ranked teams already.  The days of Johnny Jones wasting talent down there appear to be long gone.

Note:  I think there's a big gap here and the next 5 are more or less interchangeable.

6. Florida- 8-4 against a tough schedule.  They have two wins over Butler but were blown out by rival Florida State.  If they continue to develop, they could challenge the top tier teams for one of the top 4 spots.

7. Ole Miss- They are 10-2 following the pre-season Canada trip that we did last season.  It's hard to get a read on them because they haven't really played anybody, but their two losses were at Butler and Cincinnati, two decent teams, and they've won most of their other games in convincing fashion. 

8. Alabama- Depending on where the wins come, this likely puts us squarely on the bubble.  Same as it ever was.

9. Mizzou- Once again dealing with an early injury to their best player, they've won 6 in a row to get to 9-3 including decent wins over UCF, Xavier, and Illinois.

10. Arkansas- 9-3 against a weak schedule.  I expect them to be tough at home as usual, but a young team that will struggle a bit away from Bud Walton.

11. Texas A&M- 6-5 against a pretty tough schedule, but they were blown out by Texas Southern. 

12. Vandy- They are 9-3 against a weak schedule, but they do have a nice win over Arizona State.  I should probably have them higher than this because they will win some games they shouldn't in that goofy gym of theirs.

13. Georgia- 8-4 but against a weak schedule.  They were blown out by Georgia State.  I watched them scrimmage against UAB and was not impressed.  I expect it to be a difficult year for Tom Crean. 

14.  South Carolina- They played Michigan relatively close, but were blown out by Wofford and currently sit at 5-7.  It's a rebuilding year for Martin's squad.

Game Preview: Kentucky

Happy New Year! I hope everyone has had a safe and peaceful holiday season. Alas, it is time to look ahead to a new calendar year with that mix of optimism and dread that have become old companions to the Alabama basketball fanbase. Conference play begins this Saturday in style when the 13th ranked Kentucky Wildcats (KenPom: 13; NET: 12) pay a visit to Coleman Coliseum. The Wildcats are 10-2. Game time is Noon. ESPN will televise the game.

My Two Cents: This is a huge opportunity for Alabama. Not only would a win mean a 1-0 start in conference play over a ranked team, but it will also provide an opportunity for a quad one win. Alabama is currently 1-1 in quad one games (at UCF, vs Liberty) because Liberty has been in and out of the NET top 50 (neutral site wins over a team ranked 1-50 in the NET count as quad one). That likely won't stick so Alabama needs to take advantage in games like this as they present themselves in conference play. Another reason this game is huge: three out of the next five games for Bama are on the road. Taking care of business at home gives them a little wriggle room in those road games.

Avery has no control over how the league schedules the games, but I'm guessing he's frustrated that this particular game is happening the Saturday before the Alabama football team plays in the national championship game and while the students are still on break. Between the fans traveling to California for the football game, and the lack of students on campus, the hope is that there will be enough Alabama fans in attendance to create a home court environment. For those of you that will be in Coleman on Saturday, get loud and stay loud. Top 2019 prospect Trendon Watford will be in Tuscaloosa this weekend for his official visit so show him some love.