Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Don't get Cocky, Alabama 68 South Carolina 62

The Tide won a hard fought slug fest on the road to improve to 17-11 (8-7) on the season and move firmly to the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble, for now.

Long time readers of the blog know that I generally prefer a man-to-man defense over a zone, but I loved the decision to start this game in a zone, and our 2-3 gave them fits the entire first half.  We still had issues with turnovers and missed free throws, but T-Mack and Kira hit a few 3s while Donta held his own with the Carolina bigs to build a 13 point lead.  Unfortunately, it looked like things would play out according to the recent script when the Cocks cut the lead to 6 at halftime and slowly chipped away for most of the second half before taking a 5 point lead with 8 minutes left.

Given the way we've finished halves and games over the last three weeks, you would be forgiven for not having much hope at that point.  It's true that an injury hurt their momentum and they made some unforced errors, but our players and coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for showing great composure and energy to come back and get a solid win.

So many guys made key plays during that stretch.  T-Mack with a 3 to get us back in the game.  Herb, of all people, with a 17 foot jumpshot to tie it.  Donta with an "And one," and finally Riley with a steal and fast break DUNK to push the Bama lead back to 6. 

We were only 14 of 22 at the line, but made the big ones we needed in crunch time. 

We stuck with the shorter rotation, only playing 9 guys including Galin Smith who only played 4 minutes.  I still don't like some of the combinations.  We played Galin and Dan together for most of those four minutes.  I get that we were trying to matchup with their bigs and keep Silva under control, but without Collin Sexton on this team we really can't afford to play 3 on 5 on offense.  Regardless, this shorter bench is a huge improvement overall and it seems to be working.  I thought Dan did an excellent job defensively in his 10 minutes of play spelling Donta.  I love his attitude and work ethic in coming back after being benched for Galin earlier in the year.  I hope AJ and Alex will take note and follow Dan's example, as I have a feeling we are going to need those guys again at some point before the season is over.

  Chris Silva has seemingly been at South Carolina longer than we've had Riley Norris, and I'm not sure he's moved out of the paint yet.  He receives his mail in the lane, and never gets called for 3 seconds. 

We had four guys in double-digits, led by Kira with 17 points.  Donta had an impressive double-double against Silva with 15 points and 10 rebounds.  T-Mack had 11 in front of his home crowd, and I just can't say enough about Riley Norris and how much he has helped this team the last 2 games.  Riley had 11 points and 3 rebounds, but is providing great intangible leadership, playing solid defense, and making some great tips and saves that don't always show up on the stat sheet.  As much as I hate to screw with the starting lineup at this point, I wish we would let him start one of the final two games at home.  I think he's earned it and he seems determined to go out a winner.

Another guy who contributed in many ways that won't be evident in the box score is John Petty.  JP is in a shooting slump right now, but he pulled down 10 rebounds, which is really remarkable for a 2 guard of his size against a big South Carolina team.  His defense has improved tremendously, and it's been fun to watch him develop other parts of the game over the last 2 years.  If he can improve his ball-handling over the off season as much as he's improved his defense and rebounding this season, he will be all conference.  He did have a bad turnover late that could have put the game in jeopardy.

Speaking of turnovers, Dazon Ingram left the game early in the second half with a quad contusion.  He is said to be day-to-day (aren't we all?).

It has been reported that CAJ consulted with Wimp Sanderson after the recent losing streak and decided to cut the practices down from 140 minutes to 70 in order to hopefully combat the late-season fatigue issues.  Apparently Wimp used to do this as a standard course of procedure.  My criticisms of Avery are well documented here, but I think he deserves a lot of credit for being open-minded enough to implement suggestions like this.  Also, in going to the shorter bench, it was necessary to bench his son.  While most would agree that was the right thing to do, it most certainly is not something that is easy for him to do.  Much respect to Coach Johnson for making these adjustments.

Up next, it's brunch with Bama Basketball as we host the visiting LSU Tigers for an 11 a.m. tipoff Saturday.  LSU is a top 15 ranked team, and a win would almost wrap up a NCAA bid for us.  Plus, it's senior day, being moved from the traditional last home game of the year due to the 8pm tipoff time for the auburn game next Tuesday.  There is no excuse for us not to have a sell-out crowd for this one.  Come show your appreciation for Riley and Donta and let's give this team a push heading into the postseason. 

March begins this weekend.  Tis the most wonderful time of the year!  Roll Tide.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Game Preview: at South Carolina

After snapping a three-game losing streak, Alabama (16-11, 7-7, KenPom: 57, NET: 55) will hope to build some momentum when they travel to play the South Carolina Gamecocks (14-13, 9-5, KenPom: 84, NET: 80). It's an early tip on Tuesday night; game time is 6 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

My Two Cents: The important thing is that Alabama won their home game vs Vanderbilt on Saturday. Unfortunately, some of the same issues in terms of protecting a lead came up again. Unlike other games where Alabama's energy wasn't quite right, the energy was there in this game so why the late run by Vanderbilt happened is hard to figure. As DJC pointed out in his recap, Avery only played eight guys so perhaps they wore down as a result of the heavier minutes? As DJC also pointed out, our guys took the air out of the ball much earlier than they should have. And give Vanderbilt credit, they've continued to compete despite a disappointing season. All of those factors could have played a part in Bama nearly surrendering a 20+ point lead in the second half.

However, the team has had trouble holding on to leads all season. It makes me question if Avery should take a long look at the strength and conditioning program. Lou DeNeen has become a popular figure with the students and fans, and the players seem to like him. I like Coach Lou. I liked him even more when he faced down Bruce Pearl after the two had a brief skirmish at the SEC Tournament last season. But when you consider that late-season and late-game collapses have been a frequent headache for this program, it's fair to wonder if changes shouldn't be implemented in the future. That doesn't mean sacking Coach Lou, but at least reviewing the program itself to determine if the players are being put in the best physical condition to compete throughout a long season.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

All is Dandy when playing Vandy, Alabama 68 Vanderbilt 61

Alabama improved to 16-11 (7-7) with a 68-61 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores.  Everything is not rainbows and unicorns because we managed to beat a horrific team, but the team did show signs of life in many areas despite concerns remaining in others. 

I will give this team and coaching staff a lot of credit for the way they handled adverse circumstances in this game.  With all of the negativity and their own fan base digging their grave it would be easy to throw in the towel, but they came out prepared and motivated, and emphatically stated, "we aren't dead yet!"  That being said, some of the recent issues that have plagued this team reared their ugly head again.  Let's get to it.

We stuck with the same starting lineup including JP, but actually let them play for an extended period of time to start this game.  We came out playing with a purpose, moving the ball, making solid cuts on offense, and playing lock-down defense.  Donta had a couple of thunderous blocks that really seemed to energize the team, and Kira, Riley, and T-Mack all made back to back 3s at some point.  We had active hands on defense and forced a ton of turnovers, and all of this led to a 22 point lead at one point in the first half.  Despite going cold the final 5 minutes in the first half, we still led by 15 at halftime.

We stretched the lead to 23 early in the second half, but with about 10 minutes left, we took the air out of the ball and Vanderbilt made a run.  Instead of putting the game away, we allowed them to get it back to within 7 in the final 2 minutes, but we made just enough stops and free throws down the stretch to hold on. 
While building the lead we forced an uptempo game that Vandy couldn't handle.  They made a lot of mistakes, which led to easy baskets for us.  While blowing the lead, we stood around on offense, and failed to defend the rim or get a rebound on defense.  They cut our 23 point lead to 7, but we managed to make enough plays down the stretch to keep it from getting too intense. 

We've spent a lot of time discussing the substitution patterns here, and notably we went to an 8 man rotation this game.  AJ did not play at all, for whatever reason.  Kira played 37 minutes, while Donta and Dazon played 35 each.  At one point in the first half, Herb came into the game and Dazon headed to the bench, but CAJ stopped him and called Kira to the bench instead.  At the very next dead ball, about 30 seconds later, Kira came in for Dazon.  It's fair to wonder if part of the last 10 minute meltdown was due to guys playing more minutes than they are used to, but I attribute it more to our change in strategy and essentially slowing the game down to "play not to lose."  I hope we stick with the "less is more" philosophy in the rotation and believe guys will quickly get used to playing 30+ minutes per game. 

I do wonder if AJ's absence had anything to do with these recent Instagram's not a good look, regardless.

Anyway, I feel like Dazon takes a lot of undue criticism while not getting credit for his contributions.  He was my MVP in this game.  He ended up with a double-double, 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists to only one turnover, but also played great defense and seemed to win every 50/50 ball he was involved in.  Donta also had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.  T-Mack only had 8 points but I thought his hot start set the tone, and we sort of went away from him as the game went on.  Riley scored 9 and also got his share of 50/50 balls. 

I question why we left T-Mack and Riley in the game late in the first half with a huge lead and them with 2 fouls, but thankfully it worked out.  I didn't like the way we managed our timeouts.  We burned 2 with 20+ point leads when the next dead ball would result in a media timeout anyway, and then we allowed a 13-0 run before calling a timeout.  As a result, we had to play the last 3 minutes or so without a timeout remaining.  I realize this is nitpicking a bit, but if they somehow managed to make it a one possession game, that could have been an issue.  Another nitpick, the NET metric that the NCAA selection committee is supposedly going to rely heavily upon, factors in margin of victory up to 10 points.  We shouldn't just dribble out the clock when up by less than 10.  We've also thrown in the towel when down by near that 10 point margin as well.  I don't like that part of the metric, but being what it is and given that we are squarely on the bubble, we should be doing everything we can to maximize out standing.

Coming off a 3 game losing streak and with bad weather in the area, this game was played under a tornado watch, it wasn't surprising that the crowd was sparse.  I would estimate only 6,000 or so were there.  With the exception of a few scattered boos at the half and during Vandy's run, those that were there were generally positive and supportive, and I thought it was as good of an atmosphere as could be reasonably expected under the circumstances. 

Up next, we travel to Colombia, South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks Tuesday night at 6pm.  The game will be broadcast on ESPN2. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

This week's bracketology links


2 have us First 4 out. One still has us Last 4 in.
For us to make it in we will have to win all remaining home games. I have a hard time believing in that, even in a weaker than normal bubble...

Game Preview: Vanderbilt

Well, that escalated quickly. Alabama (15-11, 6-7, KenPom: 60, NET: 52) was two games over .500 in league play just two weeks ago, and was in decent postseason shape. Since then, the team has lost three straight games and suddenly finds itself in a familiar position on the postseason bubble. The team will attempt to get back on the winning track against the last team they beat, the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-17, 0-13, KenPom: 125, NET: 131). Game time Saturday at Coleman Coliseum is 5 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU. I hope the fans will turn out to support the team, but if reaction on social media is any indication, that's not likely to happen.

My Two Cents: When I wrote my preview for the A&M game, I truly believed that the team had a couple of bumps in the road against two good teams in Mississippi State and Florida, but would have a great chance to bounce back this week. For thirty minutes on Tuesday night, they didn't play a great game, but they were playing well enough to win. That the game turned the way that it did in the final twelve minutes was shocking to me. It's a good thing I'm not responsible for the recap because my brain has fogged out the last twelve minutes of that game and I couldn't tell you much of what happened other than the final score. A&M outscored Bama 33-12 in those final twelve minutes. It's difficult, as someone who does watch a lot of college basketball and has seen my share of meltdowns, to comprehend how you get run off the floor in a twelve minute span by a team that, no disrespect intended, is not that good. And that blowing double digit leads has been a trend for Alabama this season is incredibly troubling for those of us who care deeply for this program and the players that have chosen to represent it. Several people have asked me what I think is going to happen in the next five games, and all I can do is shrug. I have no idea. I will continue to hope for things to turn around, but I'd be lying if I told you I was confident in this team doing that in these final weeks of the season.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Aggies Abruptly Assault Avery's Alabama, Again. Texas A&M 65 Alabama 56

Alabama blew two double-digit leads to a 11-14 (4-9) Aggies squad in an ugly, boring game that set the sport back at least 20 years to fall to 15-11 (6-7) and likely out of the NCAA tournament picture for now.

We finally replaced Herb with JP in the starting lineup as I posted we should have done at least two weeks ago.  Of course, we didn't even stick with that lineup till the first media timeout, promptly pulling Donta Hall for Giddens (who apparently has re-earned his spot as Donta's backup over Galen for now) as soon as he picked up his first foul.

The game started slow, but I actually thought we had decent ball movement early on offense against their zone.  The defensive effort was much better than we've seen over the last week or so, at least in the first half.  Riley came off the bench and gave us a spark with three 3s to build an 11 point lead while playing solid defense.

The end of the first half was symbolic of everything wrong with this team.  Up by 9 with 42 seconds, for some reason our NBA coach doesn't do what every single NBA team would do in a similar situation and go 2 for 1.  Instead, Dazon commits an unforced turnover by traveling at the top of the key, and aTm nails a 3 to cut the lead to 6 at halftime.

We promptly pissed away the rest of the lead to start the second half, but we made some adjustments.  Tevin Mack got hot in the high-post game with Donta that's been successful against the zone, and JP scored a few baskets posting up their guards. Herb got a steal and a fast break dunk and the lead was 12 with about 12 minutes left.

What happened next is utterly inexcusable.  The Aggies are not a good team.  They aren't going anywhere postseason barring a miracle run in Nashville, but you have to give them credit for playing hard and never giving up.  That's something we don't do, and we clearly don't learn from our mistakes.  In a must win game, against a team that already erased a 20 point deficit against us in less time, we get lazy on defense, sloppy with the ball, and allow them to not only come back but win going away.  For some reason we waited until the entire lead was gone in a 13-1 run before calling a timeout to try to re-group.

The end of the game was almost as maddening as the end of the first half.  Donta cut their lead to 4 with a little over a minute remaining with an "and one" on a dunk. Of course, he missed the free throw, like we always do.  Now, I can understand not putting them on the free throw line down 4 with over a minute remaining.  Assuming we could get a stop, we get the ball back with around 40 seconds left, we could score and make it a one possession game, but then we would have to foul on their next possession.  The problem is, for once, somehow we weren't in the penalty yet.  Therefore, we should have fouled immediately so that our next foul would put them on the line.  Instead, we did the absolute worst thing, and fouled with about 5 seconds left on the shot-clock, giving them a fresh 30.  So now, one would think we HAVE to foul immediately, but we didn't even do that.  Instead we let them hit a wide open 3 with about 5 seconds left on the shot clock, and with only 30 seconds left in the game, it was over at that point.  It's like we weren't even trying to win the game.

T-Mack was our leading scorer with 14 points and the only one in double figures.  Kira only scored 5 points and did not shoot well, but he had 4 assists and remarkably zero turnovers.  Riley had 9 points and 5 rebounds in 23 minutes.  JP had 7 points and 6 boards.  Donta had 6 points and 5 boards but was getting pushed around a lot defensively in the second half.  We were out-rebounded again, what was a strength earlier in the season has become a glaring weakness over the last couple of weeks.

The good news is we have plenty of opportunities in our next 5 games to right the ship and play our way back to the NCAA tournament.  The bad news is I have zero confidence that we will do so.  In fact, I would not be shocked if Vandy gets their only SEC win in our building Saturday.  I hope they prove me wrong. 

Now, let's address the elephant in the room, and I will try to do so in factual based manner.  I normally prefer to wait until the end of the season to discuss the head coach's job status.  One of my biggest gripes about our fanbase is that we tend to overreact to a single game or even a stretch of games.  Every season has its highs and lows, and I still hope, even if I don't truly believe, that there are more good times ahead this season. However, it is clear that Coach Johnson has lost the fanbase, and it's to the point that it will have a negative impact on recruiting.

Regardless, he will not be fired after this year.  I don't care if we don't win another game with an average margin of defeat of 20+ points, it simply won't happen.  The sooner you accept this fact, the better.  The Board of Trustees is not going to pony up $9 Million for a buyout, and even if they did the national spin would be "Bama fires coach just one season removed from first NCAA tournament win in 12 years."  It would make it difficult to hire the right replacement.  I'm not going to argue here whether we should or shouldn't fire Avery at the end of the year, because it's simply not going to happen.

We've been pointing to the 2019 recruiting class as being critical for some time.  We've already signed a very solid class, but it is imperative that we land Trendon Watford.  It's one thing to lose elite in-state talent like Demarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe to blue-bloods like Kentucky, but you absolutely cannot lose a guy like Trendon Watford to the likes of LSU or Memphis.  I was hoping Colin Sexton's success would give the Watfords confidence in Avery, but according to the scuttle-butt I hear around Birmingham, Trendon really likes Alabama but has his doubts about CAJ.

I hope the rumors that CAJ may be looking to leave at the end of the year for the NBA are true.  It would make a lot of sense for all involved.  AJ is graduating, and while I could be wrong I've always got the vibe that Cassandra isn't happy living in Tuscaloosa.  The Pelicans are going to be a dumpster fire without A.D. and most don't expect their current head coach to survive.  There's also been talk of NOLA possibly hiring Avery to a front office position as they just fired their GM.  It would make sense for the Pelicans to hire Avery in some capacity as he is very popular in NOLA and it might save them just a little bit of good will in that community.  I'm sure Avery would love to move back home with his family.  Meanwhile, our job is infinitely more attractive than when he took it.

 Before we get out the pitch-forks, let's not forget all the good things Avery has done here.  He has recruited at a high level, he got us back to the tournament and won a game there, he's worked tirelessly to promote the program, and we've pulled off quite a few exciting upset wins.  Unfortunately, we collapse at the end of every regular season, he hasn't been able to consistently motivate college players, we have a handful of inexplicable blow-out losses every year, and his substitution patterns and clock management issues make me want to bang my head against a brick wall.  A mutual parting of the ways is in the best interest of everyone involved.  I would wish him success in New Orleans (Or Cleveland if those rumors turn out to have legs) and thank him for all he accomplished here.  Meanwhile, we will have a talented returning roster along with the promised facility upgrades and a highly competitive compensation package to offer a proven successful head coach.  I have some names in mind, but now is not the time for that.

Up next, the Vanderbilt Commodores return to Tuscaloosa for a 5 pm tip-off Saturday evening looking for their first conference win.  I will be there supporting the players and the program, and I hope you will join me.  They need us now more than ever.  The game will be televised on ESPNU.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Game Preview: at Texas A&M

These four guys showing up was definitely the highlight on Saturday.

Well, the good news is Alabama (15-10, 6-6, KenPom: 55, NET: 45) doesn't play Florida in Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday night. That alone increases the chances for a victory. Instead, they will travel to the wilds of College Station, Texas to play their second game of the season vs the Texas A&M Aggies (10-14, 3-9, KenPom: 98, NET: 84). You may remember that the Aggies won the first game on a buzzer beater. Game time Tuesday night is 8 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

My Two Cents: Social media certainly has its ups and downs. Probably more downs than ups. I debate myself on an almost daily basis about getting rid of my social media accounts for my own mental health. But I will say that one of the ups since I've started using my Twitter account to promote our blog here is that I've come into contact with many Alabama fans. We've become a rather woeful community, leaning on each other through the frustrating ebbs and flows that are the Alabama basketball program.

Of course, the flip side to that coin is that you're treated to the rather maniacal fringe groups of Alabama fans that take this stuff way more seriously than most do. In the wake of the game Saturday, most Alabama fans are frustrated and at a loss for how to make things better, but we dust ourselves off, we commit to going to the next game or watching it on television, and we stay committed to pulling for the players and the coaches to figure things out. The lunatic fringe: they send angry tweets to Greg Byrne and Avery Johnson, or the players, or they send angry tweets to me because I don't go in for the mob mentality and I tell them to direct their energy in a more useful manner. I understand the frustration that is at the root of these outbursts, but it serves no good to the people having these outbursts or the people that are the focus of them. I should know because I've been those people in the past about an array of subjects, and I don't remember finding any enlightenment along the way.  I guess what I'm trying to say is chill the f out.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Gator Bait. Florida 71 Alabama 53

Welcome to the O'Coleman Center at the Capstone, where only Gators get out alive.  For the 8th straight time, Florida came to Tuscaloosa and left victorious with a commanding 71-53 victory to improve to 14-11 (6-6) while Bama fell to 15-10 (6-6). 

We were outplayed, out-hustled, and out-coached.  Give a lot of credit to Florida for playing great defense.  We aren't the only team to struggle to score against them.  For most of the game, they showed a 1-2-2 three quarters-court pressed and settled into a match-up zone while occasionally going to a half court trap out of it.  It forced us to slow the game down and play at their pace. 

It took us 8 minutes to score from the field, and frankly we were fortunate to only be down by 10 or so at that point.  In fairness, Herb had to leave the game with an injury early in the first half, but we played 9 different guys before we finally scored from the field.    Florida led by 9 at halftime, but gradually increased the lead to 17 early in the second half.  We used the revolving door substitution pattern throughout, and finally the 846th combination that we tried was marginally successful  when we went small with Kira, AJ, JP, Herb, and Donta in at the same time.  That odd combination managed to cut the lead to 8, but they couldn't take advantage of chances to get it closer, and couldn't get a rebound. UF stretched it back out to 15+ and cruised to an easy win. 

Once again, turnovers were a huge problem.  On paper, we only had 11 turnovers to their 9, but that doesn't tell the whole story.  Much like the $tate game, it was the type of turnovers that was the problem.  When you look at points off turnovers, they had 11 to our 3.  Combine that with a laughable 10 of 22 from the free throw line and it's easy to see how this one got out of hand. 

To make matters worse, our defense continued to struggle against a bad offensive team.  We stayed in a man to man defense, which I was generally fine with, but we had a hard switch on everything.  The result was the smaller gators were able to create mismatches where we had our smaller guards trying to defend post players in the lane while our bigs like Donta and Galin were chasing guys around the perimeter.  Would it kill us to fight through a screen every now and then?   They had 36 points in the paint.  Donta is not defending the rim at the level he was earlier in the year, but again, part of that is the result of our soft, switch-everything defense.

Kira had 14 points and I thought he played well, but didn't have much help.  He tried to push the ball and pick up the tempo when he could.  JP and Donta were both in double digits with 10 each.  AJ and Galin played 18 and 16 minutes respectively and both finished with 5 points.  Draw your own conclusions on whether you think that's an appropriate amount of minutes for either of those guys.  I think I've made it obvious where I stand on this issue.

Looking at the upcoming schedule and given the fact that we've been blown out the last two games, it's fair to wonder if yet another late season meltdown is on the horizon.  What's frustrating to me is that if there is any benefit to this revolving door, upward basketball, everybody plays substitution pattern that we employ, is that you would think the team would be fresh at the end of the season and poised to finish strong, but that obviously hasn't been the case. 

They said there were only 150 unsold tickets as of late Friday afternoon, but if that's the case, there were a bunch of no-shows.  The lower levels were surprisingly packed, but I would still estimate the attendance at around 12,000.  Not bad, but not anywhere close to the near sellout announced.  Coming off of a bad loss and with the baseball team and the Birmingham Iron playing at the same time, it wasn't a horrible crowd all things considered.  Speaking of the baseball game, it's ridiculous that I paid for a parking pass, leave downtown Tuscaloosa, at most a 10 minute drive, over 30 minutes before tipoff and still end up having to park on the other side of the law school.  We barely made tip-off. 

The student support was a bit disappointing.  The lower level was packed, but there was nobody in the upper corner of the student section, and they had a huge section blocked off for the football team.  They showed up about 10 minutes late, used maybe half of their reserved seats, and all left at halftime or early in the second half.  I know it's sacrilege to criticize the mighty football Gods who got blown out in the championship game, but if they  want to support the team they should show up on time and be enthusiastic throughout the game like the rest of the students if they want the privilege of having a whole section roped off for them. 

There were some scattered boos during our early struggles which I didn't like at all.  I get the frustration, I'm as frustrated as anyone, but it's impossible to differentiate if the boos are being directed at the players or the coaches, and there's absolutely no excuse or reason to boo these players.  That being said, I thought the crowd was loud and supportive when we made our half-assed runs in the second half.  It was great to see Levi Randolph, Retin Obasohan, Trevor Releford, and Collin Sexton in attendance. 

There has been a lot of negativity posted online directed at Coach Avery Johnson, even moreso than normal after this loss.  All I will say at this point is that it's in the best interest of the program to support him, the staff, and the players for the rest of the season and see how it plays out.   The time to have that discussion will come soon enough.   I will admit, I left this game with about 2 minutes left because I was feeling the urge to yell something  to the head coach that would not be beneficial to the program. 

Up next, we played our 3rd game of the season in bum-youknowhat-texas when we travel to College Station for a revenge game against the Texas A&M Aggies.  Tip-off is set for 8pm Tuesday night on SEC Network. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Game Preview: Florida

Alabama (15-9, 6-5, KenPom: 48; NET: 45), will attempt to bounce back from a poor performance in Starkville when they return home to host the Florida Gators (13-11, 5-6, KenPom: 38; NET: 41) on Saturday. Game time is 1 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

My Two Cents: It wasn't disappointing that Alabama lost in Starkville on Tuesday; it was  disappointing how Alabama lost on Tuesday. Frankly, the team didn't look prepared. They were sloppy with the ball, leading to 18 turnovers. Mississippi State crushed them on the glass again. State just looked tougher, faster, ready to play. And while our guys had enough mental toughness to keep themselves in the game for most of the evening, they lacked the mental toughness needed to protect the basketball and make the plays necessary to get over the hump (no pun intended) when they did reduce the deficit to 6-10 points. They simply never put much game pressure on a team desperate for a win. To State's credit, that was one of the better defensive efforts I've seen them put forth this season. They're talented at every position, and if they buy in on defense, the sky's the limit for that team. Alabama has shown a resiliency this season in bouncing back from poor performances. Let's hope that trend continues on Saturday.

Here's an interesting nugget to chew on: Alabama hasn't defeated a Gator team in Coleman Coliseum since 2006! For those of you playing at home, that was thirteen seasons ago. Mark Gottfried was the head coach. Billy Donovan was the Gator head coach. That Florida team would go on to win the first of two national titles. While Avery has led the program to back-to-back wins in Gainesville, his teams are 0-2 in Coleman vs Florida, losing both games by an average of 17 points. Doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy looking ahead to Saturday?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Bulldogs Bully Bama, Mississippi $tate 81 Alabama 62

Alabama fell to 15-9 (6-5) after being blown out in Starkville.  This was not a game anybody was expecting us to win and it doesn't really hurt our NCAA tournament chances, but the effort and sloppy play was very disappointing.

Both teams started off hot, with $tate making some early 3s and an aggressive T-Mack and Kira matching them on the offensive end.  Unfortunately, when both teams cooled off, $tate began dominating the glass while we regularly coughed up the basketball. The result was the Bulldogs building a 10-14 point lead that they would more or less maintain for the rest of the game.

We made a few runs to cut it to 8 or 9 and it seemed like we might be able to hang around, but we always made critical mistakes when we had a chance to get closer, and they always answered to push the lead back to 14 or 15. 

We ended up with 18 turnovers.  It wasn't just the fact that we were turning it over, but they were the kinds of turnovers that led to easy baskets at the other end.  $tate converted those 18 turnovers into 28 points.  Meanwhile they out-rebounded us 35-26, leading to 19 second chance points.  If you are keeping score at home, that's a whopping 47 of their 81 points off turnovers and offensive rebounds. 

$tate is a good team and was playing in a must win situation at home.  They were intense on defense, and their bigs did a great job on the glass.  We couldn't stop Q, and I question why we kept Riley on him for so long when it was obvious he wasn't going to be able to stay in front of him. 

Kira and T-Mack were our leading scorers with 17 and 13 points each, but they also combined for half of our turnovers.  Dazon had 12 points and 3 turnovers.  Donta ended up with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks.  JP failed to score in 23 minutes of playing time. 

Up next, a huge game at home against the struggling Florida Gators.  Despite the losses piling up, the Gators somehow still have a top 50 NET and are arguably a bubble team.  Tip off is set for 1pm Saturday afternoon and will be broadcast on one of the ESPN stations.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Sleeping with the Enemy- Mississippi State, Part 2.

I reached out to Collin Wilmes at For Whom the Cowbell tolls to get an update on the Bulldogs since our last meeting.  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.

First thing that comes to mind is free throws. Free throws have been a huge weakness as of late. Regie Perry has become a spark plug for the team as well (Freshman of The Week announced Feb. 4). He's been starting in place of ARic Holman now. Before last game he had  double-doubles in three of his last four appearances, so hopefully he can get back to that because he was limited to just four points against Kentucky. I think a big thing is that the Bulldogs have to start out fast. The comeback against Kentucky was great (down 18 and came within one point), but that's obviously not something that you can do on a nightly basis. If Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters start out hot and we can knock down our free throws, I like our chances. 

Game Preview: at Mississippi State

Two weeks after holding off the Bulldogs at home by a score of 83-79, Alabama (15-8, 6-4, KenPom: 46; NET: 43) will travel to Starkville for their second game with Mississippi State (16-7, 4-6, KenPom: 26; NET: 29). As of Sunday afternoon, tickets were still available for this game for those of you interested in attending. Game time on Tuesday is 8:00 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

My Two Cents: Alabama had a great week, finishing 2-0 vs Georgia and at Vanderbilt. Obviously, all wins are important, but taking care of business against two teams in the bottom of the league standings had an ounce more of importance because of what losses to those two teams would have meant to the postseason resume. And of course, winning at Vanderbilt, after all of the struggles there we've witnessed, had some extra sauce to it. Alabama is now 6-4 in league play, and very much in the conversation for the 4 seed in the league tournament, and the bye that goes with it.

If you've been reading this blog long enough, you've likely seen one of the writers or someone posting a comment write that the upcoming game is a must-win for Alabama. You've likely even seen it this year. For a change, at least for this week, the shoe will be on the other foot on Tuesday night. A win for Alabama would be huge, of course, but this game arguably means more for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs will enter this game with a 4-6 record in league play. They've lost two straight and three of their last four. This State roster is talented, and I believe they will ultimately be in the NCAA Tournament; but if they lose on Tuesday night, they'll fall to 4-7 in league play. If that happens, the word "bubble" will start being used more frequently when discussing the Bulldogs.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Memorial Magic Muted, Alabama 77 Vanderbilt 67

For just the second time in nearly three decades the Crimson Tide got a road win over the Commodores to improve to 15-8 (6-4). 

Galin Smith was still out with a concussion and Alex Reese was out with the flu, leaving the bench a little short.  Donta Hall got into early foul trouble again, further exacerbating the problem and forcing us to change the game plan a bit.  Normally, shooting 24 from three point range in that place is inviting disaster, but we were able to make half of them and actually shot better from 3 point range than Vandy did.  Donta Hall even made his first and only career three pointer despite bricking it off the back of the iron. 

It was close through much of the first half, but Vandy had a prolonged scoring drought that allowed us to stretch the lead to 7 going into half time.  For all of Coach Avery's faults, we should really give him credit for his ability to make adjustments at halftime.  We've been really good in the early parts of the 2nd half of most games lately, and this was no exception.  We were forcing turnovers and running after Vandy misses to speed up the game.  Dazon, Riley, and Kira all made big 3s to extend the lead to 19 points with about 9 minutes remaining. 

Unfortunately, we weren't able to put them away.  Dan was called for a flagrant foul after a lengthy review, and that seemed to give the Dores a spark.  We had stretch of bad turnovers that led to a 10-0 Vandy run.  I thought Coach Johnson waited about 3 possessions too late to call a timeout, and suddenly Vanderbilt was back to within 5.  That's when Riley Norris stepped up by making 3 free throws, then drilling another 3 pointer to put the game away for good.

Riley was the MVP in my opinion.  He had a double double with 15 points and 12 rebounds on a night he was desperately needed with a short bench.  Kira was unstoppable much of the game until he got frustrated during Vandy's second half run, but he still finished with 18 points and 4 assists.  Dazon was also in double figures with 12, and Herb had a solid game with 9 points going 4 of 6 from the field.  Hopefully this is a sign Herbert is coming out of his funk. 

Memorial Gym is still the same out-dated horrible arena that it's always been, but they have made one positive change by going to a traditional goal support.  See the picture at the beginning of this post that I took from my seats at the game, compared to this old picture below.  I'm not sure when they made the change, but I do believe it somewhat neutralizes one of their advantages, as that old support was very unusual and made the shooting background even worse.

The gym holds about 15,000 but because of its goofy configuration it is very difficult to estimate the crowd as you can only see a portion of the seats.  There seemed to be quite a few empty seats and my wild guess at the attendance is in the 6,000 range.  The North Alabama and Nashville area alumni were out in force.  We probably had nearly a third of the crowd, with our section being overwhelmingly crimson.  I thought we were louder than the Vandy fans all night.

There was one Vandy fan sitting in front of me, who asked me after the starting lineups, "do you all have any white boys on the team?"  I prefaced my answer with, "I'm not sure why that matters."  We also witnessed a verbal altercation between some drunk Vandy students and a group of Bama fans outside the arena after the game.  I guess those racist, elitist pricks will just have to look elsewhere for their first conference win.  It wouldn't hurt my feelings at all if it never comes.

Up next, speaking of obnoxious fan bases, we travel to down highway 82 to take on the Mi$$i$$ippi $tate Bulldogs Tuesday night in Starkville.  Tip off is set for 8 pm on the SEC Network.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Game Preview: at Vanderbilt

That collective sigh you just heard is the Alabama fanbase preparing for another trip to Nashville to face the Vanderbilt Commodores (KenPom: 131; NET: 115) in Memorial Gymnasium. For those of you new to the party, Alabama has beaten Vandy just twice in the last twenty-eight years in that building. That should help explain why we're stressed despite the Dores entering this game with a record of 9-13 (0-9). Game time on Saturday is 7:30 P.M. CT. SEC Network will televise the game.

My Two Cents: After a shaky first half, Alabama handled its business at home vs a rebuilding Georgia team. As DJC mentioned in his recap, it was nice to see the guys take control of a game and simply be the better team. Once again, turnovers and struggles at the free throw line in the closing minutes was concerning, but not enough to seriously threaten the outcome. Now if Alabama can overcome the Memorial nightmare, the team will win consecutive games for the first time since January 5th when the win over Kentucky capped a 5-game streak.

Everyone knows about the struggles in Memorial, but if Alabama fans could ever be forgiven for expecting a win there, this is the year. Yes, Vanderbilt lost Darius Garland, arguably its best player, for the season back in November, but this team doesn't have the record it has simply because of that injury. One look at the advanced stats reinforces that opinion. Based on the data at KenPom, Vanderbilt is ranked 11th or worse in the conference in offensive efficiency (14), defensive efficiency (12), effective field goal pct (12), opponent effective field goal pct (14), turnover pct (11), opponent turnover pct (13), offensive rebound pct (14), opponent free throw rate (11), 2-pt fg pct (13), opponent 2-pt fg pct (13), 3-pt pct (11), free throw pct (14), block pct (12) and steal pct (12). Whew. That's a lot of bad, folks. 

Of course, none of those stats mean anything for one forty-minute game. College basketball is littered with games in which the perceived superior team doesn't play well or the perceived inferior team plays out of its mind. And for all of its poor stats, two of Vandy's nine losses in league play were by one possession, and another loss was an overtime loss to Tennessee, a game that Vanderbilt seemingly had in the bag before a controversial late foul call helped turn the tide for the Vols. It's easy to get lost in the poor numbers for Vandy, but this is still a road game at Memorial and I'm not taking anything for granted.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Bama Batters Bulldogs, Alabama 89 Georgia 74

Alabama improved to 14-8 (5-4) with a 15 point beat down of the Georgia Bulldogs behind great nights from Kira Lewis and Tevin Mack. 

Things did not start out so good.  We came out flat, turned it over a few times, and the UGA bigs were having their way with Donta in the post to build an early 9-3 lead.  I know this is going to sound hypocritical coming from me given how much I've harped about the need for consistent lineups, but....I think it's time to change the starting lineup.

Petty should be starting over Herbert.  I really feel bad for Herbert.  By all accounts he's one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, and he always plays hard, but he has regressed to the point that he's a total liability on offense. Perhaps coming off the bench might help him get over the yips?  Now, it may be that JP prefers the 6th man role, in which case you could even make an argument for starting Riley over Herb, though I'm not too crazy about having Riley, T-Mack, and Dazon all in the starting lineup.

In any event, things  improved when we first went to the bench.  Donta picked up a couple of early fouls and Galin Smith came in and gave us a spark.  He was much better holding his position against the UGA bigs, and he scored 6 points in just 5 minutes of play.  Unfortunately, he had to leave the game with a concussion, on a play that he was called for a foul.  Give credit to Dan Giddens for stepping up when needed and being more than serviceable.  He managed to play decent defense without fouling, got some big rebounds, and even made a 9 foot fade-away with the And One!

We took a 41-38 lead into halftime, and then dominated much of the second half.  Our guards and wings forced a lot of mistakes from the Georgia guards and we were able to get into transition for some easy baskets.  Kira Lewis carved up their defense at will.  T-Mack was on his game too, and Georgia had no answers for either of them. We ran out to a 15 point lead and maintained a comfortable margin most of the way, but started turning it over and missing free throws again in the final 3 minutes.  UGA cut the lead to 10, but we got enough stops and enough free throws in the final minute or so that the game was never in danger. 

UGA isn't a very good team, they don't have the personnel to run the system Crean is trying to run, but this was still a big win for us.  In the recent past we've had a bad habit of playing well against the better teams but struggling at home against inferior opponents.  It was nice to see us take care of business. 

T-Mack finished with 25 points and 6 rebounds.  Kira played 36 minutes (THANK YOU!) and ended up with 24 points and 7 assists with only one turnover.  Dazon got into double figures with 11 points and his obligatory 3 turnovers.  Donta only played 18 minutes due to foul trouble but did pull down 8 rebounds. 

It was a small, strange crowd.  I would guess no more than 6,000 in attendance and many were apparently in town for football signing day festivities.  It wasn't much of an atmosphere to be honest, so kudos to our team and staff for finding a way to stay motivated and focused without much crowd support from the home fans.

Up next, a trip to our personal hell, the house of horrors known as Memorial Gym on the campus of Vanderbilt University, where the Tide will take on the last place Commodores Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.  The game will be televised on SEC Network. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Bracketology update- 2/5

I'll copy this for entertainment purposes...

Inside the Hall
USA Today

.500 ball should get us in as a 10 seed... which is better than a 7-9 IMO.
If you are dreaming big about a 6 seed... that would more than likely mean we are ranked at the end of the regular season, which I seriously doubt will happen.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Non conference opponents- where are they now

Our non-conference slate has taken a beating.  Current records of the teams we played:

- Baylor: 15-6/6-2
- Stephen F Austin: 11-9/4-4
- Penn St: 7-14/0-10
- Liberty: 19-5/8-1
- Arizona: 14-8/5-4
- GA State: 16-6/7-2
- UCF: 16-4/6-2
- Murray St: 17-4/8-2
- Wichita St: 10-11/3-6
- Ball St: 11-11/2-7
- Northeastern: 13-9/7-3
- Appalachian St: 8-14/3-6
- Southern: 3-19/2-7

It doesn't look as good as it did a month ago.

Game Preview: Georgia

After another unpleasant trip to Auburn, the Alabama men's basketball team (13-8, 4-4) will return home briefly for a Wednesday night matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs (KenPom: 105; NET: 98). Georgia enters this game with a 10-11 (1-7) record. Game time is 8 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

My Two Cents: DJC perfectly captured most of my feelings concerning the Auburn game so I have nothing to add regarding that game. If you haven't read DJC's recap of the Auburn game yet, what is wrong with you, first of all. Secondly, please scroll down and read his thoughts on the game.

Alabama just completed a six-game stretch starting with the game at Missouri that I felt was the most important and toughest stretch of the season. It included games at Tennessee, Baylor and Auburn, plus home games vs Ole Miss (ranked at the time) and Mississippi State (still ranked). That Alabama finished 3-3 against that schedule, and had chances to steal road games at Tennessee and Baylor, was encouraging because it came on the heels of the home loss to Texas A&M, which was one of the most disappointing of the season. The team bounced back and competed, with the exception of the loss at Auburn, which helped the team finally crack the NCAA Tournament discussion. Fortunately, the schedule does lighten up a little over the next six games.

Those games include this game vs Georgia, at Vanderbilt, at Mississippi State, Florida, at Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. Those teams have a combined conference record of 10-30, and Mississippi State and Florida account for eight of those victories. Alabama has already proven this season that you can't take any game for granted, even if you have a double digit lead at halftime, but the next six games present this Alabama team with a great opportunity to string some wins together. The flip side of that coin is that it also presents Alabama with a chance to add more "bad losses" to their resume should they not play well.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

AUful Again, Auburn 84 Alabama 63

This one is going to be short, at least by my standards, because really, who wants to discuss this game?  Most of us knew this was coming, it's better to just move on and forget about it.

I didn't like the gameplan at all, but it really didn't matter what we did in this game, there's just no way to beat auburn on their home court when they shoot 60% from 3 point range. 

Still, I thought we should have tried to slow the game down and used our wings in the post like we did in the second half of the m$u game.  Our half-court offense has actually been pretty solid, and auburn is not comfortable playing at a slower pace.  Instead, it's like we tried to beat them at their own game.  We settled for way too many quick perimeter shots, at least when we managed to not turn the ball over first. 

Our defense was atrocious.  I would have tried a matchup 2-3 zone.  I know going zone against a team bombing 3s sounds crazy, but this approach worked some at LSU earlier in the year when they were hot.  Auburn had great spacing and was spreading the floor.  Since we had to respect their ability to hit 40 foot jump shots, they were able to consistently beat us on the dribble drive and get to the basket.  I feel like we could have matched up in a zone to slow the tempo and close out on their shooters. 

I thought our guys played with good effort.  They didn't throw in the towel down 20 at the half, but chipped away to get it down to 12, but another series of bad turnovers and auburn 3s put the game out of reach for good. 

JP had a great game with 18 points, though his 3 turnovers were an issue.  Donta just missed his double-double with 8 points and 10 rebounds.  We simply did not get him the ball enough, he only took 3 shots this game.  He should have been a focal point of the offense, in my opinion.  Kira had 13 points and played well other than taking a couple of ill advised shots.  I thought 15 minutes of AJ was way too many.  Herb is hurting us more than he's helping right now, and he needs some time on the bench in my opinion.  His offensive struggles are starting to carry over to the defensive end. 

Bruce Pearl is, without question, a fat, sweaty, cheating sleazeball.  That being said, he is doing a great thing with his AUTlive campaign raising money for cancer patients and research.  Some times bad people are capable of doing good things.  I don't like him, at all, but do appreciate his work in this area and think it's worth noting. 

Up next, we return to the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum to take on the Georgia Bulldogs Wednesday night at 8 pm CST.  The game will be televised on the SEC network. 

Friday, February 01, 2019

Game Preview: at Auburn

Following yet another home win over a ranked opponent (feels good, don't it?), Alabama (13-7, 4-3) will return to the road for the first meeting of the season with the Auburn Tigers (KenPom: 15; NET: 24). Auburn enters this game with a 14-6 (3-4) record. Game time Saturday is 7 P.M. CT. ESPN2 will handle the television duties.

My Two Cents: Sometimes you have to win ugly games, and not all ugly games have scores in the 40s or 50s. In my opinion, the Tuesday game between Bama and Mississippi State wasn't pretty for either team, but someone had to win. Fortunately, our guys emerged with another quality win to add to the resume. Alabama emerged from Tuesday night with eight total quad one/two wins. Unfortunately, Ball State, which was regarded as a quad two win earlier in the week, fell into quad three status after falling out of the top 100. Therefore, Bama's quad one/two record is now 7-4 (2-4 vs quad one teams). Also of concern is that Arizona is flirting with falling into quad three status as well after losing their third straight game on Thursday night. Alabama needs the Wildcats to remain in the top 75 so they can continue to count them as a quad two win. Let's remember that as we pull for Alabama to win each and every game, we also need to hope that their non-conference opponents make gains as well in order to keep the resume in its best possible state.

Auburn had lost three straight before their convincing 92-58 win over Missouri on Wednesday night. Despite some struggles this season, Auburn has remained ranked high at KenPom and the NET. In Auburn's defense, those three losses were by a combined total of 13 points, with two on the road (at South Carolina and Mississippi State), and the other coming at home to a Kentucky team that has finally turned on the warm jets. Honestly, aside from a poor second half at Ole Miss, there's nothing on Auburn's resume that suggests they're a bad team. What the resume is lacking are quality wins (just 1-5 vs quad one teams, and 5-6 combined vs quad one/two) so Auburn is going to have to win games against the better competition on their schedule if they're going to get a good seed in the NCAA Tournament.

As we've come to expect of Auburn under the direction of Bruce Pearl, the Tigers are one of the better offensive teams in the country. They're currently ranked 9th in adjusted offensive efficiency at KenPom. Their effective field goal pct is 54.3%, which is 43rd in the country. Stop me if you've heard this, but Auburn is a great offensive rebounding team. The Tigers are currently ranked 11th in the country in offensive rebound pct. Considering that Alabama has allowed a combined 35 offensive rebounds in its previous two games, that's a cause for concern.