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.

That said, Saturday was the second straight poor performance by our basketball team, which led to an amazing eighth straight loss to Florida in Coleman Coliseum. More concerning are the signs that this team may be on the verge of another February swoon. It's worth noting that Alabama's regular season record in February/March games the previous three seasons is just 13-16. Alabama's next two opponents (A&M/Vandy) are at or near the bottom of the league standings, but the final four opponents are a combined 30-18 in league play. I hate using the term "must-win", but these next two games for Alabama are as important as it gets.

Typically, this is the part of the preview where I highlight what the opposing team does well and what they don't. But it's really not about what A&M does in this game, it's about Alabama. This is a talented group of guys, but the effort and the attention to detail simply hasn't been there on a consistent basis. And sure, the coaches are paid handsomely to deliver results, but sometimes you need a greater sense of urgency from the players or the coaching simply falls on deaf ears.

For Alabama to reach their goal of returning to the NCAA Tournament, they've got to buy in on defense. I've been saying this all season because the team has been mediocre (at best) on defense all season. There's a great podcast by the name of Bama Expats that you should check out if you're not already listening. I follow them on social media, and they posted some eye-opening stats after the game on Saturday.

That's tough to stomach, but it's not an anomaly; this has been an ongoing issue all season. That's why Alabama is ranked 80th in adjusted defensive efficiency (adjusted for competition), and 191 in raw defensive efficiency (the data contained in the box score). For a program that has had an average defense efficiency rank of 26th the last three seasons, the struggles this season are difficult to comprehend. You can't work miracles with only four weeks left in the season, but they've got to strive for some kind of improvement or I fear the season will slip away from them.

Player to Watch: For Alabama, it's any player on the defensive end of the floor. Scroll up if you don't believe me.

TJ Starks hit the game-winner in the first game vs Alabama, but the game turned in the second half when Billy Kennedy decided to pound the ball into the paint. A&M had a 55% 2-pt pct in the game, largely on the back of Josh Nebo's 21 pts (10-12 from the field), 7 rebounds and four blocks. Since that game, Nebo has remained a solid contributor, but nothing like the day he had against Alabama. My guess is that Kennedy will look to establish his offense in the paint early in this game. The Bama coaching staff will have to adjust to it, something they didn't do in the first game. A&M remains a poor 3-pt shooting team (31.9% in conference play, ranked 12th in the league) so it seems obvious to me that Alabama should clog the middle and make A&M prove they can hit jump shots on a consistent basis.

Prediction: I'm sure most of you know Cecil Hurt, the columnist for the Tuscaloosa News and He wrote a rather critical column about the game on Saturday and comments Avery made about the team's energy afterward. I recommend reading it if you haven't already. There's a lot of frustration within the fanbase, speculation about Avery's future (he was mentioned last week as a possible target for a front office job with the New Orleans Pelicans), and where this team projects in March. There's no denying the last two games were poor performances - arguably two of the worst performances of the season - but I don't believe (yet) this team has abandoned the coaching staff or is as bad as these last two games suggest. I think they simply played poorly against two teams that rate high in the ranking systems. Their goal to return to the NCAA Tournament is still very much in front of them (many mock brackets still have Alabama in the field), but they've got to figure things out quickly because the season, as difficult as it is to accept for us college basketball diehards, is rapidly approaching its conclusion. I believe these next two games are vital. Will the team see it that way? I'll put my hand in the hand of the team I love and hope for the best.

Bama - 74 - Texas A&M - 67   

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