Friday, January 31, 2020

Game Preview: Arkansas

With their four-game winning streak snapped at LSU on Wednesday, Alabama (12-8, 4-3; KenPom: 45; NET: 40) will need to recover quickly because a good Arkansas Razorback team (15-5, 3-4; KenPom: 35; NET: 38) will be in Tuscaloosa on Saturday evening. Game time is 5 P.M. CT, and will be televised on the SEC Network. Arkansas has won six of the last seven games in the series.

My Two Cents: This is an important game for both teams. Alabama needs quality wins asap for its postseason resume, and the Razorbacks need a win to avoid falling two games below. 500 in league play. In recent seasons, Alabama teams have struggled to close out the season. I don't think this team or staff will face the same issues, but it's obvious that the team has not played its best in the last four games. To the team's credit, they went 3-1 in that stretch, but the chickens came home to roost in Baton Rouge. One of several reasons Arkansas has somewhat overachieved to this point in the season is they really play high-energy basketball every night out. If our guys come out sluggish, Arkansas will make them pay for it. Both teams are ranked in the top four in the league in tempo so expect a high-possession, likely high-scoring affair.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Tigers Trample Tide, LSU 90 Alabama 76

A strong a$$ L$U team handed Alabama a blowout loss in Baton Rouge last night.  The Tide drops to 12-8 (4-3)

Beetle did not play due to illness, and Petty was benched for a poor practice performance. Reese and Shack stepped up and made some 3s early in the game to keep us in it, but the wheels fell off about halfway through the first half.  The shots stopped falling, and LSU continued getting 3 or 4 chances per trip.  They went on a 20-4 run that pushed the lead to 20, and led 51-33 at the half. 

We played better in the second half, and slowly chipped away at the lead to get within single digits, but a quick 6-0 run for LSU put the game away for good.  We only had 9 turnovers, but they were mostly unforced and came at the worst possible times.  We had two turnovers in that 6-0 LSU run, including a lazy inbounds pass under our own basket that was intercepted and layed up for an easy 2 points.  LSU scored 13 points off of our 9 turnovers, whereas we only scored 8 points from their 13 turnovers.

The game was primarily lost on the boards, where LSU dominated 49-31.  We couldn't stop the dribble drive, and had to play tentative defense much of the game due to foul trouble.  Shack had a great game with 21 points, and Alex played well with 17.  Kira scored 13 and had 8 assists with only 2 turnovers.  JP played 33 minutes off the bench but struggled with only 4 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 turnovers. 

This team has not played well since the auburn game.  I fear the lack of the depth and style of play may be catching up to them at this point in the season.  Coach's words about "leaders needing to lead" and "not practicing hard enough," are worrisome in light of JP's benching.  JP's benching was disappointing, as his effort in the games to this point has been outstanding, and his development and improvement this season has been a lot of fun to watch.  I suppose it's possible that he got a bit "big-headed" following all the positive press he's received over the last couple of weeks.  I agree with holding everyone accountable to the same standards, but I'm not sure I agree with Coach Oats publicly disclosing the reason for the benching.

This game was likely to go in the "L" column anyway, it was a bad matchup for us on the road and we were even more short-handed than normal.  This upcoming stretch of games is crucial to our season, in my opinion we need to go at least 3-2.

Up next, the Arkansas Razorbacks come to Tuscaloosa for a 5 pm tipoff Saturday night.  Arkansas is a very good team and we will have to play better than we have in our last 4 games to win it.  The weather is supposed to be great, and 5pm is a perfect tip-off time on a Saturday, so come to Coleman and support the squad.  They can use an energy boost from the crowd right now.  If you can't make it, the game will be televised on SEC Network.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Game Preview: at LSU

Having won eight of their last ten games, Alabama (12-7, 4-2;KenPom: 42; NET: 41) has started to pop up in the bracketology discussions that become fodder on the networks. In my opinion, it's a little early to start having that discussion, but that this team has a chance to be in tournament consideration after a 2-4 start is encouraging. Wednesday will provide a massive quad one opportunity for our guys when they travel to Baton Rouge to face the LSU Tigers (15-4, 6-0; KenPom: 34; NET: 25). Game time is 6 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN2.

My Two Cents: There's plenty to be critical of Will Wade about, particularly where it concerns the allegations that surfaced during the FBI trials regarding his recruiting methods. But you have to hand it to him and this group of players: no matter how the team may have been put together, they know how to win. The Tigers are on an eight-game winning streak; six of those eight wins have been by a margin of one or two possessions. Last season, en route to winning the regular season league title, the Tigers finished 9-2 in 1/2 possession or overtime games. You can be critical of the number of close games, but you have to admit these guys are clutch when it counts.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Surviving the Cat Fight, Alabama 77 K-State 74

Alabama survived a scare at home to improve to 12-7 (4-2) with a hard fought win over the Kansas State Wildcats in the SEC/Big 12 challenge.  The conferences fought to a tie this year, with each winning 5 games. 

On the positive side, we found a way to win, yet again, despite not playing a great game.  We also managed to win a close game, which is something we've struggled with to this point.  On the other hand, the sloppy ball handling continued to be an issue, and we were dominated on the boards, and we're going to have to clean up those areas against the better teams on our schedule.

It was a sluggish start, with K-State mostly controlling the tempo and the game for most of the first half.  Nevertheless, you had to feel like eventually we would go on a run to take control of the game, and we finally did, but not until the second half.  K-State led by 1 at the half, but we took the lead early in the second half and never relinquished it, although they had several chances to go back on top.  We went on a big run between the 16 and 12 minute marks in the second half to build a 16 point lead, but then we went cold and allowed the Wildcats to chip away and claw their way back into the game.  They had the ball with a one possession deficit several times late in the game, but we got the stops when needed and made just enough free throws down the stretch to hang on.

JP was called for a technical foul early in the second half, and by all accounts all he did was roll the ball to the official.  That was his fourth foul, and even though he wasn't having his best game, I thought that really contributed to the rebounding discrepancy as JP has been one of our better rebounders.  Credit to Shack and others on the bench for stepping up and going on a big run right after JP's unjust technical.

Not sure if they showed it on TV, but at one point after a K-State player fouled up, while the players were huddling with their respective coaches on the floor, one of the K-State guys tried to walk into our huddle during the 20 second delay that the coach has to designate his substitute.  The officials handled it well and got him out of there, but that's the kind of Busch league stuff that makes it no surprise they got into an embarrassing brawl with their superior in-state rival in their last game.

Kira proved his point after being benched by Bruce Weber on the national team.  He ended up with 26 points and 7 rebounds.  All of the other starters, Alex, Herb, Shack, and JP all were in double-digits with 11 or 10 points each.  Kira made his point, and then hugged Bruce Weber after the game.  For his part, Weber said all of the right things after the game as well.  They both handled the situation respectfully and with class, in my opinion.

The biggest issue with this game is how badly we were killed on the glass. We only had 3 offensive rebounds, they out-rebounded us 45-33, including a ridiculous 22-3 on the offensive end.  We were able to somewhat counteract that by driving the lane and getting to the free throw line, but rebounding has been a surprising strength of this team so far this year and we won't survive most nights giving up that many second chance opportunities.

I wasn't pleased with the way we managed the end of the game.  JP missed two free throws with a little over a minute left that would have been huge, but thankfully they returned the favor.  Overall, Herb has done much better at the line and made some huge free throws down the stretch to put it away, but at the end of the game, we had to in-bound the ball under our own basket with less than 3 seconds remaining and K-State having no timeouts.  First of all, that in-bounds pass should have been into the front court...even if you don't catch it, just get a hand on it and time runs off the clock and they aren't going to be able to get a good shot off, but instead we risk a pass in to our back court to Herb.  Now, ideally Herb would make the shot to go up 3 and then if he makes the second one wer're up 4 and it's over, but he missed the first one.  Still, even up only 2, I would have preferred he miss the second one on purpose as there were only 2 seconds left and K-State had no timeouts remaining.  It would take them one second to secure the rebound, and then all we have to do is not foul and take our chances on an 80+ foot heave to win the game.  Instead, we made the second one, which allowed them to inbound the ball without time running time off the clock and get a semi-decent look from half-court to potentially tie the game.  Thankfully it was off the mark.

The crowd was great, much better than last weekend.  I would estimate about 12,500, a near sell out, and everybody stayed positive and supportive even when the team was struggling.  An article in the Kansas City newspaper said it was the toughest environment the wildcats have faced in the SEC/Big 12 challenge so far! 

Not Alabama related, but as a basketball fan I must recognize the untimely passing of Kobe Bryant today.  He was undoubtedly one of the best to ever play the game, and I appreciate all he did for the game and I think I can speak for all basketball fans in saying that I feel terrible for his family and loved ones.

Up next, a trip to SEC front running LSU Tigers Wednesday night.  Tip-off is set for 6pm on ESPN2.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Game Preview: Kansas State [Big 12/SEC Challenge]

On Saturday, ten SEC teams will have an opportunity to pad their non-conference resumes for the final time. Alabama (11-7; KenPom: 42; NET: 38) will be one of those teams when they host the Kansas State Wildcats (8-10; KenPom: 91; NET: 89). Game time is 5 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN2. Due to a time crunch, I'm going to try and rush through this preview (oh thank god, the readers say).

My Two Cents: Alabama got the win on Wednesday night at Vanderbilt, which was obviously a good thing. But it was a poor performance. Twenty-five turnovers on the road is going to get you beat most nights. Fortunately for our guys, they were playing a Vanderbilt team that is going through a really difficult stretch for the program. The Dores simply don't have many winning options right now. At first glance, K-State's 8-10 record may lead you to believe this will be an easy game. But if Alabama turns the ball over at the rate they did on Wednesday night, the Wildcats, unlike Vanderbilt, do have enough options to make Alabama pay for those mistakes.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Close the 'Dores, Alabama 77 Vandy 62

It wasn't always pretty, but Alabama cruised to a 15 point victory over the woeful Vanderbilt Commodores to improve to 11-7 (4-2).  The win is the third straight over Vandy for the first time in over 30 years, the second largest margin of victory at Memorial gym in the series, and the first back to back wins over Vanderbilt in Nashville since the mid 1980's.  Let me preface this recap by noting that I watched this game in a bar, with no sound, while also playing team trivia, so feel free to fill in any gaps that I missed.

JP took control of the game early by helping us build a 10 point lead with a barrage of early 3s.  Unfortunately, he also had a bunch of bad turnovers that let the Dores back into the game.  We didn't finish the half strong and only led by 6 at halftime. 

The defense played well throughout and we killed them on the boards.  This led to some transition opportunities and a quick 14-0 run pushed the lead to 20 in the second half and the game was over for all intents and purposes.  We made enough free throws to close it out, but slopped around with turnovers and let the score get a lot closer than it should have been.

After recent improvements, the 25 turnovers is more than a little concerning.  Many of these were terrible passes or just dribbling into traffic.  A team with a pulse would have beat us, but Vandy only managed 23 points off the turnovers, and we out-rebounded them 51-32.  No team is going to play well every night, some nights the shots won't fall and some nights we will revert to being sloppy with the basketball.  Good teams can still find a way to win when not playing their best, and that's what this team is doing.

JP was the leading scorer with a double-double, 23 points and 10 rebounds, but had 6 turnovers.  Kira scored 16, but had 7 turnovers.  Shack had 15 points, 7 rebounds, and won the hard hat award.  Herb had another solid game with 10 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and notably zero turnovers.  He also made 6 of 7 from the free throw line.  Alex only scored two points but I thought he did a great job defensively.

The biggest concern from this game is Javion Davis going down with a knee injury.  We await the results of an MRI, but he just tweeted "I'm Good," so hopefully he will be back soon.

Up next, a break from conference play as Kansas State will come to Tuscaloosa for the SEC/Big 12 showdown.  Tip off is set for 5 pm Saturday evening on ESPN2.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Joe Lunardi LIKES US!

Drive by post and I apologize... but I took a peek at Bracketology and was kinda shocked to see us make an appearance:
Lookie where we are!

I do think those losses to Penn and Iowa State are going to cost us... unless we end up 11-7 or better in conference.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Game Preview: at Vanderbilt

Winners of seven of their last ten games, Alabama (10-7, 3-2; KenPom: 44; NET: 42) will be looking for its first true road victory of the season when it travels to Nashville on Wednesday night to face the Vanderbilt Commodores (8-9, 0-4; KenPom: 175; NET: 143). Game time is 8 P.M. CT, and will be televised on the SEC Network.

My Two Cents: The Dores are going through what you might call a bad stretch in the last two seasons and change. Vandy hasn't beaten an SEC opponent, including the SEC tournament, since March 3rd, 2018. That's twenty-four straight losses vs league competition. Ouch. In addition, last season and earlier this season, the program's best player (Darius Garland in 18-19; Aaron Nesmith this season) was lost to season-ending injuries. Garland elected to enter the NBA Draft despite his injury; and Nesmith, projected as a first-round draft pick in some mock drafts, may have also played his final game in a Vanderbilt uniform. In his absence the Dores have gone 0-3, losing those games by an average of twenty points. Ouch. To add insult to injury: in their previous game vs Tennessee, Vandy's 34-year streak of at least one made three-pointer per game came to an end with an 0-25 performance. Ouch. After the program fired former coach Bryce Drew, hiring an experienced coach to at least play the role of caretaker for a few seasons may have been the best call. Instead, Vandy hired a first-time college head coach in Jerry Stackhouse. The future is not yet written for Stackhouse in Nashville, but this season certainly doesn't appear to have a happy ending.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Tide Tames Tigers, Alabama 88 Mizzou 74

Mizzou set a conference record by making 31 of 31 from the free throw line, but Alabama gutted out a hard fought game to improve to 10-7 (3-2).

It started ugly with neither team able to take control until Alex got hot and made a few threes to build a 10 point lead.  That set the tone for the game, and while Mizzou clawed back to within a possession a few times thanks to their endless parade of free throws, our guys always had the answer.

We started Kira, Shack, JP, Herb, and Alex.  All five of the starters ended up in double figures.  While Mizzou's free throw record was quite an accomplishment, we also made 25 of 30 from the stripe and that was a big part of our ability to hang on to the lead in the final minutes.  I thought the officials generally called the game too tight on both sides.  The game did not have much of a flow, and I'll say it again, this is another example of why the NCAA should go to the quarters format.  I think we can all agree nobody wants to watch 61 free throws in a game.

Unlike the last two games, we were able to get much more 3s up.  We shot an adequate 13 of 39.  Alex was particularly hot in the first half, going 4 of 8.  JP went 4 of 10 and Shack was 3 of 9.  Beetle suffered a back injury and fouled out in only 8 minutes of action.  I thought he was playing well, especially battling through the injury, and two of his foul calls were total BS.  Speaking of BS, Doug Shows called a technical foul on our bench, and I've heard a couple of different accounts as to what happened.  Nate Oats was arguing with another official during a timeout over a questionable call, and some reports say Oats was warned not to "charge" an official, and Shows called him for walking toward the official.  Other reports say it was on Hodgson.  Oats was animated and on the court, but the technical should have came from the official he was having the conversation with, if at all.

Herb and Kira both did an excellent job of playing smart with 4 fouls down the stretch.  Losing Kira with 4 minutes or so to play would have been catastrophic with Beetle also out.  Herb won the hard hat again and had another double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.  Herb was also 7 of 8 from the line.  Kira had 10 points and 7 assists.  JP led the way with 20 points, and Shack and Alex each had 17.

Notice I haven't said much about defense or turnovers.  Other than the fouls, we played pretty solid defense and only had 14 turnovers.  The improvement in these areas over the last couple of months is the biggest reason why we have a winning record and are still discussing our post-season chances right now.

The crowd was decent for a cool, rainy afternoon, I would say probably around 9,500 or so.  It wasn't the loud, emotional atmosphere we had for the auburn game, but the crowd was engaged and supportive when needed.

Up next, we travel to Nashville to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores Wednesday night.  For the first time in the history of their program they failed to make a three-pointer against Tennessee Saturday, so we should probably be prepared for them to go 20 of 24 or so against us.  It will tip off at 8 pm on the SEC Network.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Game Preview: Missouri

One of the differences between good teams and mediocre/bad teams is that the good teams handle success well. Take the Baylor Bears for example. They won at Kansas for the first time in program history, and rose to #2 in the polls. What did they do for an encore? They returned home and beat a mediocre Iowa State team by thirteen points. They handled success. How will Alabama (9-7, 2-2; KenPom: 45; NET: 44) handle success? We'll find out on Saturday afternoon when they host the Missouri Tigers (9-7, 1-3; KenPom: 73; NET: 75). Game time is 2:30 P.M. CT, and will be televised on the SEC Network.

My Two Cents: Wednesday night's win over Auburn was great for the program. The fan and student turnout was tremendous, the energy was palpable even watching it on television in the Lone Star State, and the players effort for forty minutes was satisfying to watch. If this team can remain healthy, I'm excited to see what they can become over the next month and a half. But the question above must be answered. In the past, when Alabama has hit a high, the inevitable low was not far behind. If the culture of this program is truly changing, it will be reflected in how focused this team is on Saturday when they take the court.  Are they still celebrating a win over Auburn, or are they ready to get down to business?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Barn Burned, but it wasn't a Barn-Burner; Alabama 83 auburn 64

Alabama blew out previously undefeated and 4th ranked auburn to improve to 9-7 (2-2) on the season.  The win improves the team's NET ranking to 44th.

It's encouraging that this team is finding new ways to win games.  The 3 point shot wasn't there last night, but the Tide made up for it with defense,, rebounding, driving the lane, and free throws.

JP hit an early 3 to give Bama a 5-0 lead and set the tone.  The Tigers struggled mightily from the field and from the free throw line in the first half, while Alabama's offense was only marginally better.  We methodically built a 14 point lead, but allowed auburn to score the last 5 points of the half so we only led 36-27 going into the locker room.

The end of the first half and beginning of the second half gave me flashbacks to the Florida game.  The war eagles cut the lead to 3 by the 15 minute mark, but we almost immediately pushed it back to 8.  We only shot 6 of 21 from 3-point range, but those six makes all seemed to come at crucial moments when auburn was trying to make a run.  The final one by Kira to stretch the lead from 11 to 14 essentially put the game away.

Once again, the bigs played well in mitigating an apparent mis-match.  Austin Wiley had a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds but was limited to only 20 minutes of playing time.  We put Alex in at the 5, and Wiley didn't have the quickness to defend him.  We drove the ball at him and got him in foul trouble.  At one point we ran 3 or 4 high ball screens with Alex in a row, and that put Wiley in the difficult position of having to stay near the perimeter or switch on a guard.  Bruce pulled him out of the game after Beetle burned him on a couple of switches. 

They were killing us early on the boards, but thankfully weren't able to cash in, as they had several possessions where they missed 3 or 4 shots.  The rebounding improved as the game went on, and we were only out-rebounded by 2.  Rebounding is a team effort with this squad.  Often the guards crash and may not be able to secure the ball, but they at least are able to tip it away from the opposing center to give another teammate a chance. 

The Plainsmen tried the Kentucky game-plan of running us off the 3-point line, but they don't have the size on the wings that UK does, and without Wiley to protect the rim, Kira was able to destroy them on the dribble drive.  When we didn't score we got to the line and made 29 of 37 free throws compared to auburn's 17 of 30.

Kira ended up with 25 points including 8 of 9 from the line.  Herb had an outstanding all-around game.  He finished with a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds and was a lock-down defender, drawing several charges.  Alex was 3 of 6 from the three point range and finished with 13 points.  Beetle had 11 points and was a force defensively.  JP only scored 7, but he had 7 rebounds and also played solid defense.

The crowd was a big factor in the game.  It was a packed house, and the atmosphere was as loud throughout as I can ever remember.  auburn had not played in that type of hostile environment yet this year, and I think our guys fed off the energy.  I think we actually got a little bit of "home cooking" from the officials for a change as well.  Any time a questionable call would go against us, we would almost immediately get the "make-up" call.  Barners will whine about it, but that's life on the road in the SEC and I fully expect to be on the other end of it when we go to their cow pasture next month.  the officials are never the difference in a 19 point game. 

 There were about 1,000 auburn fans at the game, mostly up in the corners but also scattered throughout the better seats, including a group near us.  They were loud and could be heard chanting "Let's Go auburn" during their second half run, but they were quickly drowned out.  The ones near us weren't bad, except for complaining about our student section being "classless."  Yes, they were chanting "F$%! you, auburn!" but that was in response to Daniel "who took my ACT?" Purifoy taunting them and flipping them off (after a freaking free throw, no less).  I hope McLemore got a good look at our faces as we serenaded him with Rammer Jammer.  The only thing that could have made this game better would have been a late game rendition of Dixieland Delight.

Up next, let's see how this team handles success.  Mizzou comes to town Saturday for a 2:30 pm tipoff, and we need the same type of home court advantage.  I can't imagine anybody going to the auburn game and not wanting to come back, so hopefully we will have another packed house.  The game will be televised on SEC Network.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Game Preview: Auburn

The beginning of conference play for Alabama (8-7, 1-2; KenPom: 53; NET: 60) hasn't been without struggle, but the team is clearly improving. The next step is achieving a signature win. The Auburn Tigers (16-0, 3-0; KenPom: 16; NET: 6; AP: 5) would definitely fit the bill. A season after making its first Final Four in program history, the Tigers are currently one of two unbeaten teams remaining in college basketball. Game time on Wednesday night is 8 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN2.

My Two Cents: This is a big game for Alabama for several reasons: 1) a win would count as a quad one win for Alabama 2) a win would even up the conference record 3) it would provide a boost to a fanbase that is excited by the improvement on the floor, but not always in the win/loss record, and 4) Alabama needs to reassert itself in this rivalry as Auburn has swept them in two of the last three seasons.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Shooting in Kentucky was Sucky. UK 76 Alabama 67

Alabama died by the 3 in Lexington to fall to 8-7 (1-2).  Give Kentucky and Coach Cal a lot of credit for limiting our production from behind the 3 point line.  Alabama did nearly everything else they had to do to win this game, but could not overcome a woeful 4 for 21 performance from downtown.

I actually thought we played pretty good defense, but Kentucky did a good job of taking what we gave them.  You sort of have to pick your poison against a team with so many weapons, and we generally allowed them to take jump shots.  I was encouraged by the number of mid-range jumpers they were taking, as that's generally the worst shot in basketball, except for the fact that they made nearly every one of them.  They aren't known as a great 3 point shooting team, so of course they made 9 of 15 against us.

A big part of our poor shooting was due to Kentucky's game plan to run us off the 3 point line.  Still, when we did have open chances in transition, we didn't take advantage.  We got enough stops and rebounds to hang in the game, but still trailed by 10 at halftime.  They stretched the lead to 15, but our guys never quit and scrapped their way back into the game.  JP heated up a bit in the second half, and we were able to pick up the tempo and take advantage of some nice backdoor cuts as we clawed back into the game.  With around 4 minutes left in the game Herb missed an open 3 from the corner that went in and out that would have cut the lead to one.  We still only trailed by 4 in the final minute, but Kentucky ran a great play out of a timeout to make a corner 3 to go up by 7 and that more or less put the game away.

The stats are a bit misleading in this one.  Herb was our leading scorer with 18 points, 4 assists, and one turnover with seven rebounds, and while he did a great job on the boards, played awesome defense including taking a couple of charges, and played with great effort, he was a liability on offense for stretches of the game.  He was 8 of 20 from the field, and most of those 12 misses were in the paint.  In fairness, they were contested for the most part, but he's just not good at finishing near the basket, and we can't have him taking 20 shots right now.  With a few glaring exceptions, UK's help side defense was good, and Kira and JP just don't have the size or strength to finish over Kentucky's bigs, and with the 3's not falling and UK not collapsing their defense, that meant Herb taking and missing a lot of layups in traffic.  Beetle struggled going 0 for 6 and Shack only took one 3 in 18 minutes of play.  Again, this goes back to Kentucky's game plan of over-playing the perimeter.  I thought Jaylen Forbes played well in his 3 minutes and he made his only 3 point attempt of the game.  With his size, perhaps he should have taken some of Beetle or Shack's minutes in this one.  I know his first step isn't the quickest, but I would have at least given him a chance to show what he could do on the dribble drive.

JP had 16 points and 7 rebounds.  One of those rebounds was probably my favorite play of the game.  JP took a long 3 from the wing, missed it but followed his shot and got an easy rebound and put back.  It was obvious UK didn't want to run with us, and that allowed him to crash the boards.  I love that our system allows the guards to crash the boards and I would like to see our wings following their shot more.  Anybody who has played the 2 guard knows that you normally know where your misses are going before anyone else.  In general, I thought our effort was fantastic.  We were even on rebounds despite them being the larger and more athletic team, and we out-hustled them for several loose balls.

Kira was also in double digits with 10 points and led us in rebounds with 8.  We only had 8 turnovers, so the trend of improvement in that area is a positive sign.

The place was packed as usual, and they have replaced the upper level sideline bench seating with individual chair-back seats, but we still had the dreaded benches behind the basket and in the corner.  The UK fans we talked to are NOT happy with the renovations as that lowered the capacity by 3,000 or so.  I will say that our corner, bench seats did not seem as cramped as the higher level seats we've had there in years past.  The capacity there is now around 22,000, and it was mostly full except for a few empty seats in the very upper rows.  As usual, the UK fans could not have been more welcoming and classy.  They were knowledgeable and generally curious about our team, asking a lot of questions, and complimentary of our team and effort in general.  I know this isn't a popular opinion, but I really respect their program and their fanbase and wish them nothing but the best.

Normally I am checking stats and other scores on my phone during timeouts, but both my girlfriend's and my home were either in or near tornado warnings during the game, so we were both checking our radar apps and twitter for damage reports throughout the game.  Thankfully everything ended up being fine but it certainly added another layer of stress and distraction.  I hope all of our readers made it through the storms okay.  The drive and up back was miserable, with heavy downpours and rains adding at least an hour each way.

Up next, 5th ranked and undefeated auburn comes to Tuscaloosa to suffer their first loss of the season.  Yeah, I'm calling it.  It will go down Wednesday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Game Preview: at Kentucky

Following an impressive 21-point win in its conference home opener, Alabama (8-6, 1-1; KenPom: 50; NET: 56) will return to the road, traveling to the kingdom of Lexington to face the mighty Kentucky Wildcats (11-3, 2-0; KenPom: 18; NET: 26; AP: 14) on Saturday. Game time is 11:00 A.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN.

My Two Cents: Alabama has not won in Lexington since 2006, but they haven't had a team as good offensively since that season either. That may be why there's confidence among some Alabama fans heading into this one. Our guys have scored 90 or more points in the last five games for the first time in program history. In addition to the offensive upgrade, the team has shown improvement on defense, protecting the basketball and competing on the glass. They also have two possible all-conference players in Kira and JP. Only time will tell how many wins this Alabama team has in them, but I feel confident in predicting that they won't be fun to play.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Bama Blows Out Bulldogs, Alabama 90 Mississippi $tate 69

For the first time in school history, the Crimson Tide put 90 on the board for five consecutive games to earn Nate Oats' first SEC win against the rival Bulldogs from cow college west.  Alabama improved to 8-6, 1-1 in SEC play.

The game started out sluggish with $tate building a 5-2 lead over the first four minutes or so of play.  I felt like we were getting decent shots, but they just weren't falling early.  We went big for a couple of minutes with both Davis and Galin in the game, and the different look seemed to disrupt the Dogs' post play.  Meanwhile Shack made a 3 to tie the game, and Beetle provided a spark off the bench that led to a nice run to build an 8 point lead.  It's a great sign that the guys didn't lose confidence when the shots weren't falling early.  They had a couple of dry spells which allowed $tate to get back in the game, but they never lost control.  The Bulldogs briefly regained the lead late in the first half, but we closed the half strong to take a 42-34 lead into the locker room.

JP took over in the second half, creating his own shot and knocking down several step-back 3s.  $tate cut the lead to 6 at one point, but we immediately answered with a run to go up by 18 and the game was never again in doubt. 

Our bigs must have read MSmilie's preview and were motivated by the notion that Reginald Perry gave the Dogs a huge mis-match advantage in the post, because our guys more than held their own with him.  Galin Smith scored 11 points, showed a nice hook shot, and even converted an alley-oop.  It was the second lob attempt to him in the game and the fourth or fifth of the season...he does a lot of things well and had a great game, but Galin isn't exactly known for his hands or his vertical, so I would be okay if we scrapped that from the playbook, as exciting as it was. 

The stat line does not reflect how well Alex Reese played.  He had 5 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 blocks, but for a guy who has struggled defensively he did an outstanding job guarding Perry.  He also made a slick move to draw Perry's fifth foul, essentially ending any hope the Bulldogs were clinging to for a comeback.  We held Perry to 14 points, points in the paint were essentially even at 36-34, and we out-rebounded the best rebounding team in the conference 42-38.

The only real negative I saw from this game was our guard's inability to stay in front of Nick Weatherspoon.  He killed us on the dribble-drive and ended up with 20 points. 

The most encouraging part of this game is that we excelled in areas that have been concerns or weaknesses.  The defense was much better, as already mentioned the post play far exceeded expectations, and we only had 10 turnovers. 

JP was our leading scorer with 18 points and 6 rebounds.  Kira ended up with 17 points and 8 rebounds.  Beetle and Shack scored 11 and 10, respectively.

There was a solid of crowd of about 7,000 or so, and thankfully only a small handful of Mississippi State fans.  They normally bring a lot of obnoxious fans, but I guess the 6pm start on a week night deterred most of them.  We also noticed they have added hand rails to the lowest 3 steps of the stairs behind the basket.  These steps are steeper than the others, and I wonder if somebody fell or raised an ADA claim. 

Up next, we travel to Lexington, KY to take on the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday.  Tip off is set for noon eastern, 11 a.m. central on ESPN.   

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Game Preview: Mississippi State

Sports can be cruel, that's for sure. In my time as an Alabama basketball fan, which is decades at this point, I've seen my share of heartbreaks on the hardwood. This past Saturday may be in the top ten of those types of defeats, because the team did so many things right before the game got away from them late. Unfortunately, that's the nature of things sometimes. Now Alabama (7-6, 0-1; KenPom: 57; NET: 63) must recover quickly, and not allow Florida to beat them twice. That chance comes on Wednesday night when the team hosts the Mississippi State Bulldogs (9-4, 0-1; KenPom: 52; NET: 76). Game time is 6:00 P.M. CT, and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Gators Grind through Double-Overtime, Florida 104 Alabama 98

Alabama blew a huge first half lead to fall to 7-6 (0-1) on the season.  I'm not as upset about blowing the lead as I am that we failed to finish.  Florida is a good team, and our style of play is going to result in a lot of runs by both teams, so it seemed inevitable that they would get back in the game.  We simply didn't finish, and I'm not just talking about the disaster that was the final minute of regulation.  We didn't finish at the rim by missing way too many layups.  We didn't make enough free throws when given the chance, and obviously we didn't finish the game.

A lot of good things happened before it all fell apart.  Galin was in the starting lineup, I assume because Alex was sick, but it may have been that Coach Oats wanted some size to match-up with Blackshear.  Beetle and Shack provided a spark off the bench and we went on a huge run to take a 21 point lead.  The 3s were dropping and our defense was forcing Florida into bad jump shots that weren't falling.  Florida closed the half strong to make it a 46-32 game at halftime.  We had taken their crowd completely out of the game, several people commented to us during the break with some variation of , "man, you guys are kicking our butts!"  My response was, "you guys finished strong and there's a lot of basketball left." 

Give Florida a lot of credit, they made the plays in the end when they had to, and they kept fighting when there were several opportunities to throw in the towel.  They went on a run to start the second half to cut the lead to 6, but we answered and got it back up to 12.  Florida did a much better job defensively of running us off the line and slowing the game down in the second half.  While it felt like we were losing control, it seemed every time Florida would get within striking distance, JP or Kira would come up with a big shot and we would extend the lead back to a comfortable margin.  We led by as many 8 with less than 3 minutes remaining.  JP gave us a 5 point lead with only 30 seconds remaining, but Florida answered with a 3 and  called a timeout.  We threw the in-bound pass to Kira, who inexplicably immediately called our last timeout.  From my vantage point, it looked like he had room to advance the ball  up the court down the sideline.  We thought perhaps Oats had instructed him to call a timeout because they wanted to run a side-out play, but that would be insanely risky given that we would have to in-bound the ball again with no timeouts.  Based on post-game comments, that was not the case, and Coach Oats also thought Kira should have attempted to advance the basketball.  He would have likely been fouled, and then it would have came down to free throw shooting.  Instead, we failed to get the ball in-bounds, and Florida scored off the turnover to tie it up.  We got a couple of good looks at the buzzer, but they wouldn't fall so we went on to overtime.

With Florida having all the momentum and the Tide in some serious foul trouble, the outcome seemed predictable.  We battled through the first overtime and JP made a corner 3 with 10 seconds remaining to force a second overtime.  Any remaining hope was gone when Herb joined Galin and Davis on the bench with 5 fouls.  Florida made their free throws at the end to close out the game, and that was that.

With both bigs fouling out in a combined 30 minutes of play out of a 50 minute game, we really struggled to contain Blackshear, who managed to play with 4 fouls for over 20 minutes.  Herb did a good job with him until he also fouled out in the 2nd overtime, and Alex was evidently sick and he made several trips to the locker room.

We only had 12 turnovers, but going only 23 of 34 from the charity stripe was a killer.  We had 6 guys in double figures.  JP led the way with 19 points, Kira had 17, and Herb had 15 points and 9 rebounds.  Beetle also had 15, Alex scored 14 and Shack had 11. 

This was my first trip to Exactech Arena at the O'Connell Center (really, Florida, enough with cramming a million names into your facilities..."Steve Spurrier Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium" as another example) since they renovated it a couple of years ago.  The renovations improved it from "God Awful," to more or less "SEC average."  They have a nice new main entrance, and they actually have permanent seats now with backs and cup holders.  They also have a real concourse with adequate concessions and restrooms, before they just had small lobbies in the four corners.  They added a center-hung scoreboard and video board that has the teams foul information in a convenient place.  The scoreboard is very similar to ours in terms of quality and I believe that ours is dated and due for an upgrade.  All of these are welcome improvements and they at least have a serviceable gym now, even if it's still not in the upper tier of nicest arenas in the league.

The renovations lowered capacity to a little over 10,000.  It wasn't a sellout, but was a very good crowd with close to 8,500 in the house.  There were no more than 25 Bama fans scattered throughout.  I was impressed that their student section was nearly full despite the fact that classes have not resumed from winter break yet.  During the first half, it was one of the quietest crowds I've ever heard, but they got loud when UF made their runs in the second half, and I think their team fed off their energy down the stretch. 

99% of the Gator fans were great, so of course I'm going to tell you about the other 1%.  There was an older couple sitting in front of us, and at one point in the second half the man got up and walked to the concourse, I assumed just going to the restroom or concessions.  The lady turned around and said, "I want to tell you something, when you are sitting around everyone who's for the other team, and you're yelling and cheering constantly, it's rude and disrespectful."  I replied, "I'm sorry, didn't intend any disrespect, but we're just cheering for our team, we haven't cursed or said the first negative thing about Florida." She said, "well, he couldn't take it any more (referring to her, I presume husband who had just departed) so now we're having to leave.  You're even intimidating the kids sitting in front of us.  I just hope you'll be nicer to those still here."  Now, I don't deny that I'm a bit...vocal...during basketball games, but I do try to tone it down a bit on the road and I'm certainly not going to trash talk or be mean to the host fans.  For the record, after they left the gentleman sitting behind us tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey, just wanted to let you know, from where I'm sitting you guys haven't been disrespectful at all.  We're glad you're here."  Everyone else around us, including the parents of the kids we were supposedly "intimidating," shook our hands after the game and wished us well.

One of my favorite things about Florida is that they leave the football stadium open for public access.  It's a great place to work out, I incorporated a lap around the concourse and some stadium steps into my Sunday morning run.  There are 90 rows in the main bowl, in case you were wondering.

Up next, we return home to face the Mississippi $tate bulldogs Wednesday night.  Tip off is set for 6pm on the SEC network.  Long time readers of the blog will know how important this one is to me.  Let's have a good crowd and help the team get back on track.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Game Preview: at Florida

Welcome to 2020. Hopefully, the new year finds you healthy and happy. Conference play is finally here. And boy oh boy, does Alabama (7-5; KenPom: 62; NET: 64) have quite a tough stretch to open conference play. It begins on Saturday in Gainesville against the Florida Gators (8-4; KenPom: 24; NET: 50). Game time is 5:00 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN2.

My Two Cents: Our guys seem to be getting more comfortable with the new style of play. The turnover issues haven't been erased, but the numbers are lower despite the tempo remaining top five in the country. The ball is being shared better, and the result has been improved shooting. But perhaps the most noticeable improvement has been on the defensive end. The guys are doing a better job defending the dribble, getting back in transition, contesting shots, getting in the passing lanes and rebounding. The team is playing with an intensity and a confidence that has been a rarity far too often within the program in recent years. Conference play will certainly test that toughness and confidence over the next two months, but I'm very encouraged with the team right now.