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.
And for K-State to win this game, they must force Alabama to turn the ball over. The Wildcats aren't a great offensive team (ranked 169 in adjusted offensive efficiency), but they have been among the best teams in the country on defense when it comes to defensive turnover pct (24.3%; ranks 13th in the country) and steal pct (12.8%; ranks 11th in the country). That's the game as far as I see it. If Alabama can protect the ball (keep their turnover pct below the national average of 19.3%) and compete on the glass (K-State is ranked 303 in defensive rebound pct), K-State likely doesn't have the offensive firepower to stay in range for forty minutes.
Players to Watch: Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber coached the U19 USA national team in the world championships this past summer. If you remember, Kira Lewis was on that team. And if you follow Alabama basketball fans on social media, quite a few of them were upset at the lack of playing time that Kira received in many of those games. I don't have the stats in front of me and I'm too lazy to look them up, but there were games that Kira would only play a couple of minutes per game, or sometimes not at all. If Kira was as unhappy with the minutes distribution as Alabama fans were is impossible to know. But if he was, that has to add a little spice to this game for him. With turnovers being key in this game, Kira has to be better with the ball in his hands. Including the exhibition game vs Georgia Tech, Kira has turned the ball over five or more times in nine of the nineteen games played so far. As the team enters the stretch run, those numbers have to get better for Kira and the team to be at their best.
Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra are the clear leaders of this K-State team. Not only are they experienced (Sneed is a senior; Diarra a junior), but one or the other leads the team in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, and steals. How good or bad their final stat line is will likely be reflected in the final score.
Prediction: Our guys were not at their best in the last two games, but they still managed to win both games by double digits. I'd say K-State is better than both Missouri and Vandy at this juncture so I do believe that Alabama must play better on Saturday. That means forcing their tempo while limiting the tempo. When a good defensive team (K-State) meets a good offensive team (Bama), the story of the game usually comes down to can the defensive team score enough points to steal the game at the end? Nate Oats was happy with the last two wins, but it was obvious in his postgame comments that he wasn't happy with the overall performance in Nashville. With the expectation that the team will have focused on cleaning up some issues, and another energetic crowd on hand for an early evening Saturday tip, I'm going to predict that our guys come out and play well.
Bama - 84 K-State - 70