Before I start writing about this game, I want to take the time to congratulate Kristy Curry and the women's team for back-to-back wins against top 15 teams (at Mississippi State and at Texas A&M). That's the first time in program history they've done that. Those wins for the ladies suddenly put them on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament so I implore all of you that can make it to Coleman on Sunday for the ladies senior day vs Missouri to get out there and be loud.
Okay, let's turn to the other basketball bubble team in Tuscaloosa. After a loss in Starkville, Alabama (15-13, 7-8; KenPom: 46; NET: 39) is running out of opportunities to make a compelling case to the selection committee. I wouldn't say they're at the "win the conference tournament or else" stage, but they're getting close. Next up is a home game vs the South Carolina Gamecocks (17-11, 9-6; KenPom: 71; NET: 64). Game time on Saturday is 7:30 P.M. CT, and will be televised on the SEC Network.
My Two Cents: Alabama played tough in Starkville, but the loss of John Petty to injury early in the first half limited Alabama's offensive firepower. The defense simply isn't good enough right now to keep a team in the high 60s or low 70s so losing Petty's 15 points a game was a real blow. JP's status going forward is uncertain. In the video posted above, Oats says his injury is similar to the elbow injury (hyperextension) that Herb had in the Penn game. Herb only missed the following game, but he's not the shooter that John is. And if John can return, how effective will he be on the offensive end? My guess right now is that he's going to miss this game, maybe more. JP is the team's best three-point shooter, leading rebounder and second-best defender. If he's unable to play or play effectively, I'm not sure our guys will be able to win enough games in these final two weeks.
Expect a lot of possessions in this one. Alabama is tops in the league in tempo, while USC is right behind them. Both teams are averaging 15 seconds per possession so first shot defense and rebounding will be critical. The team that can create second-chance opportunities likely wins the game. The concern is that the Gamecocks are a much better defensive team (1st in the league in adjusted defensive efficiency). They're 2nd in the league in effective field goal pct defense; 2nd in turnover pct; 4th in defensive rebounding pct; 1st in 3-point pct defense; 4th in 2-pt pct; 4th in block pct; and 2nd in steal pct. They're going to be able to defend everything that Alabama does well so it's imperative that Alabama grab defensive boards and transition quickly to keep Carolina from setting their defense. If South Carolina controls the boards, this one could get ugly.
Alabama must be aggressive on offense. The one area on defense where the Gamecocks have struggled is sending their opponents to the free throw line (currently 13th in defensive free throw rate). Our guys are ranked 13th on the offensive side of that stat so something has to give. The Gamecocks are also the worst free throw shooting team in the league at just 62.9% (Alabama is ranked 13th at 67.5%) as a team. Something to keep in mind if the foul line decides this one.
Players to Watch: If John Petty misses this game, a third scorer must step up to help Kira and Shack on the offensive end. Frankly, with Alabama's issues on defense, I think they're at a point where they just have to launch shots and hope they can get more up (and in) than the other team. I'll take anyone at this point, but I think it needs to be Alex Reese. Unfortunately, Alex has been struggling. In the month of February, Alex is averaging 8.5 pts, 4.3 rebs, 2.5 turnovers, 35% from the field, and only 27% from three. He's playing on a bad hip that's going to require surgery after the season so that's not helping matters. Nevertheless, a third option - be it Alex or someone else - must step forward.
Due to a lack of size and athleticism in the paint, Alabama has struggled with big, physical post players all season. They'll face another on Saturday in the form of Maik Kotsar. The 6'11, 270 lb senior is averaging 11.1 pts (51.6% from the field), 6.6 rebs, 2.2 asts, 1.6 stls, and 1.1 blks. Our interior players are going to have to find a way to keep him off the glass. Once again, Alabama doesn't have to win the rebound stat, but they have to compete on the glass.
Prediction: Can Alabama get to 80 points? That seems to be the magic number for this group. They're 11-4 this season when they score 80 or more points. Can they score 80 if John Petty isn't able to play? Not a comforting thought. South Carolina is deeper and more fresher than Alabama at this point in the season. Frankly, they look like the better team on paper. But I'm in full homer mode at this point of the season and I just don't care about making the right prediction. I just want my team to win.
Bama - 83 South Carolina - 80