Maybe we’ve all had enough time to get Wednesday’s debacle out of our systems. Alabama now has 3 more games to earn a win and clinch the SEC Championship after the announcement was made that the team will play at Georgia on March 6 for a makeup game. First crack comes in Starkville, however. Alabama edged out Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa 81-73 in the first meeting. Tip is set for 5:00 on SEC Network Saturday evening.
The Opponent: We were able to learn a great deal about Mississippi State in the first contest. They’re still a well coached program with a great backcourt and a big frontcourt. The Bulldogs were able to get to the rim regularly in Tuscaloosa and their length on defense forced Alabama into some untimely turnovers that nearly blew the game. State will likely start two big twin towers that can both play the C position along with a Power Forward. Ben Howland simply hasn’t bought into the modern “position-less basketball “ trend. Having Jordan Bruner and Juwan Gary healthy for this game should be huge for Alabama, but State doesn’t defend that well beyond the perimeter due to their size. If Bruner and Alex Reese can make some shots, it would certainly help to pull some of the weight from the paint for the Bama Guards to penetrate.
Players to Watch: Anyone that remembers my preview from the first matchup will remember how scared I was of DJ Stewart. I love this kids game. Stewart was unstoppable in Tuscaloosa and he can score on all 3 levels. Alabama will need to something it hasn’t been able to do in quite some time...defend without fouling. While the officiating was completely atrocious in Fayetteville, Alabama’s defense was just as bad-and quite frankly has been for almost a month. Throw the top 3 defensive efficiency KENPOM ranking in the garbage. Alabama has given up way too many layups, dunks and free throws during this most recent stretch. If Stewart has a big day in the paint and/or at the stripe, Alabama may be in trouble again.
For Alabama, the choice has to be Herbert Jones. Jones was on the receiving end of a brutal attention grabbing session from Doug Shows. Having said that, he simply hasn’t been playing his typical, smart brand of defense. He has reached when he should know that his length and athletic ability are enough. Alabama needs more than 20 minutes of Herb Jones defense if it is to perform anywhere near it’s peak on that end of the floor.
My Thoughts: It’s easy to tell the team is feeling the pressure of being this close to the SEC Championship. The emotions were riding high in Fayetteville and Alabama simply couldn’t channel them in a positive manner- Especially when the shots weren’t falling early and the questionable whistles started to mount up. The Tide will need to take a business approach tomorrow. Prepare for the opponent, formulate a game-plan and stick to it. Someone will need to come out and set the tone and I think it’s time for the seniors to do just that. Alabama needs a good start tomorrow. If the Tide can protect the ball, stay out of foul trouble and knock down some early shots...maybe we can finally celebrate.
Prediction: Alabama 75, Mississippi State 69