It seems as though this game can’t get here fast enough as Alabama will look to erase the negative emotions associated with Saturday’s events. In a game in which the SEC title could essentially be clinched, a projected 1 seed on the line and televised on the worldwide leader of sports-Alabama looked inexplicably horrid and flat for 34 minutes...yet still could’ve pulled out a miraculous comeback if a less than 100% Herb Jones doesn’t run into his four year issue of not being able to finish point blank layups. Nonetheless, Alabama holds a 3 game lead in the SEC standings as we head into the homestretch toward the SEC regular season title. Tip is set for Tuesday at 5:30 CT on SECN.
The Opponent: South Carolina will be the first opponent Alabama has faced in 12 games that isn’t ranked inside KENPOM’s top 60. The Gamecocks currently sit at 84 and sport a less than stellar overall record of 5-7. South Carolina averages about 73 PPG while also giving up nearly 76. Frank Martin’s club is dead last in the SEC in FT% and 315th nationally. OOF. This doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous, however. This is a team that went on the road to beat Florida in Gainesville at a time when the Gators were #22 in the land. Alabama can’t afford to overlook anyone right now-especially in a road contest in which the Tide could be without 2 key players.
Players to Watch: South Carolina has 3 talented scorers that each average double figures. F Keyshawn Bryant is a worker in the paint. He scores 14.5 PPG and also leads the Gamecocks in blocked shots. It’s G AJ Lawson that can fill it up, however. Lawson averages 17.5 PPG and has been even better in SEC play at 18.5 PPG.
The news has broken that Coach Oats could choose to sit Herb Jones tomorrow to give the senior wing an opportunity to heal his ailing back which has caused him some issues with being able to finish. It’s only my opinion but I think it’s past time to do just that. While Alabama has ascended to 2nd in KENPOM’s adjusted Defense since Jones began running the point, Alabama’s offense has gone down a click to 33rd in KENPOM’s adjusted offense. The trend coincides with the injury to Jordan Bruner and Jahvon Quinerly’s medical issue, however. This could be an opportunity to allow the Tide’s better offensive players to regain some rhythm and confidence. Jones is Alabama’s heart on the defensive end and there is no denying it. However, the Alabama offense can NOT reach it’s peak unless John Petty and Jaden Shackleford are shooting with confidence. Shackleford has shown signs of re-emerging of late while Petty has not been his usual self offensively. The horrid South Carolina transition defense could be just the remedy needed for 23, 11, 5 and 14 if the Tide protects the ball themselves.
My Thoughts: To put it simply, Alabama has to bring the effort night in and night out if it wants to close out the regular season with the SEC title. The schedule lightens up drastically for the Tide going forward but it can’t afford to relax. Saturday had an all too familiar feel for scarred Alabama basketball fans. Completing the comeback would’ve came with a feeling of destiny and a magical moment to talk about for years. Instead the creeping dread of “here we go again” whispered to us yet again even though the stats and analytics scream that this Alabama team is genetically different. That demon must be exorcised. Going on the road and beating an inferior opponent would be a great start. Especially considering Missouri has to travel to Oxford to play a hot Ole Miss squad. Bama will miss Herb on defense a bit but it’s offense explodes in the 2nd half behind hot shooting from the guards.
Prediction: Alabama 90, South Carolina 75