As UK rolls into Tuscaloosa for a Saturday afternoon (3:00 pm EST) tilt with the Crimson Tide (12-6, 2-2), the 'Cats will be looking for win number five in a row overall, and win number three-in-a-row on the road. With the Tide regrettably losing one-time, do-everything point guard Ronald Steele, along with Jarmereo Davidson and Richard Hendrix (over the last two years), they don't seem to be the threat they once were. But of course, it's a road game, and anything can happen when traveling in the SEC.
Let's take a look at the key Tide personnel and how Alabama stacks up statistically within the SEC:
Alonzo Gee: 6'6", 219 lb senior guard -- Gee shoots 43.5% from the field, and only 29.4% from the 3-point line. He averages an impressive 7.6 rebounds per game to go along with his 14.3 points per game
Gee is clearly 'Bama's best player, and most athletic performer, but in his last two games versus UK, he's a combined 2-14 from the field, 0-4 from beyond the arc, and has scored seven total points, to go along with four rebounds (in 43 total minutes played). I'm sure he'll be looking to make up for those sub-par performances Saturday.
Senario Hillman: 6'1", 192 lb sophomore guard -- Hillman shoots 44.1% from the floor, and only 17.6% from the 3-point line. He also averages 3.2 rebounds per game and 13.6 points per game.
Hillman should see extensive time at the point Saturday. Last year versus UK he played only eight minutes, making 1-1 shots for two points.
Mikhail Torrance: 6'5", 210 lb junior guard -- Torrance is 'Bama's best 3-point shooter at 42.9% (12-28), and he shoots 52.4% overall. He averages 9.3 points per game in only 16 minutes played per game.
Torrance, like Hillman, played only eight minutes last year versus UK, going 1-2 from the field and 1-2 from the free throw line, for three points.
JaMychal Green: 6'9", 220 lb freshman forward -- The one-time UK target is shooting 53.0% from the field, and he averages 6.9 rebounds per game. He's the Tides fourth leading scorer at 8.8 points per game.
Justin Knox: 6'9", 240 lb sophomore forward -- Knox shoots 54.2% from the field. He also averages 5.2 rebounds per game and 5.7 points per game.
Last year as a freshman Knox played 20 minutes versus UK. He scored six points, going 3-6 from the field, to go along with three rebounds.
Scoring -- 72.7 points per game (8th in the SEC)
Scoring Defense -- 66.4 ppg (8th)
Field Goal % -- 44.6 (8th)
Field Goal % Defense -- 40.1 (6th)
3-Point % -- 29.7 (12th)
3-point % Defense -- 31.5 (2nd)
Rebounding Margin -- +3.1 (6th)
Blocks per game -- 4.7 (4th)
Assists per game -- 10.4 (12th)
Steals per game -- 7.3 (7th)
Assist/TO Ratio -- .77- 188 assists/244 turnovers (12th)
- Alabama has made 57 more free throws than their opponents.
- 'Bama is -7 for the season in offensive rebounds. 'Bama has missed 592 shots and gathered in 249 offensive rebounds (42.1%). Their opponents have missed 650 shots and snagged 256 offensive rebounds (39.4%).
- Alonzo Gee and JaMychal Green both average 3.1 offensive rebounds per game.
- Brandon Hollinger leads Alabama with 48 3-pointers taken. He's shooting a woeful 16.7% from behind the arc.
- 'Bama shoots 69.2% from the free throw line. Last year, 'Bama lost eight games by seven points or less, while shooting only 62% from the free throw line.
- Tide head coach Mark Gottfried plays nine players at least 11 minutes per game.
- Ronald Steele's brother, Andrew, is a freshman guard for Alabama.
- UK has won six of the last eight games versus Alabama.
New York-Minute Analysis
Alabama will want to pound the ball into the post, offensively, and use their athleticism and length to pressure UK's lead guards into mistakes, defensively. UK must be mindful of the foul situation regarding their big men, Patrick Patterson and Perry Stevenson. If both of those players get into foul trouble, UK could be in trouble.
Gottfried will probably have Gee guard Meeks for a large portion of the game. Gee's size advantage, along with his quickness could pose problems for Meeks. If that scenario comes to fruition, Meeks' teammates will be setting all manner of screens to get "Rhythm" as many open looks as possible.
Frankly, this is a game UK should win if they harbor any hopes of making noise on a national level, and unless 'Bama plays their best game of the year, a Kentucky victory should be in the offing.
The seat of Gottfried's pants are warming up, and I don't see Saturday's game doing anything to cool-off the heat.
Tide wins of note: (N) St. Josephs (10-8) 54-48, (H) Chattanooga (9-10) 82-63, (H) Yale (7-9) 66-63, (H) Georgia Tech (9-9) 88-77, (H) LSU (15-3) 65-59, (H) Mississippi (10-8) 76-73.
Tide losses: (H) Mercer (10-8) 72-69, (N) Oregon (6-13) 92-69, (H) Texas A&M (15-4) 86-78, (A) Clemson (16-2) 66-59, (A) Mississippi St. (13-6) 83-74, (A) Auburn (11-7) 85-71.
The Importance of the Next Five
With UK's Saturday tilt in Tuscaloosa versus Alabama, the University of Kentucky basketball team finds themselves in an excellent position to solidify a first place finish in the SEC East. No, they can't wrap-up the East with a win over the Tide, but the 'Bama game is the first in a series of five games that UK needs to win in order to set-up the best possible East-clinching scenario.
After Alabama comes a road game @ Ole Miss (10-8, 1-3), and home games against South Carolina (13-4, 2-2), Mississippi State (13-6, 3-1), and Florida (16-3, 3-1). UK will be rightfully favored in all of those contests, but the next seven games will provide UK with a much sterner test: @Arkansas (12-4, 0-3) and Vanderbilt (12-6, 1-3), followed by a home game versus Tennessee (12-5, 3-1), @ South Carolina, at home against LSU (15-3, 3-1) and Georgia (9-9, 0-3), and the regular season finale @ Florida.
If UK can find a way to win five of the final seven games, I feel sure that a 14-2 league mark will be sufficient to grab the SEC East title, as well as the overall SEC regular season championship, especially considering every other SEC team has at least one league loss. And in a year when the SEC is admittedly not what it usually is in terms of experienced talent, a two loss SEC season should be enough to impress the Selection Committee into granting UK a sub-four seed in the NCAA Tournament, as long as the 'Cats don't suffer an opening game loss in the SEC Tournament
... to Kentucky head coach Billy Gillispie; Coach G has now coached 50 games for the Wildcats. And after a slow start to his tenure, he has UK firmly on the road back to prominence. His record stands at 33-17 (66.7%), which some may find miraculous considering the injuries and defections the UK coach has endured. A victory at Alabama today would represent UK's best record after 20 games since the '05-'06 season.
With the abundance of top tier recruits heading to Lexington, fans certainly have reason to be optimistic with the direction of The Program, and content with the job Gillispie is doing.
So Billy, you can't make us all happy all of the time, but you've most of us happy, most of the time.
Keep up the great work!
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats, beat the Tide!