Alabama Crimson Tide @ Kentucky Wildcats: Game Preview

Tonight, the Alabama Crimson Tide roll into Rupp Arena for an inter-divisional SEC contest with the Kentucky Wildcats.  The Wildcats and the Tide have been going opposite directions lately with the Tide losing its last three in a row, two of them by only a single point.  Kentucky, meanwhile, has been handling their opponents with relative ease and is coming off a stress-free victory over the LSU Tigers down in Baton Rouge.

Let's take a quick look at the comparison between the Crimson Tide and the Wildcats,  courtesy of Statsheet.com:

Rank and Records UK ALA
RPI #6 #103
Strength of Schedule #68 #59
Overall 22-1 13-10
Conference 7-1 3-6
Home 14-0 9-5
Away 4-1 2-3
Neutral 4-0 2-2
Top 25 6-0 1-5
RPI Top 50 6-0 1-5

The Crimson Tide have had significant losses to the Cornell Big Red (52), the Florida St. Seminoles (22), the Purdue Boilermakers (10), the Kansas St. Wildcats (9), the Vanderbilt Commodores (26), the Tennessee Volunteers (19), the Florida Gators (47), and the Mississippi Rebels (40).  Alabama has had significant victories over the Baylor Bears (16) and the Mississippi St. Bulldogs (38).  All rankings are courtesy of Kenpom.com.

More after the jump.  Just like last time, I did the first part of this analysis and Ken did the second part starting with the position analysis.  For more on the Alabama Crimson Tide, be sure to check out SB Nation's excellent Alabama blog, Roll Bama Roll.

We will begin the analysis by the usual look at the dashboard. Don't forget, this thing is interactive.

Four Factors Analysis

First, we examine efficiencies.  Most of the Crimson Tide's best offensive efficiencies were at the very early part of the season, and since then, they have slowly declined to an average of around 104 points/100 possessions.  If we zoom in closer to the last seven games, which represent the SEC season, we'll see that the Tide's efficiency on offense has been gradually improving over the last seven games.  For Kentucky, offensive efficiency has declined an almost insignificant amount in the conference campaign.  Needless to say, the Wildcats are a far more efficient offensive team than the Tide.

Defensively, it's a different story.  The Crimson Tide are actually a slightly better team when it comes to defensive efficiency, although the Wildcats have caught up with them as of this last SEC game against LSU.  Nevertheless, Alabama is a rock-solid defensive squad and has been all year long under the tutelage of Anthony Grant and implementing his pressure defensive style.  I daresay the Wildcats will likely see the best defense tonight they have faced in a long time -- maybe all season.

Turning to the Four Factors on offense, Kentucky shoots the ball better and turns it over a tiny bit less.  But the big difference is in the offensive rebound % and free throw rate % stats, in which Kentucky dominates Alabama.  Alabama just an average offensive and poor defensive rebounding team, and that is going to be a problem against the 'Cats.

In addition, UK gets to the line a lot more than the Tide does, and Kentucky makes their free throws at a very decent 69% clip.  The Tide also shoot well from the line, but they get there much less often than Kentucky does.  The most efficient way to score in college basketball is from the free throw line, and UK has a huge advantage in that area.

Moving on to the defensive Four Factors, both Alabama and Kentucky are solid defensive squads, holding opponents to an eFG% of around 43.  Alabama forces more turnovers due to their pressure defense style, but they also allow more offensive rebounds and put teams on the line more than Kentucky (although not that much more).

Finally, both teams are good 3-point shooting squads, although UK is closer to outstanding, and both teams attempt about the same number of threes per field goal attempt, both preferring to do most of their damage inside the arc.  Kentucky likes to play faster than Alabama, and I expect that Anthony Grant will not want to press the Wildcats too much with his relatively thin bench, particularly when it comes to front court players.  The Tide will press, but I expect a rather judicious use of pressure in the back court to avoid letting the game get to a high tempo, where Kentucky thrives.

 

Opponent Roster


Alabama Crimson Tide Basketball Roster

# Pos. Comments W H College
Anthony Brock 1 G Major reserve, limited role player 165 5-9 senior
Greg Cage 20 G - 212 6-4 senior
Charvez Davis 24 G Reserve, role player 190 6-3 junior
Chris Dixon 11 G - 180 6-0 sophomore
Ben Eblen 10 G - 180 6-1 freshman
JaMychal Green 32 F Starter, go-to guy 220 6-9 sophomore
Senario Hillman 21 G Starter, significant contributor 192 6-1 junior
Chris Hines 44 F Starter, limited role 220 6-8 junior
Demetrius Jemison 23 F Major reserve, limited role 240 6-8 senior
Justin Knox 40 F Reserve, role player 240 6-9 junior
Justin Luquire 50 F - 225 6-7 senior
Tony Mitchell 5 F Starter, role player 185 6-6 freshman
Andrew Steele 25 G Reserve, role player 215 6-3 sophomore
Mikhail Torrance 2 G Starter, major contributor 210 6-5 senior


Opponent Statistics


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Mikhail Torrance 23 32.9 5.2 10.7 48.8 1.2 3.3 36.4 3.6 4.3 83.8 0.3 3.1 3.5 5.6 3.0 0.9 0.2 1.6 15.3
JaMychal Green 23 27.5 5.6 10.9 51.2 0.0 0.2 0.0 3.6 5.3 67.8 2.7 4.3 7.1 1.3 2.6 0.9 2.0 3.2 14.7
Tony Mitchell 21 22.6 3.9 7.0 55.4 0.6 1.8 32.4 1.0 1.8 54.1 2.0 3.4 5.4 0.5 0.6 1.6 0.8 2.0 9.3
Senario Hillman 23 25.2 2.9 7.9 36.8 0.7 1.9 34.9 1.1 1.6 67.6 1.0 2.0 3.0 2.5 1.8 1.5 0.1 2.9 7.6
Justin Knox 23 19.2 2.0 4.3 45.9 0.0 0.0 100.0 2.0 2.7 75.4 1.3 1.9 3.3 0.7 1.1 0.5 0.5 2.3 6.0
Charvez Davis 23 18.7 2.0 5.6 36.7 1.6 4.4 36.6 0.1 0.3 28.6 0.3 1.1 1.4 0.7 0.7 0.2 0.1 1.0 5.8
Anthony Brock 21 26.2 1.8 5.6 32.2 1.5 4.1 36.0 0.6 0.8 81.3 0.5 1.6 2.1 2.1 0.7 1.3 0.0 1.9 5.7
Andrew Steele 6 17.7 1.2 2.3 50.0 0.3 0.8 40.0 1.2 2.3 50.0 1.0 1.8 2.8 1.2 1.5 0.2 0.2 2.2 3.8
Chris Hines 23 16.9 1.4 2.5 55.2 0.0 0.1 50.0 0.5 1.0 45.8 1.0 2.0 3.0 0.3 1.0 1.0 0.6 2.4 3.3
Ben Eblen 22 8.7 0.3 0.9 35.0 0.0 0.3 16.7 0.1 0.4 37.5 0.3 0.5 0.9 0.6 0.5 0.3 0.0 0.5 0.8
Justin Luquire 4 3.3 0.3 0.5 50.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.0 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.8 0.5
Greg Cage 6 4.0 0.0 0.7 0.0 0.0 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.0 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.0 0.2 0.0
Chris Dixon 4 2.3 0.0 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.0 0.5 0.0


Position Analysis: Point Guard

Running the Tide offense is 6'5" senior Mikhail Torrance.  Torrance, who averages 15.3 points per game, is typical of Alabama athletes over the last 25 years or so: Long, with long arms (so he plays bigger than his listed height), and very athletic.

Torrance will look to push the pace, getting his team into transition, where the Tide flourish.  In the half-court, Torrance can, and will create offense for himself, but he does a nice job of getting his teammates involved by averaging 5.6 assists per game (3.0 turnovers per game).  Torrance is a better-than-average outside shooter, making 36.4% of his threes (28-77), and he makes over 50.0% of his two-point shots.  Torrance is also a board crasher, averaging 3.5 rebounds per game.

If Torrance guards John Wall (6'1" Senario Hillman may draw that assignment), the UK point guard will be faced with possibly his toughest defender in his abbreviated college career.  Torrance not only matches Wall in size, but his long arms will enable him to reduce passing angles for the Wildcat freshman.  Torrance possesses the necessary quickness to keep up with Wall in the half-court, giving even more motivation for the 'Cats to push the ball. 

Advantage: Draw

Position Analysis: Two-Guard

The other 'Bama perimeter player is 6'1" junior guard Senario Hillman.  Hillman, who averages only 7.6 points per game (down from 12.9 ppg game in '09), is not on the floor for his offense, rather, he's an excellent defender.  For a two-guard, Hillman takes very few three-point shots (43 on the year), and makes the trey at a 34.9% rate.  Overall the diminutive "2" is making only 36.8% of his overall shots.

UK's Eric Bledsoe, also only 6'1," will be challenged by Hillman's ball-hawking, aggressive defensive style.  Hillman will switch on the pick, and is quite capable of making Bledsoe work as hard as he has all year to get his shot off.

Advantage: Kentucky

Position Analysis:  Power Forward

One-time UK recruit JaMychal Green (6'9" 220 lbs) will be the man on the blocks for the Tide.  Green, who averages 7.1 rebounds per game (2.7 off. reb. pg), and 14.7 points per game, is an aggressive rebounder, who gets most of his points inside the paint.  While a physical presence, he will be challenged on the blocks by UK's Patrick Patterson, and DeMarcus Cousins, both bigger physical specimens.  

UK"s DeMarcus Cousins once again finds himself with a size and bulk advantage over his counterpart on the blocks.  Grant, who's never been accused of being stupid, will surely double-team Kentucky's emerging player of the year candidate, continuing the bump and grind defensive tact UK's foes have employed in attempting to stop the 'Cats most efficient offensive player.

Cousins will be facing a possible upgrade in athletic ability when he takes the court tonight, but nothing has stopped the big man from getting off his shot to this point in the year.  And I'm betting he finds a way this evening against the Tide.

Advantage: Kentucky

Position analysis:  Wing

Freshman Tony Mitchell, a top-40 player in the Class of 2008, has been a pleasant surprise for Anthony Grant.  The 6'6" wing player scores 9.3 points per game (third best on the team), while shooting 55.4% from the floor (32.4% from beyond the arc).  Mitchell is also the third leading rebounder for the Tide, averaging 5.4 rebounds per game. 

UK"s Darnell Dodson only needs to continue what he's been doing -- Take and make the long-range jumper, play some semblance of defense, and rebound when the opportunity presents itself.   

Advantage: Kentucky

Position analysis:  Small Forward 

Chris Hines, a 6'8" JUCO transfer, has been starting of late for the Tide, although he averages only 16.9 minutes per game.  His presence is meant to help JaMychal Green with Alabama's woeful rebounding numbers.  He's not an offensive threat, averaging only 2.3 points per game, to go along with his 3.0 rebounds per game.

Patrick Patterson not only has a size advantage on his Tide counterpart, but he also possesses a much more polished offensive game.  The small forward battle is heavily tilted in UK's favor this evening, giving Patterson the opportunity to put up big numbers both in points and rebounds. 

Advantage: Big Kentucky 

Bench Analysis

A mixture of size, speed, and rebounding comes off the Tide bench.  Led by 5'9" Anthony Brock (20.2 minutes per game), the Tide's bench corp goes eight, sometimes nine deep.  The extremely quick Brock, a three-point shooter (31-86, 36.0%), could be a dangerous foe if given space to get off his shot.  Allowing him to get the hot hand could prove dangerous for the 'Cats tonight.  Coming off the bench to give rebounding help (3.3 rpg), along with the ability to score (6.0 ppg), is 6'9" Justin Knox (19.2 mpg).  At 240 lbs, Knox will bang with the best of them, and could be responsible for controlling DeMarcus Cousins when he's in the game.  Charvez Davis is the other Tide bench player most likely to see action.  At 6'3, the junior takes the three-point shot without hesitation, making 37-101 on the year (36.6%). 

UK will once again bring Darius Miller, Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins, Ramon Harris, and Perry Stevenson off the bench. 

With Liggins showing signs of becoming a major player within the 'Cat lineup, his quickness, defensive prowess, and new-found scoring ability make him a valuable commodity for coach John Calipari, especially in a game against a team with such great athletes.

Advantage: Kentucky 

Overall Analysis 

The Wildcats will be facing a team tonight that defends with a purpose (giving up only 62.9 ppg), rebounds poorly (-.7 rebounding margin), and makes shots at an average rate (45.2%), leaving them many times, "pointless" -- The most points the Tide have scored in SEC play is 67, and they've failed to break 60 points on four occasions (out of nine SEC contests).  Yet, they've lost to Vandy by one, Tennessee by seven, at Auburn by one, Florida by one, and at Ole Miss by seven.  Obviously, they do it with defense.

Not unlike the LSU Tigers, Alabama can be easy to guard due to the limited offensive games of everyone not named Torrance or Green.

Tonight the 'Cats must focus on taking care of the ball, and pushing the pace.  If a half-court game breaks out, the evening could be long, and much more tense than it should be, due to the Tide's excellent defense.

As is becoming commonplace, DeMarcus Cousins, and Patrick Patterson are set-up to have big nights.  With only JaMychal Green and a cast of backups attempting to put the kibosh on UK's big men, look for John Wall to continue to feed the post, opening up the perimeter game for UK's sharpshooters. 

Projected Score:  Kentucky 81  Alabama 65

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