Today at 1:00, the Crimson Tide roll into Rupp Arena for a tilt with the Kentucky Wildcats for the 132nd meeting between the two schools. Alabama and Kentucky are the top two basketball programs in SEC history, the Crimson Tide ranking second only to the Wildcats in all-time league wins (846/693) and winning percentage (.786/.573). This will be Coach Gillispie's first game against Alabama. Mark Gottfreid is the coach of Alabama in his 10th year.
Even though Alabama comes in at 13-10 and 2-4 in the league, the Tide have played a tough schedule so far, with their only really bad loss at Georgia. They have pretty much beaten the teams they are supposed to beat, and lost to those they aren't.
For more about Auburn from a blogger's perspective, please visit our SBNation brothers at Roll Bama Roll.
The top contributors for the Crimson Tide are as follows:
Per Game Averages
Where Auburn was a small team, Alabama most assuredly is not. Only one of Alabama's starters is under 6'6", and that is 5'11" point guard Brandon Hollinger. Alabama is also an experienced team, starting 4 upperclassmen and one sophomore. Also unlike Auburn, Alabama has some serious basketball talent on this team, including Alanzo Gee, a 4* athletic freak out of Florida, Richard Hendrix, a 5* McDonalds All-American bruiser in the paint, Demetrius Jemison, a Rivals top 150 small forward, and Rico Pickett, a 4* point guard among others This team has a lot of high-major talent and incredible athleticism, and despite their rather pedestrian record overall and downright lousy record in conference, they present a serious challenge to the Cats' current win streak.
Kentucky matches up pretty well against Alabama in the starting five. Beyond that, though Alabama has many very solid players available on the bench, and without Jodie Meeks, Kentucky has relatively few. Alabama has 9 players averaging over 10 minutes per game, and 12 averaging over 5.
Alabama wants to play at a slightly higher pace than grind-it-out Kentucky, but both teams are half-court offensive teams. Alabama does like to get out and run when they can, but not like Tennessee or Florida. Like Kentucky, Gottfried's charges will try to get the ball into the paint to Richard Hendrix as much as possible. Hendrix is a talented low-post scorer with even more strength and bulk than Patrick Patterson. Even though I figure that matchup as a wash, Hendrix is the bigger and likely stronger man. Much like Randolph Morris, however, Hendrix has a tendency to grab at people when he gets tired, and picks up lots of cheap fouls. Patterson is also unquestionably more athletic and in superior condition, and Hendrix has a tendency to tire quickly.
On the perimeter, Alabama is typically streaky. Similar to Tide teams of the past, this is a team which is capable of lighting it up from the perimeter on any given day, and are just as capable of shooting 20%. Mykal Riley is the team's leading 3-point threat at 41%, and Brandon Hollinger shoots 45%. But for some reason these impressive-sounding shooting numbers have not been enough to propel Alabama to many league wins so far this year. Let's hope that doesn't change today.
This team is very efficient offensively at 113.3, 36th in the nation. They also take very good care of the basketball, turning it over only 18% of the time. Alabama is also a very good offensive rebounding team, and a good rebounding team in general.
Having just read my offensive evaluation of the Tide, you knew the other shoe had to drop or Alabama would be coming in at 20-3 rather than 13-10. Defensively, Alabama is just unfortunate, ranking only 143rd in adjusted defensive efficiency. Their national rank is over 200 in eFG% defense, 3-point FG% defense, and 3-point shots allowed per FG attempt. To put it simply, Alabama doesn't guard anybody.
Not only that, but Alabama is a loathsome free-throw shooting team, barely making more than half of their attempts. Probably fortunately for them, they don't get to the line a lot, coming in at a meager 320th in free-throw rate. That will likely change today, as Kentucky leads the league in fouls given, and putting Bama on the line may be the best defense the Cats can play.
Intangibles and injuries:
Alabama is basically coming in at 100%. Kentucky is back in Rupp after a successful two-game road swing, and the Big Blue Nation is starting to believe again. Rupp Arena will be looking for any excuse to rock today, and Ramel Bradley's return will surely give them a reason. For those of you wondering about the return of Jodie Meeks, I wouldn't expect it today, as he hasn't been able to practice all week. Still, with the return of Ramel and the Wildcat Faithful beginning to feel the Force, I expect there will be a significant home-court advantage for this game.
Kentucky wins if:
- They go back to the 10-15 range in turnovers.
- Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford continue to be productive.
- Patrick Patterson plays Hendrix at least even.
- We continue to get good play out of Stevenson and Harris.
- Richard Hendrix is in foul trouble.
Alabama wins if:
- They shoot the ball very well from the perimeter.
- They force lots of UK turnovers.
- Patrick Patterson is in foul trouble.
- They make their free throws.
- They get the tempo up into the 70's.
Alabama is a very strong team who has no business coming into Rupp Arena with a 2-4 league record. They should be at or near the top in the West, and this is a team that could break out anytime into a serious threat to beat anyone. Let's just hope they hold that off for one more game. Hendrix will be Patterson's biggest challenge this year outside of Tyler Hansborough. There are very few players in the entire NCAA who can move Patterson down low, and Hendrix is one of them.
The wings for this Alabama team are also extremely dangerous and athletic. Alonzo Gee will be hands-down the best athlete on the floor today, and he can sometimes be almost Jordanesque in spurts. Mykal Riley is a dangerous three-point shooter and slasher, and Brandon Hollinger is as quick a point guard as there is in the SEC and knocks down open shots. We have no real advantages athletically at any spot. But the Wildcats are playing not only with confidence right now, but with extraordinary heart and determination. If Alabama is unable to match that, they will be hard pressed to win this game.
One of the things that has always hurt Alabama is questionable decision-making from their backcourt players, who seem to think they are all the second coming of Pistol Pete. That is a weakness that the Wildcats, and particularly Ramel Bradley with his brash style, can exploit. Combine that with a coach who is at best ordinary on the bench, and you have to like the Cats chances in this game. But Alabama is capable, and they have certainly underachieved so far. That is a cause for concern.