Today at 7 PM, the Kentucky Wildcats welcome the Alabama Crimson Tide into Rupp Arena for the final contest between the ‘Cats and the Tide in the regular season. As with Missouri, we’ll have an abbreviated preview of this game since almost all the information in the first game preview is the same today as it was then. We’ll look at the differences that might affect the game below.
|Time and date:||Saturday, Jan 31 at 7:00 PM|
|Place:||Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY|
|Radio:||UK Sports Network|
|Internet:||Live Video via SEC Network+|
|Rank and records||Bama||UK|
|Strength of schedule||#42||#12|
|RPI Top 50||1-5||7-0|
What’s changed since the last game
Alabama and Kentucky played exactly two weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, and since then, the Tide have gone 1-2, dropping an overtime game to Arkansas on the road, beating Auburn at home, and losing to Florida at home. Every one of those games has been decided by a single basket.
Also, word has come that starting guard and 2nd leading scorer Ricky Tarrant will not be available today due to a late-game lower leg injury that he suffered in the Florida game. Tarrant returned to finish the game against the Gators, but he was clearly hurt and apparently it was bad enough that there is no timetable for his return. It looks like an ankle sprain, although I doubt it was the dreaded "high ankle sprain" that so often keeps players out for a long time. Hopefully he’ll be back soon.
Notable conference stats
Alabama is a reasonably efficient offensive team on the season, but they have been notably inefficient in the league. They are, however, a good defensive team and have been all year. The problem is, as good as Alabama is defensively, they are simply nowhere near as good as Kentucky.
The absence of Tarrant, who is more of a volume shooter and not particularly efficient, will be felt most severely on defense. He is the steals leader for Alabama and draws more fouls than anyone on the team. He also shoots 80% from the line,so this will hurt the Tide in lots of ways that aren’t immediately obvious.
I have a feeling we will not see that zone we saw from the Tide in Tuscaloosa, because Anthony Grant could not have failed to notice that the Vanderbilt Commodores, South Carolina Gamecocks and Missouri Tigers were all able to defend Kentucky better man-to-man than with a zone, and that Kentucky’s man-to-man offense hasn’t been that great. We’ll see how that plays itself out in the game.
Where the Tide will struggle in this game is where every team has struggled with Kentucky — getting enough clean looks. Alabama plays at a deliberate pace, so they try to maximize the entire possession to get a good shot. But Kentucky has been adept at guarding deep into the shot clock, and getting good looks against the Wildcats is difficult at the best of times. It’s even tougher in the friendly confines of Rupp Arena.
The Wildcats are favored in this game and should be. Alabama has played well from time to time, but they have failed repeatedly to close out tough, close games. Some of that has been bad luck, but most of it has just been an inability to find scoring when they need it.
It’s pretty likely that Alabama will play Kentucky tougher than they did in Tuscaloosa, because in that meeting they threw up a soft zone that Kentucky shredded from the perimeter. I don’t expect that to happen again, and in the 48 hours or so since Kentucky’s last game, I don’t think the Wildcats have improved their offense against a man-to-man much. Expect a low-scoring, tough game for at least 30 mintues of game time.