In just his second season as the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, Avery Johnson has turned this program around and rebuilt the team in his image. The Crimson Tide are coming off one of Avery's biggest wins, a 90-86 four-OT thriller over South Carolina. With that, Alabama has become a factor in the SEC race and are 7-4, two games behind the Wildcats, Gamecocks, and Gators. By comparison, Alabama went 8-10 in the SEC last year.
John Calipari has gone 12-2 against Alabama, but both of those losses happened at Alabama. He is just 3-2 at Tuscaloosa but has won his last three games there. Even though Alabama is improved, they are still a year away from being a true SEC contender, and this is a game that Kentucky needs to win, even if it is on the road.
Jerry Palm gives the Crimson Tide an RPI rating of #67, and they are 2-4 against teams that are in the top 50. They are also 2-4 against teams that are rated 51-100, making their record 4-8 versus top 100 teams. The best win they had was against South Carolina and the worst loss to #128 Texas.
Tweak, reboot, or whatever you want to call it, this is a game that Kentucky needs to win and can not stumble. Let's meet the Crimson Tide.
#12 G - DAZON INGRAM (FR 6'5, 205) 10.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.6 APG
#1 G - RILEY NORRIS (JR 6'7, 203) 9.0 RPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.9 APG
#25 F - BRAXTON KEY (FR 6'8, 220) 11.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.1 APG
#35 F - DONTA HALL (SO 6'9, 224) 5.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 0.5 APG
#21 F - BOLA OLANIGAN (SR 6'7, 220) 2.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.5 APG
Dazon Ingram only played 179 minutes last season due to injury, but he is having a solid season leading this team. He shoots the ball well, hitting 50.7% overall and 46.4% of his three-pointers. He rebounds well for a point and averages 1.2 steals a game. He still turns over the ball more than you would want but he has grown into a steady floor leader. Riley Norris can play either the two guard or the wing, and he has steadily improved each year at Alabama. He is hitting a career-best 39.5% overall of his shots but just 31.3% of his three-pointers. He never met a shot he does not like and is 2-12 from long-range in his last two games.
Braxton Key is another versatile player that can play a few different positions. He can stretch the floor and score from all over. He hits 43.3% of her shots overall and 35.7% of his three-pointers. Key was on a roll before the South Carolina game, as he was averaging 18.5 points over a four-game span.
#3 G - CORBAN COLLINS (SR 6'3, 190) 7.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.5 APG
#5 G - AVERY JOHNSON JR (SO 5'`11, 187) 7.2 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.5 APG
#22 G - AR'MOND DAVIS (JR 6'6, 190) 6.4 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 0.1 APG
#10 F - JIMMIE TAYLOR (SR 6'10, 248) 5.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.7 APG
#11 F - SHANNON HALE (SR 6'8, 233) 4.6 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 0.3 APG
Corban Collins provides a spark off the bench and can put up points in a hurry. He is a bit inconsistent as over the past five games; he has scored 5, 17, 2, 5, and 15 points. He hits 34.8% of his three-pointers and 36.6% overall. The coach's son, Avery Johnson Jr, is a very solid point guard and plays in the style of his father. He only hits 35.3% of his shots, but the spark he provides is. He was a key catalyst against South Carolina with 23 points.
Ar'Mond Davis was one of the top shooters in the JUCO ranks but has struggled a bit with his shot. He hits just 29.5% from long-range and 33.6% overall. Davis turns the ball over a bit too much, but he can be a catalyst off the bench and had 19 against the Gamecocks. Jimmy Taylor is an experienced post presence that hits 61.4% of his shots and averages 1.5 blocks a game, Shannon Hale is not a great rebounder for a 6'8 guy, and he takes way too many long-range shots. 55% of his shots are three-pointers, and he hits just 19.5% of them.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN
Kentucky will face one of the tougher defensive teams in the SEC in an arena that has been hostile to them. Alabama allows just 66 points a game and their opponents to shoot just 40.4% and 35.9% on their three-pointers. Kentucky's stars are comparable, even though the defensive effort has not been there in the past several games. Kentucky allows just 74.3 points on the game and allows opponents to shoot just 43%. Kentucky allows even less than Alabama on three-pointers at 32.3. The issue with Kentucky has been the effort, and hopefully, the Wildcats will get back to where there were defensively at the first part of the season. If not, this could be a rough game.
The big advantage that Kentucky has is offensively, and it appears that Kentucky is back on the right track. Alabama is not a very good shooting team, as they hit just 42.3 of their shots and 32.1% of their three-pointers. By comparison, Kentucky hits 48.7% and 35.7%.
This is a much improved Alabama team that the one that Kentucky faced last year and they are much deeper and more athletic. This is an extremely versatile team, and Avery Johnson has done a fantastic job of rebuilding the team in his personality and changing the basketball culture at Alabama.
That said, this is still a team that is a year away from being a serious threat in the SEC. This is still a team that Kentucky has a big talent gap over and one that they should defeat. Even on the road.
The problem with Kentucky is not the talent, but getting it to perform at the level they have shown earlier in the season, especially on defense. For about thirty minutes on Tuesday, we saw this progression, and it looked like the young Wildcats had taken the step forward. Then things fell apart, and thanks to some freakish shooting by LSU, and the remainder of the game was a mess.
This is a familiar refrain for Wildcats fans and one of the perils of having such a young team. And more often than not, this team takes the path to greatness rather than falling apart. It is a young team, but John Calipari is an old pro at this by now. And I like this team. And I think they still have the potential to get through this. Let's call this a "John Calipari gets it done" special and call it a hard fought 81-72 Kentucky win.