Just a few days ago, the Alabama Crimson Tide were a sure fire NIT team as they stumbled down the stretch of the SEC regular season, losing three of four. Now, after two straight SEC Tournament wins and a matchup against Kentucky looming, the flame is not quite extinguished on Alabama's flickering NCAA hopes.
The first game against Alabama was a defensive grind of a game but Kentucky did not have that much of a problem with the Crimson Tide. The Wildcats led by nine at the half and extended that lead to 48-30 with about 10:00 remaining. Alabama mounted a furious comeback and cut the score to six a couple of times. A Derek Willis three-pointer with 1:20 left ended that drama and the Wildcats walked out of Tuscaloosa with a 67-58 win.
Coming into that game, the Crimson Tide was a darkhorse SEC contender and a win against Kentucky would have put them in the thick of the race. The loss to Kentucky started a 3-4 end to the regular season and led to an RPI ranking of #84 by Jerry Palm. Even a win over Kentucky probably will not be enough to get this team into the NCAA but it will get them one game closer to that automatic bid.
And that is why they play the games. Let's meet the Crimson Tide.
#12 G - DAZON INGRAM (FR 6'5, 205) 10.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.3 APG
#1 G - RILEY NORRIS (JR 6'7, 203) 8.9 RPG, 3.6 RPG, 0.8 APG
#25 F - BRAXTON KEY (FR 6'8, 220) 12.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.5 APG
#35 F - DONTA HALL (SO 6'9, 224) 5.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 0.6 APG
#21 F - BOLA OLANIGAN (SR 6'7, 220) 2.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 0.4 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 53.3% overall and 48.8% of his three-pointers. He rebounds well for a point and but struggles with turnovers. He had a mixed game against Kentucky with 12 points and 8 rebounds, but he also had 5 turnovers and was in foul trouble. Riley Norris can play either the two guard or the wing, and he is a streaky shooter. He is hitting a career-best 40.7% overall of his shots but just 33.3% of his three-pointers. He had 9 points in the earlier game against Kentucky.
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 43.6% of her shots overall and 33% of his three-pointers. Key was big in the earlier Kentucky game with 21 points and he is coming off an 18 point game against South Carolina. You never know which Key will show up as he is inconsistent. He had just 3 points against Tennessee in the SEC Tourney opener.
Donta Hall is effective in the paint and hits 65.2% of his shots and is a solid rebounder. He averages 1.4 blocks a game but gets into foul trouble and plays just about 20 minutes. He had 4 points in 16 minutes versus Kentucky previously. Bola Olanigan is another solid rebounder but don't count on much scoring from him. He has scored just 9 points in his last five games and shot a combined 2-7 in them. He did have one of his better games against UK with 5 points and 10 boards.
#3 G - CORBAN COLLINS (SR 6'3, 190) 6.7 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.4 APG
#5 G - AVERY JOHNSON JR (SO 5'`11, 187) 6.8 PPG, 1.7 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, 3.7 RPG, 0.6 APG
#11 F - SHANNON HALE (SR 6'8, 233) 4.1 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.3 APG
Against South Carolina yesterday, Johnson started Corban Collins and Jimmie Taylor in favor of Norris and Hall. Not sure what the reasoning was, but Collins and Taylor still played the majority of the game.
Corban Collins provides a spark off the bench and can put up points in a hurry. He is streaky though and not a great shooter overall. He hits 33.1% of his three-pointers and 33.7% 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 32.8% of his shots but can provide a spark. He has 19 points in his two tournament games but Kentucky kept him scoreless on five shots in the previous meeting
Ar'Mond Davis was one of the top shooters in the JUCO ranks but has struggled a bit with his shot. He hits just 27.8% from long-range and 33.5% overall. He can be a catalyst off the bench but has been cold lately with just 9 points in his last four outings. He had just 2 points on 1-6 shooting against UK. Jimmy Taylor is an experienced post presence that hits 59.6% 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. 56% 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 so expect another defensive grind. Alabama allows just 64.4 points a game and their opponents shoot just 39.9% and 33.2% from long range. The thing is however, as good as Alabama is on defense, they struggle to score just as much. They score just 68.6 points and hit 42.2% of their shots and just 32% from long range.
Even though the previous game was low scoring for Kentucky standards, the Wildcats were better on defense. They forced Alabama into 16 turnovers while the Crimson Tide had just four assists. Kentucky dominated the game for 30:00 and then allowed Alabama to get back in and make it somewhat interesting.
While Kentucky is still not a perfect team, they are improving. They avoided their trend of slow starts yesterday and turned in an impressive performance against a much better than the record shows Georgia team.
The other thing I like about this Kentucky team is that they do not have to be clicking on all cylinders to pull off the win. Malik Monk has 8 points in his last two games, but Briscoe has been padding the stat sheet in a way we have not seen since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Derrick Willis is playing his most complete ball of the year right now. And so on. While it is not pretty at times, this Kentucky team is efficient and can win on an off night by their stars. Expect this team to keep clicking. Alabama is going to fight to the end in this one but look for Kentucky to prevail 75-63.