Coming off arguably their best offensive performance of the season, the Kentucky Wildcats will go on the road this weekend as they go up against a top-10 Alabama team that is playing as well as anyone in the country.
Unlike most of Nate Oats's teams, which heavily rely on their offense, this season’s Alabama team is very balanced. The Crimson Tide are one of just a handful of teams that are ranked top 20 in offensive and defensive efficiency.
They have proven themselves against good competition as well, ranked 8th in the NET rankings with a 6-2 record in quadrant 1 and 2 games. With that said, they are not unbeatable. Alabama has lost two games this season and has struggled against teams like Memphis, South Dakota St, and South Alabama.
Saturday will be a difficult task but should provide a measuring stick to see where Kentucky is. Let’s take a look at Kentucky’s keys to the game.
Play Disciplined Defense
To combat one of the best offenses in the country, Kentucky must come prepared to play and play with a disciplined defense. Against Alabama, this will start on the perimeter.
As usual with Nate Oats’s Alabama teams, they are ranked top 10 in both three-pointers attempted and made. Whereas, defending the three has been a struggle at times for Kentucky.
In the past, Calipari has played a defense against Alabama that encourage people to drive. This should be expected again, but Kentucky must fight through and go over with any screening action.
Another aspect that Kentucky will have to focus on is defending without fouling. The Crimson Tide at one of the highest rates in the country. This also provides a large part of their offense, providing nearly a quarter of their points per game.
It’s not just about limiting free chances for points, but with John Calipari limiting the rotation to seven players, the Wildcats can’t afford to get in foul trouble.
Limit Brandon Miller
Averaging 19.1 points per game, Brandon Miller leads the SEC in scoring and has scored in double-figures in all but one game (Houston). With that said, it will be a tall task for anyone to defend Miller, yet someone has to.
Given Miller’s size (6-foot-9) and versatility, expect Jacob Toppin to have the matchup for most of the night. While Miller is an elite shooter, his finishing ability leaves much to be desired.
As mentioned earlier, Calipari has played a defense against Alabama that encourage people to drive. This philosophy should work well against Miller if Toppin can execute it effectively.
Capitalize off of Turnovers
Alabama is a great offensive team, but they do have a glaring weakness, taking care of the ball. Averaging 16.4 turnovers per game, the Crimson tide are ranked toward the bottom of the country in ball security.
Kentucky’s length and improved energy should force some Alabama turnovers, and Kentucky needs to take advantage of this. With that said, Calipari has talked about playing more “deliberate”, and they must when extra possessions could be what decides the game.
Late Game Execution
For thirty-five minutes against LSU, Kentucky played their basketball of the season. Yet, they nearly gave away the win due to poor execution toward the end of the game.
Just look at this possession at the end of the game where Sahvir Wheeler looks to the sidelines for what to run, before being luckily bailed out by Jacob Toppin.
A SEC win should always be celebrated. With that said, late game execution needs to be better.— Tristan Pharis (@TristanUda) January 4, 2023
Here is an example, late in the game, where Wheeler shrugs and looks to the sideline with less than 10 sec on the shot clock.
Luckily bailed out by Toppin. pic.twitter.com/bLRlskTiYB
In all six of Alabama’s games against ranked opponents, the game has been decided by 11 points or less, with an average point differential of 7.5 points. If Kentucky is improving and growing into the team that was ranked top five in the preseason, Saturday will be another close game.
Time/Date: 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, January 7th, 2023.
Location: Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
TV Channel: ESPN
Announcers: Karl Ravech, Jimmy Dykes
Radio: Tom Leach and Jack Givens have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Replay: SEC Network (check local listings).
Odds: DraftKings has Alabama as a 6-point favorite. ESPN’s matchup predictor gives the Wildcats just a 29.6% chance of winning, while Bart Torvik gives Kentucky an even lower chance lower advantage at 21%, while KenPom has it at 30%.