Alabama @ #3 Kentucky: Q&A Part I

To preview the Tide's upcoming game in Lexington, Roll 'Bama Roll has teamed up with A Sea of Blue to bring you a two-part Q&A session on Tuesday night's game and the issues surrounding the two programs' diverging seasons.

In Part I, Roll 'Bama Roll's questions will be answered by A Sea of Blue's Glenn Logan, who writes under the username "Truzenzuzex" on the blog. A Sea of Blue is our sister blog on the SB network and is an excellent source of analysis and information for any SEC basketball fan. Be sure to check them out and look for some great insight as they preview the game from the other side today and tomorrow.

Roll 'Bama Roll: As the most passionate fanbase in the SEC (and arguably the nation), how does it feel to finally get THE man for the job and see him take the proud UK program back to the top of college basketball in such short order?

A Sea of Blue: I think it feels a lot like Alabama football fans felt when they got Nick Saban.  In fact, I'd say that the feelings are pretty much identical.  After Alabama struggled and seemingly wandered in the college football desert for years (much like UK did in basketball), they finally got one of the few coaches in America who needed no learning curve to turn put the program right back where it belonged.  The same is true of John Calipari.

It is very often the case that athletics directors believe that any good coach will do, and that the program is bigger than the coach.  In many ways, that's true, but that coach has to fit the program like a glove in order to be successful.  It's just like hiring the president of a small, local beverage manufacturer to step in as CEO of Pepsi Co.  It can work, but usually, the job is just too big. 

To fill a big coaching job, it takes a coach who has an ego large enough to fill it.  Calipari has all that, and as a bonus, he is the kind of personable, active representative for UK basketball that the program needs to sell itself to high quality recruits, and keep the appetite of the fans assuaged.  We are very fortunate, and happy, to have Coach Cal.

Roll 'Bama Roll: How different might things be for both teams this season if either Eric Bledsoe or DeMarcus Cousins was wearing crimson instead of blue? What if both were?

A Sea of Blue: Well, I suppose that depends on who their replacements were, but if both those young men had decided to stay in their home state, I think it's fair to say Alabama would be a lot better at the expense of Kentucky.  In fact, both of them would probably have made Alabama into a serious contender, although with the rest of the players on Alabama's roster, perhaps not a dominant a team as Kentucky.

Cousins, quite frankly, would have addressed Alabama's major need right now, which is better rebounding.  Even though Cousins is primarily known as an offensive rebounder, he gets a bunch of defensive ones also, and along with the already formidable JaMychal Green, I think it's safe to say that the Tide would be much better.  The addition of Bledsoe would bring more intangibles to the party, but clearly would help quite a bit in the back court.

You don't want to miss what the UK fans are saying about Anthony Grant. Continue reading after the jump...

Roll 'Bama Roll: From an outsider's perspective, how do you explain what has happened to the Alabama team in SEC play, losing all six SEC games after giving up second-half leads and losing three of them at the buzzer? And let's not forget the blown 23-point second-half lead at Ole Miss just this past Saturday...

A Sea of Blue: Alabama's biggest problem right now is front-court depth.  Alabama has no real quality depth on the inside, and in four of the six losses, the Tide got beaten badly on the offensive glass.  In the other two, Alabama failed to get to the free throw line and lost the game there.

Alabama's biggest problem is keeping opposing teams off the offensive glass.  JaMychal Green just isn't big enough, nor does he have enough help rebounding the basketball.  Eventually, the other teams are wearing Alabama down on the backboard, or when Green is resting or in foul trouble.  Second shots are the best way in the world to improve offensive efficiency, and that is what is killing the Tide right now -- it's a big reason why the Tide are struggling to score.

Roll 'Bama Roll: Getting to the game specifics, how do you think Alabama's defense, statistically #1 in the conference, will match up with the ultra-talented UK scorers?

A Sea of Blue: Alabama's defense is extremely solid, but it won't help them if Alabama cannot keep UK off the offensive glass.  Think of it this way -- If your defense forced a team into 35% shooting on the first shot, but gave them a 40% chance at a second shot every time, they might get 20+ more shots up than you in a given game.  Your defense would look great, but you might still lose because your opponent, even while shooting badly, got so many more attempts.

That's what makes Kentucky look so strong offensively.  We shoot the ball pretty well, but when you throw in a ton of second shots, it makes the 'Cats very tough to beat.  So the problem for Alabama isn't really one of traditional defense -- I'm sure they will do that very well, just as they have done all year.  Their problem is, how do they stop UK from ending possessions with a score?  If the Tide allows the 'Cats to get 40% offensive rebounds, the Tide defense probably won't matter.

Roll 'Bama Roll: What would Alabama have to do to pull the upset in Rupp on Tuesday? More specifically, do you see any way that Alabama's anemic offense can score enough points to keep up with the Cats?

A Sea of Blue: On paper, you'd have to say, "No," but the game isn't played that way.  The best way for Alabama to win is the same as it is for every team -- get DeMarcus Cousins off the floor.  Without Cousins in the game, UK is much more beatable than with him out there.  That's because Cousins usage rate is a phenomenal 34% -- he ends 34% of Kentucky's possessions, and he only plays 52% of the available minutes -- just over 20 minutes per game.  Cousins is scoring almost 30 points/40 minutes, #2 in the nation, and draws more fouls per 40 minutes than any player in the nation.

So getting Cousins off the floor is the single best way to make Kentucky a team that is at least not indomitable.  The best way to accomplish that is to attack him in the post or by slashes to the rim and hope he picks up some fouls.  But in the final analysis, the more Cousins is on the floor, the lower any teams' chances are of pulling off an upset in Rupp Arena.

As far as scoring, Alabama is shooting the ball reasonably well from the perimeter this year.  UK guards the three very poorly, so I would look to find shots for my three-point shooters, particularly in early offense.

Roll 'Bama Roll: Finally, how does the UK fanbase generally view the Anthony Grant hire, the job he has done so far given what he has to work with, and his prospects for getting Alabama to the point of competing for SEC titles and making yearly runs in the NCAA tournament in the years to come?

A Sea of Blue: You guys got an incredible coach.  Had he been a bit more seasoned (say, at a major DI program for a couple of years), he might have given Calipari a run for his money for the UK job -- he is that highly thought of.  This guy can flat-out coach, and I predict within five years, Alabama will begin to dominate the West.  UK fans know Anthony Grant well, and but for his rather thin résumé, would have had many advocates here in the Bluegrass when we were looking.

Make no mistake.  Anthony Grant is not just a quality hire for Alabama, he almost falls under the rubric of a coup.  When he gets players that can play the system he ran at VCU, you'll see the victories start to pile up, the ranked teams start to return to the Yellowhammer State, and the SEC and NCAA tournament runs begin to happen again.  Alabama may be suffering a bit now (and not nearly as much as some other SEC programs I might mention, by the way), but that won't last long, if it lasts at all.

* * *

In Part II, I will respond to questions from A Sea of Blue. Look for the update later today or tomorrow morning.

That last response should get you fired up. I know it did the trick for me....

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