The Crimson Tide basketball team closed out its regular season by defeating the Auburn Tigers 73-61 on Saturday in Coleman Coliseum. Roll 'Bama Roll reacts with some initial impressions...
- Despite everything that has happened this season--the losses at the buzzer, the huge blown leads, the overall frustration with being "close"--this win just felt really good. Not only did we soundly beat our arch-rivals, but we closed out the regular season on a high note by winning in front of a packed house of 15,000+ on senior day. Regardless of what happens in Nashville this week we can all feel a little better about ourselves after Saturday.
- The game itself wasn't pretty. We were sloppy with the ball (19 turnovers) and our only two consistent scorers combined for 5 points in the 37 minutes of the game that mattered (Torrance scored 9 points in the final three minutes after we pulled away). That should say a tremendous amount about just how good our defensive effort and overall intensity was for the entire game, not to mention the contributions of the role players on our team. Sorry, but anybody for us not named Torrance or Green is a role player in terms of their ability right now, although Mitchell is making a case that this won't hold for him for long. For the second straight outing, we reversed our previous habits and looked like the more hungry and focused team in the final minutes of the game. Credit goes to the coaching staff and the players for the overall effort they showed on Saturday.
- For the second straight game, we held a huge edge in rebounding over our opponent--without (for the most part) our top rebounder playing. How did we do it? Well, for starters both South Carolina and Auburn employ probably the two smallest lineups in the SEC, so that certainly helps for a team like us lacking in size ourselves. Aside from that though, I'm not sure I can point to anything specific. Just looking at the numbers from those two games, we've seen a big jump in production for several players on the boards, especially Hines and Torrance, who simply seem to be focusing more on that aspect of their game. And like I asserted in a previous post, Mitchell is just as productive rebounding as Green per minute, so now that Mitchell is seeing more of the floor once again, he is producing in a big way on the glass.
Read below the jump for more analysis on Bama's win...
- Individually, I would be remiss if I didn't start things off by mentioning our seniors. I'll begin with the player who opened the scoring for us, senior walk-on Greg Cage. Coach Grant gave him the start, and he responded with a big offensive rebound and put-back to get us on the board after Auburn jumped out to an early 6-0 lead. If only Cage had a slightly quicker release on his 3-point shot, I think he could have seen some real game action this season. He has enough size where he can't be out-muscled and he's not a bad all-around player. In any event, he deserves our gratitude for all the hard work he has put in on the practice squad the last several years. Guys like him are a big part of the team.
- Senior Anthony Brock got the start in the backcourt as well, and he responded with a very solid senior day performance. He finished with 9 points, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 3 rebounds--all-around great numbers for Brock. We'll really need him to produce, in all of the categories I mentioned but especially from the 3-point line, if we want to make some noise this week in Nashville. He came up huge in both of his games in the state of Tennessee last year, so let's hope that trend continues.
- Senior Mikhail Torrance had a relatively quiet senior day in the scoring department, until the final 3 minutes when he poured in two layups and five free throws. That doesn't mean he wasn't productive, though. He led the team with 12 rebounds, phenomenal for a point guard and a big reason why we were able to win this game despite not playing all that well offensively. He also had six assists, and the fact that most of his points came late doesn't change the fact that those points, especially his and-1 layup with about 3 minutes to go, were crucial in ensuring that Auburn wouldn't steal the game again late like they did earlier this year.
- With the seniors out of the way, game MVP honors no doubt go to one by the name of Tony Mitchell. The freshman small forward, like I said in my last full-length impressions piece, does nothing but produce when he plays big minutes. That was the case in Columbia on Wednesday and it was even more so on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. He finished with 16 points and 7 rebounds, but his overall intensity and hustle led to him affecting the game in several positive ways for us. He seems to have lost his shooting touch from deep--something he certainly needs to work on in the offseason--but that didn't stop him from making plays and getting to the rim all day. Most importantly though, he was excellent defensively when matched with Auburn's top forward Hargrove, who was limited to 3 points and committed 5 turnovers on the day. Shutting down Auburn's only big scoring threat from inside the arc made them much easier to defend as a team.
- Another player who quietly had a very good game was junior guard Senario Hillman. For the second time in a row following his one-game suspension, he scored in double-digits (12 points) and also did well rebounding (6 boards). Defensively he contributed 2 steals and as always was very disruptive as a perimeter defender. Hillman was also 2-for-3 from behind the arc, showing once again that he really isn't all that bad a shooter, despite people's perception of him. He does have a slow release, which makes it hard for him to get shots off, and his high arc makes his misses look bad at times, but his stats aren't all that bad. He's shooting 34% from long-range, not great, but not bad at all either. That's about average for an SEC 3-point shooter.
- Junior guard Charvez Davis continued his hot shooting he's shown since his return from injury two weeks ago. He only played 18 minutes, but he went 3-for-6 from the arc in that time. Those 3 hits were huge, and helped to carry us through the early parts of the game when our offense was struggling. If he's still injured and isn't able to contribute those big shots for us, I'm not sure we win that game on Saturday. At the very least we would have been forced into a nail-biter in the closing seconds. We'll need his hot shooting to continue in Nashville this week if we're going to do anything serious.
- Junior forward Chris Hines gets better and better each time out. He's a poster child for JuCo transition struggles in college basketball. For much of the season he lacked confidence and wasn't all that productive, but that's certainly not the case anymore. He'll never be a big scorer at this level, but he's shown an increased ability and confidence around the basket with his drop-step and his rebounding numbers have begun to soar. If we are unable to snag a big-time JuCo post scorer in the late signing period, I feel much better about him being in the starting lineup next season now as opposed to a couple months ago.
- Junior Justin Knox also had a solid game for us. He didn't get as many minutes as earlier in the week thanks to Green (partially) returning to the lineup, but he was fairly productive in his time on the floor, with 6 points and 5 rebounds. As the biggest player on the team, he is a valuable asset and deserves credit himself for what he brings to the table, especially when Green isn't in the game.
- Speaking of JaMychal Green, the sophomore forward's brief return from suspension was less than memorable. He started out on the bench for the first time all season, and entered the game about four minutes in. After only playing six minutes, in which he contributed 3 rebounds but did little offensively, he received a technical foul for getting into a verbal altercation with an Auburn player. Coach Grant's message was pretty clear at that point [me paraphrasing here] : "you were lucky I let you play, then you go and do this. Have a seat son, and get comfortable." That was the last we saw of Green until midway through the second half, when Grant used him for two short periods as a sub for Hines and Knox. In those brief periods when he did return, he looked very shaky with ball, committing 3 turnovers while contributing nothing in terms of points or rebounds. Hopefully Grant's message to him has found its way to his head, because despite our results without him, we absolutely will need him if we hope to advance anywhere this postseason. We also need him to mature mentally if we want success as a team next year.
- The only downside of our win Saturday is that it sent us into Kentucky's bracket for the SEC tournament. Our first matchup will come Friday afternoon in a rematch with South Carolina. Obviously the only way we make the NCAA tournament is to win out, so catching Kentucky earlier rather than later isn't really all that different, although it eliminates the possibility that someone else knocks them off for us. The focus though should not be on Kentucky. South Carolina is in a very similar boat as us. They think they have the potential to get hot and go on a run, and their RPI is high enough they have a realistic shot at an NIT bid if they can get through us. We'll have more on this game and its implications later this week. Hint: we may not be quite as far away from snagging an NIT bid as many of us (including me) originally thought, but we will certainly have to at minimum beat South Carolina in the opening round to make good on that chance.
Big win on Saturday. Roll Tide!