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Tide set to host #12 Gators without two stars

Kenny Boynton leads the nation's most dangerous 3-point shooting team.
Kenny Boynton leads the nation's most dangerous 3-point shooting team.

The Crimson Tide basketball team will return home tonight to host the 12th-ranked Florida Gators in what will be a major opportunity for this team as it tries to inch its way into the NCAA Tournament field. The game will tip off at 6:00 pm CST and will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Bama will be without its two leading scorers for this one. Senior forward JaMychal Green, a 1st-team All-SEC player as a junior a year ago, will not be playing tonight, part of a suspension for breaking team rules that also made sophomore point guard Trevor Releford and junior guard Andrew Steele unavailable for the Tide's last game at LSU. Green is the Tide's leading scorer, leading rebounder, and biggest offensive weapon in the halfcourt.

Junior wing player Tony Mitchell, a 2nd-team All-SEC player as a sophomore a year ago, will also not be playing tonight. He is indefinitely suspended from the team due to "an accumulation of things" considered "conduct detrimental to the team". Mitchell is Alabama's 2nd-leading scorer, 2nd-leading rebounder, and the team's most dynamic, athletic player.

When Mitchell was missing from the Auburn game, other players like Charles Hankerson and Rodney Cooper stepped up in his absence, and the team managed to actually play pretty well without him. However, when both Mitchell and Green were missing from the LSU game, the Tide really had no one left of any size to compete with LSU in the paint on the defensive end or on the boards. An unreal scoring night from Cooper masked what was otherwise a physical mismatch--and that was against an LSU team in the bottom half of the SEC.

This Florida team is nowhere near the bottom of the SEC. They are the clear #2 in the league and are expected to receive a very high seed in the NCAA Tournament. They are truly an elite offensive team and have a chance to make a very deep NCAA Tournament run. This will be one of Bama's toughest tests of the entire season, regardless of suspended players. Clearly, having to face a team this good without its two most talented players will be an extremely tall task. One bit of good news is that the Gators will be missing their top two bench players due to injury: junior guard Mike Rosario and sophomore forward Will Yeguette. Obviously missing your top two bench players is nowhere near the same as missing your top two players overall, but nevertheless it can't hurt Bama's chances.

This will be Bama's third opportunity to get a win at home against a projected top-six-seed NCAA Tournament team. The first two chances were wasted, as Georgetown hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in December to steal a win and the Tide laid a massive egg against Vanderbilt in January. Bama is still in position for an NCAA Tournament bid, but the current position could easily alter for the good or the bad. If the Tide ends the season on a bad note, it's very possible Bama could miss the Dance entirely, but on the other hand, if the Tide can finish strong and get some very good wins against teams such as Florida, it is also possible for Bama to move up and claim a higher seed that would much better position the team for a postseason run.

Suspensions and turmoil aside, this is Bama's biggest, best opportunity remaining on the regular season schedule. If Bama can somehow, some way, dig deep and win this one, it would do wonders for the Tide's postseason position.

Quick Look at Florida

19-6 overall, ranked #12 in coaches' poll, #15 in AP poll

12-3 in non-conference play: very good overall record in non-conference play, but only one win (Florida State) against a projected NCAA Tournament team; two of the three losses came in competitive games on the road against #2 Syracuse and #6 Ohio State, but the other loss (at Rutgers) is a bit of a question mark.

7-3 in SEC play: swept South Carolina, got a big road win over bubble team Ole Miss, and took care of Georgia, LSU, and projected NCAA Tournament teams Mississippi State and Vanderbilt at home; however they were blown out at #1 Kentucky and curiously enough have been swept by a Tennessee team that hasn't been all that impressive in games not played against Florida; nevertheless, their 7-3 record is good enough to put them alone at 2nd place in the SEC.

Much stronger offensively than defensively: Florida is ranked 5th nationally in overall offensive efficiency, trailing only Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky and Duke; however, they rank only 109th nationally in overall defensive efficiency, good for only 9th place among SEC teams.

Built around the "3": Florida shoots more 3-pointers per possession than 340 of the 345 Division I basketball teams. In fact, nearly one of every three shots they attempt is a 3-pointer (counting layups, dunks, everything). Shooting at that high a rate isn't all that scary, but the fact that they hit just under 40% of them (ranking 17th nationally in 3-point shooting percentage) is.

Kenny Boynton: The 6'2" junior guard is one of the most explosive offensive threats in the SEC. He leads the Gators in scoring with 17.5 points/game and might just be even more dangerous than Vandy's John Jenkins from long range. He averages 3.4 made 3-point baskets each game while shooting an unconscious 45% from the arc.

Brad Beal: The 6'3" freshman guard has lived up to every bit of his 5-star recruiting hype. He's come in and become the 2nd leading scorer on one of the nation's most elite offensive teams in his first year, averaging 14.4 points/game. He will be a true star in this league if he sticks around.

Erving Walker: The tiny 5'8" senior point guard is the third part of the dynamite backcourt trio that powers the Gator offense. He's one of the leading assist men in the SEC with 4.8 per game, and he is extremely dangerous as a pull-up shooter. He is third on the team with 12.0 points/game.

Patric Young: The 6'9" sophomore forward is the inside force that balances out the Gators' backcourt firepower. Young is extremely athletic for a big man, and leads the team in rebounding with 6.5 boards/game and provides much-needed muscle inside on both the offensive and defensive ends.

Erik Murphy: The 6'10" sophomore forward is the tallest option in the Gator starting lineup, but he plays more as a small forward. In fact, he is the 4th player in the starting lineup who averages at least 1.7 made 3-pointers each game (Alabama has not a single player who makes that many). Like all other Florida starters, Murphy averages double figures with 10.1 points/game, giving the Gators an extremely balanced scoring lineup.

The bench: With Florida's top two bench options, Rosario and Yeguette, out for the game, the Gators will actually be quite thin after their starters. 6'2" sophomore guard Scottie Wilbekin is the only other player who has seen action each game this season. The only other players who have seen any significant action are 6'6" wing player Casey Prather and 6'9" freshman forward Cody Larson.

Keys to the game

  • Perimeter defense. This one should go without saying. When you combine their attempt rate and their shooting percentage, Florida is probably the best 3-point shooting team in the country. Alabama simply has to make their long-range attempts as well-defended as possible.
  • Containing Patric Young. Without any experienced post players dressed for this one, Bama must prevent Florida's dominant big man from imposing his will. Fortunately for Bama, Florida will be thin in the post aside from Young, so containing him or especially getting him in foul trouble would be huge.
  • Bama's guards must play at a very high level. Alabama is usually a team that prefers not to rely on its guards for scoring. With its two star forwards out of the game, though, the Tide will have no choice. Releford, Steele, Lacey, Randolph, Cooper, and Hankerson must all step up their contributions on the offensive end (and the defensive end--see bullet point #1).
  • Nick Jacobs must play like a man. The young Jacobs has become a pretty decent offensive weapon in the low post, but he has to be even more than that tonight. He'll be the only inside scoring option on the Bama roster, so he has to contribute big on that end, but more importantly he must defend and rebound well on the inside--things he does not typically excel at--for the Tide to have any chance of winning.