After a week off, the Crimson Tide basketball team will return to action tonight in Coleman Coliseum as the Ole Miss Rebels visit for a crucial SEC game. Tip off is set for 7:00 pm CST with the game televised nationally on ESPN2.
This game is massive for both teams. Alabama is still in position for a berth to the NCAA Tournament, but needs to finish the season strongly to stay in that position and hopefully improve seeding position. Beating an Ole Miss team that is ranked around 40th in the RPI and is considered an NCAA Tournament bubble team by most experts would do wonders for Bama's resume and the Tide's confidence coming out of the bye week.
The Rebels come in boasting the same 14-7 overall record as Alabama. They beat a decent Miami team at home for their sole marquee non-conference win. They also beat major-conference opponents DePaul and Penn State, both on the road, but each of those teams is at the very bottom of their respective conference. They lost four non-conference games, but all were away from home and against projected NCAA Tournament teams. In SEC play, the Rebels are 4-3 with a home win over projected NCAA Tournament team Mississippi State as well as home wins over Arkansas and South Carolina and a narrow road win over Georgia. They had a golden chance to get a huge win over Florida at home last week, but allowed the Gators to come back late. They have also had their questionable performances, notably a blowout loss at LSU and an overtime loss at Auburn.
Overall, though, the Rebels are actually in a position to make a serious run at a bid to the Dance if they can close strong. If the season ended today, they'd probably just miss the cut, but if they can escape Tuscaloosa with a big-time road win they would no doubt launch into the projected field. No question that both coaching staffs realize what is at stake here.
Alabama's coaching staff in particular is hoping to use the big home win over Arkansas last Saturday to launch a resurgence of a team that lost its confidence, its identity, and perhaps some of its cohesiveness during a four-game losing streak immediately preceding the Arkansas win. The Tide came together to gut out the win over Arkansas, but Bama still has a way to go to come back together and hit its stride. On that note, rumors have swirled about Tony Mitchell's availability for tonight's game, but as of this writing they are just that--rumors. Either way, Bama needs to step up and get a win tonight to put things back on track and put the Tide on even more solid ground for a tournament bid.
Ole Miss is a team that relies heavily on it inside game. Three of the top six scorers are post players, led by 6'10" senior Terrance Henry's 12.1 points/game. 6'7" junior Murphy Holloway is one of the SEC's top rebounders with 9.4 boards/game in addition to his 10.4 points/game. 6'9" junior Reginald Buckner is one of the SEC's top shot-blockers with 2.5 blocks/game in addition to 8.5 rebounds/game and 6.6 points/game.
The Rebel backcourt is led by 5'11" sophomore Dundrecous Nelson, who averages 11.6 points/game and is the team's top 3-point shooter. (Edit: Nelson was dismissed from the team -- that's what you get for preparing an article at the last minute) 6'4" freshman Jarvis Summers leads the team with 3.3 assists/game and also scores double-figures with 10.0 points/game. 6'4" junior Nick Williams, an Alabama native, is the third guard averaging double-figures, with 10.0 points/game.
Of all teams Bama has played this season, Ole Miss probably most resembles Alabama in style. The Rebels are especially strong defensively, ranking 38th nationally in overall defensive efficiency. However, offensively they haven't fared so well, ranking only 200th in overall offensive efficiency. Like Alabama, they are a poor 3-point shooting team overall, and they score most of their points in the paint.
They are most dangerous offensively when attacking the glass, as evidenced by the fact they rank 32nd nationally in offensive rebounding rate. This could be especially worrisome for the Tide if Tony Mitchell, Bama's best rebounder, is indeed unavailable. Further, Ole Miss ranks 40th nationally in free throw attempt rate, a sign that they are very adept at drawing fouls. This is a major concern since the Rebels like to pound the ball inside so much and Bama's JaMychal Green, who will have a tough matchup against the strong Ole Miss frontcourt, is extremely prone to foul trouble. If Mitchell is missing and Green gets into foul trouble, it could be a very long night for the Tide.
Hopefully Bama will get back to its identity of tough-nosed defense and build on the Arkansas performance, when the offense managed to get the ball around the rim fairly effectively for much of the game. This will be a big-time manhood test for the Tide, playing against a highly motivated team that is almost a mirror image style-wise in a game that could have major NCAA Tournament implications for both teams. This is precisely the kind of game teams need to win to book their place in March Madness. Hope for the best.