The Crimson Tide return home after a tough, emotional loss at Ole Miss for the opening home game of SEC play. Their reward? A date with the Kentucky Wildcats, once again ranked in the top ten in the country. On top of that, Kentucky is coming off of a loss against the LSU Tigers on Tuesday night, so they will be looking to get back on track against the Tide Saturday evening. Avery Johnson will certainly have his hands full as he gets his first taste of what it's like to play the pinnacle of SEC basketball. John Calipari's young squad has yet to reach their full potential, having lost three games already this season, but they have an amazingly high ceiling. However, this year's version has looked vulnerable at times. Calipari likes the challenge of developing his young team over the course of the season though, and it should be expected that this will be the best team Alabama plays all year, especially with the extra motivation of having lost their last game. It will take the Tide's best effort to try and pull off this victory.
- PG 5'9 Tyler Ulis (14.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.5 SPG)
- OG 6'3 Isaiah Briscoe (10.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.7 SPG)
- SG 6'5 Jamal Murray (17.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- WF 6'8 Alex Poythress (9.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 0.4 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG)
- C 6'9 Marcus Lee (8.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 0.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 3.4 BPG)
- G 6'6 Charles Matthews (3.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.7 SPG)
- G 6'0 Dominique Hawkins (2.5 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 0.5 APG)
- F 6'9 Derek Willis (5.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.6 SPG)
- C 6'11 Skal Labissiere (8.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.6 BPG)
What to Watch For
- The Home Crowd. The Kentucky game is usually one of the few games that packs out Coleman Coliseum every year, but with the football team on the way to Glendale for the National Championship and students still trickling back in from Winter break, it will be interesting to see what kind of atmosphere will be in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. This is important, because the future of the program may ride on what kind of presence is felt during this game. Avery Johnson wants to be at a place where people care, and Alabama fans need to show their support for him in this game. The way Johnson's been coaching this team, he will likely get a few calls this offseason inquiring about his availability. Also, there are going to be a large number of important recruits on campus for this game, and Tide fans need to show them that Tuscaloosa can show up and support the basketball team.
- The Quick Turn-Around. Every year, each SEC team has to deal with the quick Thursday-Saturday turn-around during conference play. Well, unfortunately for Alabama, that quick turn-around came immediately out of the gates, and against Kentucky to boot. Will Alabama have drawn up a strong gameplan in time? Will they be able to execute it?
Three Keys to Victory
- Force Jump Shots. Kentucky is obviously an extremely talented team, but they've actually not been very efficient shooting the ball. Ulis isn't a great shooter, and Briscoe has really struggled in that area of his game. The Tide can't allow Kentucky to get open looks around the rim, because the Wildcats will eat that up all day. Forcing perimeter shots would be the optimal outcome, as Kentucky ranks 280th in the country at 31.6% from three-point land. Murray is the one guy who can really damage Alabama in this regard.
- Make Jump Shots. On the opposite end, Alabama will really need a good day shooting the ball in order to pull off the upset. Kentucky's still really good defending around the basket, as Lee is particular is quite a presence in the post. As such, it's not a great idea to try and take the ball to the rim much. Arthur Edwards has become a steady spot-up shooter, and the rest of the team needs to get him the ball in rhythm. Some other guys need to step up in this area as well though. Justin Coleman and Shannon Hale both have the ability to get hot from outside; the Tide will need at least one of them to.
- Make it Ugly. Alabama doesn't have superior depth, but the Tide might have a slight edge if there are a number of fouls called and the bench gets heavily involved. Kentucky really doesn't have anyone who can run the point well outside of Ulis, and LSU showed that if Poythress and Lee get in foul trouble this Kentucky team becomes vulnerable defensively. On top of that, Kentucky is only shooting 65.1% from the free throw line this year, which is 293rd in the country. Just don't send Ulis to the line.