As the clock ran out with Retin Obasohan racing down the court in Coleman Coliseum Wednesday night, the reality of the Tide's most recent win set in: this team has a legitimate chance to make the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Alabama fans have been heaping praise upon pretty much since he was hired, but it really cannot be overstated, Coach Avery has been a godsend for Alabama basketball. The Crimson Tide have won road games, beaten quality opponents, played exciting basketball, and energized the fan base in ways that haven't been seen in years. Johnson's been exceeding expectations and breaking long streaks of mediocrity and failure all season. His next opportunity to do so may be his most difficult, as 'Bama will head down to Gainesville in an attempt to defeat the Florida Gators (16-8, 7-4 SEC) in the O-Dome for the first time since 1995.
Whenfinally decided to make the leap to the NBA after a disappointing year last season, many assumed the Gators run at the top of the SEC had officially come to an end. However, , the Ole Miss grad who was brought in from Louisiana Tech, obviously had other ideas in mind. The Gators have played one of the nation's toughest schedules, yet is sitting pretty in terms of both the SEC race and the NCAA Tournament. Alabama will have a very difficult time scoring on this defense in particular, which ranks 35th in the country in DRtg and 14th in Ken Pomeroy's Adjusted Defensive Efficiency Ratings.
- PG 6'0 Chris Chiozza (7.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.1 SPG)
- OG 6'1 Kasey Hill (8.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.4 SPG)
- 3G 6'2 KeVaughn Allen (11.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.3 SPG)
- WF 6'8 Dorian Finney-Smith (15.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG)
- C 6'11 John Egbunu (10.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.5 BPG)
Much like Texas A&M, Florida has two guys who have extensive experience at point guard in their starting line-up. Hill has been the Gator's point guard for most of his career, but he never seemed fully comfortable there. Chiozza's development at the one allows Florida to utilize two different guys who can handle the rock and run the offense. Chiozza's assist-to-turnover ratio is is nearly 3:1, and he has done a masterful job of guiding the Gator's slow, grinding offense. He's only a 34.7% shooter, but he has the ability to knock down some threes (32.2%) and is solid from the line (77.8%). His defense, much like everyone else on the team, is strong (97.1 DRtg).
Hill's transition to a more off-ball role has been interesting. He isn't much of a shooter (35.6% FG%, 26.3% 3P%, 56.7% FT%), but he's very athletic and uses his quick first step to drive to the basket well. He's been a very effective slashing guard. So in a way, playing off-ball has helped him out a bit, despite occupying a position that most people associate with good shooting. He also plays strong defensively (95.0), and his athleticism has been a nice bonus in transition. Speaking of nice additions, true freshmen Kevaughn Allen has really elevated Florida's play offensively. A 42.6% shooter, Allen has given the Gators a scoring option in the back-court that they desperately needed in the absence of Michael Frazier. He's certainly not the perimeter threat that Frazier was (33.0% 3P%), but his 85.0% FT% and mid-range game has really aided the Florida offense.
In the front-court, perennial 'Bama-killer Finney-Smith returns to crush Tide fans' dreams everywhere. The senior forward is a classic stretch four, a guy who can both bang in the post (54.7% 2P%, 13.4% RB%) and wreak havoc on the wing (41.1% 3P%, 2.1 APG). He's been the guy for Florida this season, and his versatility has been critical for a team that doesn't have a lot of scoring options. Egbunu has the make of a classic center. At 6'10, he's long, blocks shots, rebounds at a good clip (13.5%), and finishes around the rim (58.0% FG%). He's the kind of player Donta Hall could develop into one day. As a weird note, this will be the second game in a row where Alabama will go up against a former South Florida Bull that played against the Tide back on December 7th, 2013. Anthony Collins, the guard who missed both free throws at the end of the game for A&M, also played for the Bulls in that game.
- G 6'6 DeVon Walker (2.1 PPG, 1.7 RPG)
- G 6'5 Brandone Francis (2.3 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.5 APG)
- F 6'8 Devin Robinson (9.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 0.5 BPG)
- F 6'8 Justin Leon (4.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG)
- F 6'9 Kevarrius Hayes (2.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.6 BPG)
After Alabama's massive win over #15 Texas A&M on Wednesday, the Tide shot up to 39th in the country in RPI. With a fourth win over a likely NCAA Tournament team, Alabama has a pretty strong resume, and bracketologists from all over are starting to take notice. Bracket Matrix, a site that combines every legitimate bracket prognostication out there, has the Tide as the 7th team out of the NCAA Tournament. Many of the pundits still seem weary to put Alabama in simply because they don't honestly believe the Tide is good enough.
Resume-wise, it's going to be tough to argue that this team shouldn't be included in the big dance if they keep winning, especially with the 14th-ranked SOS and a 4-5 record against the RPI top 50. RBR's officially unofficial seed lining has the Crimson Tide as one of the first four out, and a #1 seed in the NIT. Back-to-back road games against Florida and LSU will provide Alabama with two good opportunites to push themselves into the projected field, but the Tide will likely be underdogs in both games for a reason.
- Limit Allen and Finney-Smith. Florida's offense hasn't been setting the world on fire this season, but they do pose a unique challenge. Combining Finney-Smith's versatility with Hill's slashing guard play and Allen's mid-range game allows the Gators to attack defenses in a number of different ways. The key for Alabama's defense will be limiting Finney-Smith and Allen in particular. These are the two guys that really make opponents pay. Look for Avery Johnson to utilize Retin Obasohan, Riley Norris, and Shannon Hale in a number of different roles on defense, because those three guys give 'Bama the best opportunity to limit Finney-Smith and Allen.
- Keep up on the Glass. The Gators are one of the best rebounding teams in the NCAA, despite not having a bunch of individual standouts. The reason why is because the team as a whole does a great job of grabbing the boards. Robinson, Finney-Smith, and Egbunu are all over the 13.0% mark in RB%, and Hayes and Leon both do a great job off of the bench as well. Florida's offensive rebounding has been particularly excellent. There is a reason why Florida is right in the middle of the pack in possessions per game nationally despite being one of the most deliberate, prodding offenses in the country. Alabama will have to replicate their masterful performance on the boards from Wednesday night, because possessions will be at a premium with two of the most efficient defenses in college basketball going at it.
- FREE THROWS. This will continue to be a major key in almost all of Alabama's games moving forward, because the Tide simply can't afford to leave points off of the board. The SEC as a whole has been really bad from the free throw line this year, and Florida is no exception (64.7%, 321st in the country). Thus, the opportunity is once again available for Alabama to get a huge boost from this area, but they've got to take advantage of it. The free throw shooting has to improve.