One game down, two to go. As Alabama returned from Lexington last week after the rough loss to the Kentucky Wildcats, the overwhelming line of thinking was that the team needed to win their last three games (and avoid a bad loss in Nashville) in order to make the NCAA Tournament. After a scary start to the second half of the game against Auburn on Saturday, the Tide settled down and made the necessary plays to come from behind and give his first ever win over the Tigers. Next up, the rapidly improving Arkansas Razorbacks (15-14, 8-8 SEC) come to Tuscaloosa for Senior Night, as the Tide host their final regular season home game of the season.
After a break-through season that saw the Razorbacks land a 5-seed and advance to the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament last year, the Hogs lost a number of star players. Rashad Madden, Michael Qualls, and 2015 SEC Player of the Year Bobby Portis all either graduated or declared early for the NBA Draft. Throw in a couple of off-the-court issues, and it looked like it was going to be a rough year for club. The Razorbacks got off to a slow start, no doubt, but they've made major strides over the course of the year. Arkansas is currently riding a three-game winning streak that has thrusted them right into the middle of the SEC pecking order. This will be a tough challenge for the TIde, and they will need to perform better than they have been lately in order to keep the Hogs at bay.
- PG 6'1 Jabril Durham (6.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG)
- OG 6'3 Dusty Hannahs (16.2 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.7 SPG)
- 3G 6'3 Anthlon Bell (15.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.7 SPG)
- PF 6'7 Keaton Miles (2.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.8 BPG)
- C 6'10 Moses Kingsley (16.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, 2.4 BPG)
Joining Durham in the back-court are two very similar off-guards, Hannahs and Bell. Unlike Durham, both of these guys have been shoot-first players. Bell is shooting 43.6% from the floor, 45.2% from downtown, and 84.3% from the free throw line. Hannahs shoots 45.7% overall, with a 44.9% clip from three-point land and an 86.4% mark from the charity stripe. Clearly, there is some really good chemistry going on between these three on the offensive side. Defensively, they aren't the best back-court in the conference by any stretch, but they are very active with their hands, combining for 3.1 SPG.
Referring back to players who have really stepped up this season, Kingsley has been transformative for the Razorbacks. He was used sparingly as a guy who could come in off the bench to grab boards and swat shots last season. This year, however, he has been the main source of offense in the front-court. He isn't an especially skilled offensive player, but he uses his length to clean things up around the rim. His rebounding (17.4% RB%) and defense (97.3 DRtg) are both the best on the team, and he really commands attention around the basket. Miles is a starter, but he actually only plays about 15 MPG. His size and strength are important for the Hogs though, as his 10.4% RB% and 102.4 DRtg are some of the best on the roster. He isn't a threat at all offensively.
- G 6'0 Anton Beard (7.2 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.1 SPG)
- G 6'3 Manuale Watkins (5.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- G 6'4 Jimmy Whitt (6.4 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.7 SPG)
- F 6'9 Trey Thompson (3.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 BPG)
- C 6'10 Willy Kouassi (2.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG)
What to Watch For
- Senior Night. With it being the final home game of the regular season, the long-honored tradition of celebrating the seniors on the roster will be held Wednesday night at Coleman Coliseum. Arthur Edwards, the grad transfer from New Mexico, will be honored (and deservedly so, he's been a major key to the Tide's success) despite only having been on campus for a year. However, the main recognition will go to the lone fifth-year senior and team captain, Retin Obasohan. Retin has been a transcendental player for the Crimson Tide this season, and it's fair to say that Alabama would be nowhere near the NCAA Tournament without his presence on the team this year. Alabama has gotten big nights from guys like Levi Randolph, Rodney Cooper, and Trevor Releford on recent Senior Days in year's past; here's hoping to one more big outing from a fan favorite.
Three Keys to Victory
- Control the Tempo. Since Mike Anderson arrived in Fayetteville prior to the 2011-12 season, Alabama and Arkansas have both had completely opposite identities. The Razorbacks have run an up-tempo, attacking style of play that requires aggressive defense and running the floor in transition. Alabama, meanwhile, has been content with putting the clamps down on teams and bleeding the shot clock on most possessions. The Hogs are once again near the top of the country in possessions per game, and the Tide are once again near the bottom. Take a look at the recent meetings in this series: when Alabama keeps the pace down and the score low, they tend to win. Similarly, Alabama has been much more successful this season when they've been able to control the game's tempo and bring it down to a slow, grinding battle.
- Take Care of the Basketball. As an extension to the last key, beating Arkansas requires that you take care of the basketball. Again, Mike Anderson defenses thrive off of turnovers. They are extremely aggressive in trying to create steals or block shots. That allows them to then take off down the court, which leads to them utilizing their raw athleticism to finish on the other end for easy baskets. The Tide have been careless at times this season offensively. They cannot afford to be careless against the Razorbacks if they want to keep their tournament hopes alive. Patience on offense is Anderson's kryptonite.
- Defend the Guards. When Arkansas does get into their half-court offense, they like to make plays with their guards. However, they are very much still in attack mode, looking to drive and then either finish at the rim or dump off to another Razorback on most possessions. For this reason, Alabama's defensive guard play will be pivotal. Outside of Kingsley, who isn't exactly the most skilled big man to ever play the game himself, Arkansas doesn't have much of a threat in the post. That is a huge reason why the Hogs are 285th in the country in two-point percentage at 46.5%. But they are also 9th in the country from behind the arc (40.7%), which further emphasizes the Tide's need to defend the perimeter guard play. Hannahs, Bell, and Whitt can shoot.