First of all, welcome to all Tide fans just now joining the rest of us for the 2017 Alabama basketball season. After a disappointingly average non-conference stretch, the beginning of the conference schedule has started out nicely.
With the come-from-behind win over the Vanderbilt Commodores now in the books, the Crimson Tide (9-5, 2-0 SEC) will host their toughest competitor in Tuscaloosa yet: the 23rd-ranked Florida Gators (12-3, 3-0 SEC). Alabama will face a steep test against this veteran group as they look to remain undefeated in conference play.
Led by 2nd year coach Mike White, Florida is currently ranked in the top-25 in both Adjusted Offense and Adjusted Defense in Kenpom’s latest rankings, which makes them one of the most balanced teams in all of college basketball. For comparisons sake, Alabama’s stingy defense currently ranks 20th, but the Tide’s Adjusted Offense sits at 194th. So Florida plays defense as well as Alabama, except they can score. It will take Alabama’s best effort to win this game.
- PG 6’1 Kasey Hill (9.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.7 SPG)
- SG 6’2 KeVaughn Allen (14.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.5 SPG)
- WF 6’8 Justin Leon (7.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.3 APG)
- WF 6’8 Devin Robinson (12.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 0.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG)
- PF 6’9 Kevarrius Hayes (5.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.3 BPG)
The Gators’ offense is run almost exclusively through point guard Kasey Hill, thus his nearly five assists per game. Hill initiates the offense and gets things moving, using his athleticism and quickness to exploit the defense and create space for his shooters (which he has quite a few) and get the ball to the rim himself (42.5% FG%). Allen is the main recepient of Hill’s exploits, as he is one of the best shooters in the SEC (46.5% FG%, 42.7% 3P%, 84.8% FT%). While Hill is the one running the offense, Allen is the main one knocking down the shots.
In the frontcourt, Florida has gone with length and athleticism across the board. With Hill doing most of the distributing, neither Robinson nor Leon have to spend much time moving the ball around, so they can instead focus on attacking the backet from the wings. Both are scoring at an impressive rate (Leon: 49.3%, Robinson: 53.0%), but Leon adds the ability to stretch the floor to his arsenal (45.5% 3P%). Robinson is by far the better defender (95.3 DRtg compared to Leon’s 100.8), so he spends more time around the basket, where he collects 12.2% of rebounds available while on the floor. Hayes has recently taken over the starting spot at the five, as the sophomore has proven that his 94.1 DRtg and 14.3% RB% are too valuable to leave on the bench at the start of the game.
- G 6’0 Chris Chiozza (5.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.5 SPG)
- G 6’6 Canyon Barry (11.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG)
- F 6’8 Keith Stone (3.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG)
- C 6’11 John Egbunu (8.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.8 BPG)
Florida has probably the best bench that Alabama has seen thus far this season, as they get quality production from all four contributors. Chiozza plays about twenty minutes per game and takes over at the point when Hill needs a rest. His nearly 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio is actually better than Hill’s, but he lacks the explosiveness and ability to finish at the rim. Barry is an interesting player because he’s been a high-volume shooter for the Gators (2nd only to Allen in terms of both his 9.0 FGA per game and his 3.7 3PA per game), but he’s only shooting 41.5% from the field and 29.1% from the three-point line, not exactly the best numbers on the team. But he can heat up and score at any minute, and he certainly isn’t afraid to let it fly.
Keith Stone (yes, that is his real name) is the lone freshman who sees any significant time in the rotation, and he provides some good size and relief for Florida’s forwards. Egbunu is really a starter, but he’s been coming off of the bench lately. He’s the best defender (93.9 DRtg) and rebounder (17.5% RB%) on the team, and he is one of the few post players on ‘Bama’s schedule big enough to match Donta Hall and Jimmie Taylor from a size aspect.
Three Keys to Victory
- Frustrate Kasey Hill. As mentioned above, this Florida team goes as Hill (and to a lesser extent, Chiozza) goes. He’s the main ball-handler and by far the team-leader in assists. Allen and Leon are great scorers and Robinson and Egbunu can finish well around the rim, but they will only create so many shot opportunities by themselves. Barry is a shot-creator, but he isn’t always the most efficient one. Alabama needs to get into the senior point guard’s head if they want to clamp down on this Gator offense. Additionally, Hill has been known to force things when he is frustrated, so ‘Bama could end up on the receiving end of some turnovers if they can play it right.
- Contest the Shooters. If Hill is still able to do his thing, Alabama will need to even up the difference in offensive ability in another way. The Tide did an outstanding job against Vanderbilt the other night of contesting their jumpers and the end result was beautiful, as Alabama held one of the most profecient offensive teams in the SEC to a mere 56 points. Florida gets a lot of their production from Allen, Leon, and Barry knocking down shots; if Avery Johnson’s group can defend the way they did against Vandy again Tuesday night, they have a good shot of coming away with a big win.
- Offensive Rebounds. In a game that should be a grinding, physical defensive battle, offensive rebounds are going to be critical. Alabama doesn’t score much against lesser defenses, so points will certainly be at a premium against the Gators. The Tide dominated Vanderbilt in this area this past weekend and it clearly made a huge difference in a 3-point win.
Alabama has an opportunity to totally change the prospects of this season around tonight against the Gators. If Alabama were to pull off the upset, the Tide would be sitting pretty well at 10-5 (3-0 SEC) with a number of winnable games coming up on the schedule.
But it won’t be easy. Alabama will need to continue playing fantastic defense and hit some shots they haven’t been hitting if they want to win this game. Florida’s been the 2nd best team in the SEC all season for a reason, and they are looking to make a run at the conference title. With that being said, Alabama wasn’t supposed to win in Gainesville last season either.
The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.