Free throws and turnovers. Free throws and turnovers. Free throws and turnovers. Coach Avery Johnson has to be drilling these two crucial aspects of the game into his players’ heads this week, after the Crimson Tide (14-10, 7-5 SEC) threw away (both literally and figuratively) a potential season-defining win against the 15th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday. The Tide played tremendous defense, battled evenly on the boards, and even made some big shots down the stretch when they needed to. But shooting 9/26 from the free throw line and commiting 16 turnovers (for a 0.25 assist-to-turnover ratio) is an abomination and is absolutely unacceptable for a group of division one college basketball players. Cut down on half of those turnovers and hit even 15/26 from the line and everyone is talking about how ‘red-hot’ Alabama is ready to make a surprise run at the NCAA Tournament.
Instead, Alabama heads to Columbia, Missouri looking to get up off the mat and sweep the Missouri Tigers (7-17, 2-10 SEC). The Tigers have been terrible all season, and Kim Anderson is a dead man walking, but they were somehow able to pull off their biggest win of the year this past weekend, coming out of nowhere to blowout Vanderbilt to a tune of 72-52. In fact, Missouri has now won two of their last three games, both of which were at home. Guess where Wednesday night’s game is?
Alabama can’t afford a loss to hapless Missouri if the team wants to accomplish any of the goals that they set out to achieve this year. With LSU on deck after Mizzou, this week is survival week for the Crimson Tide.
The Last Meeting
Three Keys to Victory
Force Jump-Shots, Particularly on the Perimeter. Missouri is the worst three-point shooting team in college basketball. They are literally ranked 351st. The Tigers are shooting a ghastly 26.6% from downtown this season, and their two-point jumpers aren’t much better. Missouri has had a lot of issues this year, but without question their biggest issue is that this team just cannot shoot the basketball. As Alabama itself knows, that’s a tough way to win games. The Tide have the 19th-ranked defense in the country according to Kenpom, so this should be another ugly performance for the Tigers. If Alabama can defend the paint, it’s hard to see Missouri winning this game in Tuscaloosa.
Make Some Shots. This seems like a really obvious key, but taking good shots and knocking them down becomes especially important in a game like this. Missouri isn’t terrible defensively, and as bad as they are on offense, they have some guys who could possibly get randomly hot from beyond the arc or something. Alabama can’t afford to lose this game, and because the Tide aren’t offensive juggernauts themselves, the margin for error is always slim. It will be important for Alabama to prevent Missouri from hanging around for too long. The best way to do that is to have someone knock down some shots in pivotal situations.
Turn the Tigers Over. Of course, even if the shots aren’t falling, Alabama can always go to their preferred method of getting good looks: transition baskets off of turnovers. Missouri lacks shooters, there is no question about that. But they don’t pass the ball well either. That generally leads to poor offensive possessions. Poor offensive possessions leads to frustration, which leads to forcing things. Alabama will gladly take advantage of that.
Alabama, of course, won the first meeting between these two, 68-56. While there was never really any doubt that the Tide was going to win, the game was not without its frustrations. For one, the supposed “worst three-point shooting team in the country” shot 50% from beyond the arc and got 21 of their 56 points from the deep-ball. On top of that, Corban Collins attempted to answer those three-balls with some of his own after having a career outing against LSU, and ended up shooting 1/7 from the field and 0/6 from downtown. Also, Braxton Key and Dazon Ingram both turned the ball over four times a piece.
Despite these issues, ‘Bama made some shots themselves (43.4% FG%, 33.3% 3P%), turned Missouri over 18 times, and won the rebounding margin by 10. Similar numbers would likely yield a similar result tonight.
What to Watch For This Time
Missouri has been shooting the ball better lately, there’s no question about that, but surely they won’t knock down 50% of their three-point shots again, right? Just by playing the percentages, one would expect them to regress closer to their 29.4% average this time around, though Alabama’s been stung by three-point shooting outliers before (glares at Auburn). To be safe, how about the Tide apply a little bit more pressure on the perimeter this time?
Missouri’s found more success lately by tightening up their rotation, as they played seven guys for 20.0+ MPG in their wins over Vanderbilt and Arkansas, with only two others even seeing the court (and not for very long). Also, Jordan Barnett has been playing very well for them offensively. He should be priority #1 for the Alabama defense.
Oh, and if the Tide could make more free throws than they miss and not turn the ball over four times as often as they assist their teammates, that would be great.
Alabama is very much still alive for a double-bye in the SEC Tournament, which is now only three weeks away. With the worst two teams in the SEC on the slate for this week, Alabama needs to take care of business and start to separate themselves from the rest of the pack in the middle of the SEC, as Ole Miss, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia are sure to make pushes of their own for that fourth and final double-bye. A loss to either of the next two opponents would be disasterous.
The game will tip-off at 7:30 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.