For the first time since the very first game of the series, the Alabama Crimson Tide (13-7, 5-3 SEC) will be participating in the Big 12-SEC Challenge Saturday afternoon as the 12th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners (15-4, 5-3 Big 12) come to Tuscaloosa. Accompanying Lon Kruger’s Sooners will be the odds-on favorite to win the Naismith College Player of the Year award, Trae Young. Young has been nothing short of sensational all season, leading the Sooners to as high as a #4 ranking before they went into a bit of a slump recently. However, Oklahoma has since bounced back from getting swept last week by defeating #5 Kansas on their home-court Tuesday night. This team is as good as any Alabama has faced in Tuscaloosa this season, but the Tide have been quite tough to beat in Coleman Coliseum. Can Alabama keep things rolling at home and bounce-back from a tough loss earlier this week?
- POINT 6’2 Trae Young (30.3 PPG, 9.6 APG, 4.2 RPG, 2.0 SPG)
- GUARD 6’4 Christian James (12.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.3 SPG)
- WING 6’6 Rashard Odomes (6.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.3 APG)
- POST 6’9 Brady Manek (11.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.7 BPG)
- POST 6’9 Khadeem Lattin (7.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 0.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 2.2 BPG)
Yes, you read Young’s stat-line correctly. 30 points and 10 assists per game. He leads the country in both categories, unsurprisingly. Young averages 19.9 FGA per game, but it’s justified when he’s shooting 45.1%/40.0%/83.6%. His range is seemingly endless, as he’s known to pull up from Steph Curry range at least once a game. Curry is honestly an apt comparison for Young. He’s incredible. His AST% is an insane 54.0%! In other words, over half of his teammates’ made field goals come off of his passes. His USG% (Usage Percentage; an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he is on the floor) is 39.0%. His Win Shares (an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player) is 4.5. Rounded up, that means Young is the difference in Oklahoma being 15-4 and 10-9. That’s outrageous.
Oh, and he has teammates too. James and Odomes have been very nice complementary shooters in the back-court (James: 48.2%/40.0%/75.0%; Odomes: 52.4%/42.9%/58.8%), and if either of them gets hot it becomes incredibly difficult to contain the Sooner offense. Manek, the other true freshman that’s overshadowed by Young, can also shoot the ball (50.9%/43.4%/52.9%), making him a match-up nightmare on pick-and-pops with Young. Lattin is the lone remaining significant contributor from Oklahoma’s Final Four team from two years ago. He is a perfect fit on a team with a number of shooters who can stretch the floor. There’s nothing spectacular about his offensive game, but he takes advantage of that extra space, scoring at a 60.2% clip from the floor. His 15.2% REB% and 9.3% BLK% are pivotal to OU’s success.
- GUARD 6’2 Jordan Shepherd (3.3 PPG, 1.7 APG, 0.9 RPG)
- GUARD 6’5 Kameron McGusty (8.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 0.4 APG)
- WING 6’7 Kristian Doolittle (2.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.8 APG)
- POST 6’10 Matt Freeman (3.4 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 0.6 APG)
- POST 6’10 Jamuni McNeace (5.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG)
Oklahoma goes a full rotation deep into their bench, with everyone listed above getting at least 11.7 MPG. Shepherd is the back-up point guard, so it’s no surprise he’s on the bottom end of that list. When he is on the court he is effective though (41.5%/40.0%/78.6%; 17.8% AST%), and he should be a very good point guard for Oklahoma for a few years after Young goes pro. McGusty is the scoring sixth man (42.9%/33.9%/73.3%), capable of knocking down threes or taking the ball to the basket. Doolittle has struggled a bit on the offensive end, shooting only 30.0% from the floor. But he is a 71.4% free throw shooter and a solid role player. Freeman is a typical big-bodied backup big, and McNeace is basically a less experienced version of Lattin (64.9% FG%, 17.2% REB%, 10.0% BLK%). The two of them give Oklahoma some serious depth in the post for when they want/need to go big.
Three Keys to Victory
- Collin Sexton v. Trae Young. It’s the obvious story-line that every sportscaster in America will be leading this game with. But it’s that way for a reason. Young and Sexton are considered the #1 and #2 point guards in the 2018 NBA Draft, respectively. And you know that drives Sexton nuts. Expect him to come out with a massive chip on his shoulder, especially after the Ole Miss student section chanted “OV-ER-RATED” at him at the end of the game Tuesday night. If Young is the college version of Curry, Sexton is college basketball’s Russell Westbrook. If he’s not limited by his abdominal injury, expect Sexton to come out firing in this game. He’ll be chomping at the bit to get a piece of Young.
- Defend the Arc. Continuing with the NBA analogies, Oklahoma likes to run their offense like the Golden State Warriors. They play at a breakneck pace, space the floor, and bomb threes. If Alabama can’t extend the defense out on this team it could get really ugly. We’ve seen the Tide’s perimeter defense play like complete garbage on the road (Vandy, Georgia, and most recently, Ole Miss), but we’ve also seen them limit really good shooting teams like Auburn at home. Alabama cannot fall asleep on the defensive end at any point.
- Donta Hall. Sexton is undoubtedly the most talented player on this team, but honestly, Hall may be the most important player on the team. If he is healthy, he needs to be taking on a full workload. Ole Miss didn’t have an answer for him around the rim Tuesday night, yet he only logged 17 minutes of game-time. He had 14 points and 7 rebounds, four of which were on the offensive end. In a game where Alabama will need to stretch out the defense to contain OU’s shooters, they need Hall cleaning things up on the inside.
Saturday’s game provides Alabama with a huge opportunity. An upset win for the home team would completely void out the disappointing road loss in Oxford Tuesday night, and it would give the Tide some serious momentum when they jump back into conference play next week. With 11 games left on the regular season schedule, Alabama probably needs 5 wins to get into the NCAA Tournament, 6 to be safe. Any win from here on out will be a big one, because the schedule doesn’t let up.
The game will tip-off at 1:15 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN.