The Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs will be meeting up in the state of Georgia for a big time test this week that will go a long way in defining both programs moving forward. Oh, and the football teams will be playing each other in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night as well. That Alabama and Georgia ended up playing each other in both football and basketball within the span of three days is quite the coincidence, but it’s the reality nonetheless. And the gravity of the basketball match-up isn’t exactly dwarfed by the football game. As it currently stands, both Alabama and Georgia are bubble teams for the NCAA Tournament, with Alabama slightly ahead of the Bulldogs in most people’s eyes. Not only will this be a great opportunity for Alabama to grab a quality road victory, it will also be arguably their best opportunity to grab one at all. The Tide wasn’t able to land any in non-conference play, and the remaining teams on the road schedule (LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Florida, Auburn, A&M) are either not good enough to be considered a quality road win or good enough to where it will be an uphill battle for the Tide to pull out the victory, with the exception of Mississippi State.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee doesn’t exactly love teams with zero quality road wins. The Crimson Tide need to get one under their belts Saturday if they want to avoid having to make up for lost ground the rest of the season. In fact, a second consecutive loss would put ‘Bama in a pretty bad spot at this juncture, as a 9-6 (1-2 SEC) record would most certainly have this team on the outside looking in, and the schedule is only going to get tougher. This is a massive game for Avery Johnson’s team, especially after losing yet again in Nashville.
- POINT 6’2 William “Turtle” Jackson II (10.8 PPG, 3.9 APG, 2.5 RPG, 0.5 SPG)
- GUARD 6’4 Juwan Parker (7.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.3 APG)
- WING 6’8 Rayshaun Hammonds (7.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.7 SPG)
- POST 6’8 Yante Maten (19.5 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.2 BPG, 0.7 SPG)
- POST 6’8 Derek Ogbeide (7.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 0.8 BPG)
This is, without question, a Mark Fox coached Georgia team. A star player in Maten surrounded by solid role players and some young talent with great potential that all operate well as a team. They’ll have issues scoring the basketball at times, but they will consistently play tough, smart defense. I said before the season started that where Georgia and Ole Miss ended up placing in the conference standings would tell exactly just how improved the SEC is as a whole, because both teams are basically the exact same kind of teams that have flourished during the SEC’s downtrodden 2010s.
Again, Maten is a true star and will go down as one of the best basketball players in Georgia history. He’s a match-up nightmare because he’s such a ‘tweener, able to play out on the wing almost as proficiently as he does in the post. He’s traditionally a post scorer, but his agility and skill with the ball make him tough to defend away from the basket as well. Maten is a legitimate candidate for SEC Player of the Year, as he can shoot (49.1%/36.4%/83.5%), rebound (15.5% REB%), and defend from just about any position on the court.
In the back-court, Turtle Jackson has emerged as a solid replacement for former Bulldog star J.J. Frazier at the point. A 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and strong shooting (43.0%/39.4%/76.7%) have made Jackson a critical player in the Georgia offense. When he is on the court, things usually run pretty smoothly for the ‘Dawgs. Parker has continued to play well in a supportive role at the 2. He’s not always a consistent scorer (40.0%/36.8%/85.0%), but if he gets going, Georgia becomes very difficult to stop.
On the wing, true freshman Hammonds has filled a nice void for a Georgia team that lacked many true wing players prior to his arrival. At 6’8, he provides similar match-up problems as Maten, as he can score from just about anywhere on the court (51.4%/38.1%/66.7%). He’s nothing special in other areas of his game right now, but he’s very likely to become that next star player under Fox’s tutelage. Rounding out the starting five, Ogbeide is the definition of a reliable, physical, veteran post player. He doesn’t have any range, but he’s scoring at a 63.8% clip in the paint. He’s not incredibly tall or long, but he rebounds at a 14.9% rate. He isn’t super quick on his feet, but he leads the starters in DRtg at 93.3.
- GUARD 6’1 Tyree Crump (6.1 PPG, 1.2 APG, 1.1 RPG)
- GUARD 6’4 Jordan Harris (4.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.8 APG)
- GUARD 6’4 TeShaun Hightower (2.6 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.3 APG)
- WING 6’6 E’Torrion Wilridge (1.7 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.4 APG)
- POST 6’9 Mike Edwards (3.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG)
- POST 6’11 Nicolas Claxton (4.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG)
Georgia doesn’t have any particularly special players that come off of the bench, but they’ve got some solid depth. There is a great mix of experience and youth in this group, and nearly all of them find ways to contribute. Crump has struggled a bit this season, but he’s a true shooter (33.3%/31.8%/82.4%) that can get hot and be the difference in a tight game. Harris is solid across the board and very efficient in his scoring (51.6%/36.4%/57.1%), outside of his free throw shooting, at least. Edwards is a big body with plenty of experience that has similar numbers as Ogbeide and operates much like an extension of him. Hightower, Wilridge, and Claxton are all freshmen who have played some nice minutes in the early stages of their careers.
Three Keys to Victory
- Control the Pace. The Vanderbilt game Tuesday night was not a great experience for Alabama, as the Tide once again fell in the house of horrors that is Memorial Gymnasium. But if any good came from that loss, it would have to be the last 5 minutes of the game. Alabama played fast and got up-and-down the court quickly, pressuring the slow-tempo Commodores into a plethora of turnovers and getting the ball into the lane with assertiveness on the offensive end. Alabama has lost and played too many tight games this season because they've allowed slow tempo, ball-control teams to control the pace of the game and turn it into a half-court match-up, instead of the up-tempo pace that would benefit a Tide team with so much length, speed, and athleticism. Alabama needs to assert itself better. This team is too good to be losing to the likes of Vanderbilt and UCF. They can't keep playing into their opponents' hands.
- Pressure the Guards. This is almost an extension to Key #1. Georgia's found a nice replacement at the point for the departed Frazier in Jackson, but none of the other guards have great handles. This Bulldogs team can be stifled by long, athletic guards playing out on them and forcing them into mistakes, which is what Alabama needs to do. The Tide absolutely dominated Vandy with their full-court trap at the tail end of the game on Tuesday night because that's where this team thrives.
- No Open Threes. Vandy went into the game the other night shooting pretty poorly on the season, but they've got capable shooters that are more than comfortable knocking down wide-open looks. 'Bama's defense has been downright awful at defending the perimeter at times this season, particularly when the Tide rolls through their different zone looks. Opponents are killing Alabama by trading threes with twos on the other end this season. Tighten up that defense Tide.
As mentioned, this is a big game for both teams. Alabama's got a rough slate of road games in conference play this year, so this is an important opportunity. Avery Johnson's squad has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, and it has resulted in an underacheiving 9-5 record. There is not a single team on the schedule that Alabama can't beat, but it's time they started playing to their potential with more consistency. The time for feeling things out is gone.
The game will tip-off at 11:00 AM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.