While most of the Crimson Tide faithful are still riding the high of yet another incredible football national championship, the sobering reality of Tide Hoops fans is about to set back in as the South Carolina Gamecocks (10-5, 1-2 SEC) come to Tuscaloosa. There may not be two more disappointed fan bases in the SEC than the ones of these two teams meeting tonight. South Carolina, fresh off of an amazing Final Four run in last season's NCAA Tournament, has struggled quite a bit this season. Honestly, this was to be expected, as the Gamecocks lost pretty much every single guard that played for them a season ago, including SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell. Frank Martin is a fantastic coach, but hardly anybody could overcome the attrition the Carolina back-court faced coming into this season. Combine that with a suddenly strong and super deep SEC, and you've got yourself a team that will likely end up going from the Final Four to the bottom four in the conference, playing on Wednesday of the SEC Tournament.
Of course, Alabama might be joining them on that Wednesday. The Crimson Tide could make the case for the most disappointing team in college basketball this season. It's one thing to be underachieving a bit at 9-6 with a rough 1-2 start to conference play. It's another thing to look as bad as Alabama has the previous two games. The Georgia game on Saturday was pathetic. Collin Sexton carried this team with his typical lottery pick performance and the team still failed to score 50 points and lost by 19. The offense has reverted to standing around and waiting for Sexton to create with the occasional two-man game with Donta Hall. And the defense. My goodness, the defense. Lazy, sloppy, out of position, slow to rotate, unable to box out on rebounds, etc. It's honestly embarrassing.
If Alabama wants to salvage their season it has to start tonight against the Gamecocks. There is no reason this talented Tide team should lose to South Carolina at home.
- POINT 6'1 Hassani Gravett (8.3 PPG, 3.9 APG, 3.8 RPG)
- GUARD 6'4 Frank Booker (10.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG)
- WING 6'5 Justin Minaya (8.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.7 SPG)
- POST 6'9 Chris Silva (14.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.3 BPG)
- POST 6'10 Maik Kotsar (8.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.9 BPG)
Frank Martin has always liked to win by playing a tough, physical, grinding style of basketball that's led by his front-court. Last season was honestly a perfect storm for Martin in that while he had a bevy of talented, veteran guards he could trust, his post players were raw and inexperienced. Once Silva and Kotsar came around late in the season, everything clicked for Martin's bunch. Now both are back as really the only two returning pieces from that March run. Silva has continued to blossom into a legitimate stud in the paint. He's averaging close to a double-double on a 52.2%/44.4%/76.4% shooting split and a 19.4% REB%. Those are some strong numbers. On top of that, his DRtg is 86.9. Silva is the rock of this team.
Kotsar is a unique player in his own right. He's not going to wow anybody, but he embodies the toughness that Martin teaches. He's certainly not a scorer (48.3%/23.1%/40.6%), and he doesn't rebound well either (9.5% REB%), but his defense is stout (91.1 DRtg) and he will scrap for every loose ball. At the point, Gravett, the lone returning guard, isn't much of a scorer either (37.1%/26.3%/66.7%), but his 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and 31.2% AST% have been critical for a team that lost so much in the back-court. Graduate transfer Booker was a big addition because of his shooting ability (43.0%/41.9%/65.7%). He's the one guy on the court Alabama absolutely can't lose track of on the defensive end. Minaya, much like Kotsar and Gravett, isn't one to light up the scoring table (38.9%/37.3%/63.9%), but he plays strong defense (95.0 DRtg) and he can rebound at a decent rate from the wing (9.5% REB%).
- GUARD 6'2 Wesley Myers (6.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.7 APG)
- GUARD 6'2 David Beatty (5.3 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 1.2 APG)
- GUARD 6'2 Kory Holden (3.3 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 1.6 APG)
- POST 6'9 Felipe Haase (6.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG)
South Carolina has a plethora of look-alikes on their bench. Myers, Beatty, and Holden are nearly identical players. In typical Frank Martin fashion, none of them are known for their scoring (Myers: 40.7%/30.4%/57.9%, Beatty: 33.3%/25.7%/60.0%, Holden: 37.8%/18.2%/54.5%), but they are all capable rebounders and solid on the defensive end. Haase is a key component to this team because he's the only big on the bench that sees meaningful minutes. There are a few other guys that have played in a few games but Martin would like to keep the post rotation at three. Haase is a decent scorer (44.2%/34.1%/68.4%), able to stretch the floor a bit from deep. He's also a strong defender (91.1 DRtg) and a good rebounder (14.4% REB%). He gives the Gamecocks some really good minutes whenever Kotsar or Silva need to step off the court.
Three Keys to Victory
- SPEED UP THE TEMPO. Alabama has got to stop letting these slow, grinding, half-court teams control the pace of the game. South Carolina will emphasize bringing this game to a crawling pace more than anyone the Tide has played. Part of the reason why is because they are not good at all at running the floor. Alabama excels in that area. It's really pretty simple: Alabama won't win games until they start to dictate the tempo.
- Force (Contested) Jumpers. On the defensive end there is simply no reason to let South Carolina get the ball into the post to Silva. Deny the post and force the Gamecock guards to make jumpers. However, this does NOT mean that the Tide should let them shoot wide-open jump-shots just because the percentages indicate that they aren't good at making them. These are college basketball players. They will make enough open jumpers to beat you if you let them. Make them work for points. As an added bonus, they aren't good free throw shooters. Make them work for it.
- Box Out. South Carolina more than almost anyone likes to crash the glass and get extra possessions and second chance points off of offensive rebounds. Again, they aren't trying to run up and down the court. The Tide have been pretty bad at getting good positioning on rebounds and it has cost them dearly. The Gamecocks will go all-out on the offensive glass, Alabama has to limit their effectiveness in this area. Defensive rebounds will likely allow Alabama to score quickly on the other end if they can make good outlet passes because South Carolina simply can't run with the likes of Sexton and company.
If Alabama doesn't get things turned around soon, this could go down as arguably the most disappointing season in Alabama basketball history (although some of Mark Gottfried's teams have an argument). South Carolina is nowhere near as good as they were last season, when the Tide swept the Gamecocks in two memorable meetings. If Alabama can't beat South Carolina at home tonight, things could get really, really ugly.
Tip-off is set for 6:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network. Dazon Ingram will be a game-time decision as he's recovering from the flu.