It wasn’t but a month ago that Avery Johnson and the Crimson Tide suffered arguably the worst loss since Johnson arrived in Tuscaloosa, which dropped the Tide to 5-3 overall and had preseason expectations of a return trip to the NCAA Tournament essentially disappear and replaced with questions about where the program was headed. The team bounced back strongly, ripping off four straight wins to wrap up non-conference play, and, following an enormous win over the 13th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday, have clawed their way back to exactly where everyone had hoped they would be: right in the middle of a run towards the Big Dance in March.
It really can’t be overstated: the win over Kentucky was huge. The Tide had lost 10 straight to the conference’s elite hoops program, most of which weren’t remotely close. Considering how badly the Tide needed a quality win of this stature for its resume, the first win over the ‘Cats in six years came at just the right time. Now, not only is Alabama back to where the team expected to be at this point in the season, but they are riding high and looking to compete in the SEC. There are only two other teams in the conference that are playing better ball than Kentucky right now: Tennessee and Auburn. Alabama has proven that, when they are knocking down shots (shout-out to Tevin Mack for his career performance), they can beat anybody in this conference.
However, we all know that when the Tide isn’t playing its best, it doesn’t take much to pick up a loss. Avery Johnson’s next task will be to keep this team rolling and avoid a hangover when the Tide head to Baton Rouge to take on a very talented LSU Tiger (10-3) team. In what has been a familiar refrain all year, this is an NCAA Tournament squad. Second year head coach Will Wade has totally turned over the roster, as it is now littered with guys who can really ball. It will take an effort similar to the one the Tide showed on Saturday to keep the win streak alive.
POINT 5’11 Tremont Waters (12.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 2.5 RPG, 3.2 SPG)
GUARD 6’4 Skylar Mays (13.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.8 SPG)
GUARD 6’4 Ja’vonte Smart (10.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.5 SPG)
POST 6’7 Emmitt Williams (8.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.8 BPG)
POST 6’10 Naz Reid (12.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG)
As mentioned, the Tigers are a really talented bunch. Sophomore point guard Tremont Waters was one of the most impressive freshmen in the country last season, and he’s only continued that brilliance (41.0%/30.8%/76.3%, 30.7% AST%, 5.8% STL%). He’s prone to turn the ball over a good bit, though, and his size limits his defensive presence, despite his penchant for steals. Mays, the Junior, is the veteran of the team. He’s been shooting the lights out so far this season (52.6%/42.6%/88.2%), and has become the perimeter off-ball threat that Wade’s team lacked a year ago.
Joining those two guards this season are a trio of highly-touted freshmen. Smart joins them in the back-court. He’s shown some serious pop at times this year, as he’s posted double-digit scoring eight times already this year. Williams has been effective as an undersized, slashing big. But the jewel of the 2018 class was big man Naz Reid. A projected one-and-done player, Reid has shown big-time ability at times, but his consistency hasn’t always been there, leading to somewhat disappointing overall numbers for the 6’10 stalwart.
GUARD 6’3 Daryl Edwards (4.4 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.2 APG)
WING 6’6 Marlon Taylor (6.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG)
WING 6’7 Darius Days (6.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1.1 SPG)
POST 6’11 Kavell Bigby-Williams (6.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.0 BPG)
Three Keys to Victory
- Avoid the Hangover.
- Take Care of the Basketball.
- Protect the Rim and Force Jumpers.