The Alabama Crimson Tide (15-9, 6-5 SEC) return home Saturday afternoon looking to bounce back after laying a massive egg in Starkville this past Tuesday. It was an ugly loss for the Tide, not because the opponent was a slouch or anything, but simply because the quality of basketball Avery Johnson’s club played was simply abysmal. There were way too many miscues in the form of turnovers and offensive rebounds allowed that led to a huge swing in points off of turnovers and second chance points for the NCAA Tournament-bound Bulldogs. It was very disappointing to see the Tide follow-up a week of taking care of business with that kind of sloppy, and downright lazy, basketball.
But it’s on to the next one for the Tide, as they get set to host a desperate Florida Gators (13-11, 5-6 SEC) club, whose only saving grace that is keeping them alive for an NCAA Tournament bid is their top-end SOS. Florida has easily been the most disappointing team in the SEC this season. A regular at the top of the conference and in the NCAA Tournament, Mike White’s club has really, really struggled to score on the offensive end this season. However, their 10th-rated defense (according to KenPom’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency) has kept them alive.
Honestly, this Florida team reminds me a lot of Anthony Grant’s Alabama teams from the first half of the decade. Plenty of talent and super stingy on the defensive end, but incapable of getting much of anything to fall and weak in the front-court. However, as Alabama fans in particular are aware, these types of teams hang around and really make their opponents earn their victories. This won’t be an easy task for Avery Johnson and company.
POINT 6’5 Andrew Nembhard (7.3 PPG, 5.4 APG, 2.3 RPG, 1.3 SPG)
GUARD 6’2 KeVaughn Allen (12.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.5 SPG)
GUARD 6’3 Noah Locke (11.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG)
WING 6’5 Keyontae Johnson (7.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.1 SPG)
POST 6’9 Kevarrius Hayes (6.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 2.0 BPG)
The Gators, as is usually the case, have a great mix of both experienced veterans and young talent. Allen is a super senior that feels like he’s been around since Billy Donovan was taking the Gators to the Elite Eight every year. The truth of the matter is that it only feels that way because of how good of a player he was early on in his career. Allen made First Team All-SEC after his sophomore campaign in 2017 mostly as a high-volume sharp-shooter. However, he fell off in a big way in 2018 after flirting with the NBA the year prior, and, while he’s definitely recovered from that valley, he still hasn’t returned to the form that nearly got him drafted two seasons ago. He’s still shooting the ball just fine (39.9%/34.9%/88.6%), just not compared to his 2017 numbers (43.8%/37.0%/88.3%). He’s stepped up in other ways though, becoming a plus defender (97.2 DRtg) and increasing his AST% to a strong 17.5%.
Those assists number pale in comparison though to the 6’5 true freshman, Nembhard, who’s dishing out assisted baskets at a 33.9% clip. A decent scorer himself (37.8%/33.8%/71.0%), Nembhard’s size makes him a tough match-up for most point guards. Joining them in the back-court is another true freshman, Locke. Locke’s mostly been inserted into the starting line-up because he can fill it up from outside (39.6%/41.4%/73.5%), because the rest of his game leaves a good bit to be desired (102.5 DRtg, 5.0% AST%, 5.7% REB%).
In the front-court, yet another true frosh gets the start on the wing in Johnson. The number one reason for his rise into the starting group is his team-leading 15.7% REB%, which has been vital for the Gators because they have been getting decimated on the boards as a team (330th in the country in defensive rebounding). He’s also a solid scorer, though he’s quite streaky (46.2%/35.5%/70.3%). Hayes is the only other senior in the regular rotation, and he mans the all-important role of being the only true post who can defend the rim (team-best 90.1 DRtg and 11.1% BLK%) and play with his back to the basket on offense (63.3% FG%).
GUARD 6’6 Jalen Hudson (6.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.8 APG)
GUARD 6’5 Deaundrae Ballard (5.7 PPG, 1.9 RPG)
WING 6’8 Keith Stone (6.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.8 SPG)
POST 6’9 Dontay Bassett (2.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 0.8 BPG)
POST 6’9 Mike Okauru (1.4 PPG, 0.8 RPG)
If Allen’s sudden fall-off in 2018 was a surprise, Jalen Hudson’s drop-off in 2019 from last season is downright stunning. Hudson went from averaging 15.5 PPG on 45.5%/40.4%/66.2% to averaging just 6.8 PPG on a straight-up bad 31.3%/21.8%/63.6% line. Mike White has tried everything he can to get Hudson going again, but the senior just hasn’t been able to reclaim his mojo from last season. If Florida is going to end the season strong and potentially make some noise in March, Hudson is going to have to turn things around.
The rest of Florida’s bench mostly reads as big bodies utilized for defensive purposes. Stone is a legitimate stretch-four that can cause issues (39.1%/40.5%/60.6%), rebound (11.9% REB%), and defend (93.8 DRtg). But the other three aren’t exactly the most skilled players in the conference. Ballard and Bassett both have good size and high ceilings, but they simply haven’t proven that they can consistently score the basketball.
Three Keys to Victory
- Clamp Down on the Perimeter. As mentioned in the intro, this team is incredibly reminiscent to Anthony Grant’s Alabama teams. They simply don’t work the ball inside at all offensively, instead electing to settle for jumpers from long range at the end of the shot clock. The Gators are 310th in the country in 2PAs and 296th in 2P% at less than 50.0%. Those categories are also both dead-last in the conference. So, they rely on a lot of poor jumpers. However, they are capable of knocking them down. While none of the Gators are consistent shooters, damn near all of them can shoot. Florida’s path to a victory almost always relies on getting one or two of their guys hot from outside. Alabama needs to play out on the Gators and force them inside to the middle of the court.
- Offensive Rebounds. Florida is one of the best defensive teams in all of college basketball, but they are very susceptible to giving up second chance points in the form of offensive rebounds and put-backs. Hell, a missed shot is one of the best ways to score against this bunch. Alabama needs to move the ball around and get shots up, something the Tide failed miserably to do against Mississippi State the other night, instead turning the ball over time and again. If the Tide can attack the glass with the kind of enthusiasm we are used to seeing at home, they should be able to score enough to grind out a victory.
- Free Throws. This game will likely end up being an ugly one with points being at a premium. So, Alabama needs to take advantage of each and every trip to the charity stripe.
This is a dangerous game for Alabama. Florida’s done just poorly enough that a home loss to them would be detrimental to the Tide’s chances of making the tournament, but they are so good defensively that they can hang with anybody. Again, they’ve got guys who are more than capable of getting hot and knocking down shots. And when they do, this team is tough to beat.
The Crimson Tide need to come out with much more enthusiasm and fire than they did Tuesday night. This will likely be a grinding drag of a game, and Alabama needs to keep their energy up on both ends of the court. Hopefully Avery can really drive this point home.
The game tips-off at 1:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.