After a week of listless performances in critical games against long-time conference foes, the Crimson Tide (15-10, 6-6 SEC) are right back square on the bubble, a place they had moved off of for a little bit.
What else is new? Avery Johnson’s team has once again started to reel in February, during the most important stretch of the regular season. Each year of Johnson’s tenure, Alabama has had at least some shot of making the NCAA Tournament at the beginning of the month, only to completely tank in their remaining few games. What made this past week’s performances so jarring was just how pathetic the energy level from the team was. After escaping Nashville with a rare road victory against Vanderbilt, the team appeared to be getting into a groove finally. What happened?
This inconsistent level of enthusiasm and performance is just about the only thing consistent with this program right now. Avery said after the game that he felt the energy was low in the film session before the game. Well, maybe do something about it? You are the coach. Alabama basketball appears to be reaching yet another crossroads, a trend that has become just about an annual event. With six games left to play, the Tide will have to prove that they deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament.
Their first chance to do so will be in a game that gives absolutely no excuse for low energy levels, as Alabama heads to College Station looking to avenge an ugly loss to the cellar-dwelling Texas A&M Aggies (10-14, 3-9 SEC).
From Last Time
Make A&M Earn All of Their Points. Texas A&M is a poor shooting team. They are 329th in the country in 3P% (29.5%) and, outside of Mitchell and Walker, not much better from the free throw line. I know it seems like every time Alabama plays a team like this and I mention it in this section, the opponent ends up having a huge night from the perimeter (LSU, for example), but you have to expect that to regress to the mean at some point, right? The point is, A&M makes it hard enough on themselves to score, so Alabama needs to tighten up defensively and prevent the Aggies from getting any easy buckets. If Alabama can keep A&M’s guards (and Flagg) out of the lanes, it could be a long night for the visiting team.
Clean Up on the Boards. What used to be one of the country’s finest front-courts has turned into one of the SEC’s worst rebounding teams. Alabama has still only lost the rebounding battle once this season, and they shouldn’t come close to changing that fact this Saturday. There are a number of paths to victory for the Tide this weekend, but even if Alabama is having a bad shooting night (possible) and turning the ball over too much (probable), as long as they make A&M work for anything offensively and clean up the glass the way they should, this should be a workman-like performance for the Tide.
Get Alex Reese Involved. The second year stretch-four has been really solid for Alabama this season, and he needs to see more playing time. He’s not really a great match-up defensively or on the glass against teams like Kentucky and LSU who can play multiple bigs at the same time, but against a team like Texas A&M? He needs to play a lot of minutes. His range from the field and ability to knock down free throws makes him a valuable asset, especially in a game where the Tide just need to take care of business.
In their first meeting in Tuscaloosa, Alabama gave up nearly 50 points in the second half alone as they blew an 11-point halftime lead after a buzzer-beating prayer from T.J. Starks delivered the dagger. The Tide actually did a great job of forcing A&M to take jumpers in the first half, and the Aggies ended the game a putrid 3/19 from three-point land (which included Starks’ runner), but the second half was a completely different story. Back-up post, Josh Neebo, checked into the game for A&M and proceeded to bully the Tide on the offensive end for the entirety of the second stanza, as he finished with a career high 21 points on 10/12 shooting in just 28 minutes.
Donta Hall and Galin Smith were getting demolished by Neebo, and when the Tide finally adjusted and started to give them help in the post, A&M’s guards started to attack the rim as well. It was a complete meltdown on the defensive end.
Alex Reese barely played, which hasn’t changed much since. Instead, Avery continues to let Herbert Jones contribute nothing on the offensive end for the majority of the game. Why Avery ever thinks it’s ok to roll out a group consisting of his son, Dazon Ingram, Jones, Riley Norris, and Smith is beyond me, but hey, what do I know?
What to Watch For this Time
Honestly? More of the same. Maybe this most recent inexcusable outing is the one that finally wakes the team up. But considering the previous meeting against A&M, which was also pathetic, didn’t seem to change much, Tide fans shouldn’t get their hopes up.
It’s depressing that it has come to this, but there simply isn’t much else to be said. Alabama finds themselves, once again, having to ask a lot of tough questions about the current make-up of the team and the state of the program as a whole. It’s mid-February again, and again, the Crimson Tide are on the bubble. Yet again, there is a path back to the NCAA Tournament for Alabama with only a few weeks to go. Avery’s one-for-three so far, can he at least make it two-for-four? The next few weeks will tell.
The game tips-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.