As of right now, the Alabama Crimson Tide (13-8, 4-4 SEC) are smack-dab on the NCAA Tournament bubble. If the tourney started this week, Avery Johnson’s club would most likely be just barely in the big dance. I mentioned before the Auburn game that a loss on the road that night wouldn’t hurt the Tide’s resume much at all. Well, a loss this week most certainly would, as Alabama gets geared up for the Georgia Bulldogs (10-11, 1-7 SEC) and the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-13, 0-9 SEC), arguably the worst two teams in the conference.
These are the kind of weeks that make you lose sleep at night, because anything short of a pair of wins will be a big step backward for Alabama. There is nothing to be gained in either match-up. The Tide simply has to take care of business and grind it out. Unfortunately, that won’t exactly be a walk in the park. Despite their combined 1-16 conference record, it’s not like these two teams are incapable of playing winning basketball.
Georgia is led by new head coach Tom Crean, who arrived in Athens by way of Bloomington, Indiana. The guy knows basketball, and his players knew going into the season that this was a rebuilding process. With that being said, they are going to give it their all each night, as any win in conference play will be a significant achievement for this young Georgia team.
The Tide are going to get Georgia’s best, which isn’t as bad as their 10-11 record indicates. Alabama has to be ready to answer the call, or they could be looking at a resume-killing home loss in February.
POINT 6’4 William Jackson Jr. (5.8 PPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 RPG)
GUARD 6’5 TeShaun Hightower (7.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.7 APG)
WING 6’8 Rayshaun Hammonds (12.9 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.0 SPG)
POST 6’9 Derek Ogbeide (10.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.0 APG)
POST 6’11 Nicolas Claxton (12.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, 2.8 BPG)
Georgia’s back-court, well, lacks excitement. Jackson Jr. is in his fourth and final season with the Dawgs, and he’s been a steady presence at the point, but he just doesn’t do much that makes him standout in any way (38.5%/34.8%/79.3%; 15.2% AST%; 110.2 DRtg). Hightower has more potential and is a better distributor of the ball (17.7% AST%), but he also turns the ball over twice a game on average, and is also merely decent in scoring (41.6%/30.2%/70.9%) and not very good defensively (106.9 DRtg).
The front-court is much more intriguing. Hammonds is a former blue-chip recruit who has taken on the role of go-to scorer, averaging about ten shots per game (49.5%/37.0%/82.9%). He’s also a strong rebounder (14.4% REB%) and has a great size/skill combo that makes him tough to guard on offense and solid on defense. Claxton, the sophomore big man, is a match-up problem. By far the best defender (94.8 DRtg, 8.7% BLK%, 2.4% STL%) and rebounder (18.0% REB%) on the team, Claxton is also a decent scorer as well, capable of both pounding the ball inside (48.7% FG%) and knocking down jumpers from outside (28.9% 3P%).
Ogbeide has been around forever it feels like, and he is a solid piece in the post for the Bulldogs. He’s not a shooter at all, as he has yet to attempt a three-pointer this season and is shooting a ghastly 59.4% from the free throw line, but he’s a big body in the low block that can rebound (15.0% REB%) and adds size on the defensive interior.
GUARD 6’1 Tyree Crump (10.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.7 APG)
GUARD 6’4 Jordan Harris (5.2 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.1 APG)
GUARD 6’3 Tye Fagan (3.3 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.0 APG)
WING 6’6 E’Torrion Wilredge (3.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.6 APG)
As you can see, as interesting as the starting front-court is for the Bulldogs, they completely lack any depth in the post off of the bench. They do have a pair of experienced guards in Crump and Harris that get a lot of playing time though. Crump is the best shooter on the team (42.7%/41.0%/81.3%), and is really the only guy Crean can consistently rely on to knock down shots with range. Harris is a decent shooter in his own right (45.7%/38.1%/84.0%), and the two of them do a fine job of relieving Jackson and Hightower. Wilredge gets a lot of work subbing in for whichever front-court player needs a rest, but the senior is incredibly limited as a shooter (33.3%/14.3%/79.4%), and typically ends up playing the role of an undersized post player.
Three Keys to Victory
- Stymie Georgia’s Few Scorers. There are only three guys that really show up on the Bulldogs’ offensive game-plan: Hammonds, Claxton, and Crump. If those three aren’t getting much to fall, Crean doesn’t really have anywhere else to go to find offensive production. Herbert Jones needs to really step up in this game on the defensive end, because his length could be the key to containing Hammonds. From there, the Tide just need to deny the ball to Claxton in the low post and prevent Crump from getting open looks from the perimeter. Forcing a bad team to play left-handed on the road almost always leads to positive results.
- Defend the Rim. Georgia’s a bad shooting team in general, as they rank dead last in conference play in both FG% and 3P%. There is really no reason to let the ball get into the paint tonight. Prevent dribble penetration, deny the post, and force the Dawgs to knock down jumpers.
- Free Throws. The Bulldogs are going to try to ugly up this basketball game. They will play tough, hard-nosed defense and force Alabama to earn any points the Tide get. They are well aware of their offensive deficiencies, so they know they have to make up for it on the other end. Expect this to be a physical game where the Dawgs sell out on the boards and attempt to win this game on hustle points and at the free throw line, Frank Martin style. Alabama needs to counter this strategy by knocking down their freebies.
This is a game Alabama can’t afford to lose. With inexplicable home losses to Texas A&M and Georgia State already on the resume, the Tide really don’t need to add another bad home loss to the ledger. Georgia is not a talented basketball team by any stretch, but they are capable of winning a hard-fought battle against a bubble team, just ask Texas.
If Alabama plays like they have in their previous two home games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State, this will be a blowout. Unfortunately, Avery Johnson’s Crimson Tide teams always seem to be riding a roller coaster, so an upset is not out of the question.
This is a critical week for Alabama. They simply can’t lose either of these games, and that makes them both dangerous.
The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised by the SEC Network.