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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Florida

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Alabama opens up 2020 SEC play with a tough road trip against a talented Gators squad

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Butler Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Happy New Year everyone! As the football team made clear the other day, the #2020RevengeTour is officially underway for Alabama athletics, and the Crimson Tide basketball team (7-5, 0-0 SEC, KenPom: 64, NET: 65) is up next on the docket, as they head to Gainesville, Florida for a big-time opportunity against the Florida Gators (8-4, 0-0 SEC, KenPom: 25, NET: 54). It’s opening Saturday in conference play, and the Tide were set-up with a tough match-up to get things started.

Florida has been a bit disappointing thus far this season, as the preseason top-10 ranked Gators were considered the favorites in the league this year, but are currently just 2-4 against Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 teams (the same record as the Tide, coincidentally). Florida is loaded with talent, but their offensive schemes leave a lot to be desired, as head coach Mike White (who I affectionately call Anthony Grant with better players) has never really produced consistent results on that end of the floor. The Gators averaged only 58.5 PPG in their four non-conference losses to Florida State, UConn, Utah State, and Butler.

Still, this team is as talented and experienced as any in the conference. They should be the team to beat in the SEC. Needless to say, Alabama is gong to have to continue the hot play of recent weeks if they want to go into O’Dome and come away with a massive conference-opening victory.

The Roster

Starting Five

POINT 6’5 Andrew Nembhard (9.4 PPG, 5.9 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG)

GUARD 6’3 Noah Locke (9.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 0.8 SPG)

GUARD 6’5 Scottie Lewis (8.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.5 BPG)

WING 6’6 Keyontae Johnson (13.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.0 SPG)

POST 6’10 Kerry Blackshear Jr. (14.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.8 APG. 0.8 SPG)

The Gators have a trio of sophomores (Nembhard, Locke, Johnson) who were Freshman All-SEC players a year ago, a five-star one-and-done type of player in Lewis, and the biggest prize on the transfer market this past off-season and Preseason SEC Player of the Year in Blackshear. The talent is undoubtedly there. The production, on the other hand, hasn’t been comparable, relatively speaking.

Nembhard is the unquestioned point guard of the offense. Sporting a strong 32.8% AST%, he’s really THE distributor on the team. Take a look at the rest of the team’s assist numbers: not great. Blackshear, the big man, is the only other player on the team above 10% in AST%. Nembhard (38.1%/33.3%/79.2%), Locke (36.4%/37.0%/87.5%), and Lewis (40.5%/23.8%/68.6%) have all struggled to consistently put the ball in the basket, as the Gators rely heavily on isolating from the perimeter.

Most of their production comes from the front-court, as Johnson (52.5%/37.0%/73.5%) and Blackshear (47.0%/31.3%/83.5%) are the rocks of this team. Blackshear leads the team in both Offensive Rating (127.4) and Defensive Rating (89.6), and will easily be the most critical player on the court on Saturday.

The Bench

GUARD 5’11 Ques Glover (5.4 PPG, 1.2 RPG)

GUARD 6’4 Tre Mann (6.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.9 SPG)

POST 6’9 Dontay Bassett (1.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.9 BPG)

POST 6’10 Omar Payne (4.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.8 BPG)

The Gator’s bench is much of the same story, really. Glover, Mann, and Payne were all blue-chip recruits who were part of what was supposed to be a loaded recruiting class. Glover (46.6%/22.7%/46.2%) and Mann (36.5%/21.4%/61.1%) have both really struggled to shoot the ball, and Bassett and Payne only combine to play about 20 MPG in relief of Johnson and Blackshear, though both have been solid in that role.

What to Watch For

  • John Petty. For years, Alabama fans have had the pleasure of watching Petty get hot every so often. It had almost become a game within the game itself: will Petty hit his first two shots? If he did, watch out. If not, well, maybe next game. One of the main reasons behind hiring Nate Oats was that he’s known as a bit of a shooting guru. Well, I think it may be safe to say that he’s worked wonders with the talented junior guard. Petty is shooting 49.6%/51.2%/74.4% and has refined his game significantly. He’s hustling hard on defense, leading the Tide in rebounding, and finally shooting the ball well consistently. Will that continue on into conference play, especially in road games? If it does, Alabama is a dangerous team.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Three-Pointers. Speaking of Petty, Alabama has been en fuego from downtown recently. Which is important, because Oats like to shoot lots of threes. As mentioned earlier, White’s teams play just like Anthony Grant’s did at Alabama. There’s a lot of isolation, which often result in pull-up jumpers from the perimeter. Florida doesn’t share the ball very well. When they are on, the Gators are really tough to beat. When the shots aren’t falling, Florida is very vulnerable. These guys can beat anybody on a good day, and lose to just about anybody on a bad one. They are talented enough to get hot and get on a real roll in conference play, so Alabama needs to defend the perimeter well, despite the Gators’ rough shooting percentages.
  2. Rebounding. Neither Alabama nor Florida rebounds the basketball particularly well, which is why it could be huge area of opportunity. Unfortunately, Kerry Blackshear is going to have a lot to say about the battle on the glass. Javian Davis and Galin Smith are going to have to come up big in this regard. They’ve got to get a body on Blackshear and keep him off of the glass as much as possible, because the rest of the Gators aren’t exactly rebounding specialists. If there are a lot of threes taken in this game, and I’m expecting that there will be, that could benefit an Alabama team that is much better at rebounding from the guard position, as long shots typically result in long rebounds.
  3. Control the Tempo. Florida prefers to play slow, half-court basketball, and they rely on a lot of freshmen to handle the ball. This is a perfect opportunity for Nate Oats’ hyper-speed style of play to provide the Tide with a large edge if they can control the pace of the game. The Tide did just this in their impressive wins over Richmond and Belmont, and even when they went on the road to Penn State, It was obvious that all three of those slower-paced teams struggled to adapt to it.

2020 is finally here, and Alabama is looking to atone for a rather disappointing 2019 campaign. There would be no better way to start it off then by going on the road and knocking off the preseason pick to win the league. After a big December where the Tide made significant strides both on the court and in the metrics (Alabama moved up 20-30 spots in almost all relevant metrics that the NCAA selection committee references), Nate Oats team has a chance to go dancing in March, as they are playing their best ball of the season.

It won’t be easy to win on Saturday though. Florida was the preseason pick to win the SEC for a reason. Winning in Gainesville never comes easy, and the Gators have the ability to turn it on and really get it cooking in a hurry. This would be a massive win for Alabama and Nate Oats’ first signature victory.

The game will tip-off at 5:00 PM CST and will be televised by ESPN2.