This past Saturday sure was a roller coaster of emotions for Nate Oats and his Crimson Tide (7-6, 0-1 SEC, Kenpom: 55, NET: 60), as Alabama showed both long stretches of brilliance and, unfortunately, familiar streaks of head-scratching frustrations. The end result was a mixed bag of both good and bad news. On one hand, Alabama took the preseason pick to win the SEC to Double OT at their home venue. The Tide took care of the basketball better than they have all year, limiting their turnovers to just 12 despite the extra periods of play. Alabama got double-figures from six different players, mostly from hot-shooting in the first half that would have them competitive with anybody in the country. And they did a solid job on the boards, despite the lack of post players and foul trouble,
On the other hand though, it ended in yet another blown opportunity for a program that has had far too many of them in recent years. Free throw shooting, which has been much better this season, killed Alabama in the second half, and while the turnovers were much better this game, the ultimate dagger that allowed Florida to tie it up at the end of regulation was a horribly ran in-bounds play. Alabama panicked a bit in the second half, reverting to a lot of the old habits that had been developed under Avery Johnson, such as poor shot selection and playing not to lose.
It’s an experience that will hopefully end up being a good thing for the team overall. There are still 18 games left to play this season, and Alabama’s metrics actually went up significantly as a result of the game, so there is still plenty to play for this year. Next up is the home conference opener, as the Mississippi State Bulldogs (9-4, 0-1 SEC, Kenpom: 52, NET: 73) come to town. Fresh off of their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2009, Ben Howland’s club is looking to make a return to the Big Dance come March.
With Kentucky and Auburn due up next, this is a massive game for Alabama. The Tide needs to win this one at home.
POINT 6’2 Nick Weatherspoon (12.0 PPG, 2.0 APG, 2.0 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.3 BPG)
GUARD 6’4 Tyson Carter (14.5 PPG, 4.0 APG, 2.7 RPG, 1.5 SPG)
WING 6’6 Robert Woodard (11.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.6 SPG)
POST 6’10 Reggie Perry (15.8 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.2 BPG)
POST 6’11 Adbul Ado (5.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.9 BPG)
If these names sound familiar, it’s because Mississippi State has one of the most experienced rosters in college basketball. Woodard and Perry are both sophomores, and the rest are upperclassmen. That’s extremely rare in this day and age.
Nick Weatherspoon, brother of former All-SEC star Quinndary Weatherspoon. is the engine that makes things run for State. Well, at least since he’s been back from his suspension that cost him the first 10 games of the season. A high-volume scorer (38.7%/0.0%/92.3% on 10,3 FGAs per game), Weatherspoon has yet to hit a three-pointer in his first three games back, but he is capable of doing so, and he’s the guy who will have the ball in his hand the most Wednesday night. Carter, a rare senior starter, had to step up and be the guy while Weatherspoon was suspended, which he did admirably (36.1%/30.6%/83.1%, 12.8% AST%). However, he’s much more efficient playing off of the ball, so Weatherspoon’s return has been good for multiple reasons in the State back-court.
In the front-court, the Bulldogs have a ton of size. Woodard is enjoying a breakout sophomore season after being more of a role player last year. He’s actually been the best shooter on the team (49.1%/53.1%/62.2%), and his size makes him a tough match-up for teams that play smaller. Ado is a tall, imposing figure in the post, making him a tough out on the defensive end (97.7 DRtg, 8.1% BLK%), but he’s limited in more skilled areas of the game.
But, the guy who really makes Mississippi State who they are is Reggie Perry. The second-year big-man is a future NBA 1st-rounder. Perry can score (50.0%/26.5%/67.2%), pass (19.5% AST%), rebound (19.9% REB%), and defend (87.8 DRtg, 4.8% BLK%). He’s a beast, and someone who Alabama needs to pay a lot of attention to on both ends of the court.
GUARD 6’3 Iverson Molinar (8.7 PPG, 2.4 APG, 1.2 RPG)
GUARD 6’5 D.J. Stewart (8.6 PPG, 1.8 APG, 1.7 RPG, 0.9 SPG)
POST 6’8 KeyShawn Feazell (2.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG)
State may have one of the most experienced teams in the country, but they also have one of the thinnest. Eight guys play the overwhelming majority of the minutes. Molinar is a true freshman who got the nod as the fifth starter while Weatherspoon was out, and performed pretty well (50.0%/33.3%/75.0%, 21.8% AST%). Stewart is the true sixth man, playing starting-level minutes and shooting the ball well off of the bench (52.4%/40.7%/60.0%). Feazell is mostly used for depth and size in the post.
Three Keys to Victory
- Hanging Tough on the Boards. Both teams Alabama plays this week will have a massive size advantage in the post. It is imperative that the Tide hit the glass hard this week. I certainly don’t expect Alabama to win the rebounding battle, but they’ve got to be able to hold their own if they want to win this game. Perry and Woodard are both excellent rebounders, and Ado’s 6’11 frame is a significant boost to his ability as well.
- Limit Perry’s Touches. Javian Davis, Galin Smith, and Herbert Jones are going to be hugely important in this game. Alabama cannot afford for them to have foul trouble Wednesday night. That was one of the main reasons the Tide blew the game against Florida this weekend, as Kerry Blackshear ate Alabama alive on the inside because of it (well, that, and his amazing ability to not draw a fifth foul himself). ‘Bama can’t afford to let Perry get the ball in the low paint. Expect the Tide’s big men to be working to deny entry passes, and quick double teams when they fail to do so.
- The Three-Point Line. Alabama’s pleasantly surprising best friend. The 46th best three-point shooting team in college basketball at 37.0%, the Crimson Tide’s best stretches this season have come when they get good looks in rhythm offensively, mostly by way of the Tide’s fast pace. State shoots 34.5% from beyond the arc themselves, so the perimeter is going to play a big part in this game.
Sandwiched in between contests with Florida, Kentucky, and Auburn, arguably the three best teams in the conference, this game is hugely important for the Crimson Tide. Alabama needs to win tonight, but it won’t be easy playing against a team with the size and experience of the Bulldogs.
The Tide are favored by 4 points tonight, which means that Vegas sees these two teams as equals, despite their obvious differences in roster make-up. It should be another tough match-up. Hopefully, Alabama is able to shake-off the second-half let-down from this past weekend and come out hot like they did in the first-half against Florida.
The game will tip-off at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.