Another February, another bubble collapse for the Alabama Crimson Tide (14-12, 6-7 SEC, NET: 45, Kenpom: 55). With five games left in the regular season, it sure seems like the Tide is destined to make its seventh NIT appearance in the last ten years. Not exactly the postseason tournament Tide Hoops fans want their program to become accustomed to, but that’s where it is. Alabama basketball has become a chronic choker. Even in the two years this past decade when the Tide made the NCAA Tournament (2012 and 2018), the team barely clung to a spot in the Big Dance after February meltdowns and some March heroics (love you, Collin Sexton).
So, here we are, yet again. Playing out the remainder of the season on the absolute fringes of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Yes, despite the horrendous loss to Texas A&M on Wednesday night, the Crimson Tide are still appearing on a lot of ‘Next Four Out’ lists, mostly because of how weak the bubble has been this season (this is said every year, but seriously, the teams on the bubble this year are allergic to winning).
The best (and only, really) way to look at these last five games is by framing it like this:
Alabama was hoping to be playing ‘win-or-go-home’ basketball at the end of the season. Well, here it is. It came a few weeks earlier than what Nate Oats and the program had hoped, but the Tide is officially on life support now. Just have to take it one game at a time, improve as much as the team and each individual can, and try to string together some wins. Whether that results in an NCAA Tournament berth or not, Alabama will be playing in a postseason tournament of some form, so best take advantage of the opportunity,
First up on the docket is the Ole Miss Rebels (13-13, 4-9 SEC, NET: 85, Kenpom: 85). A surprise NCAA Tournament team a year ago, the encore performance in Kermit Davis’ second season has not gone according to plan. That being said, the Rebs have been playing better basketball lately. They started out conference play by losing their first five games. They’ve since split the past eight, including winning three straight at home. Their senior guard, Breein Tyree, is a surefire 1st Team All-SEC selection, and has even gained some traction as a dark horse SEC Player of the Year candidate.
If Alabama can lose at home to Texas A&M, the Tide could just as easily get run off the court in Oxford. Again, while it is on absolute life support, Alabama does still have some shot at an at-large bid to the tournament. This team has fought hard all season. What will we see from them the rest of the way?
POINT 6’2 Devontae Shuler (11.2 PPG, 3.5 APG, 4.7 RPG, 1.8 SPG)
GUARD 6’2 Breein Tyree (20.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 SPG)
WING 6’7 Blake Hinson (10.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.5 APG)
WING 6’7 KJ Buffen (9.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.0 BPG)
POST 6’10 Khadim Sy (9.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.8 BPG)
The Rebels rely heavily on their starting unit, as evidenced by all five players being at-or-near double-figures in scoring, despite one of them going for about 20 every game. Tyree is the star of the show offensively for Ole Miss, there’s simply no argument to be had (43.2%/37.5%/79.2%, 18.3% AST%, 108.3 ORtg). If they need a basket, he’s the guy. There is absolutely no doubt that Alabama has to slow him down if the Tide wants to win in Oxford Saturday night. Shuler, his long-time partner in the back-court, is a solid player in his own right (40.3%/34.0%/65.0%, 21.4% AST%), and technically runs the offense from the point.
In the front-court, Ole Miss gets the majority of its production from its two sophomore wings, Hinson and Buffen. Hinson is more gifted offensively (40.3%/33.0%/70.4% compared to Buffen’s 50.8%/20.0%/69.0%), but Buffen does a lot of the dirty work for the Rebels (12.3% REB%, 94.4 DRtg), and makes a lot of impact plays on defense (3.7% BLK%, 3.0% STL%). Virginia Tech transfer (there sure are a lot of them in the SEC) Khadim Sy gives the Rebels some much-needed size in the post, which they sorely lacked a season ago. He’s not particularly gifted in any one area, but his size is critical and he has the ability to step out and knock down shots (29.9% 3P%).
GUARD 6’2 Bryce Williams (3.3 PPG, 0.8 APG)
GUARD 6’5 Austin Crowley (2.9 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.4 APG)
WING 6’7 Antavion Collum (1.2 PPG, 1.7 RPG)
POST 6’9 Sammy Hunter (3.0 PPG, 1.3 RPG)
Ole Miss really struggles when their starters come off of the court. Williams is the lone non-freshman who contributes off of the bench, as well as the only one who shoots over 40% from the field. All four of these guys are new in Oxford though, as Williams was a JUCO guy in the 2019 class.
Three Keys to Victory
- Play Clean Basketball. Alabama committed more turnovers (18) in the loss to A&M than they did the entire week before against two of the best teams in the conference (17), despite playing a team that limited possessions with their crawling pace. Turnovers have been the one constant in almost all of Alabama’s losses this season. Turnovers and fouls. Most of them have been just plain dumb, too. If the Tide can clean up its sloppy play, the team might just be able to go on a run to end the season.
- Rebound the Ball. The amount of easy second chance points Alabama gave up on Wednesday was sickening. Especially since the Tide couldn’t get many of their own. Ole Miss is not a good rebounding team; Alabama should be able to win the battle for the boards tonight. If not, Tyree and company will be sure to take full advantage of their edge in possessions.
- Shut Down Tyree. This is obviously easier said than done, especially since the Tide’s top defender, Herb Jones, is better suited in the paint and is still limited by having only one hand available to him. But it’s also the number one reason why teams are able to beat Ole Miss. The Rebels really just don’t have a second option that they can consistently go to. Whoever is guarding Tyree needs to keep the ball from getting to him, chase him off of the three-point line when he does get it, and funnel him to the middle of the floor so that guys like Jones can slide over and pick him up quickly. Tyree keeps his head down when driving the lane, as he’s looking to score the ball himself, so getting in front of him has to be the number one priority.
Again, any dreams of an NCAA Tournament appearance this season have likely been dashed with the ugly Q3 loss the Tide suffered on Wednesday. However, with the current status of the bubble, the Tide is technically still alive for an at-large bid. It would take a small miracle, but I did think originally that 18-13 with a win in Nashville would get it done for Alabama. That means the Tide have to win four of their last five games though, with all but one of them being tougher match-ups than the one the Tide loss earlier this week against A&M.
Still, as desperate and bleak as it looks for Alabama, this is kind of what the team was looking for preseason: a chance to prove they are capable of making something happen come March. That “opportunity” has come a bit earlier than expected, but it is here. Can Alabama make anything of it?
The game tips-off at 7:30 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.