The more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite the Alabama Crimson Tide (12-10, 4-5 SEC, NET: 44, Kenpom: 48) hiring an up-and-coming young coach with an exciting brand of basketball, one that rarely resembles the #Grantsketball era that preceded it, the Tide finds itself in a frustratingly familiar place. For the fifth year in a row, Alabama has entered the month of February smack-dab in the middle of the NCAA Tournament bubble after stringing together some big wins in January. And for the fifth year in a row, the Tide has wiped its ass with its tournament resume as February has progressed, playing low IQ basketball, committing a number of dumb fouls, mind-blowing turnovers, getting bullied on the glass, and watching the best players on the team shrink in the spotlight.
The worst part is, despite all of that, the team always finds a way to make each game competitive, stringing the battered Tide Hoops fan base along for two hours twice a week as they draw-up ever-diminishing ways of making the NCAA Tournament. Seriously, the whiteboard in my office looks like something out of A Beautiful Mind or a Charlie Day gif.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Georgia Bulldogs (12-10, 2-7 SEC, NET: 90, Kenpom: 95) have consistently been one of the worst basketball teams in the conference. After hiring Tom Crean, a three-time regular season champion in the Big East and Big Ten with Marquette and Indiana, respectively, and landing a top-ten recruiting class in 2019, expectations were sky-high for Crean’s second season in Athens. Instead, conference play has played out much the same as it always does. After blowing their second 20+ point lead in as many weeks this past Wednesday at Florida (hmm, that sounds familiar), the Bulldogs now find themselves in a position where they basically have to win out to make the Big Dance in March. This is despite the fact that they have probably the most talented player in all of college basketball.
Something has to give Saturday night. Hopefully, Alabama will be the team to take the floor with some renewed focus.
POINT 5’10 Sahvir Wheeler (8.0 PPG, 4.4 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.1 SPG)
GUARD 6’1 Donnell Gresham Jr. (6.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.3 SPG)
GUARD 6’5 Anthony Edwards (19.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.4 SPG)
WING 6’8 Rayshaun Hammonds (12.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.0 SPG)
POST 6’8 Toumani Camara (6.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG)
On paper, this is one of the best starting fives in the country. The Dawgs have a trio of blue-chip freshmen (Wheeler, Edwards, Camara), one of which will be a top-three pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, a graduate transfer guard with a ton of experience in Gresham, and another former blue-chip who is now an upperclassman in Hammonds. There’s really no excuse for this team to be 2-7 in conference play.
Let’s start with Edwards. The guy can do it all, but he’s an elite prospect as a scorer (41.7%/31.9%/73.7%). He’s a really big guard at 6’5, 230 pounds, and he can get to the basket almost at will. His fellow freshman guard, Wheeler, just recently took over the starting point guard spot because Crean just couldn’t deny his offensive abilities any longer. A gifted passer (29.8% AST%), Wheeler has also utilized his quickness to consistently attack the basket at a high level, often leading to either an assisted pass or a finish for two (48.9%/30.7%/69.4%). Gresham should sound a little familiar to Alabama fans, as he transferred in from Northeastern. He was the starting two-guard for the Huskies the day they ran the Tide out of the gym in the Charleston Classic at the beginning of the 2018-19 season. He’s not been nearly as effective playing a higher-level of competition (47.7%/30.8%/83.3%), but his veteran presence is sorely needed on a team that has turned the ball over a ton this year (the Bulldogs are above only Alabama in the SEC in TOPG).
In the front-court, Hammonds is the guy for Georgia. A tweener wing-post combo forward, Hammonds has the ability to score from just about anywhere on the court (43.7%/32.0%/64.5%), and his size is vitally important for the Dawgs on the glass (14.9% REB%) and on the defensive end (98.4 DRtg), two areas where Georgia really struggles. His post-mate, Camara, is the perfect example of those struggles (9.7% REB%; 103.7 DRtg). Crean is committed to getting Camara to reach his lofty potential, because the guy just hasn’t produced much in his freshman campaign (48.2%/15.8%/56.1%).
GUARD 6’1 Tyree Crump (6.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.3 APG)
GUARD 6’3 Tye Fagan (3.9 PPG, 1.6 RPG)
GUARD 6’4 Jordan Harris (5.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG)
WING 6’6 Christian Brown (3.8 PPG, 1.9 RPG)
POST 6’8 Mike Peake (2.8 PPG, 1.7 RPG)
POST 6’10 Rodney Howard (1.3 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.8 BPG)
Again, on paper, this team should be really good. Georgia has six guys that they regularly play off of the bench: a pair of senior guards with a ton of experience in the red and black in Crump and Harris, a sophomore guard who started games just last season in Fagan, and a trio of talented freshmen with great size in the front-court.
Crump was actually the starting point guard for most of the season, but was displaced by the more talented Wheeler when Crean started getting a bit desperate and tired of seeing his senior point guard struggle to score (33.3%/30.2%/89.5%) or assist his teammates (10.8% AST%). Harris missed the first half of the season due to injury, and, despite the team’s trajectory since he’s returned, he’s been very solid for the Dawgs (48.3%/31.8%/85.7%; 12.1% AST%, team-best 98.2 DRtg).
Brown has been Georgia’s most efficient three-point shooter this season (40.0%), but he only attempts about one per game. He’s got a very high ceiling himself, though he’s definitely going to follow the Rayshaun Hammonds path as opposed to the Anthony Edwards path. Peake and Howard will both be long-time producers for Georgia in the paint, but their size is really the only reason either are on the court right now.
Three Keys to Victory
- Mental Focus. Both of these teams are reeling. The Tide and the Dawgs both have their backs up against the wall right now. Georgia can really only afford one or two more losses before their at-large chances are completely gone. Alabama’s three-game losing streak could easily extend to six with Auburn and LSU up next and Herb Jones on the sideline (Herb would have been huge tonight defending Hammonds, too). Either team could totally fold right now, especially after losing games they should have won earlier this week. Either team could also come out fired up and ready to get up off of the mat and make something of this season. If one does the former while the other does the latter, this game will get ugly.
- Execution. I know this sounds obvious, but seriously, these two teams just need to execute better when it really matters. Take Georgia, for example. How does a team with the roster I just described end up buried in the conference standings, likely headed for another Sad Wednesday appearance in Nashville? They turn the ball over a ton, don’t rebound the ball, play terrible defense, and can’t consistently knock down shots. Who else does that sound like? If you guessed Alabama in the second half of a competitive game, come on down to collect your prize.
- Limit Edwards and Hammonds. This won’t be easy to do without Herb, but Alabama can’t let these two guys get to the basket at will. Georgia gets really stagnant on offense whenever teams can take Edwards and Hammonds out of the game. The Tide simply can’t afford to let either one of these guys take over the game Saturday night.
After blowing consecutive home games that really should have been wins, Alabama has to steal one on the road against a very talented Georgia team if the Tide has any plans left for making a run at the NCAA Tournament in March. With Auburn and LSU looming, this losing streak could easily end up going six games or more. Georgia will have to turn things around completely just to make it to the NIT, let alone the Big Dance.
Someone has to win Saturday night in Athens, but it won’t provide too much comfort for either fan base, unfortunately. You have to start somewhere though. Maybe this will be the start of a surprising run for the victor.
The game will tip-off at 5:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.