- In the recent NET rankings, Alabama somehow moved up a spot to 8th (9th in Sagarin’s ELOCHESS). The Crimson Tide has gone against 5-3 Quadrant 1 teams. Its SOS is undoubtedly playing a big part of that — as of this writing, the Tide’s SOS is 18th in the country; and it has never dropped below 19 or risen above 14. Considering there are well over 300 teams playing D1 hoops, ‘Bama’s degree of difficulty is easily within the top 5% of the country (and in the SEC, only Kentucky has had a harder path.)
- The Tide has also moved up a spot to No. 8 in the KenPom rankings, and its defensive efficiency is all the way up to second. However, Alabama has seen its offensive efficiency drop from 14th to 32nd in just five games — yeah, it’s been pretty grim. More on that later.
- Alabama dropped to No. 11 in the AP poll, down from the 10 spot. The Tide are still up two full games in the SEC, with fairly nasty road trips to Starkville and especially the cursed Bud Walton in Fayetteville still on tap. But recall, this is technically the easy part of the schedule.
- There are seven games remaining, and weirdly, just about every last one of them may wind up hurting the Tide more than helping them. Bama hits the road to play Aggie (No. 135), South Carolina (No. 110) and Starville (No. 73). Alabama also hosts two of the worst teams in the conference (No. 146 Vanderbilt, No. 100 Georgia), as well as the much-improved Auburn Tigers (No. 64). Only one game can do much for ‘Bama’s Q1 resume, and that is a road trip to Fayetteville at the Cursed Bud Walton Arena against the No. 29 Arkansas Razorbacks. Before the season started, I had circled three guaranteed losses on the schedule, based on reasons of historicity — at Rupp, at Mizzou, and at Arkansas. The Tide just plays terribly at all three places. Mizzou bore its foul fruit again, but the Rupp and ‘Barn curse were broken. A huge win would be most welcome against the dastardly Piggies.
Of Man Defenses and Team-Wide Dysfunction
- That said, Saturday was the Tide’s second loss in three games, which has to be concerning. More concerning is the pattern that we have seen ‘Bama slide into over the last three weeks. In six of the last seven games, the Tide have faced stifling man defenses that overplay the passing lanes, bully ‘Bama on the blocks, deny easy layups and kick-outs that the perimeter game relies on — in five of those seven, ‘Bama had a sluggish start. The Tide has subsequently turned it over a lot, found themselves down early in contests, and failed to convert on even the gimme looks near the basket and at the stripe.
- The slog has taken a toll on the fine-tuned offensive machine we saw in January. Alabama’s efficiency, once the best in the SEC, is down to 105.5 points per 100 possessions, good for just 90th in the country and 7th in the SEC. It is also showing up in other phases; for instance, Alabama is now at a very pedestrian 1:1 Assist:TO ratio, good for just 151st in the nation, and a team that once had an assist on nearly 60% of their buckets has seen it plunge all the way down to 50.8% (190th), and on and on.
This can be an excellent team, one capable of hanging with almost anyone. It is also a team that can get flustered, turn it over in droves, show inconsistent effort defensively and on the glass, come out flat, and go for long stretches without leadership on the floor. It is, unfortunately, also a better team when healthy — an ailing Herb Jones and Jordan Bruner in rehab isn’t helping the Tide in this stretch.
But no matter the case, Bama needs to find answers to man defenses; it needs to find some more leaders; and it needs to clean just about everything after a sloppy three weeks. Herb Jones can’t be that guy every single night for forty minutes a game. Big players step up in big moments; and on this veteran team, who wants to claim that mantle of leadership down the stretch?
Nate Oats said he doesn’t know the answer, and I’m sure he’s right. It has to be frustrating. But with one of the best analytical staffs in the country he’s damn sure spotted the problems.
- Speaking of Herb, he’s already taking it easy in practice, hitting cryotherapy, and being patched up with duct tape and some ‘Tussin. But that may not be enough — Alabama’s all-everything man (and Naismith Defensive POTY semifinalist) may have to sit for a game or two.
Alabama coach Nate Oats said the UA coaches and medical staff have discussed the possibility of sitting Herb Jones out on Tuesday night to help him “loosen up his back.” Oats said there is no final decision but “we’re going to re-evaluate that in the morning.”— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) February 8, 2021
BRACKET HEAT CHECK
Lunardi is still projecting ‘Bama as a 1-seed, in Region 4 with an opener versus America’s darlings — the UMBC Retrievers.
Arkansas Fight has this SLAW as f*** model with Alabama as a four seed.
Alabama’s defensive collapse in the post vs. Mizzou has CBB Heatcheck rethinking Alabama as a 1 or 2 seed.
Jerry Palm has never seen a Big 10 team he won’t overvalue (or an Alabama one that he likes), so he gives three of the top 8 seeds to the Big 10 and drops ‘Bama to a 2-line. Interestingly, he has Mizzou as a 2-line as well; and he’s not alone.
Of Shot Selection & the Quickest Way to Lose a Basketball Game
The last two years, we have seen plenty of doubters about Alabama’s style of play (Wimp Sanderson among them). It is a helter-skelter style described to those unfamiliar with it as “Villanova, but much faster”. Alabama will absolutely swarms on defense, comes down the court with tempo, and jacks it up off the jump (but, for the love of god, if I see Rojas and Reese crank another one from 26-feet at the top of the key just two-seconds into the clock, I’m going to have a damned aneurysm.) Fully 47% of their attempted baskets are from the perimeter.
This is a shot chart from ‘Bama’s romp of LSU, but practically every game looks like this:
Two shots outside of the circle, and everything else a layup or a perimeter shot.
Ever wondered why that is? Simple math. It is the single most efficient way to play basketball: the most makeable field goals and the ones with the greatest point value. If a team shoots three deep shots (and makes one) and five layups (and makes three) — then it has effectively shot 50% and put 9 points on the board. By contrast, a team shooting inside the perimeter and outside of the dot, would have to have 13 attempts (on 40% from the floor) to reach or exceed double-digits and take a lead.
Mid-range jumpers are a one-way ticket to a loss, in short. And the raw numbers back that up.
Shot Quality, an analytics site, broke down all of the games from the 2021 season to-date, and published some astounding results.
Keys to winning— ShotQuality (@Shot_Quality) February 8, 2021
Stats that lead to winning in NCAA based on this season’s data (all over 100 occurrences)! pic.twitter.com/KmH3w7F1u4
Everything you know about “old school” basketball is essentially a lie. Isolating a defender? You’re gonna’ lose. Reliance on mid-range jumpers? You’re gonna lose. (Note: He typed a mistake up there that he corrected in a later tweet re: mid-range jump shots. You actually lose 63% of the time).
So, the keys to winning in 2021 are what you see on the floor every night with Alabama basketball (or at least what they try to do most nights) — catch-and-shoot from deep, make an extra pass, get to the line, crash the boards, get transition buckets.
It’s a lot easier said than done, sure. But of all the teams out there, perhaps only Virginia and Texas Tech are as wedded to a system as the Alabama Crimson Tide. The next time you hear someone grousing about how “weird” it looks or how it’s not “fundamental basketball”, just remember, basketball is a numbers game, and the data is ever in your favor. Taking a few contest threes from the corner is a lot better in the long run than a gritty 12-foot jumper off the dribble.
Finally, I posted a piece yesterday on Nate Oats / Bama Basketball’s Fight For Literacy fundraiser, and I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a pitiful showing. As of 1:14 a.m. this morning, I was the only one who had thrown a few bones their way. So, go check out the piece and if you can spare it (and I know, times are tough for a whole lot), rattle some change loose out of those grubby pockets and help this worthy cause. The next kid you turn on to reading could be in a Crimson jersey.
Okay, I lied. One last thing. Just as I coined #NeverDabo, I have now set my sights on an equally valiant effort. If you’re on social media and Nate Oats / Coleman Coliseum / Bama Hoops comes up, please drop “build and extend” to the relevant persons in UA administration. It is time to build / rebuild Coleman (and do it right), and it is time to give Coach Oats a raise and an extension. We have done a good job plaguing Greg Byrne on other important matters (lookin’ at you, Greg Goff), so it’s time to mobilize once more — I can think of no greater pressing urgency than Build and Extend.