After a roller coaster of a game where the team, once again, got all they could have asked for from the Missouri Tigers, the Alabama Crimson Tide (13-6, 4-3 SEC, NET: 22; Kenpom: 16) will attempt to close out the first half of SEC play on a nice little three-game winning streak, before the showdown with #4 Baylor in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge this weekend. All the Tide has to do in order to accomplish that feat is to beat one of the worst SEC teams I’ve seen in my life - the 2022 Georgia Bulldogs (5-14, 0-6 SEC; NET: 231; Kenpom: 229). Bryce Drew’s Vanderbilt teams look competent compared to the group Tom Crean has put together this season. Kim Anderson’s Missouri teams, Rick Ray’s Mississippi State teams, and most Auburn teams between Cliff Ellis and Bruce Pearl (and even a few of Bruce’s early teams) come to mind when thinking about how bad Georgia is this season. 229th in Kenpom is something.
With that all being said, I almost certainly just jinxed Alabama and doomed the Tide to an abhorrent loss in Athens tonight. But it would be just that - abhorrent. A single game shouldn’t be held in too much account in the overall scheme of things, but a loss to this year’s Georgia team should cost you at least one seed line in the NCAA Tournament.
So, knowing how catastrophic a loss tonight would be for both the Tide’s tournament resume and the team’s overall psyche, there shouldn’t be any question as to how important it is that Alabama comes out and plays its best ball early tonight. The Tide has been getting off to slow starts recently, which is exactly how you get embarrassed on the road in conference play. Alabama needs to come out ready to go from the jump and take care of business tonight.
POINT 6’1 Aaron Cook (9.7 PPG, 6.1 APG, 2.7 RPG, 110.6 DRtg)
GUARD 6’4 Jaxon Etter (5.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.7 APG, 112.9 DRtg)
GUARD 6’4 Kario Ogeundo (12.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 0.8 APG, 108.4 DRtg)
WING 6’6 Noah Baumann (9.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.8 APG, 111.2 DRtg)
POST 6’10 Braelen Bridges (12.5 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.5 APG, 111.5 DRtg)
Where to start...y’all this team is a disaster. The Dawgs lost the only few players from last season that were legitimately good ball players (Sahvir Wheeler, K.D. Johnson, and Toumani Camera, who are now starting for Kentucky, Auburn, and Dayton, respectively) as there was a mass exodus from the sinking ship that is Tom Crean’s Georgia tenure. Crean scrambled to fill those holes with lightly-used power conference players and small conference stalwarts looking to move up in competition level.
Aaron Cook is the most high-profile player he brought in. A back-up point guard for Gonzaga last season, Cook has brought his play-making abilities to Athens, with a scintillating 38.0% AST%, which is one of the best in the league. He’s struggled to find his shot though (37.4%/28.6%/73.0%), and he does turn the ball over on nearly a quarter of his possessions (24.7% TO%). Jaxon Etter is a walk-on who is getting a chance to play heavy minutes because of his shooting ability (43.7%/42.9%/73.5%). But Kario Ogeundo is the go-to, high-volume scorer. His shooting hasn’t been great, but he can get to the rim effectively (46.1%/21.9%/70.1%).
In the frontcourt, Noah Baumann has recently been getting the start for the same reason Etter has - he can shoot the ball (44.5%/42.4%/85.0%). Crean has obviously decided that he might as well play his shooters, since they aren’t going to defend anybody anyway. Braelen Bridges is the lone true post getting more than 10 MPG, as well as the only player in the starting line-up that can rebound effectively (12.4% REB%). At 6’10, 235 pounds, he provides great size - but that hasn’t equated to much rim protection (1.8% BLK%).
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’3 Christian Wright (6.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.6 APG, 112.6 DRtg)
WING 6’7 Jabri Abdur-Rahim (7.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 111.7 DRtg)
POST 6’7 Dalen Ridgnal (2.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 105.7 DRtg)
POST 6’9 Tyron McMillan (1.3 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 112.7 DRtg)
One of the few silver linings for Georgia is a pair of freshman, Christian Wright and Jabri Abdur-Rahim. Both have the potential to be very good players down the road, and can both do damage on any given night (Wright: 35.5%/25.9%/82.5%; Abdur-Rahim: 35.4%/29.2%/77.8%). Ridgnal and McMillan provide depth in the post, and Ridgnal is actually the best defender (which is sad) and rebounder (22.2% REB% - which is actually very good) on the team.
Three Keys to Victory
- Start Fast and Crush Their Will Early. I alluded to this already, but this is the number one key when playing a bad conference opponent on the road. You absolutely cannot afford to give them confidence by slacking early and letting them get off to a good start. They are not a good team, but they are full of D1 basketball players. Alabama allowed Mizzou to come out hot in both games against the Tigers, and it very nearly resulted in an ugly season sweep. The Tide needs to come out with the same kind of intensity and energy that they had in the late stages of the game on Saturday. They can relax a bit when they are up 20+.
- Attack the Basket. Georgia’s defense is among the worst in college basketball. They allow teams to convert 54.8% of their two-point attempts, which is 327th in the nation. The Tide is 10th in the country in 2P% at 56.5%. I know that we are all desperately awaiting Alabama’s return to form from the three-point line - I still think it’s the key to achieving everything this team is capable of accomplishing this year - but for tonight, the Tide needs to get to the rim. There isn’t a soul on Georgia’s team that can consistently stay in front of Jahvon Quinerly or J.D. Davison.
- Contest Shots, but Don’t Foul. The one, single thing that Georgia does well is shoot free throws (74.1%). Alabama definitely needs to continue to raise the level of energy on the defensive end, but the guys don’t need to be bailing the Bulldogs out with cheap fouls. Georgia does have a few guys that are capable of knocking down shots though, and after watching Mizzou, one of the worst three-point shooting teams in college basketball, shoot 40% against the Tide from downtown in both games this season, it shouldn’t have to be said that the perimeter needs to be cleaned up. Just don’t send them to the line in the process.
Tonight’s game is the definition of a business trip. Get in there, take care of business, and get the hell out. With #4 Baylor, #1 Auburn, and #12 Kentucky next up on the schedule, Alabama certainly doesn’t want to go into that murderer’s row with a repulsively embarrassing loss to Georgia in the preceding match-up. This should be a great opportunity for the Tide to gain some confidence prior to that brutal slate. Maybe tonight is when those three-balls start falling. Lord knows they will be open.
DraftKings Sportsbook has Alabama installed as a heavy 14.5-point favorite* in Athens tonight, but we know how these large spreads have gone recently. Let’s hope the Tide uses this game as a springboard to a big February run leading into the magical month of March.
The game will tip-off at 5:30 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.