With a brutal three-game stretch of top-five teams now in the rearview, the Alabama Crimson Tide (14-9, 4-6 SEC; NET: 23; Kenpom: 18) turns its attention to the final stretch of the season as we get deeper into the month of February. With only eight games remaining in the regular season, Alabama finds itself in the middle of the pack in the conference standings, and looking at a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament this March. In that regard, it has been a bit of a disappointing season - certainly a frustrating one; however, it’s important to keep in mind that there have been very few times in the past 15 years where the Tide was considered safely in the tournament field at this point in the calendar year.
That being said, it’s time to start gelling for a March run. That begins tonight with a trip across the Mississippi border to Oxford, for a match-up with the Ole Miss Rebels (12-11, 3-7 SEC; NET; 104; Kenpom: 102). The Pavilion has been a tough place for the Tide to win at over the years, so Alabama will need to come ready to play. Kermit Davis’ Rebels have been one of the more disappointing teams in the SEC this year. Before the season, many considered OIe Miss to be a darkhorse contender for a top-five finish in the conference; instead, the Rebels are battling to avoid Sad Wednesday in Tampa, and are almost certainly not going to be participating in the postseason past the SEC Tournament.
Still, the Rebels aren’t Georgia or Missouri, and we know how those two road trips went for the Tide. With only a month left in the season, it’s time for Alabama to begin to peak if the fellas want to make some magic in March.
POINT 6’1 Jarkel Joiner (13.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.6 APG, 100.2 DRtg)
GUARD 6’4 Matthew Murrell (10.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.7 APG, 100.8 DRtg)
WING 6’6 Luis Rodriguez (7.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 94.4 DRtg)
POST 6’8 Jeamyn Brakefield (8.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 98.8 DRtg)
POST 7’0 Nysier Brooks (9.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 94.5 DRtg)
As if things weren’t going poorly enough for the Rebels this season, Jarkel Joiner injured his back in the conference opener against Mississippi State, and only just returned this past Saturday in part because the actual starting point guard - freshman stud Daeshun Ruffin - was lost for the year to an ACL injury suffered last week against LSU. It’s been that kind of season for Ole Miss.
Joiner is a pure scorer (41.0%/33.3%/80.5%) and about the only guy in the starting unit now who can consistently get to his spots and create in the halfcourt. Matthew Murrell is more of a spot-up shooter (40.3%/38.7%/75.0%), so the Tide will want to aggravate Joiner as much as possible on the defensive end, as he’s about the only guy who can be classified as a primary ball-handler (18.3% AST% on 21.9% USG%).
Luis Rodriguez is an unpolished, slash-and-shoot wing (36.4%/32.0%/63.4%) that reminds me a lot of Alex Reese, though he is a strong rebounder (12.0% REB%). The Rebels typically go big with their starting unit and play two posts in Jaemyn Brakefield and Nysier Brooks. Brakefield is the more skilled big, capable of knocking down jumpers (46.2%/36.5%/75.0%) and playing out on the wing. Brooks is simply a big body. The seven-footer has a strong rebounding presence (15.9% REB%) and can protect the rim (4.8% BLK%), but he’s mostly just an around-the-basket player.
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’3 Tye Fagan (7.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, 99.4 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 Austin Crowley (4.0 PPG, 2.3 APG, 1.9 RPG, 98.0 DRtg)
POST 6’9 Sammy Hunter (1.9 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 102.1 DRtg)
Joiner and Ruffin aren’t the only two who have missed significant time this year for the Rebs - senior wing Robert Allen has been out since December, as well. Because of these injuries, Kermit Davis has not had much depth to work with. (Yet another) Georgia transfer, Tye Fagan, and Austin Crowley are about the only guys worth mentioning off of the bench, and they might not even start the game on the bench, as both are better-suited to run the offense than anybody outside of Joiner (Fagan: 19.3% AST% on 21.0% USG%; Crowley: 28.8% AST% on 18.4% USG%). Both are more than capable scorers as well (Fagan: 48.6%/37.3%/73.3%; Crowley: 35.5%/36.4%/100%).
Three Keys to Victory
- Attack the Rim. The three-point shooting continues to perplex me. We have seen - with our own eyes - guys like Jahvon Quinerly and Keon Ellis be potent perimeter shooters. I have no explanation as to how Alabama could be shooting 30.5% from three this year. I still contend that this is going to average out at some point - hopefully once the calendar turns to March - but in the meantime, the Crimson Tide needs to attack the basket. Alabama is 16th in the country in 2P% at 56.1%, and Ole Miss gives up two-pointers at a rate of 51.4%. Hopefully, the light turned on for Charles Bediako in advance of the Kentucky game, because he was awesome against Oscar Tshiebwe and company. He could feast in this game if Quinerly and the guards can consistently get past their average defenders.
- Push the Pace. Ole Miss is a slow, methodical team that plays at a tempo good for 291st in the country, and they might only go seven or eight deep in the rotation. This is not a team well-equipped to run with Alabama. The Tide needs to keep the pace high all night. That will make those two-point looks a lot easier, too.
- Deny the Dribblers. As mentioned, Ole Miss doesn’t have a lot of guys who can create their own shots. If Alabama can get the ball out of the hands of Joiner, who is still dealing with that lower back injury, the Rebels are going to have a hard time scoring much in the half-court. And we know they don’t exactly score much in transition.
With eight games left, Alabama needs to start building some momentum and figuring things out prior to postseason play tipping off in Tampa for the SEC Tournament. Tonight’s match-up with Ole Miss provides a great opportunity for both of those, as the Rebels are a solid team, but one that Alabama should be able to dispatch without too much stress. DraftKings Sportsbook lists the Tide as a five-point road favorite*, so the books are in alignment with that assessment.
The game will tip-off at 7:30 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.