Well folks, it’s finally here - the wonderful and exuberant month that is March. Let the madness commence! Well, maybe after tonight’s game, at least. The 25th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (19-10, 9-7 SEC; NET: 22; Kenpom: 21) will play one last game in Tuscaloosa this season, as the Texas A&M Aggies (17-11, 7-9 SEC; NET: 66; Kenpom: 67) come to Coleman Coliseum tonight. The Crimson Tide seems to be peaking at the right time, as Nate Oat’s bunch closed out the month of February winning five of six games - with the lone blemish on the road against a top-five Kentucky team that the Tide had on the ropes early.
Texas A&M, meanwhile, comes into tonight’s game still building as a program under Buzz Williams. They will almost certainly close out this season by playing in the NIT - a tournament I certainly do not miss participating in. That being said, the Aggies have come into Tuscaloosa before and successfully mucked up the game in route to an ugly Alabama loss. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in the last meeting between these two programs, when Williams brought his A&M team into Tuscaloosa and came away with a grotesque 74-68 win over the bubbly Tide in 2020 - a loss that pretty much ended Alabama’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament that year. ‘Bama was robbed at a chance for revenge a year ago when A&M basically punted on the season due to COVID and the energy crisis that followed the tragic winter storm last February.
Alabama has actually lost three straight to A&M, with the most recent win coming off of the hands of one Collin Sexton:
I’ll take any excuse to post that clip, by the way. Unlike in that meeting though, the Tide certainly don’t have to win tonight to make the NCAA Tournament - it’s a lock at this point. Still, Alabama wants to be playing its best ball right now, so tonight’s game is all about playing to a standard and carrying over the momentum from February.
POINT 6’2 Marcus Williams (7.9 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.2 RPG, 99.3 DRtg)
GUARD 6’2 Andre Gordon (6.8 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.8 APG, 96.9 DRtg)
GUARD 6’2 Tyrece Radford (10.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 99.3 DRtg)
POST 6’7 Henry Coleman (10.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 95.7 DRtg)
POST 6’8 Ethan Henderson (2.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 98.5 DRtg)
Playing South Carolina and Texas A&M in consecutive games at home will make it feel like deja vu in Coleman Coliseum tonight. These teams are remarkably similar. For one, Buzz Williams will play a lot of guys. He’s changed up his starting five a dozen times this season. It would not surprise me at all if these five don’t start in this game.
That being said, A&M divvies out the scoring distribution quite a bit for a team that doesn’t exactly look like the Golden State Warriors out there (110th in the country in Assists to FG ratio). Most of the assist-making stems from Marcus Williams (27.0% AST%), who is very much a pass-first point (36.2%/28.3%/61.0%). Andre Gordon and Tyrece Radford are the shooters on the team (Gordon: 42.3%/39.8%/70.0%; Radford: 49.8%/36.0%/63.0%), but Radford also plays a lot bigger than his 6’2 frame suggests (11.1% REB%).
In the frontcourt, Henry Coleman does a lot of the dirty work for A&M. A true post, he leads the team in rebounding (13.6% REB%) and soaks up minutes in the paint. Ethan Henderson is mostly just a big body, but he does rebound (10.5% REB%) and block shots (5.5% BLK%) at decent clips.
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’0 Wade Taylor IV (8.1 PPG, 2.3 APG, 1.7 RPG, 95.1 DRtg)
GUARD 6’2 Hassan Diarra (5.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.3 APG, 897.1 DRtg)
GUARD 6’4 Manny Obaseki (3.1 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 99.1 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 Hayden Hefner (3.2 PPG, 103.4 DRtg)
WING 6’5 Quenton Jackson (14.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.7 APG, 94.7 DRtg)
WING 6’6 Aaron Cash (2.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 95.2 DRtg)
POST 7’0 Javonte Brown (1.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 97.3 DRtg)
Like I said, they play a lot of guys. The guard trio of Taylor, Diarra, and Obaseki are all underclassmen and Buzz Williams recruits who represent the future of the program. All of them have struggled to consistently put the ball in the basket (Taylor: 33.3%/29.6%/73.5%; Diarra: 35.9%/26.9%/65.5%; Obaseki: 39.5%/27.8%/59.4%), but, being that they were all blue-chip recruits, they are capable. Taylor has also shown himself to be a future leader at point guard (30.3% AST%; 4.7% STL%). Hayden Hefner is your typical white guy that comes off of the bench and rattles up a couple of threes per game, which he hits at a 39.3% rate.
Quenton Jackson is the best player on this team. An elite athlete and slasher, Jackson is the go-to guy in the A&M half-court offense (46.6%/34.3%/84.8%). Alabama will need to keep the ball out of his hands. Aaron Cash is the most efficient rebounder on the team (15.3% REB%), and Javonte Brown is a rawer version of Charles Bediako.
Three Keys to Victory
- Securely Control the Tempo. Buzz Williams’ game-plan against Alabama will be to slow the pace to a crawl and make it as sloppy as possible. The Tide will need to prevent that, because A&M has no chance of running with Alabama for 40 minutes. The guys will need to be smart with the basketball while doing so though, because the Aggies are one of the very best in the country at forcing turnovers (24.5% TO% - 7th best in the nation).
- Offensive Rebounding. Once again, Alabama will be playing an opponent that hits the offensive glass for second chance points at an incredibly high rate (34.3% OREB% - 23rd in the country). Much like South Carolina though, the Aggies are terrible at keeping teams off of their own defensive glass (33.7% DREB% - 343rd in the country). The Tide and its 10th-best 35.6% OREB% could be living on the boards tonight. The Aggies aren’t the best individual defenders, but they are quite physical, so second chance points could loom large.
- Protect the Paint. The Tide really just needs to pack the paint in general for this one. The Aggies are one of the worst shooting teams in high major basketball (32.1% 3P%; 68.3% FT%), but they can attack the rim decently well (50.0% 2P%). So, keep those guards and wings in front, force them to take contested jumpers, finish out the possession with a defensive rebound, and beat them to the rim on the other end.
A&M is far from the most talented team Alabama has faced this season, but Buzz Williams’ style of play could cause some issues if the Tide’s areas of weakness this year - not taking care of the ball, poor defensive rebounding, and inconsistent jump-shooting - rear their ugly heads tonight. We’ve seen it happen before. Still, Alabama seems to playing its best ball of the season at the right time. Jahvon Quinerly, in particular, is looking like Mr. March again.
Let’s close out the home slate with another convincing win, shall we? The game tips-off at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.