Ladies and gentlemen, there is no way to sugar coat the performance from this past Saturday in Norman - it was ugly in just about every facet of the game. The Alabama Crimson Tide (18-3, 8-0 SEC; Kenpom: 5; T-Rank: 6; NET: 4) got its butt kicked by the Oklahoma Sooners in the final edition of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge, and it was as lopsided as the final 93-69 score would suggest. A lot of times, basketball games simply come down to hitting shots, and Alabama was off (37.8% FG% and 6/22 from three) while Oklahoma was red-hot (57.6% FG% and 9/13 from three). The Sooners hit some shots that you just had to tip your cap and get ready for the next possession.
The concerning thing is that this game was more than that. Alabama’s defense looked straight-up lost at times, as they really struggled with the high ball screens and allowed the Sooners to get into the low post at will, which makes it two games in a row for the Tide that’s happened. Additionally, the guys did not hold up well against Oklahoma’s physicality, as the Big 12 refs really let the two teams play it out. That has got to get fixed, because SEC officiating won’t be deciding games in the Big Dance. You have to be able to win against any style of play.
Sidenote - this is another reason why the officiating in our conference is hurting our teams. Guys on Alabama were looking to draw fouls and flopping on charges left and right and just not getting those calls. They’ve been programmed to do that by SEC officiating.
Still, let’s not all panic and abandon ship. These things happen in basketball. Just last season, the Kansas Jayhawks got run out of their own building 80-62 during this same event against the Kentucky Wildcats. All the Jayhawks did after that was win the national championship, while Kentucky suffered the worst postseason loss in its history in the First Round. Games like this build and reveal your character. It’s all about how you respond.
Can Alabama use this loss to get better and get back to dominating the SEC? That work began on Sunday, and the first test for us to find out will be tonight against the Vanderbilt Commodores (10-11, 3-5 SEC; Kenpom: 91; T-Rank: 91; NET: 93).
From Last Time
Three Keys to Victory
The Tide’s Mental/Emotional Mindset. Alabama is a large favorite in this game for a reason. The Commodores aren’t exactly among the best teams that the Tide has played this season. Still, considering everything that these players and coaches have been through in the past 72 hours, the mental part of the game is going to weigh heavier than ever tonight. This might take Nate Oats’ absolute best coaching effort.
Keep Attacking on Offense. On the court, Vanderbilt has arguably the worst defense in the SEC this year, save maybe South Carolina. Liam Robbins is the one guy on the team with a better-than-average defensive rating, and that’s mostly because he is seven-feet tall. The Tide settled for an unbelievable amount of three-point jumpers against LSU, in large part because the Tigers were just giving it to them, but I’d like to see more paint touches in this one. Alabama has been stung before when falling in love with the three-pointers. Vanderbilt can’t guard anybody on this team, so the Tide needs to attack all night.
Clean-Up the Perimeter on Defense. On the flip side, Vandy has been heating up on offense as of late. They are actually 1st in the SEC in Offensive Efficiency since conference play started up. They dropped 63 points in the second half alone against Arkansas on Saturday. It’s safe to say that they are feeling themselves on the offensive end right now, and that is in large part due to the great equalizer - the three-point line. The Tide needs to utilize its elite length to bother and chase their shooters off of the arc, and without fouling. Because Vandy has been getting to the line and making them count recently too.
Check out this link to read the full Breakdown for the last meeting
It’s only been a couple of weeks since these two teams first met this season, but it’s probably felt much longer than that for the Alabama players, who followed up that road trip to Nashville with trips to Columbia, MO and Norman, OK. Considering the events that took place prior to these long travels, I’d imagine the team has to be pretty exhausted, both physically and mentally. Still, it’s about perseverance during the grind of conference play, and Alabama has had to show a lot of it.
In that previous matchup with the ‘Dores, Alabama rolled to a 78-66 victory that was never in doubt. Liam Robbins was announced out for Vandy just before tip-off, which never even gave Jerry Stackhouse’s team a chance, really. Alabama did a fantastic job defensively, holding Vandy to 30.1% from the field and just 6/33 from beyond the arc. Brandon Miller was the star of the show - posting a 30-point double-double on just 15 attempts from the field.
Time for a Rebound
Vanderbilt is not Oklahoma, but they can get hot from the perimeter in a similar way as the Sooners did this past weekend, and Liam Robbins could be back tonight. Alabama needs to refocus its efforts on the defensive end and rediscover its shooting touch on the offensive side. If the guys play to their usual level of ability, beating the ‘Dores at home shouldn’t be an issue. Vanderbilt is a capable team though, and an effort similar to the one in Norman will make this game quite the sweat.
The best way to get out of a shooting slump is to see the ball go in the hoop. I mentioned last time that Vandy is quite bad on defense - nothing has changed in that regard, especially if Robbins remains out. I’d like to see Alabama attack the rim first and then use that to open up the drive-and-kick for some shooting practice in Coleman Coliseum tonight. Defensively, the effort obviously needs to improve from recent showings, but there are three specific things that Alabama can do to get that end of the court righted.
First, the guards need some work in lateral quickness and/or forcing guys to an off-hand or area of the court with low percentage shots. There has been entirely too much dribble penetration in the paint the past couple of games. Second, the Tide bigs need to either deny the entry passes into the low post or do a better job of playing positioning. Both Mississippi State and Oklahoma scored at extremely high rates on the block because Alabama’s frontcourt defenders got caught in between trying to deny the pass and keeping their positioning. Let’s commit to one or the other. Finally, the high-ball screen defense. Yeesh. Nate Oats in unlikely to switch to any kind of zone defense - he’s married to man-to-man - so this adjustment needs to be made within that M2M system. Whether its hedging harder or dropping back and not engaging in screen actions 25 feet away from the basket, there needs to be more of a plan of action here. Communication is key. Oklahoma ate Alabama alive with this on Saturday. Porter Moser obviously watched film of the Gonzaga game, and he won’t be the last one to do so moving forward.
With Alabama taking on two teams this week that have a high probability of playing on Sad Wednesday, this week is all about the Tide working to get back on track internally. We are still talking about the undefeated leader of the SEC and a top-five squad. The ceiling is still cutting down the nets in April. But the guys have got to put the work in now more than ever if they want to accomplish their goals for this season.
The game tips-off at 7:30 PM CST tonight on the SEC Network. Alabama is listed as a 15.5-point home favorite.