It’s February 18th and the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (22-4, 12-1 SEC; Kenpom: 2; T-Rank: 2; NET: 2) will be looking to bounce back from a loss in SEC play for the first time this season. So, despite the tough defeat at the hands of the hated Vols - which we certainly never like to experience - Nate Oats and his team are in a great spot. It’s basketball - losses like that happen to everyone. No sense in dwelling on it. Even if it costs the Tide the #1 spot in the AP Poll - which isn’t a guarantee - the only #1 that really matters is the top-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
(As an aside, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will be unveiling the top-4 protected seed-lines as of this moment ahead of the Kentucky-Tennessee game today with a pregame show on CBS at 11:30 AM CST - we will have more on that later today.)
Regardless, it’s time to improve as a team and get ready to close out the regular season with an SEC Championship. Texas A&M is suddenly only a game back of Alabama in the conference standings, so the Tide needs to close out strongly if the guys want to hang another regular season banner. That starts tonight, as the Georgia Bulldogs (16-10, 6-7 SEC; Kenpom: 115; T-Rank: 116; NET: 124) come to Tuscaloosa.
After years of being the cellar dwellers of the conference, Georgia finally fired Tom Crean last season and “stole” Mike White from Florida. The former Gators’ coach wasn’t exactly beloved in Gainesville, but he’s an extremely solid coach, and he has certainly shown that this season, as the Bulldogs have surprised many by their level of overall competency on both ends of the court. Granted, ‘competency’ does not mean ‘good’, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.
POINT 6’0 Justin Hill (7.8 PPG, 3.0 APG, 2.7 RPG, 103.5 DRtg)
GUARD 6’4 Kario Oquendo (12.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 106.5 DRtg)
GUARD 6’6 Jusaun Holt (3.5 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 99.8 DRtg)
POST 6’8 Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe (6.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 101.6 DRtg)
POST 6’10 Braelen Bridges (8.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.0 APG, 101.5 DRtg)
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’3 Terry Roberts (14.3 PPG, 4.1 APG, 3.9 RPG, 100.6 DRtg)
GUARD 6’2 Mardrez McBride (4.7 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.0 APG, 103.4 DRtg)
WING 6’7 Jabri Abdul-Rahim (7.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 102.7 DRtg)
POST 6’10 Frank Anselem (3.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 101.0 DRtg)
For Georgia, the offense is all about their duo of guards - Terry Roberts and Kario Oquendo. Roberts has come off of the bench the past few games, but he leads the team in MPG for a reason. Both Roberts and Oquendo are high volume, yet inefficient, scorers (Roberts: 38.6%/30.5%/75.9%); Oquendo: 39.8%/26.7%/74.1%). Roberts doubles as the best passer on the team (33.5% AST%), though Justin Hill isn’t far behind him in that regard (29.3% AST%). Hill was the starting point guard for the Longwood Lancers last season, where he led his group to 26 wins and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Joining them in the backcourt are Mardrez McBride - a grad transfer and two-year starter for the North Texas Mean Green - and Jusaun Holt. Yes, the very same Jusaun Holt who played for Nate Oats and Alabama last season. Holt has recently joined the starting lineup due to being the only above-average defender on the team, in large part because of his long 6’6 wingspan. Neither is a much of a threat offensively, but you better believe Holt will be as motivated as anyone in this one.
In the frontcourt, Georgia starts Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe and Braelen Bridges. Both are traditional post players who lead the team in rebounding (Moncrieffe: 13.9% REB%; Bridges: 12.9% REB%). You certainly won’t see either attacking off of the wing or stepping out for a three. Jabri Abdul-Rahim certainly will though, as he leads the Bulldogs in perimeter shooting (42.3%/39.8%/83.0%). Frank Anselem provides size and depth in the post.
Three Keys to Victory
- Shut Down Roberts and Oquendo. There may not be another team in the conference that relies on a pair of players the way Georgia leans on Roberts and Oquendo offensively. Even given their...less than stellar efficiency numbers, the duo combined has attempted 59.2% of the Bulldogs’ field goal attempts when they are on the floor. 59.2%! You stop these two guys and Georgia becomes quite lost on the offensive end. Hill’s ability to create and Abul-Rahim’s shooting are about the only things that they can go to if their big two aren’t getting to the rim or knocking anything down.
- Get to the Rim. I’ve called Mike White the White Anthony Grant for years, but his inaugural Georgia team hasn’t had the same level of ability to deny dribble-penetration on the defensive end. While the Dawgs are a solid 60th in the country in in eFG% allowed, it’s mostly on the strength of their perimeter defense - they chase you off of the line and rotate out on the wings well (24th in 3P% allowed at 30.0%). However, their guards and wings aren’t very good in one-on-one situations, so Alabama could have an absolute field day getting into the paint tonight. Once there, Georgia’s bigs aren’t exactly renown shot-blockers, so there will be plenty of opportunity for at-the-rim baskets.
- Avoid Bailing Out Their Offense. Honestly, the only thing Georgia does well offensively is get to the free throw line, where they are 23rd in the country and tops in the SEC in Free Throw Rate. If the guys who called Alabama’s last game in Knoxville make the trip to Tuscaloosa tonight, there won’t be any concerns here. However, if it's just about any other college basketball officiating crew, we all know how quick those whistles are. Alabama needs to keep up the high-level intensity on the defensive end of the floor, but do so without bailing out a bad offense by sending them to the charity stripe over and over.
This is very much a “take care of business” type of game for the Tide tonight - they are listed as 18.5-point home favorites. With another of the SEC’s lesser opponents - South Carolina - on deck for next week as well, the theme for the next few days for the guys will be self-improvement. With only three weeks left until conference championship weekend, the Madness of March is rapidly approaching, and Alabama needs to be playing at its absolute best.
The game will tip-off at 5:00 PM CST (hopefully) and will be televised on the SEC Network.