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PREVIEW: Alabama - Mississippi State square off in a huge game with NCAA Tourney ramifications

Yep, it’s already time for a do-or-die game.

Syndication: The Tennessean

Mark Zaleski / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Alabama Crimson Tide make the short trip across 82 today to face century-long rival, Mississippi State in a game that is perhaps make-or-break for both early in the SEC slate. And the Tide must do it without their most effective center, Mo Wague.

The Crimson Tide (10-5, 2-0) come into this one with a remarkably impressive offense. ‘Bama is third nationally at 90.6 PPG, and have wowed the computers, checking in at No. 5 in the NET rankings and 9th in KenPom.

Alabama is not the helter-skelter group of years past — just 40th in pace of play. However, they look like they claimed the pole at the Brickyard next to Chris Jans’ glacial MSU Bulldogs, who are among the SEC’s most deliberative teams, at just 168th in pace of play.

But, where Alabama is not quite as fast as we’ve seen under other Nate Oats’ teams, they more than make up for it: this is far and away the best collection of shooters we’ve perhaps ever seen at the Capstone. Led by Midseason Wooden candidate and SEC MVP frontrunner, Mark Sears, Alabama can fill the net in a hurry. He’s not alone back there, though. Aaron Estrada is averaging 13.5 per game on 46% shooting, to go with Wrightsell and Walters’ 7 per game and Griffen’s 9. The guards are the definite strength here. It has resulted in the Tide having the No. 1 KenPom adjusted offense, bagging 124 points per 100 possessions. And it’s not luck either: Alabama’s luck is literally the very worst in all of D1 basketball: 339th.

The Tide are winning and losing on their own merits.

Those losing demerits are naturally attributable to the poorly timed turnovers this team commits, fairly bad rebounding, and a very pedestrian defense. The D is not horrible (60th KenPom), but that’s on track to be the worst of the Oats years, and UA presently are 11th in the SEC, giving up 73.9 PPG. And it’s by far the worst rebounding team too — also 11th in the SEC. That is made up for a bit by leading the SEC in assists: this team moves the ball very well, and can find the shooter.

You can blame a lot of the Tide’s issues on the lack of a true rim protector and impact center, but a lot if it is also a good ole’ fashioned lack of hustle on the interior. This team has tried to rebound for a squad of tweeners lacking a true Big, but they are so inconsistent with their effort. The Tide will need 40 minutes of effort on the glass today against a physical Bully team.

It is a testament to Chris Jans’ ability that Mississippi State is even on the bubble at the moment. MSU (NET 28, Ken Pom 24), is about defense and only defense. The Bulldogs lead the SEC in points allowed (63.7), are 3rd in floor shooting allowed, and 1st in 3P defense (27%).And ut they somehow rebound even worse than Alabama, shoot a grisly 22% from the arc in SEC play, are the second-worst floor shooting team in the conference...hell, they’re even the worst free throw shooting team in the SEC and get to the line the least of any school.

They are “led” offensively, by Josh Hubbard (15.3), with everyone else chipping in 7-9 per game. It’s not a deep bench, and if the starters get in trouble, an already feeble ‘State offense grows more anemic than Lord Byron on a laudanum bender. There is a reason why they have some truly bad-to-mid losses to USCe, Georgia Tech and Southern: that 168th ranked offense. But also why, when healthy and out of foul trouble, they can outhustle teams like Tennessee for wins: the nation’s purported 9th best defense.

It seems like most years Mississippi State has to win with boring, defense-first, enigma basketball. And the coach may have changed, but that’s true again this season. It’s a scrappy opponent that plays a lot of close games. Seriously, it doesn’t even feel like Ben Howland left. It’s not been a great schedule, no. But you beat who shows up, and you do it by forcing your pace of play. Like the ‘Bama-Gamecocks tilt, the winner of this will be the team that can dictate the tempo.

A final point: you should probably take all of those MSU defensive stats with a grain of salt, as the average offense MSU has faced is 119th. Alabama’s opponents are averaging 9th in offense. So, when UA is sucking defensively, they at least have earned the right to struggle at times.

The game will be televised at 7:30 P.M. Central on ESPN Network. Presently, Alabama is a -1.5 point favorite. Haslametrics has the Tide just covering that too. Expect a close one...that seems to be all the only type of games these two teams can play.

Roll Tide

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  • 86%
    ‘Bama -1.5
    (80 votes)
  • 13%
    Bully +1.5
    (12 votes)
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