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1. The best player on this Alabama Crimson Tide team is freshman Kira Lewis Jr. Lewis Jr was a four-star recruit coming out of high school as the top player from the state of Alabama and a top-40 player overall. In the first game against Kentucky, he struggled hitting shots, going just 4 of 14 from the field, but finished with 14 points, 3 assists, and two rebounds. He’s currently leading the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game and assists at 2.9 per game, to go along with 2.5 rebounds and hitting 36.7% of his three-point attempts. The match up at the point guard spot between freshmen Kira Lewis Jr and Ashton Hagans will be fun to watch, as Hagans forced Lewis Jr into four turnovers in the first match up. Despite being the Co-Defensive Player of the Year, Hagans has struggled with defending on the ball against talented guards. If Lewis Jr can get around Hagans at the point of attack, then he can score at the rim or distribute to the perimeter to open shooters. It may not always even be the first pass is an open shot, as slow rotations left junior guard Tevin Mack open for the Crimson Tide and he hit 6 of 8 threes to put the Cats down early. If Kentucky gives a better defensive effort to not let non-scorers get hot, it puts added pressure on Lewis Jr to fill it up on his own.
2. Senior forward Donta Hall is the lone contributing senior on this Alabama squad. Now a three year starter, Hall’s an extremely experienced and athletic big man. He was named to both the 2018 and 2019 SEC All-Defensive Team for his abilities as a rim protector, and he’s blocking 1.7 shots per game, good for 7th in the SEC. His length and athleticism were issues for Kentucky’s ability to finish in the paint in the first match up. Reid Travis was 6 of 13 with 5 turnovers and PJ Washington was just 4 of 10 from the field. He’s currently averaging 10.6 points and a team-leading 8.5 rebounds per contest. Hall may not be the first offensive option for Coach Avery Johnson, but he always makes the most of his touches. Hall shot 72.6% from the field last season, which is an Alabama school record, and he did so with almost all of his looks being dunks or lay ups. This year, he’s stepped away from the basket a tad more, so his percentage is down, but still an impressive nearly 64% from the field. He scored 11 points and hauled in 10 rebounds against Kentucky back at the beginning of January.
3. Outside of 6’9″ and 230 starting forward Donta Hall, Alabama doesn’t present much size to counter Kentucky’s post game. While Hall does have the length to bother Kentucky, there isn’t much strength or versatility outside of him. The Crimson Tide starting lineup stands at 6’3″, 6’5″, 6’6″, 6’7″, and 6’9″. Four guards around one big man is a recipe that we’ve seen multiple teams use against Kentucky this season, with more of an effort to focus on three-point shooting. Off the bench, Alabama plays two more players at 6’9″, but that’s the last of their size. Sophomore Alex Reese is 6’9″ and 238 pounds and played 13 minutes in the first game, while sophomore Galin Smith is 6’9″ and 245 pounds, played just 7 minutes in the first game game. PJ Washington and Reid Travis should be able to muscle for rebounds and tough buckets in the post if they play smart. With Travis playing in his first game back, it will be interesting to see how effective he is against the type of big that has caused him issues at times throughout the season. While there is a lack of height for Alabama, the Crimson Tide do play six different players that are threats to knock down the three-point shot. Bama shot 10 of 23 from three in their victory over Kentucky just over two months ago.
4. Sitting at 10-3 after the victory over Kentucky on January 5th, the Crimson Tide looked to the SEC slate as a chance to make some noise and garner the attention to try to make a run in March. Unfortunately for Avery Johnson’s squad, the Southeastern Conference games haven’t exactly been kind to Alabama. The win over Kentucky gave them a 1-0 start in conference play, but the Crimson Tide went just 6-10 in their next 17 games for an overall SEC record of 7-10 in the regular season. At the end of the regular season, Alabama was 17-14 and on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament. Listed as a bubble team by nearly every outlet, the Crimson Tide were one of Joe Lunardi’s “Next Four Out”, meaning they weren’t the first four teams that were next to get bids, but just below that mark. Last night’s comeback win over Ole Miss was huge for their tournament résumé and the Tide will come out hungry against Kentucky tonight. Not only will they be hungry for a second win over one of the best programs of all time, but to cement themselves as an NCAA Tournament selection.
5. Coming into the SEC Tournament as the 10-seed, Alabama was slated to go against 7-seed Ole Miss last night. Ole Miss jumped out to an early lead and dominated through nearly the entirety of the first half, going into the halftime break with a 38-24 lead over Alabama. However, the Crimson Tide would come out with renewed energy at the beginning of the second stanza. Storming back to take the lead less than seven minutes into the second half, Alabama played like a desperate team, and it worked. The comeback was powered by the same player that killed Kentucky, Tevin Mack. Mack was 8 of 13 from the floor and hit 4 threes to finish with a game-high 21 points. The Crimson Tide are desperate to keep their season and NCAA Tournament hopes alive, and that can be dangerous in March. If Kentucky doesn’t come out swinging first tonight, they’ll find themselves down early, the way the Cats were in the loss to Alabama back in January. On the reverse side, if Kentucky comes out and dominates the first half, keeping their foot on the gas will be necessary to take care of any lingering hope.
Go Cats. Beat Tide.