1. Hottest of hot streaks
A one-time Kentucky recruiting target, Alabama’s John Petty Jr. is having a monster season for the Crimson Tide. He leads the team in scoring at 16.7 points per game, rebounding at 7.3 per game, and three-point shooting, hitting 50.5% of his threes per game. His three point shooting has him as the 3rd best shooter in the SEC and 16th best shooter in the country, but he’s attempted far more threes than almost every player who has a percentage better than him.
The 6’5″ junior from Huntsville, Alabama has been playing even better than his stats suggest over the last few weeks. In his last 11 games, Petty has had games scoring 39, 34, and 23, among others, and is averaging 19.1 points and 7.1 rebounds, while shooting over 56% from three. He’s hit three or more threes in nine of those 11 games, including games hitting 10, 7, and 6. Running him off the three-point line will be the primary key to stopping the Alabama offensive attack today.
2. Very good, but very frustrating
Just behind John Petty Jr on the stat sheet for the Crimson Tide is Kira Lewis Jr., who is having a breakout season as well. The starting point guard for Alabama is averaging 16.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and nearly 2 steals per contest. He’s gone for 20 or more points four times this year and even hit the 30 mark at one point. Another Alabama native, the sophomore stands at 6’3″ and hails from Meridianville.
The problem for Kira Lewis Jr. so far this season is that, despite how good he’s been, he can be extremely frustrating to watch for Alabama fans. His scoring is accompanied with a ton of shot attempts, 52 more attempts than Petty on the year, and he’s averaging nearly 4 turnovers per game. Lewis has gone over four attempts from deep six times this season, despite shooting below 33% on the season and he’s taking 15 total shot attempts per game, having gone over 20 attempts three times this season.
3. Four around one, AGAIN
Kentucky has faced quite a few teams this season that have put a lineup on the floor that resembles a four around one offense, meaning that it is four perimeter players with one post player. Alabama fits right into that mold, playing one big and surrounding him with shooters on the wings. However, an advantage for Kentucky is that it can allow them to dominate the boards over time, as we saw in the second half against Georgia.
Alabama’s lone starter with size has varied this season between 6’9″ Alex Reese, who averages 9.1 points and 4.9 rebounds, and 6’9″ Galin Smith, who averages 2.8 points and 2.4 rebounds. The only other player with size that plays any contributing minutes is 6’9″ Javian Davis, who averages 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. All three of Kentucky’s bigs will have a size advantage today, but helping on shooters and rotations will be the key defensively.
4. Threes, threes, and more threes
If you hadn’t noticed from a few of the player descriptions above, Alabama’s game plan revolves around putting up as many shots as possible, with an emphasis on three-point attempts. The Crimson Tide attempt 30 threes per game, which is 4th most in the entire country. As a team, they knock down 37.2% of those threes, which ranks 37th in the country, but when you’re taking as many as they are, those makes add up in a hurry. Head Coach Nate Oats’ game plan is working out to be the 3rd highest scoring team in the country.
Alabama is the second-best three-point shooting team in the SEC by percentage, with Vanderbilt being the only team ahead of them. The Crimson Tide have attempted the most threes in the conference, with 57 more attempts than the second place team. They’ve also made the most deep balls in the conference, with almost 20 more makes than the next closest team. Living and dying by the three can be fun basketball to watch, but it also makes Alabama capable of beating any team if they get even remotely hot from distance.
5. A tale of two months
The beginning of the season was not a fun team to be a Crimson Tide fan in Nate Oats’ first season. The month of November ended with Alabama sitting at 3-4, with losses to Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and a now 7-7 Iowa State team.The wins weren’t impressive either, as they beat Florida Atlantic, struggled to a win over Furman, and beat Southern Miss.
Flash forward to the month of December and now into January, and a bit of a switch has flipped for Alabama. The Crimson Tide have been playing much better, with a 5-2 record since November ended. The only two losses were a 2-point loss to ranked Penn State, and a double overtime loss at Florida. They’ve scored over 90 points in five straight games and are playing like a future NCAA Tournament team. They travel to Rupp today and meet a 8.5 point spread against the number 14 team in the country, as they try to better the 3-15 record they have against Kentucky since Coach Cal arrived in Lexington.
Go Cats. Beat Crimson Tide.