1. Balanced scoring attack
One of the aspects that makes the Alabama Crimson Tide a tough beat this season is that they have so many different offensive weapons. Alabama has four players averaging at least 12.5 points per game and they’ve had six different leading scorers in their last nine games alone. Their balanced scoring output is a result of multiple players getting up a high volume of total shots, as five players have attempted at least 113 field goals a piece. To compare, Kentucky has just two players who have attempted that amount, and there’s a huge drop off after the top of the list. Alabama’s 81.8 points per game as a team is ranked third in the SEC, compared to Kentucky’s 13th ranked 68.1 points per game.
The top four scorers for the Crimson Tide are led by senior John Petty Jr, who has been a four year starter and four year double digit scorer at Alabama. Petty is averaging 14.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.2 steals per game this season. Sophomore Jaden Shackelford is next at 13.1 points per game, to go along with 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Third on the list is senior forward Herbert Jones, who is just behind at 12.9 points per contest. Jones also leads the team in rebounding at 5.7 and steals at 1.7, to go along with 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks. Fourth in scoring is Villanova-transfer and former 5-star Jahvon Quinerly who averages 13 points and a team-leading 3.4 assists per game. Quinerly didn’t play in the last match up, but will be good to go tonight.
2. Three-point shooting
Nate Oats has implemented a style of play at Alabama that rivals the NBA game. Quick possessions and an increased amount of three-point attempts. His team’s stats back up that philosophy, as the Crimson Tide shoot 30.9 threes per game, which ranks 1st in the country. They were ranked second in the conference and 12th in the country at the first match up with Kentucky, but have since dialed it up from distance even more. At the last match up, Alabama was shooting just 32.2% from three on the year, which was 210th in the country. However, since then, they’ve bumped their percentage to 36.2%, good for 68th in the country. Good news for Alabama is that even if you don’t shoot the best percentage, shooting a large amount of threes will assure that you’ll make a solid amount, and the Crimson Tide make over 11 per game, which is third in the nation.
The aspect of this that makes Alabama so difficult to defend is that they have no many different players that can be a threat from deep. There are seven Crimson Tide players who have made at least 12 threes this year. Nate Oats’ squad has seven contributing players who shoot anywhere from 32.4% to 48.1% from three on the year. John Petty Jr. and Jaden Schackelford are the two most important shooters to account for, as they’ve made 43 and 32 threes respectively this season. Petty has attempted 157 total field goals this year with 102 of them being threes, while Shackelford has attempted threes on 89 of his 173 attempts. In the first match up against Kentucky, the two combined for 6 made threes on 12 attempts and 41 total points.
3. Next man up
Earlier in this post, I mentioned that starting point guard Jahvon Quinerly was out the last time that the Crimson Tide faced the Wildcats, and while he will be healthy tonight, Nate Oats will be missing another contributor due to injury. With Alabama playing mostly guards and shooters, they don’t have many players with size that get a ton of minutes. One of those players was 6’10” – 225 pound senior Jordan Bruner. Bruner, the only player on the roster over 6’9″, will miss tonight’s game with a right knee injury. On the season, Bruner was playing 22 minutes per game and averaging 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game. Even for his size, Bruner could still shoot from distance, hitting over 32% of his threes this season.
Bruner was the tallest contributor in the lineup, with no players over 6’9″ on the active roster. With him out of the game, Alabama’s rotation will be even smaller, which actually works into Nate Oats’ strategy a bit. More players who operate well on the perimeter means faster possessions and more threes attempted. Similarly, in Alabama’s first game against Kentucky, 6’8″ Herbert Jones left with an injury, and Alabama played at a level that was consistent to how they’d been playing with him on the floor. Next man up is just another shooter for the Crimson Tide. Jones, along with forward Alex Reese, will likely fill the hole left by Bruner’s production. Both can score from the perimeter, so it will be another tough test for Kentucky’s bigs on the defensive end.
4. The SEC’s best
Last game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Kentucky Wildcats was for sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference. The Cats had won three in a row to start SEC play, and the Crimson Tide had won four in a row. Both teams were playing their best basketball of the season, as evidenced by Bama and Kentucky being listed at 1 and 2 on Andy Katz’s Top Turnaround Teams list that was released the day of the game. With Alabama winning, the Crimson Tide took control of the top spot in the conference, and they haven’t relinquished it since.
It was a close race at the time of the last match up. Kentucky and Alabama were tied for first, with one team sitting just a half game out. Since then, Alabama was continued to pad their lead. The Crimson Tide now sit at 8-0 in conference play, with a three-game lead over the trio of Missouri, Florida, and LSU. Kentucky and Tennessee are tied next in the standings, at 3.5 games back a piece. With ten conference games still to be played for Alabama, obviously there is room to slip up down the stretch, but they’ve certainly given themselves a nice cushion at this point in the season.
5. Since we last met
In the fourteen days since Kentucky and Alabama last met, the two teams have not had similar routes to tonight’s game. Kentucky dropped games at Auburn and Georgia, before finally picking up a solid win against LSU. Alabama has basically dominated their competition since beating Kentucky, winning threes games by an average margin of victory of 23 points. They’ve been playing so well that the Crimson Tide are now up to No. 9 in the AP Poll. Their first win was a home game against the Arkansas Razorbacks, in which Alabama shot 15 of 36 from three for 41.7%. Eleven different players scored for Nate Oats, and the Crimson Tide won easily, 90-59.
Next up was what was thought to be a tough test in LSU. The Tigers are one of the top scoring teams in the country, but Alabama put on an historic shooting performance. The Crimson Tide made an incredible 23 of 43 threes against LSU, good for both a school and conference record, on their way to a 105-75 victory. The third and final game since Alabama played in Rupp Arena was a tad closer than the first two. Mississippi State made it interesting for the Crimson Tide, only trailing by five at the half. However, another strong shooting performance was able to thwart any upset attempt. Alabama went 14 of 34, over 41%, to pick up the 8-point win. Nate Oats’ squad has now won eight straight SEC games and nine straight games overall, sitting at 13-3 on the season. If the Cats can’t manage to slow down the outside shooting, they’ll struggle to pull off the upset tonight.
Go Cats. Beat Crimson Tide.