I know there are a bunch of games on the UK basketball schedule that look more daunting than tomorrow’s game against Alabama. And based on where the SEC standings will finish in March, Alabama is likely to be a middle of the pack squad. They are probably going to be a fringe NCAA team and in Nate Oats’ first year he is simply trying to establish his program. But I can tell you right now there might not be a worse matchup for Kentucky than tomorrow and we should be genuinely nervous about this game. Not only is UK coming off a very emotional road win over Georgia and the potential for a letdown is real, and not only is Alabama coming in playing its best of the season, the way that Alabama plays against the way we play leads to a real problem.
Because there is no team in the league that is going to put up more threes than Alabama. They have attempted more than THIRTY three pointers in 9 of their 14 games. The lowest amount they have attempted in any game was 21. By comparison, Kentucky has attempted 21 or more three pointers just TWICE all season.
Now let’s look at the makes, which is obviously more important. Alabama has made more than 10 threes in their last 5 games, in 9 out of their last 10 games, and 10 out of 14 for the year. Kentucky has made 10 or more threes just once this season, against Lamar. And they have made 5 or fewer threes in 8 of 14 games.
Point being, even if Alabama doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well, and even if Kentucky is shooting the ball better than average, it would require a very drastic surprise for the Crimson Tide to not have a significant point advantage from the three point line on Saturday. And if averages hold, Alabama is looking at around 11 threes made against Kentucky’s 5. And that translates to an 18-point advantage on that shot. So how are we going to make up the difference:
- FOUL SHOOTING: Not only is Kentucky one of the best foul shooting teams in the country, they get to the line significantly more than their opponents. UK, on average, is shooting about 9 more foul shots a game than opponents. While Alabama shoots a decent clip from the foul line, around 70%, they put their opponents on the line about the same amount as they attempt. Add in that the whistles are usually in our favor in a home game and UK should be able to make up some real points here.
- LOW PERCENTAGE: Alabama is going to be putting up the threes no matter what. The question is how many other shots are they going to get. If UK can force them under 30% from the three, and rebound the ball well, then ‘Bama will waste many positions with missed threes and not get the two pointers. If Alabama shoots higher than 35%, it might be close to impossible to make up the points.
- BUCK AVERAGES: UK shouldn’t aspire to match Bama three for three, but a good shooting game from Quickley, Maxey, and Sestina could greatly soften that advantage. If Alabama gets to their 11 three average, if UK can just get to 7 or 8 makes themselves, the rest of the UK advantages should be enough to get the Cats on top.
I haven’t seen a spread come out yet but I expect this game will be in the 5-point range. Even if UK can get out to a double digit lead, expect Bama to be able to cut into that quickly. And garbage time threes always close the gap too. I have seen Bama play 3 or 4 times this year. They are very hit or miss defensively and don’t do much inside but they can get a spree of threes going that can cripple you. It’s not a great secret what they are doing and I expect UK to have it game-planned well, but UK is going to likely have to make up points somewhere else on the floor to offset the Alabama threes. And if they don’t, a shocking home loss could be in order.