Avery Johnson has his Alabama Crimson Tide taking on the Cats this afternoon with a 14-9 record on the season. The Crimson Tide are coming off a four over time game on Tuesday in a win over #19 South Carolina. A huge win for the Crimson Tide’s chances of making the NCAA tourney, but they’re till going to need to do a lot more. When a team reaches this point, where almost every game is a must-win for the rest of the season, a sense of desperation kicks in and they play all out. Kentucky is the best team left on their schedule and would be at the top of the resumÃ© for this bubble team.
The win over South Carolina is Alabama’s only win over a ranked opponent this season. They played Oregon to a 9 point loss, and the Crimson Tide were in every position to win that game in the second half before letting the Ducks take care of business.
On the flip side, for Kentucky, Coach Cal has said he’s implementing this new style where is a player doesn’t rebound or play defense, he’s coming out. And by “a player” he was specifically referring to Malik Monk. But in all fairness, De’Aaron Fox and Wenyen Gabriel have been almost as bad defensively so I’d throw them in that grouping as well. The Wildcats are in need of a convincing win, so that the guys can remember what it is like to have fun out on the court together. The reason that some Coach Cal teams at UK are more memorable is for how much fun they have together. Remember everyone, these really are just 18-year old kids out there. When they have fun, they play better.
Here’s a look at the potential starting lineup for this afternoon’s game against Alabama.
#25 Braxton Key, Freshman Forward, 6’8″
Braxton Key was a consensus four-star recruit coming out of high school a year ago. He was ranked in the top 35 players in the class by most recruiting services, and was a huge get for Avery Johnson in his second season in Tuscaloosa. Key went to Oakhill Academy, but is from Tennessee, where he was the best recruit from that state in the 2016 class.
The freshman has immediately stepped in to be the main contributor for this Crimson Tide team. He’s averaging 11.8 points and 6 rebounds, both of which lead the team. He’s also giving the Tide 2.1 assists and a 35.7% from the 3-point line.
Let’s talk about defense. Coach Cal has said there will be new energy on the defensive side of the ball, and against Alabama is a good team to bring it out on. The Crimson Tide have been starting a group of guys that are all around the same height. A projected starting lineup measuring in at 6’5″, 6’7″, 6’7″ 6’8″, and 6’9″ is something that could give a lot of teams fits. I could honestly see Cal using some zone against a team that outsizes them at 3 of the 5 starting slots.
#12 Dazon Ingram, RS Freshman Guard, 6’5″
Dazon Ingram got off to a really fast start last season, starting the first 7 games of the year, before an injury to his left foot that kept him out for the rest of the year. He used the same rule that a lot of injured players use and got the medical redshirt to keep his eligibility. This guy may seem familiar to UK fans, because Kentucky did reach out to him late in the recruiting process, never offered him a scholarship, and then when he signed he said he committed to Alabama “over” Kentucky. To quote Drew Franklin’s post from that day, “It’s the classic example of a recruit wanting Kentucky on his final list when, in reality, he never had an offer”.
Ingram has come back in the 2016-17 season just as solidly as he did last season before his injury. He’s putting up 10.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and has almost double the amount of assists as any other player on the squad with 3.6 per game. He’s Alabama’s best deep-threat, shooting 46.4% from beyond the arc, but he only takes just over 1 three per game.
Ingram is the only true guard that Avery Johnson has been starting lately. At 6’5″, Ingram came out of high school as a shooting guard, but has been playing the point in the Crimson Tide offense that is full of wing players. He’s probably draw De’Aaron Fox on the defensive end, a good chance for Fox to start to prove again that he is the elite level defender that we heard about all off-season.
#1 Riley Norris, Junior Forward, 6’7″
Riley Norris is the one of two players in this Alabama starting lineup who have any experience against Coach Cal and Kentucky. Norris started the majority of the games last year for the Crimson Tide, and led the team in both rebounding and 3-point percentage at 37.5% last season. His father also played in college, suiting up for the College of Montevallo.
This year, Norris is giving Avery Johnson about the same contributions he gave last season, even falling on some statistics. He’s averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds, with a shooting percentage from 3-point land of only 31.3%. He’s one of the team’s better free-throw shooters at 76.6%. Last season, in three games against Kentucky, Norris wasn’t a huge factor, combining for 15 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Norris brings some experience to the table for Avery Johnson as a perimeter player. Over 55% of the shots Norris has taken this season have been from behind the arc, showing that he hasn’t used his size very often. I think this is the type of player that Cal will have Malik Monk guard. If Norris stays on the perimeter, Monk shouldn’t get beat on a ton of rebounds, and can still get out on the break like he wants to do so badly.
#35 Donta Hall, Sophomore Forward, 6’9″
Donta Hall was a top-100 recruit coming out of high school two years ago, and the best player from the state of Alabama at the time. Hall was a part of Avery Johnson’s first recruiting class that is setting the tone for a more solid future in Tuscaloosa. He led the team in blocks and field goal percentage last season.
Hall is the biggest guy in the starting lineup for the Crimson Tide. He’s not a huge offensive threat, but he’s a very defensive minded player. He’s averaging 5.8 points and 5.7 rebounds. However, he is giving Alabama 1.6 blocks per game on the defensive end. The down side to Hall being the biggest guy on the floor for Alabama is that he doesn’t hit his free throws, making only 55% on the year.
At 6’9″ and 223 pounds, Hall sounds like a more suitable matchup for Wenyen Gabriel than Bam Adebayo. But given that Hall is the biggest post threat for the Crimson Tide, I’d expect Bam to match up with him. Bam has almost 40 pounds of muscle on Hall, so today could be a game where we see him get back to his old ways of scoring or dunking whenever he touches the ball in the post.
#21 Bola Olaniyan, Graduate Student Forward, 6’7″
Bola Olaniyan played his first three seasons of college eligibility at Southern Illinois for the Salukis. He utilized the graduate transfer rule (aka the Julius Mays rule) and transferred to Alabama to play his senior year at a bigger school. He averaged 7.8 points and 8.8 rebounds for the Salukis last season.
Olaniyan is only putting up 2.9 points, but is grabbing 5.5 rebounds, including 2.4 per game on the offensive glass which leads the team. He’s a solid defender and plays bigger than his 6’7″ height would show. He’ll be the fifth option on offense when he’s in the game, as he’s only attempted 46 shots total on the season.
The native of Nigeria gives Avery Johnson the stability factor he needs with a generally young team. Olaniyan has the experience of playing three seasons of college ball before this year. Despite being only 6’7″, he does weigh 235 pounds, which is a reason I could see him trying to match up with Bam on defense. That would move Wenyen Gabriel onto guarding Donta Hall. It would really depend on how Avery Johnson wants to defend in the post. Look for some zone out of the Crimson Tide as well, seeing if Kentucky can score the ball in a slower paced half-court offense.
Overall, Alabama starts a style of team that is unlike a large amount of the teams Kentucky has played this season. The Crimson Tide essentially start four forwards and a shooting guard, but those guys make it work together. The Wildcats are going for their 7th straight win over the Tide from Tuscaloosa, but it could be a tough one. I’d bet that the crowd in Coleman Coliseum is going to be rocking for “everybody’s Super Bowl” coming to town, which is something we saw the Kentucky kids crumble under in the game at Florida. My two things to look for in this game are how Alabama defends Bam Adebayo in the post and how Coach Cal keeps his promise of sitting one of the best scorers in the country in Malik Monk if he doesn’t play defense or rebound the basketball.
Go Cats. Beat Crimson Tide.