Know your first SEC rival: Alabama

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This morning on PowerMizzou, Gabe Dearmond pointed out that, in many ways, Alabama is similar to last year's Mizzou squad.

"A little bit like what we did last year," Haith said. "You've got to guard dribble penetration. When you play four guards, you've got guys that can handle the ball and deck it and get in the paint. We've got to do a great job of keeping them out of the paint and then we've got to limit them to one shot. The biggest thing is just keeping guys in front of you."

Missouri ran a similar set last season. The Tigers had 6-foot-7 Ricardo Ratliffe at center and 6-foot-6 Kim English at power forward. Alabama starts 6-foot-8 Nick Jacobs as its lone big man and the other four starters are 6-foot-6 or shorter.

"Most of the year that's the lineup, that's been the case for us," Grant said. "We're not a bigger physical team and so we've got to be able to take advantage of the personnel that we have and try to put them in positions where they can be successful."

One key difference, however: Alabama is slllllllllooowwwwwwwww. Glacier slow. Bucknell slow. The Crimson Tide currently rank 327th in Pace and average fewer than 63 possessions per game. And to me, that tells you a very clear difference between last year's Mizzou team and this year's Bama team. Mizzou last year was experienced and deep on the perimeter and had a will strong enough to benefit from its size limitations. Alabama is really young, kind of dumb sometimes, and playing this smallball style simply because there isn't much of a Plan B. The Tide are not as bad on the glass as you might think, but they have been severely limited without injured center Carl Engstrom. But like Bucknell, at least, they are better on paper than perhaps their resume suggests.

Alabama Crimson Tide (8-5)


Bama
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
62.7
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.04 0.94
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.25 1.11
2-PT FG% 50.1% 43.1%
3-PT FG% 34.1% 30.2%
FT% 68.9% 71.6%
True Shooting % 54.2% 48.4%




Bama Opp.
Assists/Gm 12.1 10.5
Steals/Gm 8.3 5.8
Turnovers/Gm 13.2 15.1
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.55 1.08




Bama Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 10.2 11.5
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 10.6 12.1
Difference +0.4 +0.6

Like Missouri, Bama attacks the offensive glass pretty hard, and they are at least not awful at it (which, considering their size, is impressive). But against a team with Missouri's size, you have to figure that could be a problem for the Tide. If you attack the glass with a few players and don't get the rebound, you could fall victim to run-out opportunities. Just ask Missouri, which paid for that dearly against UCLA. Of course, Bucknell did prove that it isn't impossible to break even on the glass versus Mizzou. So we'll see where Mizzou's Hustle Level is set.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

UA Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

UA Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 114 53 MU
Effective FG% 107 20 MU
Turnover % 176 331 UA big
Off. Reb. % 132 71 MU
FTA/FGA 204 6 MU big
MU Offense vs UA Defense Ranks

MU Offense UA Defense Advantage
Efficiency 19 50 MU
Effective FG% 112 56 UA
Turnover % 71 83 push
Off. Reb. % 4 268 MU big
FTA/FGA 269 121 UA big

Where the Tide are weakest

Alabama's offense isn't awful by any means, but it is certainly the Tide's bigger weakness. They don't shoot 3's very well (192nd in 3PT%), which is a shame considering the shots they are most likely to get when undersized. They don't pass incredibly well -- Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacey combine to average 6.2 assists per game (not very good for your two leading passers), the rest of the team averages just 5.9, and the Tide are 233rd in Assists Per Field Goal Made. They are also terribly thin (224th in Bench Minutes) and green (310th in Experience). Of their best seven players, four are sophomores, two are juniors and one is a freshman.

Defensively, they hold you to pretty good shots, but they could fall victim to penetration (they rank 283rd in Def. FT%, which suggests they foul guards a lot), and they aren't a very good defensive rebounding team, which should play right into Missouri's strengths.

Where the Tide are best

They do limit your ability to find good shots (61st in 2PT% defense, 90th in 3PT%), they do block quite a few shots (33rd in Block%), and they are decent at forcing turnovers like an Anthony Grant team is supposed to (83rd in TO%, 47th in Steal%). They also rank 63rd in Effective Height, but I assume that has a lot to do with the now-injured Engstrom, who goes 7'1 and 285 pounds. They do have long guards (Levi Randolph is 6'5, Rodney Cooper 6'6), but their overall size isn't that impressive without Engstrom, especially since Cooper and (especially) lone bigs Nick Jacobs (6'8, 265) and Moussa Gueye (7'0, 255) foul too much to stay on the court.

Alabama's Season to Date

Games without Engstrom are in italics.

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    vs. No. 95 Villanova (77-55)
    vs. No. 112 Oregon State (65-62)
    No. 143 South Dakota State (70-67)
    No. 160 Charleston Southern (59-46)
    No. 185 Oakland (65-45)
    at No. 231 Texas Tech (66-62)

    No. 333 Lamar (75-47)
  • Losses
    at No. 12 VCU (73-54)
    at No. 17 Cincinnati (58-56)
    No. 71 Dayton (81-76)
    No. 91 Tulane (53-50)
    No. 173 Mercer (66-59)

Alabama vs. Top 50 (average score): Opponent 65.5, Alabama 55.0 (-10.5)
Alabama vs. No. 51-150 (average score): Alabama 67.6, Opponent 63.6 (+4.0)
Alabama vs. No. 151+ (average score): Alabama 64.8, Opponent 53.2 (+11.6)

It does bear mentioning up front that Alabama almost beat Cincinnati, a team currently ranked higher in Pomeroy's rankings than Missouri, on the road, and with Engstrom playing just three minutes. There is upside here. There is just a lot of youth and some depth issues as well. Without Engstrom, Alabama is just 2-5 and tried really hard to lose to awful Texas Tech in Lubbock. The Tide got Glue Guy™ Andrew Steele back for Saturday's game versus Oakland and looked better than they had in a while, but this is still an iffy team forced to play a style it didn't intend to play.

Alabama Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Trevor Releford (6'0, 195, Jr.) 16.7 0.54 30.8 MPG, 15.6 PPG (49% 2PT, 43% 3PT, 84% FT), 2.8 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.5 TOPG
Trevor Lacey (6'3, 215, So.) 13.9 0.45 30.8 MPG, 12.5 PPG (51% 2PT, 42% 3PT, 70% FT), 4.0 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.9 TOPG
Rodney Cooper (6'6, 215, So.) 9.0 0.33 27.4 MPG, 12.3 PPG (56% 2PT, 25% 2PT, 69% FT), 4.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, 2.2 TOPG, 2.8 PFPG
Levi Randolph (6'5, 205, So.) 7.8 0.25 30.8 MPG, 8.0 PPG (50% 2PT, 39% 3PT, 65% FT), 3.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.2 TOPG, 2.4 PFPG
Devonta Pollard (6'8, 200, Fr.) 6.5 0.29 22.6 MPG, 5.7 PPG (48% 2PT, 20% 3PT, 58% FT), 3.6 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 1.4 TOPG
Nick Jacobs (6'8, 265, So.) 4.2 0.24 17.1 MPG, 5.0 PPG (45% 2PT, 54% FT), 2.9 RPG, 1.2 BPG
Andrew Steele (6'4, 225, Sr.) 4.0 0.22 18.7 MPG, 3.8 PPG (54% 2PT, 13% 3PT, 60% FT), 3.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.7 TOPG
Retin Obasohan (6'1, 210, RSFr.) 1.5 0.12 12.6 MPG, 2.8 PPG (39% 2PT, 29% 3PT, 64% FT), 1.2 RPG, 1.2 TOPG
Moussa Gueye (7'0, 255, Jr.) 1.1 0.08 13.5 MPG, 1.3 PPG (36% 2PT, 50% FT), 4.4 RPG, 1.4 TOPG, 2.4 PFPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls. It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Cooper (28%), Releford (25%), Lacey (22%)
  • Highest Floor%: Releford (45%), Lacey (43%), Randolph (40%)
  • Highest %Pass: Steele (66%), Lacey (61%), Randolph (53%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Jacobs (74%), Cooper (49%), Pollard (36%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Gueye (28%), Releford (14%), Jacobs (13%)
  • Highest %T/O: Gueye (40%), Jacobs (13%), Obasohan (12%)
  • Why yes, Trevor Releford is related to Kansas' Travis Releford. He is also easily Alabama's best player, a veteran in a sea of youth and reasonable upside. He and Lacey (who isn't related to Bama running back Eddie Lacy) seem to basically split the point and shooting guard duties, and aside from the fact that Releford shoots better from the free throw line and doesn't rebound, they are almost the same player.
  • The problem is everything past Releford and Lacey. Rodney Cooper isn't a very good shooter and is being forced to play a lot of the Kim English 4. Levi Randolph is a pretty good shooter but doesn't contribute much else and fouls a lot. Five-star freshman Devonta Pollard (who, as you'll remember, was considering Missouri for a while) has struggled to find his role thus far. Nick Jacobs is a good shot-blocker and offensive black hole. Andrew Steele does the Little Things but can't shoot. Moussa Gueye fouls at a Ryan Rosburgian rate.

Keys to the Game

  1. Rebound Like You're Supposed To. If Mizzou is dialed in on the glass, the Tigers should dominate, especially on the offensive end. So, uh, get dialed in. Force Alabama to get smoking hot from the field to beat you.

  2. BCI! BCI! Mizzou almost goes out of its way not to force turnovers, and Alabama is reasonably decent (good enough, anyway) at not committing them. If Missouri is winning the battle on the glass (and it should) and some member of the Tide isn't suddenly nailing about 10 3-pointers, the Tide will have to create extra possessions through ball control to have a chance. Missouri has shown that it doesn't have to win the ball control battle to win games, but it cannot get dominated here.

  3. Pressey vs. Releford. In recent games, Phil Pressey has proven to be perhaps the most important player (to his team) in the country. Against Trevor Releford, he should have some fun competition in the scoring-and-passing department (even though he's a much better passer than Releford). If Releford can fight Pressey to a draw, it could keep Bama close for quite a while.

Prediction

Pomeroy projects a 68-58 Missouri win, but if I'm not mistaken, Engstrom's early-season presence factors into that number a decent amount. This is a scrappy team, but depth and mistakes should eventually do in the Tide. I say Missouri 72, Bama 56. Prove me right, boys!

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