It was a rare occurrence before the season to see anyone not having sky-high expectations for Alabama. It wasn’t hard to see why.
For two seasons, Avery Johnson had taken a mostly rag-tag roster and overachieved. This season he was blessed with a combination of elite young talent and combining it with some grizzled veterans.
This season in Tuscaloosa has proven how difficult it is to win with youth, even with a high level of talent.
There are times when Alabama has looked the part. The Tide dominated Texas A&M in the SEC opener and took down Auburn for the Tigers’ only conference loss. They also handled Trae Young and Oklahoma’s hot-shot offense this past weekend.
They’ve also lost five games to teams ranked 60th or lower in KenPom.
So who are the Crimson Tide this year?
MEET ALABAMA. THEY’RE GOOD AT FOOTBALL MOSTLY.
I’ve always been a fan of outside-the-box hires. And even though I liked Anthony Grant, I can understand why Bama decided it needed a change back in 2015.
Hiring a career NBA coach doesn’t often work out, but there’s reason for Tide fans to be excited about what Avery Johnson has done in Tuscaloosa so far.
Despite the relatively bumpy start this season, Alabama is 5-3 in the league, just a half-game out of second place. With the enormous soft middle in the league, 11-7 might get you in second place, and the Tide are perfectly positioned for a run.
11-7 would’ve been right within (my) projections before the season. And yet, Alabama could get to that mark and still feel like something of a disappointment.
The early-season schedule was tough enough, but Alabama dropped a tough game at home to a now fledgling UCF squad, which seemed to signal a little bit of a problem.
When things go wrong, a limited Alabama offense gets stagnant and predictable. The ball goes to Collin Sexton, there’s probably a ball screen, and three guys stand and watch what Collin does.
There is a bunch of talent on the roster, and when the ball is moving and the wings are attacking, they can be really good. Sexton is gifted and clearly the best player on the roster, but Alabama has nine or 10 guys it can play with out a huge drop-off.
- PG: Collin Sexton v Jordan Geist
- CG: Dazon Ingram v Kassiu Robertson
- WING: John Petty v Jordan Barnett
- CF: Braxton Key v Jontay Porter
- POST: Donte Hall v Jeremiah Tilmon
Clearly Alabama has the advantage at point guard. Sexton is as good a guard off the dribble as there is in college basketball. Ingram is a tough matchup for Mizzou as well. He was the primary ball handler before Sexton arrived, and now Alabama has two strong, athletic guards who can get to the rim. They’re going against two defenders who struggle on the ball and against ball screens.
This is a game where Mizzou will really have to win in the interior. Barnett has experience and can give Petty issues on defense with his athleticism.
The Key/Porter matchup could be the most intriguing, as Key is fighting through a pretty awful offensive season so far. If he falters, the Tide might turn to Alex Reese or go big and pair Hall up with Daniel Giddens.
Speaking of Hall, he’ll be tough for Jeremiah Tilmon to match up against. He’s strong and attacks the glass.
The good news is, even though Bama can play nine to 10 guys, Johnson typically doesn’t. He tends to stick with Sexton, Ingram and Petty for the bulk of the perimeter minutes, and he rotates Hall with Daniel Giddens and Alex Reese down low. This may help a Missouri roster fighting depth issues.
Since Johnson has been in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has largely placed emphasis on defense, and the Tide are good again in that regard. They defend the ball hard and use their athleticism and length to fill gaps and pressure the passing lanes.
They will also put you on the line, as they’re quite physical and will aggressively hunt for blocked shots. They’re currently first in Adjusted Defense in conference play — Mizzou is looking for a game to get right offensively, and this might not be the right opponent for that.
However, if there was a road game for you to get right defensively, it might be this one. The Tide’s offensive efficiency is pretty mediocre, though having an outlet valve like Sexton is always helpful.
Mizzou isn’t the kind of team to play a pack line defense, but with Alabama being a below-average shooting team, you can lay off everyone except for Petty. He is prone to wild swings in efficiency, but when he’s on, he’s very difficult to defend.
The silver lining is with Mizzou’s turnover problems — Alabama isn’t really the kind of team to turn you over. If Mizzou can avoid ill-timed turnovers and eliminate as many empty possessions as possible, the Tigers can have a chance to win at Coleman. If they prize the ball the way they did against Mississippi State and Auburn, however, it could turn into a long night in a hurry.
Both teams play at a fair pace, so I’d expect a game in the mid-60s for tempo. If Cuonzo Martin and the Tigers can limit their turnovers and shoot above 40 percent from behind the arc, then with their other advantages they could pull off a slight upset on the road.
It’s easy to lose track with Mizzou’s recent three-game skid, but the Tigers are actually considered the better overall team in this matchup (No. 47 vs. No. 55 in KenPom). But anytime you have an elite guy like Sexton, with the weakness Mizzou has shown in ball control, it’s hard to pick the Tigers in this type of contest.
It’s difficult to see this Missouri team, with the way it’s been playing, pulling out a win. It’s not impossible because Alabama just isn’t that good. But lose, and you’re now 3-6 in league play and desperately needing to beat Kentucky to stop the bleeding.
Mizzou needs a get-right game. If Martin can keep this team in the right frame of mind, this could be that kind of game.