Nate Oats just continues to make history in Tuscaloosa. With Kansas and Houston both falling this past weekend, the Alabama Crimson Tide (17-2, 7-0 SEC; Kenpom: 3; T-Rank: 3; NET: 3) is now ranked #2 in the country - the highest ranking in over twenty years for this revitalized program. Oats has done an unbelievable job in only four years at the Capstone, and the Athletic Department better do whatever it takes (like building the damn arena) to keep him here in Tuscaloosa.
With that being said, we are rapidly approaching the halfway point of the SEC season. This weekend’s SEC-Big 12 Challenge always feels like the midway point of conference play, even though there are technically two more games on the other side than the former side. Either way, the Tide is making the turn by the clubhouse, looking to grab a snack and run by the restroom before heading back out for the back nine of SEC play.
Which brings us to tonight’s game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs (12-7, 1-6 SEC; Kenpom: 57; T-Rank: 77; NET: 62), who have been downright terrible in conference play. We did mention last time that the Bulldogs - who were actually ranked when Alabama played them in the SEC opener - were very much paper tigers, but I still didn’t expect to see them well on their way to playing on Sad Wednesday of the SEC Tournament. First year head coach Chris Jans has had them playing really well on the defensive end (11th in the country in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency), but they simply don’t have many options on offense.
Will Alabama be breaking out the brooms for the first time this season?
From Last Time
Three Keys to Victory
Take Care of the Basketball. Surprise! I’d love to stop including this in this section, but when you’ve got one of the worst teams in the country in turnovers (Alabama - at 321st in the nation) going up against one of the best in turning opponents over (Mississippi State - at 20th in college basketball), it’s kind of a critical component to the game.
Dictate the Tempo. This goes hand-in-hand with taking care of the basketball. Chris Jans hasn’t changed the way Mississippi State approaches the pace of play at all, as the Bulldogs are 341st in Tempo - by far the slowest in the SEC. They really D-up in the halfcourt and string together stops by playing elite team defense. The best way for the Tide to overcome this, of course, would be by pushing the pace of the game and preventing the Bulldogs from getting into their halfcourt defense as much as possible. Alabama needs to be hitting the outlet passes and running up the court ASAP tonight.
Win the Battle of the Boards. With Mississippi State’s size, it’s no surprise that they are 6th in the country in OREB%, just ahead of Alabama at 14. As I mentioned earlier, it’s honestly the best part of their offense. I’ve talked a lot about how elite State’s defense has been, but outside of the Gonzaga game, Alabama has been right there with them. If the Tide can limit turnovers and win the rebounding battle, Nate Oats squad should be able to escape Starkville with a win tonight.
Check out this link to read the full Breakdown for the last meeting
In their previous meeting, the game went about exactly as I expected it to. Mississippi State did their best to muck the game up and drag Alabama down to their level, forcing the Tide into 19 turnovers and some ugly shooting numbers early. However, Alabama’s sheer talent was simply too much to be contained for long on the offensive end, and it’s not like State could do much of anything on offense to truly threaten the Tide (20/55 from the field and 18/36 from the free throw line - which is an insane amount of free throw attempts by the way, don’t let SEC officiating normalize this). Combine that with a Tide win on the glass and you have a workman-like 78-67 road victory for Alabama.
Totally Opposite Directions
That, of course, was the first of seven straight double-digit conference victories for Nate Oats’ squad. Meanwhile, State has only found a win once - a home victory over hapless in-state rival, Ole Miss. The Bulldogs continue to set the game of basketball back a century with their offensive woes. With an Effective Field Goal percentage of 45.6%, they are 341st in the country in making shots count, and it’s not like they can fall back on getting to the line for free throws either, as they are 359th out of 363 teams in FT% at 61.4%.
What’s worse, the lack of production on offense is starting to affect their effort on defense. While State is still 11th nationally in Defensive Efficiency, they are a mid 7th in the SEC since conference play began. In other words, we aren’t too far from the wheels completely falling off in Starkville. Chris Jans has his work cut out for him if he wants to salvage anything for Year One of his tenure. The Bullies have a few solid wins in non-conference play, so the NIT isn’t totally out of the question, but they’ve got to turn it around quickly.
The Tide obviously has its sights set quite a bit higher. Sure, Alabama can expect to get the best from its opponents every night from here on out, with that shiny #2 ranking attached to its name. Still, I’m not sure how much it will matter for the majority of the schedule remaining. This is arguably the best team in Tide Hoops history, in part because nothing seems to be able to shake these guys’ determination to dominate every night out. And if the effort maintains that consistency, teams like Mississippi State simply don’t have a chance.
Man, that feels amazing to type out. Give Nate Oats whatever he wants, Greg Byrne. Alabama is an 11-point home favorite tonight, which honestly, seems way too low. The Tide has won by double-digits and covered in every single conference game this season. It seems that Vegas still hasn’t caught on yet. But, hey, that ain’t our problem. The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.