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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Oklahoma

Alabama leads the SEC into the final SEC-Big 12 Challenge

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Texas Christian Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

After a serious wake-up call Wednesday night against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, the 2nd-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (18-2, 8-0 SEC; Kenpom: 4; T-Rank: 5; NET: 3) takes a break from conference play for the final (sobs) SEC-Big 12 Challenge. With television contracts changing dramatically in the college athletics landscape, ESPN will replace the ACC-Big Ten Challenge - which has taken place over the first week of December for the past twenty years - with a new ACC-SEC Challenge. Which is honestly a significant downgrade for SEC fans, in my opinion. Not only is the Big 12 currently the best conference in basketball, but - as of now - the plan is for the SEC to simply replace the Big Ten in their regular window. The SEC-Big 12 Challenge boomed and started thriving when they dedicated a single Saturday in late January to it. Every year, late in the season, the SEC and Big 12 have the sports stage basically to themselves on this final Saturday of January. Having the new ACC-SEC Challenge take place over a couple of weeknights early in non-conference play, while football is still in full swing, just doesn’t have the same juice.

So, take some time this Saturday to enjoy the final SEC-Big 12 Challenge. As Erik pointed out earlier this week, it’s going to be a tough road for the SEC to beat the loaded Big 12 this year. If they can pull it out though, it will be the third straight win in the challenge for the SEC and will leave the series at final standstill of 4-4-2. A victory this year for the Big 12 would give them eternal bragging rights. As for Alabama’s part, any path to an SEC win this weekend basically requires the SEC-leading Tide to get a win on the road against the Oklahoma Sooners (11-9, 2-6 Big 12; Kenpom: 52; T-Rank: 51; NET: 65).

The Sooners have found themselves in the bottom tier of the Big 12, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a solid basketball team. At 52nd in Kenpom, they would be right in between Mississippi State and Missouri and ahead of five other SEC teams (Vanderbilt, Georgia, Ole Miss, LSU, and South Carolina - in that order). The future SEC competitors have a long, proud history of success on the hardwood - one that second year coach Porter Moser is trying to bring back to Norman. Prior to OU, Moser was the coach of super-Cinderella Loyola-Chicago, so he’s accustomed to pulling off big, unexpected upsets.

Can Alabama help lead the SEC over the Big 12 on Saturday?

The Roster

Starting Five

POINT 6’4 Milos Uzan (6.2 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.7 RPG, 101.9 DRtg)

GUARD 6’2 Grant Sherfield (16.4 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.6 RPG, 104.6 DRtg)

WING 6’7 Jalen Hill (9.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.0 APG, 100.9 DRtg)

WING 6’7 Jacob Groves (8.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.2 APG, 103.6 DRtg)

POST 6’9 Tanner Groves (10.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 93.0 DRtg)

Off the Bench

GUARD 6’3 Bijan Cortes (3.2 PPG, 2.2 APG, 1.3 RPG, 102.3 DRtg)

GUARD 6’2 C.J. Noland (3.6 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 103.0 DRtg)

GUARD 6’4 Joseph Bamisile (3.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 99.4 DRtg)

WING 6’5 Otega Oweh (2.4 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 87.4 DRtg)

POST 6’9 Sam Godwin (5.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 98.1 DRtg)

Just two years ago, the Tide took a ten-game winning streak and undefeated conference record to Norman for the Challenge and left with an upset loss at the hands of the Sooners. Unfortunately for any revenge-fueled Alabama fans, that team is completely gone now, with the lone exception of Jalen Hill. That’s just the name of the game in today’s college athletics climate, especially when there is a change made at head coach.

For his part, Hill is an athletic slasher who provides good size and solid offensive production (50.1%/31.0%/88.9%). He’s joined in the frontcourt by the Groves twins - Jacob and Tanner - a pair of transfers from Eastern Washington that arrived when Moser did. Jacob offers a shooting threat (44.8%/39.1%/71.4%), while Tanner is the one guy in the starting rotation that really offers anything in the form of rebounding (18.5% REB%) or rim protection (4.4% BLK%). Sam Godwin and Otega Oweh provide solid depth, the former as a decent back-up for Tanner Groves and the latter as an elite athlete and wing defender.

In the backcourt, true freshman Milos Uzan has taken over at the point due to his high level passing (23.5% AST%), but he’s a threat to knock down some shots, too (50.5%/35.7%/76.9%). Bijan Cortes backs him up with little drop-off (23.6% AST%; 46.3%/42.1%/50.0%). Grant Sherfield is the name to keep note of though. A true shooting guard, Sherfield is 7th in the Big 12 in PPG due to his efficient scoring (42.4%/42.0%/86.3%) on a high-volume of shots - nearly 13 FGA per game. With a Usage Rate of 28.0%, he’s by far the most important part of the Sooners’ offense.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Control the Tempo. Saturday’s game will be one of those classic contrasts in style. While Alabama is now ranked 4th in the nation in Adjusted Tempo, Oklahoma can be found at 325th. Porter Moser, like many small school coaches that get a chance at a high-major job, wants to make it a halfcourt game where X’s and O’s can beat out Jimmies and Joes. Nate Oats, on the other hand, wants to unleash Alabama’s superior talent and athleticism by letting his guys run. Whenever Oats has had issues with lesser teams during his time in Tuscaloosa, it’s usually because the opponents slow the game down, muck it up, and use their big bodies to make it a physical slog - see Mississippi State. Dictating the pace in this one will be critical.
  2. Flex that Athleticism. The good news for the Tide is that Oklahoma severely lacks the last part of what I just mentioned - their post play comes down to just two 6’9 dudes. Additionally, Moser, who again is looking to slow the game down and maximize efficiency in the halfcourt, doesn’t commit to forcing turnovers or offensive rebounding. That may work on most teams, but when you have a group of athletic studs who commit to the hustle plays and rank highly in efficiency in their own regard, it is absolutely an uphill battle to claim victory.
  3. The Three-Point Line. We all know that the three-pointer is the great equalizer, and Oklahoma is quite good from beyond the arc (35.5% 3P%). They aren’t an elite shooting team, but they have a number of guys who can get hot - Sherfield, Cortes, Uzan, and Jacob Groves are all north of their team percentage on the year. Now, Alabama has been elite defensively in 3P% this season - 3rd best in the country, in fact (25.9% 3P% allowed). The Tide will need to keep that up if the guys shoot as poorly as they did themselves this past Wednesday, otherwise Oklahoma could have a path to the upset.

We are once again at the midway point of the SEC slate, and Alabama finds itself heading to Norman, OK as the undefeated leader of the conference for the second time in three years. Early lines indicate that the Tide will be a 7-point road favorite. Coming off of its first failed cover of 2023, Alabama will be looking to avenge its loss in Norman two years ago with a much-needed win for the SEC on Saturday. Can Alabama take care of business on the road?

The game tips-off at 1:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN.