After a big win against Tennessee on Saturday, there’s a new aura surrounding the Alabama men’s basketball team. The Tide was able to take down the Volunteers without their three best forwards. Alabama’s tournament hopes are on the line; let’s see if the young Crimson Tide can come through in the clutch.
Tonight’s game is a rematch of two former SEC West foes. Arkansas traveled to Tuscaloosa last month, and fell to the Tide in Coleman Coliseum. That game had a much different feel coming in, as Alabama was coming off four straight SEC losses, but now Alabama is back on their game.
This season has been a very bumpy road for Anthony Grant’s team, but one thing has been a staple: defense. Time and again, Alabama has shown they can compete with any team on the defensive side of the ball. Defense will once again play a major role in the Tide’s success against the Razorbacks.
Alabama has to contain Arkansas’ scorers. The Razorbacks have some great guards that don’t get a lot of attention. If Alabama takes down their guard even for a moment, it could be trouble. Arkansas can be explosive from outside at times, but luckily for Alabama, they are weaker on the inside.
The Tide showed a lot of intensity in their win over Tennessee. Look for the players to bring that same intensity to Fayettville. If Alabama can control the intensity of their play, they will be very hard to stop. When the chemistry is there, it is much easier to succeed. This could be a breakout game for many of Alabama’s young players. It is one of the toughest games left on the schedule and will be a major test of Alabama’s character and team chemistry.
Anthony Grant has perfected his defensive system. He uses a balance of zone looks to pressure ball handlers and limit inside play. Alabama’s defense has been very good in key circumstances down the stretch. Look for Anthony Grant to once again use the zone to control the pace on defense. Two players stand out on the defensive side of the ball for Alabama; Andrew Steele and Levi Randolph. These two guards play with a lot of intensity and skill. Both players know the game and are great at the fundamentals. Andrew Steele and Levi Randolph will play key roles in containing Arkansas’ offensive attack from the guard position.
On the offensive side of the ball, Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacey both had amazing games against Tennessee. Lacey was the top player in the state of Alabama coming out of high school. You don’t earn that title scoring three points a night and not being able to shoot. Lacey hadn’t shown his full potential until Saturday, when he had a breakout game with 18 points, most of those coming from the free throw line.
Alabama’s guards have to attack the rim. The Tide can be horrendous at shooting from outside, so they have to create offense in other ways at the guard position. Releford is one of the best finishing guards in the SEC; it seems that every game he has a crazy and-one finish. Lacey and Releford have to attack the rim to get some easy shots as well as get to the free throw line.
I truly think one of Alabama’s other guards will come up big in this game. Charles Hankerson Jr. and Rodney Cooper have shown they can take control of the game on offense. If Releford and Lacey are on their game, Arkansas will be forced to defend them rather than Hankerson or Cooper. With the two top guards on hot streaks, the door could be wide open for another guard to sneak in on the offensive side of the ball.
Alabama got the win over Tennessee without their top three forwards. Both Carl Engstrom and Moussa Gueye have picked up the slack in the absence of JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell, and Nick Jacobs. They might not put up big numbers, but Engstrom and Gueye will have a major impact on Thursday’s game.
BJ Young vs. Trevor Lacey. Lacey is coming off his best college performance and Young is one of the best young guards in the SEC. Although Young has more experience, it will be interesting to see these two great young players square off. Young was held to only 11 points in the game earlier this year, as Alabama’s defense contained his offensive attack for most of the game. He averages 15.1 points a game, if Alabama holds him to less than 15 again, it will be a major accomplishment.
Lacey had a coming out party on Saturday. He showed his shot, drive and defensive skills. When he plays his best, Lacey is one of the better freshman guards in the nation. He comes into the game averaging just seven points per game, but he will be looking to add to his hot streak as of late.
With March knocking at the door each game matters. The Crimson Tide can’t afford many more losses on the resume. You can bet Arkansas will give the Tide everything they have on Thursday night. But will it be enough? Can the young Tide continue their success of late? We will find out in Fayettville.
February 22, 2012 – 6:00pm CST
Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, AR)
ESPN2, streaming on ESPN3