Game Preview: Alabama vs No. 5 Kentucky
When: Saturday, February 5 at 8:00 pm ET on ESPN
Location: Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, AL
Faced with one of the toughest three-game stretches that one could imagine in college basketball, Alabama has gone 1-1 against a pair of Top 5 teams across the last week. That stretch concludes on Saturday night when the Crimson Tide welcome yet another Top 5 team to Coleman Coliseum in the Kentucky Wildcats.
Coming off a 100-81 mid-week loss to top-ranked Auburn, the Crimson Tide did do a nice job of limiting turnovers by only committing 11, as well as knocking down 14-of-37 shots from deep. However, even despite those numbers, as well as a game-high 26 points from leading scorer Jaden Shackelford, it was still not enough to beat a Tigers team on the road who turned 30 Crimson Tide fouls into a 31-for-39 performance from the charity stripe.
Sitting at 14-8 on the year (4-5 in SEC), the Crimson Tide are currently ranked just outside of the Top 25, but could very well see their return in next week’s AP Poll with a win on Saturday. As for how they can get that win, the usual offensive success at 81.4 PPG doesn’t hurt, but the Crimson Tide will need to come to play defensively against a very good offensive Kentucky team.
The Crimson Tide are making their way back to 100% healthy as Darius Miles recently returned against Auburn, as well as Juwan Gary also playing. In addition to those two, Jahvon Quinerly and Keon Ellis have played well in recent games, while Alabama’s bigs such as Charles Bediako, Noah Gurley, and James Rojas will be key once again, as well as freshman guard JD Davison who added 14/4/5 in the Crimson Tide’s game last Saturday against Baylor.
Kentucky on the other hand comes to Tuscaloosa as winners of three straight, a stretch that includes an overtime win at home over Mississippi State, a dominant road win over Kansas in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, and a 77-70 home win over Vanderbilt on Wednesday. While the Wildcats were out-rebounded 37-30 by the Commodores, Kentucky was impressive in a few other areas, most-notably shooting 8-for-18 from three.
The Wildcats have risen up to the No. 5 ranking nationally entering the week, and currently sit at 18-4 on the season, as well as 7-2 in the SEC ranking second in the conference. A Top 20 team nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency according to KenPom, John Calipari’s Wildcats are playing well at the moment, and come into this game averaging 81.9 PPG on a combined 49.3% shooting, while allowing 64.4 PPG.
Leading Kentucky is the SEC Player of the Year favorite Oscar Tshiebwe (16.1 PPG, 15.2 RPG), while forwards Keion Brooks Jr and Jacob Toppin also join the star center primarily in the Wildcats frontcourt. The backcourt primarily features four names in star freshman TyTy Washington Jr, Sahvir Wheeler, and Davion Mintz, as well as three-point specialist Kellan Grady who is shooting 44.2% from deep.
As mentioned previously, the play of Alabama’s bigs will be key when defending Tshiebwe in the paint, and will have to contain the nation’s leading rebounder from truly taking over on the glass. Aside from the glaring matchup with Tshiebwe however, you could certainly argue that the Crimson Tide match up well with the Wildcats almost everywhere else.
When predicting this game, Alabama is 10-1 inside Coleman Coliseum so far this season, a stretch that includes wins over Baylor, Houston, Tennessee, and LSU. While Kentucky is certainly capable of coming to Tuscaloosa and leaving with a win, as well as this game likely being close throughout, it’s hard to bet against the Crimson Tide at home this season.
Prediction: Alabama 82, Kentucky 78