Alabama Basketball will face a third straight AP top-10 opponent on Wednesday night when it plays the no. 4 Arizona Wildcats in Phoenix.
The Crimson Tide looks to stop a two game skid, having dropped games to Purdue and Creighton over the last two weeks. Bama was highly competitive in both contests, losing by a combined nine points.
In these losses, Nate Oats’ team reaffirmed the belief that it is one of the best offensive teams in the country, but defensive issues continue to plague the Tide. Alabama has given up at least 85 points in all five of its games against high-major competition, going 1-4 in such games.
The Arizona Wildcats may be the most formidable opponent Alabama Basketball has seen yet. Arizona is 9-1, coming off a competitive neutral site loss to a fellow top-5 team in Purdue. Prior to that, the Wildcats had mostly dominated the opposition, beating quality opponents such as Duke on the road, Michigan State at a neutral site, and Wisconsin, who the Cats beat by 25 in Tucson.
Arizona has a highly efficient offense that can keep pace with Alabama’s up tempo style, and has proved to be a more complete team to this point.
Alabama Basketball vs Arizona backcourt
Arizona is led by a trio of veteran guards in UNC transfer Caleb Love, senior Pelle Larsson, and sophomore Kylan Boswell.
Love leads the team with nearly 16 points per game, adding over five rebounds and four assists per contest. Boswell adds 11.7 points and a team-high 4.6 assists per night, while Larsson gives the Wildcats 12 points per game and is shooting over 60 percent from both the field and the three-point line.
While Alabama’s backcourt of Mark Sears and Aaron Estrada has been impressive thus far, they could have problems with the size of the Arizona guards. Larsson (6’5”), Love (6’4”) and Boswell, who is built like a linebacker at 6’2”, are an imposing group that could certainly give the Crimson Tide trouble.
Arizona will bring two more big, athletic guards off the bench in 6’4” freshman KJ Lewis and 6’3” Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.
Alabama Basketball vs Arizona frontcourt
Tommy Lloyd’s Arizona team is fairly balanced and will also be tough down low. The Wildcats are anchored by 7-footer Oumar Ballo, who followed Lloyd to Arizona after starting his career at Gonzaga.
Ballo is the type of big body that could give a long but relatively thin Alabama frontcourt serious trouble. Nick Pringle and Mohamed Wague will have to play high IQ defense to prevent him from catching the ball deep in the paint. Purdue center Zach Edey was able to foul out both Pringle and Wague when the Tide played the Boilermakers. While Ballo is not as good as Edey (and not nearly as big), he is a similar player that creates many of the same issues.
While Oumar Ballo grabs much of the attention, the most dangerous player in the Arizona frontcourt may be San Diego State transfer Keshad Johnson. At 6’7”, Johnson is an undersized power forward who has thrived in Tucson. He leads Arizona with 7.0 rebounds per game and is second on the team in scoring, turning in a career-high of nearly 14 points per outing. Johnson is also an incredibly versatile defender, and is one of the best two-way forwards in college hoops.
Alabama Basketball has its work cut out for it. Having lost four of its last six games, Bama will take on one of the best teams in the country in what will amount to a road environment in Phoenix.
However, this is an opportunity as much as it is an obstacle. Alabama has yet to put a bona fide quality win on its resume, but a victory over Arizona leading into Christmas break would arguably be the most impressive win in the sport so far.