The Alabama Crimson Tide are right on the NCAA Tournament bubble, a very familiar reality for this program over the past decade. It often seems to be the case that Alabama gets to the SEC Tournament in early March needing two wins to feel safe on Selection Sunday.
By Matt Zemek
The Crimson Tide would like to avoid that kind of pressure-cooker, but right now, it seems they are headed for that exact scenario once again. This team is right near the bubble cut line, and a recent loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks at home – completing an 0-2 week in SEC play – did not help at all. This game against Tennessee isn’t a must-win game, if only because the Tide could win their next four games and be in better shape. However, teams can’t endlessly play what-if scenarios. They need to win the winnable games on their schedule, and this rates as one of them. A loss to Tennessee would only increase the urgency for Alabama’s subsequent February games, raising the chances that Alabama would need to go on a run at the SEC Tournament.
Let’s see what the Tide can do to get back on track versus the Vols:
1 – Kira Lewis turnovers
Kira Lewis is a special player, but he committed seven turnovers against Arkansas this past Saturday. That’s far too much for one game, and it’s far too much for a player of Lewis’s quality. Alabama needs Lewis to not only be the team’s best player, but a player who sets an example by not giving away possessions. Lewis will score; if he can score without wasting several possessions, this team can become its best self.
2 – Shot selection
We are going to keep pounding on this theme for Alabama. It’s not that taking lots of 3-pointers is bad. There is nothing inherently wrong about taking lots of 3-pointers. That is an accepted part of modern basketball analytics. Nate Oats embraces that. The problem for Bama, manifested against Arkansas, is that if a team is having success taking the ball to the basket and scoring on 2-pointers, why stop?
Alabama was 19 of 29 on 2-pointers against Arkansas, making just under two-thirds of its shots. If you’re shooting close to 67 percent from the field on 2-pointers, keep shooting 2-pointers. Alabama’s decision to shoot more 3-pointers (31) than 2-pointers (29) against Arkansas was a decision which did not reflect a recognition of what was happening in the game. That’s what shot selection means: choosing the right shot in a given situation. It’s not about shooting threes instead of twos; it’s about doing what the defense is allowing an offense to do. If it works, don’t go away from it.
3 – Fouling
Yes, Alabama had to foul late in the Arkansas game, but still: Allowing 29 free throws in a home game is bad. Home teams should expect to get a positive free throw differential, and Alabama was in the red against Arkansas in that statistical category. The fluctuations in this one category have affected whether Bama wins or loses, so this remains something for the team to focus on against Tennessee.