The Alabama Crimson Tide had to beat the LSU Tigers on Saturday. They did. Now their NCAA Tournament hopes are a lot more realistic.
By Matt Zemek
The Tide – which annually seem to ride the center of the NCAA Tournament bubble – are once again at the heart of the drama connected to the chase for a March Madness ticket. The LSU game improved their resume. This upcoming game on Wednesday against the Texas A&M Aggies won’t improve Bama’s profile, but a loss could damage it. This is not a game Alabama can afford to lose, and the inconvenient aspect of this game for Nate Oats’ team is that while A&M isn’t a quality opponent in terms of ratings, the Aggies have become a better team as the season has moved along. Let’s look at what the Crimson Tide have to do on Wednesday:
1 – Take care of the ball
Texas A&M beat Georgia this past Saturday by forcing a lot of turnovers. The Aggies hounded the Dawgs into 21 turnovers and committed only 11 themselves for a massive plus-10 differential. Georgia shot the ball reasonably well, but A&M’s ability to force turnovers made the difference. This goes to a basic point we often talk about in basketball: Defense is not just about shooting percentage OR turnovers, but both. If a defense can make a significant impact in one of those two facets of play, it can meaningfully increase a team’s chances of winning. If a defense can’t force bad shots or create turnovers (going 0 for 2 in the bigger overall components of competition), it probably won’t win. Texas A&M was able to turn Georgia over. Alabama has to prevent A&M from getting another very large turnover differential. If turnovers are dead even in this game, Alabama will almost certainly win.
2 – Free throws
Are we repeating ourselves here? Yes we are… but tell me: Is it wrong to keep emphasizing free throws in Alabama’s games this season? Alabama was smoked by LSU in Baton Rouge when the free throw differential was noticeably negative for the Tide. Alabama was minus-10 in free throw attempts and minus-13 in made foul shots. In the rematch in Tuscaloosa, Alabama was plus-9 in attempts, 26-17, and plus-6 in makes, 19-13. Given that Alabama won by six points, yeah, that’s a pretty darn important statistical category for this team. Attempting and making more free throws doesn’t guarantee win for lots of teams, but given that Alabama can fall into a 3-point shooting rut, getting to the foul line is often a lifeline for this team. It matters, so we’re going to keep mentioning it as long as it remains this relevant.
3 – Herbert Jones
Kira Lewis and Jaden Shackelford both carried the scoring load for Alabama against LSU, but fans easily gravitate to points scored as the foremost measure of a player’s influence or quality in a game (if not both). Don’t forget Herbert Jones’ astounding 17-rebound performance. No, don’t expect Jones to get 17 boards every game. The larger point about Jones is that if role players are hustling like this and sacrificing like this, Alabama gets more rebounds, which means more possessions in which Lewis and Shackelford can score. More hard work and dedication are infectious throughout a roster and a locker room, but beyond that, seeing role players do the dirty work creates the distribution of roles which enables a complete team to emerge. As long as Jones keeps playing hard, good things should happen for Alabama.