Alabama won one road game in the state of Mississippi. Now it will try for the Magnolia State sweep on Tuesday night when it goes to Humphrey Coliseum. Alabama just crushed the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford. Nate Oats’ team, squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, now goes to Starkville to face another bubble dweller, Ben Howland’s Bulldogs.
By Matt Zemek
The pressure of every game in late February is considerable for bubble teams, but that pressure is magnified when facing another bubble team in a roughly equivalent position. Some people will say that the winner of this game will make the NCAA Tournament, and that the loser will still have a chance to get in over the next few weeks. Other people will say the loser of this game will definitely NOT make the NCAA Tournament, and that the winner still won’t be in; it will have to work its way into the field of 68 over the next few weeks.
Who is right? Who is wrong?
The best answer: We don’t really know right now. We can’t know. Too many variables still exist, such as the winners of small-conference tournaments which will create some complicated bubble situations for small-conference champions in the at-large hunt.
All we can say is that Alabama really, really, really needs this game, and that it would be far better to win it than lose it. What does the Crimson Tide have to do in Starkville? Let’s take a look:
1 – First to 90 wins
Mississippi State has a very vulnerable defense right now. Given that Alabama just posted 103 points against Ole Miss, there’s no reason it can’t hang 90 on MSU. The Bulldogs gave up 87 points to Texas A&M this past Saturday, and Texas A&M – though playing really well at the moment – has not generally been a good offensive team over the course of the full season.
Mississippi State no-showed on defense against A&M. The Bulldogs allowed the Aggies to shoot just under 60 percent from the field – 31 of 52 – and over 52 percent from 3-point range (9 of 17). MSU forced just 11 turnovers from the Aggies. MSU got shredded.
If you look at the Bulldogs over the course of the season, their defense has allowed scores in the high 70s or higher in several games. What you saw against A&M was not an aberration. Alabama should be able to attack, push the tempo, and create lots of open shots against a defense which is struggling at the moment.
2 – Defensive boards
Mississippi State collected 14 offensive rebounds against Texas A&M this past Saturday. Reggie Perry and the rest of the MSU frontcourt will create a difficult set of matchups for Alabama. The Tide need all hands on deck when protecting the defensive glass. They might not succeed every time, but Alabama can’t get destroyed on the boards. It needs to minimize its rebounding deficit; it doesn’t have to score an outright win over MSU in final rebounding totals, but the numbers do have to be relatively close.
3 – Guard the 3-point line
Alabama got torched by Texas A&M from long distance. Mississippi State was 8 of 18 on threes against Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide have to run MSU off the 3-point line if the Bulldogs get hot early. This part of Tuesday’s game can’t be allowed to slip away for Alabama.