Alabama Opens Up SEC Tournament Against Ole Miss Rebels
The regular season is in the books for the teams in the Southeastern Conference, and that means the SEC Tournament is right around the corner. The Alabama Crimson Tide are preparing to make a run to hopefully get into the NCAA Tournament, but it may require a first place finish in the conference tournament. The first team they'll have to defeat to get there? The Ole Miss Rebels.
On March 10, this will be the first time the Tide will have faced off against the Rebels since they opened up SEC play on January 7 in a disappointing 74-66 loss, the first game in the new Pavilion in Oxford. During this first match-up, Ole Miss point guard Stefan Moody, who leads the SEC in scoring average (23.1), was one of two Rebels who notched 21 points against the Tide. Alabama was able to contain him from the field, but Moody did most of his damage from the free throw line, going 13-16 from the charity stripe. If Alabama head coach Avery Johnson can implement the same game plan on Moody, then the Tide will have a good chance of advancing and taking on the Kentucky Wildcats in the quarterfinals.
Of course, Moody isn't the only threat on this Rebel team. Sure, he's a prolific scorer and a nightmare to try and guard one-on-one, but he's got some help around him to make his job easier, and some of that help comes from junior forward Sebastian Saiz. Saiz is second on the team in scoring (12 ppg), but is fourth in the SEC in rebounding (8.9 rpg). Alabama will have to find a way to keep him off the glass, especially after the porous performance rebounding against the Georgia Bulldogs this past Saturday's 70-63 loss (Alabama was out-rebounded 48-26).
While Alabama is on the bubble for the NCAA tournament, there's little doubt that this team will be playing in some kind of post season tournament, most likely the NIT. If they do get on a run, senior guard Retin Obasohan will have to do what he's been doing in SEC play this season, averaging 20.6 points/game in conference games. He's shouldered the load for the Tide this season, and it seems automatic that he'll continue to do so throughout the rest of the season.
However, if Obasohan can't get anymore help from his teammates, it's going to be tough for Alabama to keep up the good season they're having. Junior Shannon Hale has had his moments, but he's been very inconsistent: one game he will catch fire and score 25, the next he'll only shoot three or four shots and end with three or four points. On a team without a sound secondary scorer, Hale is running out of time to become the Tide's true secondary scorer, but if he can keep up the play like he had in the Tide's finale against Georgia, it could mean good things for Avery Johnson and company.
Rebounding has been Alabama's Achilles Heel all season, finishing the regular season dead last in the SEC in rebounds/game (34.9), and that number is also bad enough to rank them tied for 242nd in the nation in rebounding (out of 351 teams). We've seen spurts from Riley Norris, Donta Hall, and Jimmie Taylor who are all capable of snagging boards, but streaky rebounding is worse than bad shooting in basketball. Missing shots is expected, and forcing other teams to miss shots is expected, but if you're consistently giving the other team opportunities to score second chance points, it's eventually going to bite you in the butt, and Alabama is now learning this the hard way.
There's still a chance for Alabama to win 20 games on the season, and a win over Ole Miss on Thursday will make that goal much more realistic, assuming they accept their invitation to a post season tournament. And if they're able to win their 21st game before the post season tournaments begin, that will mean the Tide won the SEC Tournament and more importantly punched their ticket to the Big Dance.