Three Things You Need to Know: Alabama Basketball Heading into SEC Play
As Alabama football prepares to head out west for the national title game in Santa Clara, California, Avery Johnson's Alabama basketball team faces one of their biggest tests of the season to open Southeastern Conference play.
The Tide puts a four-game winning streak on the line against No. 13/14 Kentucky for a noon tip on ESPN.
In recent years, the Wildcats have owned the Crimson Tide with a commanding 112-37 series lead including a 10-game winning streak dating back to 2014.
Prior to tipoff between Alabama and Kentucky from Coleman Coliseum, find out the three things you need to know about Alabama basketball heading into Saturday.
Alabama's Start to the 2018-2019 Season
Heading into Saturday's SEC opener against Kentucky, Alabama has won four games in a row and is off to a 9-3 start to the season.
Although the team has wins over opponents such as Arizona, Wichita State and Penn State, work remains to be done as Alabama is ranked 69th in the NCAA's new NET rankings system which measures results, location, opponent, scoring margin and offensive and defensive efficiency.
With 12 games against the top 50 in the NCAA Net rankings including No. 11 Kentucky on Saturday, Avery Johnson talked about how important the win at Stephen F Austin was for his team going into conference play.
"We needed that game at Stephen F. Austin. I know a lot of teams right before conference play play a game like that at home probably against a lesser opponent, but going into conference play, we just needed a tough, tough road game in a tough environment." Johnson said. "We wanted to go somewhere where we knew the arena would be packed and a hostile environment just to try and keep our team sharp going into conference play."
A win over the Wildcats could go a long way in boosting Alabama's NCAA Tournament resume for March. In addition to defending Kentucky's three point shooters, Johnson detailed his keys for victory against the Big Blue.
"I just think the team that defends without fouling and they're in the right position, the team that rebounds the ball well and the team that gets to the free throw line the most, that's the team that's going to have the most success." Johnson said.
Kira Lewis Takes the Reigns at Point Guard
One of the big question marks surrounding Alabama's 2018-2019 season involved finding someone to fill the shoes of Colin Sexton at point guard.
So far this season, Kira Lewis has capably succeeded Sexton as the Tide's point guard. The true freshman floor general leads the squad in scoring (15.0 ppg), free throw percentage (.822), three point percentage (.404) and assists (3.1/game).
In his most recent start, Lewis recorded a career eight assists in the 79-69 win at Stephen F. Austin.
In addition to his distribution of the basketball, the Hazel Green native has scored 20 points or more four times with the Tide winning all four of those games.
Official Visit for Trendon Watford
In addition to attempting to beat Kentucky for the first time since 2013, Alabama basketball will have one of their top recruiting targets in attendance for Saturday's game.
Mountain Brook High School power forward Trendon Watford is rated as the 27th best player nationally according to 247 Sports and 17th best according to Rivals.com. Sixteen school have offered a scholarship to Watford including Alabama, Memphis, Indiana, LSU and Auburn.
During Thursday's edition of The Blitz, BamaOnline.com recruiting reporter Hank South mentioned how Alabama is in the mix to land Watford but emphasized how critical it is for the program to get the home state product.
"I think this is really important. Trendon Watford was one of Avery Johnson's first, if not his first offer in the 2019 class back when he first started in 2015." South said. "His family just raved about Avery Johnson, their relationship with him and all that, but to be a guy they've been after for almost four years now, have really built this relationship, I think it's important to end up landing him."