Saturday, February 5th (8:00 pm ET) in Tuscaloosa, AL on ESPN
Opponent: Alabama Crimson Tide (14-8, 4-5)
NET Ranking: 22
KenPom Ranking: 18
Quad 1 Record: 6-5
Best Wins: Gonzaga, Houston, Tennessee, LSU, Baylor
Worst Losses: Iona, Memphis, Missouri, Georgia
Kentucky vs Kansas All-Time: Kentucky leads 114-40; Alabama has won 3 of 5 in the last 5 matchups.
Another Saturday, another tough SEC road game for these grizzled Wildcats. This time, it’s personal. Alabama, like Tennessee, LSU, and Arkansas have risen to relevance in the grand scheme of college basketball the last few years. Last season, Alabama won the SEC tournament and made a decent run in the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately for Alabama, it took Kentucky having a historically awful year for that to happen.
This year, Alabama has been the most Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde team in college basketball, and it’s not even close. There is a serious case to be made for Alabama to be a 2-3 based on their wins alone. There is also a case to be made that they should be an 8-9 seed based on their losses.
Let’s break down this roster to find out what makes this team so polarizing.
Kansas Roster Breakdown
(Image courtesy of Alabama Athletics)
#13 - Jahvon Quinerly | 6’1” 175 lbs Junior Guard
14.8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 4.3 APG, 40.9% FG
Shifty, quick, plays with control. Quinerly sees the court well and is a playmaker. He uses screens very well and can get his shot off quickly. He isn’t a very physical guard and his short wingspan makes him limited defensively.
(Image courtesy of Roll Tide Wire)
#5 Jaden Shackelford | 6’13” 200 lbs Junior Guard
17.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 40.8% FG
Shackelford is a crafty scorer off the dribble who is pretty athletic. He’s a decent enough shooter to not leave him unguarded on the perimeter. He can be a streaky shooter at times, and he is not a great ball handler. If the Wildcats backcourt can force him to take tough shots, they should win this matchup.
(Image courtesy of News4Jax)
#3 JD Davison | 6’3” 195 lbs Freshman Guard
8.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.1 APG, 47.3%
Davison has been the unsung hero of this Alabama team this year. He really was the guy that won them the Baylor game. Every time Baylor tried to bring it close, JD Davison would go on an offensive tear to gain the momentum back. He is a super athletic scorer, but is an underrated facilitator as well. His outside shooting continues to improve, and he can create off the dribble. Like most of this Alabama team, his defense isn’t a strength. However, if Alabama wants to keep it close with Kentucky, it will be on the back of JD Davison.
#14 Keon Ellis | 6’6” 175 lbs Senior Guard
12.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 1.9 APG, 43.2% FG
#0 Noah Gurley | 6’8” 215 lbs Senior Forward
7.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.5 APG, 52.5% FG
#2 Darius Miles | 6’6” 185 lbs Sophomore Forward
6.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 0.7 APG, 40.7% FG
#4 Juwan Gary | 6’6” 218 lbs Sophomore Forward
8.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 0.3 APG, 56.2% FG
#33 James Rojas | 6’8” 220 lbs Senior Forward
4.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.5 APG, 36.4% FG
Another Name to Watch:
#10 Charles Bediako | 7’0” 225 lbs Freshman Center
6.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 0.7 APG, 63.5% FG
How Kentucky Wins
#1 - Win the Interior
Alabama is 2-8 this season when their opponents hit 50% or more of their 2PT FGs. Interior defense is their kryptonite, not just streaky shooting. Not to mention, they are 274th in the nation in allowing offensive rebounds. They also get blocked a lot, ranking 328th in the nation. Basically, let Oscar and Keion do Oscar and Keion things, and Kentucky should leave Tuscaloosa with a W.
#2 - Keep the Foot on the Gas
At one point in the first half of their most recent matchup against Auburn, Alabama was down by as many as 18. A handful of 3’s and some tough layups brought them back within 4 just 5 minutes into the second half. Alabama can catch fire in a hurry. Calipari cannot do his best Stoops impression and play conservative with the lead. Keep attacking all night.
#3 - Be Okay with Bama Shooting Threes
For as much as Nate Oats’ offense relies on good 3-point shooting, this year’s Alabama team is not a great 3-point shooting team. They average 31.4% from 3 as a team, which has them at 279th in the nation. For comparison, Kentucky shoots 35.3% from three and is 86th in the nation. Old head coaches always say, "live by the three, die by the three" and in this case, it's better for Kentucky to defend Alabama that way, statistically speaking.
The Bottom Line
Kentucky is the favorite in this matchup in both KenPom and ESPN’s BPI, but that doesn’t matter. Alabama needs this win more than Kentucky does, so don’t be surprised if Alabama comes ready to play. They won’t just lay down for Kentucky, so Kentucky needs to match that intensity.
My official prediction: Kentucky wins 85-71 with Keion Brooks Jr. leading the way with another 20+ point game. I set the over/under for offensive rebounds for Keion Brooks Jr. at 4 on the Bourbon Basketball Nation (BBN) Kentucky vs Vanderbilt post game podcast episode. My co host, Dowel took the under with 3. Let us know what you think!
In the meantime, get those memes ready in the event that Kentucky does win, because Alabama's Twitter account had turned off the replies to their final score tweet Tuesday night in their loss at Auburn. It would be nice to keep that trend going, at least through Saturday.