Bama Hoops Hype

PREVIEW: Alabama Faces Kentucky in SEC Semifinals

Alabama Men's Basketball

The Crimson Tide are back in the SEC Tournament semifinals and there is going to be a familiar team on the other side of the court.

For a second consecutive season, Alabama and Kentucky will meet in the penultimate round of the conference tournament. The Wildcats have knocked out Avery Johnson’s team in each of the last two seasons and won nine straight games in the series. Furthermore, the Tide have not beaten Big Blue Nation in postseason play since 1983.

This Alabama team is starting to show something special in St. Louis though. It has pushed through the stress of being a bubble team and put together winning performances against two teams in the top 30 of the RPI.

Saturday’s matchup will pit two of the youngest teams in the country against each other with a spot in Sunday’s championship game on the line. Kentucky won the only meeting between the two teams this season, winning 81-71 in Lexington on February 17. Alabama had a second-half lead in that game but the Wildcats used a late surge on offense to pull away. The hosts had 20 second chance points on 20 offensive rebounds.

With conference tournaments winding down before Selection Sunday, this matchup will be one of the premier games of the day. Here’s everything you need to know about this semifinal.

How To Keep Up

Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis, Mo.

When: Noon CT

Watch: ESPN

Listen: Crimson Tide Sports Network with Chris Stewart and Bryan Passink

Projected Starting Lineups

Alabama (19-14, 8-10): Collin Sexton (18.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.7 apg), Dazon Ingram (10.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.6 apg), John Petty (10.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.9 apg), Herbert Jones (4.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.4 apg), Galin Smith (2.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg)

Kentucky (22-10, 10-8): Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (13.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.9 apg), Kevin Knox (15.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.4 apg), Haidou Diallo (10.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.3 apg), Wenyen Gabriel (6.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Nick Richards (5.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg)

Key Matchup

Collin Sexton vs. Kevin Knox. It almost feels like any matchup to watch in an Alabama game has to involve Collin Sexton. This one involves both of the Co-SEC Freshmen of the Year. Sexton and Knox probably will not be guarding each other but both players lead their team in scoring. In the first meeting between these teams, Knox scored all 13 of his points in the second half to help Kentucky pull away. Sexton scored 12 points in that game on 4-for-11 shooting before fouling out after 29 minutes on the court. Both of these players can be the difference maker for his team and it may simply come down to which player finishes with more points. Defensively, Alabama will need to focus on Knox (and other Kentucky shooters) because the more the Wildcats miss, the more the Tide can run. And that is where Sexton will succeed.

Key Stats

38-12 Points in the Paint. This is what Kentucky did to Georgia on Friday during the quarterfinals. The Wildcats shut down Yante Maten and the Bulldogs on the inside, forcing them to shoot 9-for-30 on 2-pointers. On the offensive end, Kentucky’s post players (Wenyen Gabriel, Nick Richards, Sacha Killeya-Jones) did not score a single point in the paint. That shows how well the guards and wing players get to the basket for the Wildcats. Alabama will have to find an inside presence on both sides of the ball to have a chance to make it to Sunday’s final. And with the status of Donta Hall (possible concussion) being unknown, this could become a problem for the Tide.

39-19 Bench Points. Speaking of Donta Hall’s injury, the Crimson Tide’s depth in the post could come into play. Galin Smith has moved into the starting lineup and has played well. Alex Reese and Daniel Giddens are coming off the bench – in a different rotation order every game – but both of those players went down with minor injuries in the win over Auburn. Kentucky’s bench outscored Alabama’s 39-19 in the first meeting. The Crimson Tide could have scorers like Key and Petty come off the bench but somebody will have to move into the starting rotation if Hall has to sit out. Bench production could be another thing to keep an eye on in this game.

Prediction

Rebounding and 3-point shooting contributed to the downfall for the Crimson Tide in Lexington. If this game was played again two weeks, I would have zero confidence in Alabama’s chances. However, during the SEC Tournament, the team is outrebounding its opponents by… oh, it’s just even. Well the Tide have been great from beyond the arc, shooting… just 34 percent?! So Alabama has been this successful without really statistically improving in two of its worst categories. Collin Sexton is playing out of his mind right now but depth could become a real concern against the Wildcats. Kentucky 75, Alabama 69

Caleb Turrentine is the editor for Bama Hoops Hype. You can follow him on Twitter for in-game updates at @BamaHoopsHype.

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