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By RICHARD CHEEKS
The Cats are 1 game into the most difficult 5 game sequence of this season in which the Cats must play 4 of the 5 games on the road. The first stop on that road swing was Auburn, and the Cats took care of business in one of their most complete efforts of the season. The next stop will still be in the state of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa and the level of competition for this second stop will be a step up from the Auburn Tigers.
When Anthony Grant arrived in Tuscaloosa 4 years ago, many regarded him as one of the bright rising stars in college basketball. In his first three seasons, his teams won 63 games while losing 39. In 2011 and 2012, his Crimson Tide teams played a defensive brand of basketball with the best, having the 7th best defense in 2011 and the 8th best in 2012. However, the Crimson Tide offenses under Grant have not cracked to 80 territory in a single season, which is why the Crimson Tide sustained double digit losses in all three seasons, and are on pace to do so again in 2013.
Nevertheless, stop 2 of this 5 game swing will be a tougher test for the Wildcats than stop 1 at Auburn.
Alabama brings a 11-6 record into this game, and the Crimson Tide have won three of their first four SEC games to match the Cats in the current SEC standings. After opening the season with 6 straight wins, the Tide could only claim 2 wins over the next 8 games, and ended that losing streak with a 18 point loss at Missouri in their SEC opener. Since that loss, Alabama has won three SEC games in a row, beating #93 Tennessee by 3 and #83 Texas A&M by 1, and drubbing #227 Mississippi State by 32 points in Starkville. Alabama’s best win of this season was their last win, the 1 point victory over #83 Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide’s more inexplicable loss was by 7 points at home to #163 Mercer.
Alabama has averaged about 63 to 64 possessions per game, producing 64.6 ppg (1.02 ppp) and allowing 59.8 ppg (0.94 ppp) against a schedule that Pomeroy rates as the 65th toughest (0.5837). Alabama has turned the ball over on 20.6% of its possessions while forcing turnovers on 22.9% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, Alabama has secured an offensive rebounding rate of 32.7% slightly below the 33% NCAA average, and a defensive rebounding rate of 66.3%, also slightly below the NCAA average.
In contrast, the Cats have averaged about 70 possessions per game, producing 77.1 ppg (1.09 ppp) and allowing 61.7 ppg (0.88 ppp) against a schedule strength of 0..5301 (121st). The Cats have committed turnovers on 18.4% of its possessions and forced turnovers on 20.4% of opponent possessions. On the Boards, the Cats’ rebounding rates have been 34.4% and 69.5% on the offensive and defensive ends.
Based on this distribution, the analysis tips in favor of the Cats by 6 points, 69-63 in a game played at a pace of 67 possessions for the Cats and 67 possessions for Alabama. Pomeroy figures the Game in Kentucky’s favor by 4 points, 66-62 at a pace of 66 possessions. As discussed previously, this game will depend on which identity shows up in Alabama on Tuesday night. If it is the personality that sustained high hopes over the first half of this season, I would expect a Kentucky win by 15 or more. However, if the timid personality shows up for this one, the Cats will not be able to get out of the State of Alabama without their second SEC loss and 6th overall loss of this season.