It finally had to happen.
For the first time since December 17, the Alabama basketball suffered a loss. The third of the season came in unexpected blowout fashion as Oklahoma smashed the No. 2 Crimson Tide with a final score of 93-69 at the Lloyd Noble Center.
A lot has gone wrong for Alabama, so here are my thoughts:
1. Smugness shone through.
Alabama soccer head coach Nick Saban talks about “rat poison” all the time when it comes to the soccer program, but it also seems to have found its way into the hardwood.
For two straight games, Alabama has been content to be the prey rather than the hunter early in games, with a lack of intensity and urgency on either side of the ball. This is probably a direct result of buying their own hype from the national media, listening to people say they should be #1, and they’re a foregone conclusion to make it to Houston for the to make the Final Four.
The reality is, none of this is guaranteed, and that’s what they found out on Saturday. Both head coach Nate Oats and freshman guard Rylan Griffen acknowledged the post-game complacency as an issue that needed to be addressed.
If the state of Mississippi was a warning, Oklahoma is a blaring alarm. Alabama is undoubtedly still one of the most talented teams in the country, but it’s not invincible. A well-prepared team that’s hitting shots is more than capable of beating, or in this case dominating, Alabama when the Crimson Tide isn’t ready to play.
The question remains, how will Alabama react?
The last time Alabama lost a game, it rattled off nine straight wins. Every time this team has taken on a tough challenge this season, they have answered the call. That’s just the next hurdle that will test the toughness of this team.
2. Defensive battles led to another defeat.
82nd 100th 93rd
These are the three results from teams that have beaten Alabama this season. UConn, Gonzaga and Oklahoma have all played at extremely high levels on offense, which has caused Alabama’s offense to struggle to keep up.
Specifically against Oklahoma, the first half was easily the worst defensive half Alabama had played all season. Oklahoma got wide-open threes from poor defensive rotations, players were in poor positions to defend cutters, and an overall lack of intensity.
Also, Oklahoma made some difficult shots that visibly sent the Alabama players to their heads, further reducing the effort and intensity on defense.
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Alabama has shown that it can be not only a good defensive team, but also an elite one in college basketball. Even after losing, the Crimson Tide ranks sixth nationally in defensive efficiency according to KenPom, but national rankings will only get you so far if you’re not willing to pull off the execution.
3. Shooting woes continue.
Alabama has now shot under 30 percent from 3-point range in four straight games. The last game in which the Crimson Tide surpassed 30 percent was on Jan. 14 against LSU.
I touched on that a bit last week, but some players who have been consistent shooters for Alabama are simultaneously going through big dips from across the arc.
Noah Clowney has missed his last 20 3-point attempts. His last time came on January 11 against Arkansas. Mark Sears has made just five of his last 28 attempts from downtown after shooting about 42 percent earlier in the year.
Even Brandon Miller has been in a bit of a slump in his last two games, making just two of his eight shots from deep.
Alabama doesn’t live and die on the 3-point shot, but it’s a major factor in its success. The team has shooters everywhere, Alabama just needs them to shoot their way out of their dips so the Crimson Tide can get back on a consistent offensive rhythm.
4. A few more things…
- After such a loss, I wouldn’t be surprised if Oats decided to change something on the starting lineup. In my opinion, the first candidate for a starting place would be Rylan Griffen. I’ve talked about him a lot in recent issues of this series, and with good reason. He was Alabama’s top scorer on Saturday with 15 points and has also been one of Alabama’s most consistent scorers lately. He certainly deserves a bigger role.
- While the loss is dire on paper, it doesn’t impact Alabama’s hunt for an SEC title. The Crimson Tide still leads the conference 8-0 with the last 10 conference games remaining.
- Alabama has an easier week ahead, with games against 10-11 Vanderbilt and an LSU team with a miserable 1-7 record in SEC play. Those two games are a really good chance for Alabama to get back on track ahead of a tough three-game stretch in Florida, Auburn and Tennessee in mid-February.
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