How Alabama and Florida Can Win Difficult Tuesday TestsPosted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 17th, 2013
The SEC has two important games tipping off at 8:00 PM CST tonight, as Florida takes on Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic in New York and Alabama hosts unbeaten Wichita State in Tuscaloosa. Momentum is building for the Gators after a November full of injuries and suspensions. Highly-touted freshman Chris Walker enrolled in class last weekend, only a few days after Florida knocked off Kansas in Gainesville. Alabama, on the other hand, stands at the precipice. The Tide are only a game over .500, and hard-fought losses to Oklahoma, Duke and Drexel will only be seen as losses come March. A win over a Shockers team that looks primed for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament would be a giant boost heading into conference place. Here’s what each team faces this evening, and what they will need to do to come away with a win.
Memphis vs. Florida, New York, NY
What Memphis does best: Active hands. Memphis has created havoc with its perimeter-oriented lineups. The Tigers have four high-quality guards, and they’ve done a good job creating turnovers this season. Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford each average over 1.4 steals per game, and the team itself is 14th in the nation at forcing miscues (23.3% of possessions). But their most effective configuration has been when big men Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols are paired with three of the guards, allowing Memphis to be more aggressive on the perimeter with the knowledge that the rim is protected underneath.
Florida’s best chance to win: Dominate the glass. Memphis doesn’t have a single player averaging over 10 minutes per game who has a total rebounding percentage greater than 13 percent. The Tigers simply don’t have the personnel to match up with Florida in this way, and the Gators need to have no mercy in exploiting this weakness. Billy Donovan’s 1-3-1 zone frazzled Kansas in the first half last week, but it isn’t likely to have the same effect on Memphis given the ball-handling up and down the Tigers’ roster. Kasey Hill‘s ankle should be stronger, and having both he and Scottie Wilbekin to deal with the active Memphis guards is important.
Wichita State @ Alabama
What Wichita State does best: Nearly everything. Hyperbole aside, Wichita State looks like a team without a real weakness in the early going. They rebound well, defend the three, take care of the ball, create steals at a good rate, and get to the line. They’re also experienced after returning most of the key pieces from last year’s Final Four squad. Ron Baker has emerged as a legitimate star and has been devastating in shooting off ball screens. Cleanthony Early‘s scoring and rebounding numbers are up, and Fred Van Vleet is a more than capable point guard.
Alabama’s best chance to win: Collapse on the interior like a house of cards. The Shockers do have at least one shortcoming: They don’t shoot the three particularly well (33% 3FG). If Anthony Grant shrinks his defense towards the paint he could bait Wichita State into doing something it doesn’t like, and the Shockers might be ripe for a strategy like this. Baker has an injured ankle and he didn’t look to shoot that much Saturday against Tennessee (only five field goal attempts). Despite his size, Early looks to shoot from the perimeter quite a bit (4.6 three-point attempts per game) and has struggled this year (28% 3FG). Even if the Tide hold down the Wichita State offense, they’re still in a difficult position because Trevor Releford missed the last game due to a hip injury. It is expected that he will play, but Alabama will need Retin Obasohan and Levi Randolph to be effective against a good defense. The Tide have a tall task in front of them, but they do have home court and desperation on their side.