Alabama’s November non-conference schedule was rigorous, but December promises to ramp up the competition to another level as the Crimson Tide host UCF on Sunday.
The Tide will host the Knights before finishing the non-conference slate against Rhode Island (home), Arizona (away), Mercer (Huntsville) and Texas (Birmingham).
Challenging his team has been Avery Johnson’s plan all along.
“We could have had a cupcake night, win by 30, go home happy,” Johnson said after a surprising 1-point victory at Coleman Coliseum on Wednesday. “But we chose to experience adversity and we did that with Louisiana Tech.”
UCF has seen its fair share of tough games as well. The Knights have played Missouri, West Virginia, St. John’s and Nebraska already this season with limited success.
UCF is a tough, defensive-minded team reminiscent of recent Alabama squads.
Player to Watch
John Petty (Alabama)
Petty was visibly frustrated after only receiving two second-half minutes in Alabama’s win over Louisiana Tech.
Johnson noted after the game that the difference in Petty’s playing time just had to do with lineups – Petty has played more minutes than anyone except Dazon Ingram for the year.
The Tide got a group that they liked and made a run, and Johnson rode the hot hand to a win.
Louisiana Tech dared Alabama to drive the ball to the basket, propelling natural drivers like Ingram and Collin Sexton to big games, but Sunday sets up a lot differently for the Crimson Tide.
Petty, who prefers to take the 3-point shot, could have more space to launch the ball from deep against a UCF team that clogs the paint with 7’6 big man Tacko Fall.
UCF’s defense is in the top 10 in the country for defending two-point shots, but only around the middle of Division I for defending the 3-pointer.
I fully expect the 6’5 freshman guard to come out firing and try to build on his 42 percent 3-point shooting average.
How Alabama Can Win
Alabama has to stay out of foul trouble. UCF is the best team in the country at getting to the free-throw line, although they are one of the worst at making them (the Tide can relate).
One interesting aspect to watch in this game, considering the way the Knights attack the basket, will be Herbert Jones’s uncanny ability to take charges as a 6’7 wing. Against UT-Arlington, Jones took four charges. He and senior forward Riley Norris are likely to draw at least a couple of player-control fouls each game.
On offense, Alabama should fire the ball from 3-point range when they get good looks.
At times, Sexton and Ingram can be too aggressive driving to the hoop. Sometimes it’s better offense to just take the open 3-point shot, especially when you shoot 48% like Sexton does.
How UCF Can Win
UCF should deliver the ball to the low post whenever possible.
Quality low-post scorers like Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch and BYU’s Yoeli Childs have given Donta Hall and company problems on the low block. Hall feasts on floaters and layups from driving guards but has struggled at times against deep entry feeds to legitimate big men.
The Knights should try to get the ball inside to Tacko Fall and A.J. Davis to take advantage of that.
UCF’s best defensive strategy will be tied to its offense. If UCF crashes the offensive boards with too many players, or it turns the ball over to the Tide’s guards, then watch out.
Alabama has been at its very best this year when they score in transition because they have a wealth of athletic guards on the floor in any lineup they choose.
The Knights will try to drag this game through the muddy mire of fouls and free-throws, but Alabama’s superior offense will help the Tide run out to a double-digit home victory.
Expect both freshman phenoms— Sexton and Petty—to have big games for the Crimson Tide.
Phil’s Prediction: Alabama 76, UCF 62