Understandably, Georgia and Alabama’s fan bases are going to be consumed this weekend with a different upcoming game, but I will allow SEC Network’s in-game commentators and the halftime show to speak about that ad nauseam.
As for the hoops participants, Georgia (10-3, 1-1) shook off a tough loss to Kentucky to reel in a nice 71-60 home win against Ole Miss. The game was never in doubt and the Bulldogs led the Rebels by as much as 16 points late in the game.
Alabama (9-5, 1-1) had the opposite outcome.
After demolishing Texas A&M in the best game of their season to open SEC play, Alabama earned a disappointing 76-75 road loss to Vanderbilt.
The Crimson Tide looked like the better team in the second half, but Vanderbilt’s first half 3-point shooting built a deficit that was too large to overcome.
For this matchup between Avery Johnson’s and Mark Fox’s teams, Alabama will travel to Georgia for an 11 AM central time tip in what will begin Saturday’s all-day SEC slate.
Key Questions in the Game
Who guards Yante Maten?
Georgia, like Texas A&M, can put a huge line-up on the floor.
Each game, the Bulldogs start three players – freshman Rayshaun Hammonds, Yante Maten, and Derek Ogbeide – who all are listed at 6’8. For most teams, that’s a match-up nightmare.
Alabama has great length too, but finding someone to guard Maten may still be a tall order because of his offensive versatility. The preseason SEC player of the year has been living up to the moniker all season, posting averages of 19.5 ppg and 9.3 rpg.
Maten is so dynamic because he can score from everywhere. He’s crafty around the rim. He can put it on the floor. He can step out and knock down the three.
But Alabama does have a few guys with the height to match Maten.
The Crimson Tide could roll with Daniel Giddens or Donta Hall, but do they have the lateral quickness to match up with him?
They could use defensive specialist Herbert Jones, but does he have the strength required to stop a 240 pound man-child under the rim?
Most likely, Johnson will call on 6’8 sophomore 4-man Braxton Key to get the bulk of the work. Key is settling into his new role of do-it-all glue guy this season after being Alabama’s go-to player last year. He has the strength and height to guard bigs while still possessing the flexibility and quickness to defend guards.
He’ll be Alabama’s best hope against Maten.
How much will rebounding be a factor?
With a front line like Georgia has, it’s no wonder why the Bulldogs are the 29th best offensive rebounding team in the country.
Alarmingly for the Tide, one of its primary weaknesses is giving up offensive rebounds (238th nationally).
Seems like a no brainer that this is a concerning stat for the Tide in this game.
However, the leading reason that Alabama has been an average defensive rebounding team this season is because it likes to play so fast.
The Crimson Tide are at their best when their plethora of ball-handling guards and wings are pushing the ball up the floor. To get those fast-break possessions started, Alabama’s defenders often leak out toward their own basket.
Sometimes this works out to Alabama’s benefit and sometimes it doesn’t, but against a team like Georgia who is holding opponents to a paltry 37.3 percent from the field this season, the Tide’s best chance to score may be in transition.
Can UGA keep Collin Sexton off the free throw line?
Sexton is an astonishing 40 of 42 from the charity stripe in his last five games – this includes the Texas game in which he had zero attempts.
Clearly, Sexton has a knack for getting to the line with his athleticism, ability to change speeds, and ability to finish at the rim with either hand.
So how will the Bulldogs keep him from getting there?
Georgia is one of the worst teams in the country at creating turnovers defensively (332nd nationally). Similar to Alabama’s offensive rebounding numbers, this immediately seems like a nightmare statistic for the Bulldogs.
However, because Georgia doesn’t gamble defensively to try and create turnovers, it also doesn’t play out of position and earn fouls.
Fox has a disciplined defensive team like always, so it may be difficult for Sexton to get his SEC-leading 20+ points a game.
Last year, Alabama trounced Georgia in Athens by 20 in a game that was never close.
Maten remembers that I’m sure and likely won’t let it happen again.
Road victories are going to be hard to come by in the SEC this year, so if Georgia can get any scoring production from its guards, it’ll will secure another solid home victory.
Prediction: Georgia 73, Alabama 68