Two of the SEC’s hottest teams meet at Rupp Arena on Tuesday when Alabama faces Kentucky.
The Crimson Tides are red right now, winning their last five games, including victories over Tennessee, Florida and Auburn.
Nate Oats has one of the most talented teams in the conference this season, so it’s not out of the question for the Tide to win the SEC title. However, if they are to claim the title, they have to win games like this on Tuesday.
Kentucky was dead and buried after the start of the 1-6 season. But don’t look now because the Wildcats have won three straight games, including a victory in Florida on Saturday.
The Wildcats are starting to be healthy and playing better basketball now that they’re in conference. They were set to win the SEC this season, so a fourth straight win on Tuesday could go a long way in making those projections come true.
When Alabama has the ball
Oats’ “pace and space” offense got off to a good start in conference, as Tide averaged 1.07 points per possession.
The identity of that attack in Alabama comes from taking a ton of 3-point shots. Alabama shoots the ball from a distance of 3 points on 45.5% of their field goal attempts, which is the 26th highest rate in the country, according to KenPom. That may also justify it, as it shoots almost 37% of conference play.
But the big question mark coming up in this game is the status of point guard Jahvon Quinerly. He’s missed the Tide’s last two games against Florida and Auburn, but has the team’s second-highest utilization rate. They’re going to need him because the Kentucky defense is red right now.
Kentucky has really improved their level of defensive play since the SEC started playing. The Wildcats are allowing just 0.97 points per possession in their last three games.
Where they excelled is the defense of painting. In conference, they have kept their opponents within 40% of the inside of the arc and have a block rate of over 20%. Kentucky are the fifth tallest team in the country, so they’re clearly using their size to their advantage.
However, the Wildcats struggled on the defensive glass as they allowed an offensive rebound rate of over 35% in their last three games. They will have to fix those issues against Alabama as there will be a lot of long rebounds against a 3-point heavy team like Alabama.
When Kentucky has the ball
The biggest difference this Kentucky team has over the last three games compared to their losing streak is that they shot the ball in a monumental way better. In its last three games, Kentucky is shooting an absurd 46.8% from behind the arc, while it has shot less than 30% in non-conference play.
However, the Wildcats rely on most of their points coming from inside the arc, as they shoot 3 pointers on just 28.4% of their attempts. Alabama have been strong this season defending across the court, so Kentucky may want to rely on 3-ball to keep up with Alabama’s offense.
Alabama made massive improvements on the defensive side of the floor compared to last season, when they placed 114th in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. The Tide really increased the defensive pressure when the SEC play started, as they are allowing just 0.93 points per possession.
The reason they have excelled is that they are defending their opponent’s shot at an extremely high pace. In conference, they allowed an effective field goal percentage of just 42.1%, so Kentucky will have to shoot the ball well to get away with a win on Tuesday.
Bet analysis and selection
This game is classic rhythm control and game control storyline.
Alabama ranks 15th in the country in tempo and averages just 14.2 seconds to throw their first shot. On the other side of the ball, Kentucky are well below par in pace and get their first shot 17 seconds after the shot clock.
This game will depend on the status of Quinerly. If he’s able to go, I think Alabama should find a way to maintain their winning streak given how good they’ve been defensively. I will support the Tide at +1.5 – but only if Quinerly is in alignment.
To choose: Alabama +1.5 (Si Jahvon Quinerly plays).