Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Alabama men’s basketball faces treacherous path to conference title

CW/ Riley Thompson

After a roller coaster of a season that ended with a nail-biting overtime victory, Alabama men’s basketball faces possibly its toughest challenge yet in Music City.  

If the Crimson Tide is going to bring a second straight conference title back to Tuscaloosa, Alabama will more than likely have to go through two teams that proved to be too much for it this season: the Kentucky Wildcats and the Tennessee Volunteers.  

Before the Crimson Tide even has a shot at revenge against the conference’s best, however, it will need to take down the Gators, who split the season series with the Crimson Tide, losing the last matchup 105-87. 

In the blowout loss, Alabama’s offense looked rattled, lacking the presence of guard Latrell Wrightsell Jr., who scored only 2 points in seven minutes of play. It was Wrightsell’s first game back after recovering from a head injury suffered earlier in the season. 

The Omaha native had a return to form in the Crimson Tide’s last game against the Razorbacks, scoring 20 points on 4-8 shooting from long range, including the game-tying shot with under 30 seconds remaining.  

For Alabama to have a shot at cutting down the nets in Nashville this weekend, Wrightsell will have to play a significant role.  

“He’s played really well,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “He doesn’t turn the ball over, he makes open shots, and he really guards. … It’s crucial we get him back.”  

If the Crimson Tide gets past the Gators tonight, it will likely face two of its toughest games this season, with Kentucky and Tennessee standing in the way of the conference title.  

Kentucky showed Alabama’s defensive flaws more than any other team this season, dropping 117 points on the Crimson Tide back in February, a program record for the Wildcats.  

Tennessee, on the other hand, locked down Alabama’s elite offense in both meetings this season, holding the Crimson Tide to a season-low 74 points in the first matchup in Knoxville 

“Florida embarrassed us, Kentucky embarrassed us, and we lost a tough one at home to Tennessee,” Oats said. “I think there’s a chip on our shoulder. Any competitor, after you get embarrassed, wants to come back and show that we’re not that bad.”  

Oats also said that the players have revenge on their mind heading into this weekend, with forward Nick Pringle calling the tournament a “get-back tour” for the Crimson Tide. 

Although unlikely, it’s entirely possible that Alabama could win the conference title without running into either of these teams, setting up potential rematches with Texas A&M, Auburn, South Carolina or Mississippi State, all capable of defeating the Crimson Tide and making a run at the SEC title. According to Oats, his team will be prepared for any matchup.  

“These conference tournaments, when you’ve already played a team once, you’re just kind of reminding [the team] what the game plan was the first time, and then any tweaks you make to it, you just kind of review that,” Oats said.  

Alabama endured some pretty tough stretches of games this season, most notably back in December, when the Crimson Tide faced three top 10 opponents in a row, dropping all three games. With a conference title on the line in a bloodthirsty SEC, this weekend could prove to be the toughest stretch yet for Alabama.  

No matter which teams Alabama finds itself up against this weekend, one thing is certain: Oats’ squad must come correct on both ends of the floor.  

The Crimson Tide has shown that it is not going to lock any team down for 40 minutes. As Oats said after Alabama’s loss to Kentucky, it is no secret that this Crimson Tide team struggles defensively. 

“We’ve had question marks about our defense all year,” Oats said. “Those question marks are completely erased. Everybody knows we don’t really guard at this point.”  

However, Alabama has shown that it is capable of winning with subpar defense, as long as the offense plays at an elite level. So the Crimson Tide will most likely have to play just well enough on defense to allow its offense to outscore the opposition.  

This strategy puts a lot of pressure on Alabama’s offense but is just the reality that this Crimson Tide team has had to face this season. When this team is clicking offensively, Alabama can take on any team in the country. But if Alabama comes into Bridgestone Arena with lackluster offense, it will be a very short stay on Broadway for the Crimson Tide. 

Alabama will open play in Nashville tonight against the Florida Gators at 8:30 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.  

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