by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
January 29th, 2021
#9 Alabama at #24 Oklahoma
Spread: Oklahoma (-1.5); O/U: 154
Time/Location: 12:00 ET, Lloyd Noble Center, Norman, Oklahoma
Alabama Crimson Tide (14-3, 9-0)
Coming into this season I was a bit unnerved about Alabama and wasn’t really ready to commit to them as a serious player in the SEC, mainly in part because I thought Tennessee and Kentucky would be better, but also because I felt that Alabama might be limited in their upside because they struggled with defenseIt turns out that the defensive struggles have often been pushed aside by incredible shooting, sometimes overwhelming teams and beating them in the first ten minutes of the game. Just ask LSU.
Despite a modest shooting total, John Petty has quickly turned into one of the most dangerous shooters in college basketball from range. He’s nearly shooting 42% from deep and provides decent defense on the other end, making him a lustily-eyed player for many pro teams. Luckily the contributions don’t end there, though, as Nate Oats’ offense is making huge strides with all its players. Jaden Shackleford, Herb Jones, and Jahvon Quinerly are all posting double digit scoring figures and distributing well while Josh Primo is shooting 42% from three with good contributions elsewhere, especially for a freshman.
This offense is just here to bomb. They’re running the famed D’Antoni “Seven Seconds” offense and it’s clearly working for them. They’re scoring so quickly and with such efficiency that other teams are sped up by their deficits and taken off track. If it doesn’t feel like you’re drowning when you play them, they’re off their game, and there’s nothing they like more than taking teams out of their depth. Despite their defense being way in the rearview, they at least limit the good looks of their opponents which is good for making life suck just that much more. There’s little you can do to stop this team on offense meaning that there’s little you can do to beat them. It’s possible, it just isn’t easy.
Oklahoma Sooners (10-4, 6-3)
What makes it even more difficult is having your best scorer still recovering from Covid while you yourself prefer to play the same style with an offense that just isn’t as dynamic. Yep, that’s Oklahoma and they’re probably not looking forward to this game. The Sooners prefer to focus on offense too, not quite to the efficiency or degree that Alabama does, but they’re not far behind.
Oklahoma has the 19th ranked offense in the country according to KenPom, a very good ranking, but they’ve fallen a bit behind without Brady Manek. Manek was leading the team in scoring before contracting Covid andmissing a few games. The player has yet to start as he’s still recovering from the bout, but his abilities are coming back slowly. In the meantime second leading scorer Austin Reaves has stepped up to fill the gap. He hasn’t picked up all of Manek’s production as his shooting has been really bad in the first part of the season, but he’s done very well inside the arc and his distribution is keeping the blood flowing. Guys like De’Vion Harmon, Umoja Gibson, Alondes Williams, and Kur Kuath are doing a good job of sustaining the offense and picking up the slack when someone drops off for a spell. It’s a balanced unit.
Unfortunately the defense isn’t that great for Oklahoma. There’s some good signs at time, seeing Kur Kuath become a real imposing shot blocker while Harmon, Gibson, and Elijah Harkless clamp down on defense is reassuring, but the drop off is vast. That’s always been the Lon Kruger way and it’s worked for a long time, but as basketball transitions to such an offensive-heavy scheme, Kruger’s tactics become less important than his recruits, and that’s where Oklahoma is falling behind. The Sooners don’t have the athletes to keep up this season. It’s not blemish on Kruger’s record, just a harsh reality for coaches who will have to reconfigure the way they approach composing a roster. Kruger has done it before and he’ll do it again.
Analysis and Pick
I think this is going to be a hell of a game. A shootout to the highest degree. Neither team has the NBA-bound go-to stud that Gonzaga or Oklahoma State or Iowa has, but they have very good players who are excellent at running their respective offenses. For that reason I’m actually staying away from the total. This game could easily hit 180 points, but if one little thing is off it could just as easily be a 140 point affair. I like the spread in this game quite a bit. The moneylines haven’t opened up yet, but I assume that Oklahoma is still a favorite because the sharps are waiting to pound the Alabama line. I love Alabama +1.5 and I’ve seen the number at +2, so take the Tide as an underdog. When the moneylines drop, double up on the Tide if the number is valuable.