Alabama-Missouri basketball: Crimson Tide defense overshadowed by its offense
No. 7 Alabama basketball (15-4, 10-0 SEC) will attempt to extend its Southeastern Conference winning streak to 11 games when it travels to No. 17 Missouri (12-3, 5-3) on Saturday (11 a.m. CT, ESPN).
Mizzou looking to tighten SEC race
Cuonzo Martin’s Tigers are Alabama’s closest competitors in SEC play and could pull within two games of the Crimson Tide in the loss column with a third consecutive home win. Missouri has won five of its last six games, including a 102-98 overtime win against TCU in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and a 75-70 win over Kentucky on Wednesday night.
In those two wins, Missouri has made 20 of its 44 3-point attempts, including 10 of 16 by junior guard Xavier Pinson. The Tigers are not, however, a one-man show. Built around a core group of four seniors and two juniors, Missouri has four other players besides Pinson capable of scoring 20 points. Thanks to that group, the Tigers gave the entire SEC a boost in December, earning two of the league’s best non-conference wins over Oregon and Illinois.
Defense continues to carry the Tide
Slowly but surely, observers watching Alabama, particularly those in the national media, are readjusting the original stereotype of a Nate Oats team from that of a Loyola Marymount-style run-and-gun outfit that lived or died by its 3-point shooting. The Crimson Tide still plays fast. Alabama ranks ninth in the country in tempo, faster than any other Power Five team in the NCAA. (Gonzaga, which is a power outside the Power Five, ranks seventh.) However, the defensive statistics for Alabama belie the wide-open image: The Crimson Tide is No. 3 nationally in defensive efficiency and 14th in effective field goal percentage defense.
On a Thursday night guest appearance at halftime of ESPN’s national game, Herb Jones was called “a shoo-in” for SEC Defensive Player of the Year by host Karl Ravech.
Alabama might have gotten a lucky break in Wednesday's win over LSU when Jones picked up his fourth foul with 17 minutes to play. The Crimson Tide reserves, notably Juwan Gary and Keon Ellis, played so well off the bench that Jones, hampered by a sore back and an injured finger, did not have to re-enter the game, limiting his exertions to the less strenuous activity of high-fiving teammates on the sideline.
Oats said both Jones and reserve forward James Rojas (undisclosed illness) “should be closer to 100 percent” Saturday, although senior Jordan Bruner continues to recuperate from surgery on a torn meniscus and may not be back until March.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt