The daunting thing about the Alabama men’s basketball schedule is the opponents keep getting larger — and more difficult.
Having wrapped up the pre-conference portion of its schedule, the Crimson Tide steps into SEC play on Saturday against its most highly-rated opponent yet, the No. 5-ranked Texas A&M Aggies.
Alabama vs. No. 5 Texas A&M
When: 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Coleman Coliseum
Records: Alabama 8-3, Texas A&M 11-1
Radio: 95.3 FM (locally)
“Texas A&M is not only one of the best teams in the SEC but in the country,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said on a Friday teleconference. “We know them very well. I’ve known Coach (Billy) Kennedy for a long time. We were involved in their program (with Avery Johnson Jr., son of the Alabama coach, playing for the Aggies as a walk-on) and still know a lot of their players. We know how they like to attack, how they like to defend and how good they are.”
The Aggies are 11-1 through the pre-conference, with a win against top-10 opponent West Virginia and their only loss coming against Arizona in Phoenix. They’ve had that success even with forward Robert Williams, a projected NBA lottery pick, missing four games and averaging 7.3 points per game. Williams is expected to play against Alabama, although 6-foot-10 forward D.J. Hogg has been suspended for disciplinary reasons. That still leaves the Aggies with a potent inside combination of Williams and 6-10, 265-pound center Tyler Davis.
“When (Davis and Williams) play together, they are arguably the best 1-2 inside combination in the country,” Johnson said. “Tyler is a having a monster season. He’s in better shape but can still carve out so much space inside, plus he’s been stepping out and shooting a 12-footer.
“With Williams, we have to be aware of him when we are on offense, too. (Texas center Mo) Bamba bothered us inside in the last game. He blocked shots and contested shots and there were times when we didn’t know where he was. (Arizona center DeAndre) Ayton did the same thing. Now along comes Williams. We’ve got to be aware of where those shot blockers are and how to finish inside.”
Alabama went back to what Johnson referred to as “training camp-style practices” during the week off since last Saturday’s 66-50 loss to Texas, but the Crimson Tide head coach said there was no news about possible lineup changes.
“You guys are fascinated with the word ‘rotation,’” Johnson said Friday. “I have never heard the word ‘rotation’ as much as since I’ve heard it coaching in college. If we get it down to eight or nine players, that’s fine. We’ve got 11 that we think can play and we have confidence in them. Ideally, there’s what we would like to do and that might mean playing eight or nine. But sometimes you have to change course when you get into the game.”
Johnson also noted that forward Braxton Key, who has made just 1 of 10 shots in two games since his return from knee surgery is “100 percent healthy” but is continuing to “get in game shape.”
“He’s gotten after it really hard in the past week, and he’s needed less rest at practice. So he is making steady progress.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225