Alabama basketball remains focused on Arkansas despite external factorsBy Ben Stansell | 02/24/2018 12:39am
A widespread FBI investigation into college basketball has been casting a cloud over the sport for quite some time. Alabama is not impervious to its reach. The Crimson Tide, however, is less focused on a potential storm and more concerned with its next opponent – the Arkansas Razorbacks.
To beat an Arkansas team that ranks No. 31 in ESPN’s RPI, Alabama will need to clean up what head coach Avery Johnson calls “inconsistencies.” He is referring to the lack of rebounding and profusion of turnovers that have plagued the Crimson Tide in its last two games, both of which were losses.
Alabama’s rebounding issues have been particularly apparent on the defensive glass. In a loss at Kentucky last Saturday, Alabama allowed the Wildcats to rope in 20 offensive rebounds. The Crimson Tide’s rebounding improved only slightly against Auburn on Wednesday, when it gave up 14.
Alabama’s leading rebounder Donta Hall chalks Alabama’s rebounding woes to not enough Crimson Tide players hustling to help out with the rebounding effort.
“I feel like we need to have more people crashing the boards rather than just two to three,” Hall said. “Especially defensive wise.”
Johnson agreed with Hall, pointing out that sometimes Alabama’s guards will be more focused on initiating the fast break than securing possession of the basketball.
“We have some guys that are pretty good in the open court,” Johnson said. “but we’ve got to get that fourth and fifth guy in there to help us get those rebounds.”
As for the turnovers, Alabama gave away possession of the ball 13 times against Kentucky and 17 against Auburn. Johnson wants to see those numbers come down against Arkansas.
Snagging defensive rebounds and limiting turnovers will not be the only challenge facing Alabama’s guards against Arkansas; they will be going up against one of the best backcourt duo’s in the conference.
Like the Crimson Tide, the Razorbacks rely on scoring from its explosive starting backcourt. That is where the similarities end though. While Arkansas guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon are both seniors who have spent time in the junior college ranks, the Crimson Tide’s starting backcourt is led by freshmen Collin Sexton and John Petty.
“They have a senior laden team,” Johnson said. “They are the oldest team that we have played against in conference play. Experienced backcourt. They’ve played in some big NCAA tournament games. We don’t have that resume.”
Not only do Barford and Macon bring experience to the Arkansas team, they also bring buckets – lots of them. Macon ranks third in SEC in scoring, averaging 17.4 points per contest. Barford averages 18.4 and is tied for second with Alabama’s Sexton.
If Barford has been the more consistent of the two Razorback guards over the course of the season, Macon has been more productive in the past 10 games. Macon has scored over 20 points in seven straight games.
The duel between Alabama and Arkansas’ backcourt will be one to watch, and it will go a long way in deciding who comes out on top.
Although Alabama has dropped its last two contests, both were on the road. The Crimson Tide have been exponentially better in Coleman Coliseum, 13-3, than they have been on the road, 2-7. Fortunately for Alabama, two of its last three regular season games are at home, starting with Arkansas on Saturday and Florida on Tuesday.
“Hopefully, with some home cooking tomorrow, we’ll get back to playing the way we were playing before we embarked on this last road trip,” Johnson said.
As Alabama begins to strengthen its NCAA tournament resume, it will now have to deal with the ramifications of Sexton being listed in a Yahoo! Sports article detailing the FBI’s far-reaching investigation into college basketball. According to the story, Sexton was listed by the FBI as possibly having received improper benefits from an agent.
Johnson said that he is aware of the situation and that athletic director Greg Byrne is “leading the charge” looking into it.
“Just no further comment," Johnson said. "When we feel we need to comment, whenever they finish that process, we will. But at this time, the plan is let's get ready for this game tomorrow."
Johnson anticipates that Sexton will play against Arkansas.