Well, crap. This is much better than the side of the ball you’ve heard about relentlessly for two months. Alabama currently ranks #1 on KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings after yesterday’s demolition, and it starts with forcing opponents into shots they generally don’t want.
Alabama’s become a fantastic three-point defense (as much as one can exist) this year; they offer the very best catch-and-shoot FG% allowed in college hoops at 26.5% and have a Guarded/Unguarded rate of 63/37. Not only that, they don’t allow many three-point attempts in the first place. Only 33.4% of opponent attempts against Alabama are threes, and about 21% of attempts in the half-court are off-the-dribble jumpers. Essentially, the Tide force a lot of crappy two-point jumpers, and if you get a three off, it’s probably going to be well-guarded.
Alabama’s more than happy to close out hard and fast, and if you hit a bunch of mid-range twos, so be it. It was the exact strategy they employed against LSU, and they’re one of a slight few teams to actually slow the Tigers down this season. Of course, they happily employed it yesterday against a Mississippi State team that takes a ton of non-rim twos.
Ready to actually run some sets and get some open looks? Pick-and-rolls might not be your best bet, as that’s where Alabama ranks in the 99th-percentile defensively. They’ve forced a turnover on 21.6% of P&R plays, which is…not ideal if you’re trying to force switches and better matchups.
What makes Alabama so dangerous on offense actually helps them be even more dangerous defensively. For the most part, every Tide player can stay in front of their opponent very well, and they offer the ability to switch if needed without losing a lot of speed or agility. It makes getting around this defense and scoring anywhere very hard, even at the rim where you could have a theoretical height advantage.
But, yes, it is possible to score
This is the best defense Tennessee is going to play all season, unless they draw Michigan in their bracket, perhaps. Which is why I now have to find a way to spend some words telling you that Tennessee can indeed score on Alabama. Amazingly, Tennessee’s 0.91 PPP effort in the first Alabama battle actually represents an average performance against the Tide, which makes me feel marginally less bad. If Tennessee had simply posted an average shooting effort from three, they may not have lost.
If you remember that game, you remember two things: Alabama spread out Tennessee offensively for a solid 15-minute chunk of the game that enabled them to take the lead for good, and Tennessee went 4-for-21 from three on a night where they got several very good looks. Something you may not immediately remember is Tennessee also getting some good looks at the rim. Tennessee went 8-for-17 on attempts at the rim, and indeed, Alabama did block four of them. On the flip side, though, Tennessee got to the free throw line 26 times. Had the Vols even hit 20 of these 26 (they hit 17), they would’ve entered the final minute only trailing by four points. A lot different than seven! My point is this: Tennessee’s done good things against Alabama before. It’s going to require them to hammer the paint and force Alabama to make tough decisions to do it again.
Lastly: something that hasn’t gotten a ton of buzz this year is the fact Alabama ranks 242nd in defensive rebounding percentage. Part of this is due to playing in an SEC where nearly every team crashes the boards, but Alabama also had issues in non-conference play with it – a 37.5% OREB% allowed to Clemson; 37.1% to WKU; 31.7% to Oklahoma. Even in Tennessee’s loss to Alabama, they still rebounded 37.5% of their misses. Not having John Fulkerson is going to make this less easy, but any lineup with Josiah-Jordan James and Yves Pons in it is going to be tough to keep off the boards.
NEXT PAGE: No Fulkerson? Well, yes, some problems, but not fatal