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TideIllustrated – Which opening matchup is better for Alabama basketball in the SEC Tournament?

In just a few hours, the SEC Championship Tournament will begin at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.

The No. 1-seed Crimson Tide will try to take home its second SEC championship in three seasons, but to do so, it needs to figure out who it’s playing first. Alabama will play the winner of Mississippi State and Florida in a game that ends Thursday at noon.

With some time to kill, here’s a look at both teams as Tide Illustrated examines which opponent Alabama will be looking to play on Friday.


record: 16-15, 9-9 in the SEC

Last meeting against Alabama: 97–69 loss in Tuscaloosa on February 8

Outlook: After losing six of seven games, the Gators are coming off back-to-back wins over Georgia and LSU. Florida is led by All-SEC first-team forward Collin Castleton, who averages 16.0 points and 7.7 rebounds and ranks second in the conference with 3.0 blocks per game.

Why Alabama wants the Gators: Castleton broke his hand against Ole Miss on February 15 and missed the last five games of the regular season. Sources say the 6-foot-11 forward will miss the rest of the season, which not only ends his collegiate career, but was also the Gators’ leading scorer and ranks sixth in the conference in points per game.

Why Alabama doesn’t want the Gators: While Alabama scored nearly 100 points against Florida in their lone matchup of the season, the Gators are still a highly efficient defensive team. According to KenPom, the Gators ranked 31st in defensive efficiency, allowing 95.9 points per 100 possessions. The Crimson Tide has faced seven teams ranked in the top 35 in defensive efficiency this season and while Castleton’s injury could affect Florida’s defense, it hasn’t affected the group nearly as much as one might expect.

“Florida is definitely different now that Castleton is down,” Alabama head coach Nate Oates said during his Wednesday press conference. “It took them a while to adjust. (Riley) Kugel is playing well and other guys have stepped up. They’re different, they play smaller and they play five and (Alex) Fudge. If Florida wins it. We have to make more adjustments against them for the first time just because they are different.”

Mississippi State

record: 20-11, 8-10 in the SEC

Previous meetings against Alabama: 66–63 loss in Tuscaloosa on January 25, 78–67 loss in Starkville on December 28

Outlook: It was all short for Mississippi State, despite winning their first 11 games of the season, and making a brief appearance in the AP Top 25. The Bulldogs finished the year with a 9–11 mark, falling to Missouri, Vanderbilt and Georgia. However, it took ranked wins against TCU and Texas A&M, which highlighted the team’s inconsistency this season. Mississippi State is led by Tolu Smith, who is averaging 15.4 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game.

Why want the Alabama Bulldogs: Alabama has played Mississippi State twice and won both times, which should give the Crimson Tide enough confidence to do it again on Friday. Alabama has won all of its repeat matchups this season, winning home-and-home series against the Bulldogs, Vanderbilt, Auburn, and Arkansas.

Why the Alabama Bulldogs don’t want: It is rare for any basketball team to be defeated three times in a row in three meetings. In fact, Alabama has played the team three times in a season only 75 times in 110 seasons of basketball. The Crimson Tide has won all three of those matchups just 25 times in program history. It’s notoriously difficult to pull off and it gets even more difficult as Mississippi State, with its No. 7 ranking in defensive efficiency according to KenPom, tied both games this season close to Alabama.

“If Mississippi State wins, we’ve played them twice,” Oates said. “They’re one of the toughest playing teams in America. We have to be ready to go. Tolu Smith is obviously one of the best players in the league. They say it’s hard to beat a team three times, some The fact is that they have made adjustments and they will make another adjustment.”

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Who Alabama should face: Florida

Castleton’s loss is huge as Florida ranks No. 113 in offensive efficiency, tallying 108.7 points per 100 possessions. Compare this to Alabama’s 116.1 mark and a glaring mismatch begins to appear. Will Richard have more flow of offense as he is now the team’s leading scorer with 10.8 points per game.

Against Alabama, he scored 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting, including a 2-for-5 mark from behind the 3-point line. However, his scoring moved to a new level against Georgia and LSU as he led the Gators with 24 and 18 points, respectively. He averages 30% or more from deep with Riley Kugel, Kyle Lofton and Trey Bonham, but Alabama is built to defend small teams that like to shoot from range.



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