How to watch: No. 2 Alabama basketball looks to sweep Mississippi State
Alabama basketball’s climb up the rankings continued Monday as it rose to No. 2 in both the Associated Press top 25 and USA TODAY Coaches Poll. The Crimson Tide sits atop the SEC standings as the lone undefeated team in conference play, winning all seven of its league games by double digits.
Wednesday will mark Alabama’s first rematch of the season as it takes on a Mississippi State team it beat 78-67 on the road last month to open its conference slate. After starting the season 11-0, the Bulldogs have lost seven of their last eight games, including six of seven in the league.
Here’s everything you need to know about Wednesday night’s matchup.
How to watch
Who: No. 2 Alabama (17-2, 7-0) vs. Mississippi State (12-7, 1-6)
When: 8 p.m. CT, Wednesday, Jan. 25
Where: Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Watch: SEC Network (play-by-play: Roy Philpott; analyst: Mark Wise)
Listen: Crimson Tide Sports Network (play-by-play: Chris Stewart; analyst: Bryan Passink; engineer Tom Stipe)
Alabama projected starting lineup
Jaden Bradley: 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, freshman
Stats: 8.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.7 apg, 43.4% FG, 33.3% 3-pt
Mark Sears: 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, junior
Stats: 14.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.7 apg, 42.2% FG, 38.5% 3-pt
Brandon Miller: 6-foot-9, 200 pounds, freshman
Stats: 19.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 46.1% FG, 45.7% 3-pt
Noah Clowney: 6-foot-10, 210 pounds, freshman
Stats: 9.9 ppg, 8.6, rpg, 0.9 apg, 50.4% FG, 28.6% 3-pt
Charles Bediako: 7-foot, 225 pounds, sophomore
Stats: 5.5 ppg, 5.9, rpg, 0.7 apg, 57.5% FG
Mississippi State projected starting lineup
Dashawn Davis: 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, senior
Stats: 8.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 3.2 apg, 38.1% FG, 41.7% 3-pt
Eric Reed Jr.: 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, senior
Stats: 5.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.9 apg, 32.7% FG, 26.8% 3-pt
D.J. Jeffries: 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, senior
Stats: 9.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.8 apg, 33.0% FG, 27.8% 3-pt
Cameron Matthews: 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, junior
Stats: 6.5 ppg, 5.4, rpg, 2.1 apg, 45.6% FG, 16.0% 3-pt
Tolu Smith: 6-foot-11, 245 pounds, senior
Stats: 13.7 ppg, 8.1, rpg, 1.5 apg, 55.2% FG
Will Pringle continue to pop?
Patience has been a virtue for Nick Pringle. Since transferring to Alabama from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College this offseason, the backup forward has seen sporadic minutes on the court. He played 19 minutes against LSU earlier this month but netted just one combined minute over Alabama’s last two games at Vanderbilt and Missouri. Despite the inconsistent usage, Pringle has been nothing but reliable when called on off the bench.
Take last month’s win at Mississippi State for example. With starting forward Noah Clowney coming off an illness and starting center Charles Bediako in foul trouble, Pringle came off the bench to record 10 points and four rebounds over a career-high 20 minutes.
Clowney is fully healthy heading into Wednesday’s matchup, and Alabama will hope for a more disciplined game from Bediako. However, Pringle could still play a key role in stopping a lengthy Bulldogs lineup.
“This may be one of those games when we do need Pringle to play a lot more,” head coach Nate Oats said. “I thought he had a great practice today, and I think he’s had a great attitude. He’s been ready when we put him in, and he was ready the first time we played them.”
Pringle has played in 18 games this season, averaging 2.5 points and 2.5 rebounds. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward currently leads the team with a sterling 94.4 field-goal percentage, making 17 of 18 shots from the floor.
“He doesn’t miss too many field goals,” Oats said. “He’s taking the right ones and making them all. He’s kind of helping our at-the-rim-field-goal percentage because we have some other guys on the team who are not finishing at the rim really well.”
The majority of Pringle’s offensive production has come off dunks. Still, Oats has a hard time recalling any of his former players putting together as dominant of a run down low.
“Let’s see if we can keep the streak alive,” Oats said, “and see if we can get him a few more.”
The plan to stop Smith
Last month’s game plan for Tolu Smith didn’t pan out as Alabama expected, but Oats isn’t complaining about the results. During its trip to Mississippi State earlier this season, the Crimson Tide held Smith to 5 points and six rebounds. Although much of that success came from the star forward’s struggles at the free-throw line, as he made just 3 of 15 shots from the stripe.
“I don’t think that had anything to do with us,” Oats said. “I think he just missed a lot of free throws. I don’t think we can rely on him going 3 of 15 again."
Smith leads Mississippi State averaging 13.7 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting 55.2% from the floor. The senior has struggled from the line though, making just 52.7% of his free throws. Still, Oats said Alabama would like to play a cleaner game against him Wednesday night.
“It looks like a genius coaching move, keep fouling a guy who can’t make a free throw and they get no points. But that really wasn’t it,” Oats said of last month’s game plan against Smith. “That wasn’t the plan. We were trying to not let him touch the ball. He just kept getting it, so we didn’t do a very good job there. We were supposed to guard him without fouling. We didn’t do a good job there. We were supposed to keep him off the glass. We didn’t do a good job there.
“We have to be much better than the last time we played them because I don’t anticipate them handing us free possessions by missing free throws.”
Tide can't get sloppy
The Achilles heel of this Alabama team has been its tendency to turn the ball over. The Crimson Tide ranks last in the SEC and 317th nationally, giving up the ball an average of 14.9 times per game. That doesn’t bode well against a Mississippi State team that forces 15.89 turnovers per game.
The Bulldogs’ defense is led by junior guard Shakeel Moore, who ranks second in the conference averaging 2.4 steals per game. Moore tallied one of Mississippi State’s nine steals against Alabama during last month’s game as the Bulldogs forced the Tide into 19 turnovers.
Over the weekend, Alabama gave up the ball 11 times against a Missouri team that leads the conference and ranks eighth nationally, forcing 18.53 turnovers per game. Point guards Jaden Bradley and Jahvon Quinerly combined for seven turnovers against the Tigers. However, Mark Sears and Brandon Miller totaled just one giveaway over a combined 68 minutes on the court. Tuesday, Oats said he’ll need a complete performance from his team if it wants to have similar success against Mississippi State.
“I think it’s simplifying things for guys and putting them in the right spots,” Oats said. “Keeping the floor spaced, not trying to do too much. I think we’ve been much better at it lately.”
— Alabama is ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press top 25, it’s highest ranking in the poll since it took the top spot on Dec. 30, 2002. The Crimson Tide is also ranked No. 2 in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll, its highest-ever ranking since USA TODAY took over in the 1991-92 season.
— Alabama became the third team in the last 50 years to start SEC play by winning each of its first seven contests by double figures (+21.0 scoring margin) joining Kentucky (1994-95) and Florida (2012-13).
— Alabama has six Quad 1 wins this season, which is tied for third-most in the country behind Purdue and Kansas (seven wins).
— The Crimson Tide is one of five teams with a perfect record on the road this season, beating opponents by a scoring margin of +12.5.
— Mississippi State boasts one of the nation’s best defenses, surrendering 58.3 points per game. That ranks second in the SEC and sixth nationally. The Bulldogs are also holding opponents to 39% shooting from the floor, good enough for fourth in the conference and 16th nationally.
— First-year head coach Chris Jans is the only Mississippi State men’s basketball coach to win his opening 11 games. The previous mark was held by E.C. Hayes, who completed the 1911-12 season at 9-0 and won the opening game of the 1912-13 campaign.