How to watch: No. 6 Alabama basketball at No. 20 Arkansas
After reaching its highest ranking in more than a dozen years, No. 6 Alabama basketball is on the verge of making more history this week. The Crimson Tide (18-5, 13-1 in the SEC) can clinch its first conference title since 2002 with a victory at No. 20 Arkansas (17-5, 9-4) Wednesday night. Alabama beat Arkansas 90-59 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. earlier this season. However, the Razorbacks have won seven of their last eight games since that matchup.
Here’s all the information you need to know about Wednesday’s game.
How to watch
Who: Alabama (18-5, 13-1 in the SEC) vs. Arkansas (17-5, 9-4)
When: 8 p.m. CT, Wednesday, Feb. 24
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, Ark.
Watch: ESPN2 (play-by-play: Karl Ravech, analyst: Jimmy Dykes)
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network (play-by-play: Chris Stewart; analyst: Bryan Passink; sideline Roger Hoover)
Alabama projected starting five
Herbert Jones: 6-foot-8, 210 pounds, senior
Stats: 11.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.0 apg, 46.8% FG, 52.6% 3-pt
Jaden Shackelford: 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, sophomore
Stats: 14.5 ppg., 4.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 40.5% FG, 32.0% 3-pt
John Petty Jr.: 6-foot-5, 184 pounds, senior
Stats: 13.0 ppg., 5.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 44.9% FG, 38.4% 3-pt
Joshua Primo: 6-foot-6, 190 pounds, freshman
Stats: 8.6 ppg., 3.4 rpg, 1.0 apg, 43.4% FG, 41.1% 3-pt
Jordan Bruner: 6-foot-10, 225 pounds, graduate
Stats: 7.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.7 apg, 49.3% FG, 30.8% 3-pt
Arkansas projected starting five
Jalen Tate: 6-foot-6, 175 pounds, graduate
Stats: 11.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.3 apg, 51.1% FG, 37.7% 3-pt
Davonte Davis: 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, freshman
Stats: 7.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.7 apg, 47.3% FG, 33.3% 3-pt
Moses Moody: 6-foot-6, 205 pounds, freshman
Stats: 16.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.6 apg, 44.0% FG, 37.1% 3-pt
Justin Smith: 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, graduate
Stats:11.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.7 apg, 50.6% FG, 21.1% 3-pt
Connor Vanover: 7-foot-3, 247 pounds, redshirt sophomore
Stats: 7.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 0.6 apg, 47.1% FG, 33.3% 3-pt
A banged-up Crimson Tide might be close to returning to full strength. After starting forward Jordan Bruner made his return for Alabama over the weekend, head coach Nate Oats provided a positive report on Juwan Gary, stating the injured wing has been able to return to practice this week.
Gary has missed Alabama’s last two games after suffering a shoulder injury against South Carolina on Feb. 9. The 6-foot-6, 218-pound redshirt freshman is averaging 2.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game and had been developing into a productive defensive option off the bench before suffering his injury.
“We’ll see how he feels after practice today as to what he can do tomorrow,” Oats said of Gary during his Tuesday Zoom call with reporters.
Oats also provided an update on Bruner, who missed nine games with a meniscus injury before returning against Vanderbilt over the weekend. The 6-foot-10 graduate transfer logged 19 minutes against the Commodores, pulling in six rebounds.
“He’s a little sore, a little bit swollen,” Oats said. “He hadn’t played. That was his first real action getting up and down. We’re still trying to limit his practice reps, keeping it to half-court. He practiced today. He’s able to practice, it’s just not 100 percent. There’s more swelling than normal, but I guess that’s typical from what he’s coming back from.”
Notes and quotes
— After seeing last week’s game against Texas A&M postponed, Alabama could add a new opponent to its regular-season schedule.
In order to account for inevitable makeup dates due to COVID-19 this season, the SEC added an open weekend for all teams leading up to the conference tournament. While it’s possible that Alabama could make its trip to Texas A&M on that date, Oats said it’s more likely the Tide will fill out its 18-game conference schedule with a different opponent.
During his weekly radio show Monday night, the head coach said he was still awaiting word from the SEC on a scheduling plan, stating that he expects to find out the conference’s decision later this week.
“Texas A&M has a lot of games to make up. They’ve missed a bunch,” Oats said. “I don’t know if ours would be the one that they’d make up if they could only make up one. So we may end up playing somebody else. We may end up not playing. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
If Alabama does replace the Texas A&M game with another opponent, it will likely come in a road game. Outside of Texas A&M, the Tide has yet to travel to Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt this season.
— Arkansas was also scheduled to play Texas A&M last week but saw its weekend matchup postponed due to a combination of positive tests, contact tracing and subsequent quarantining of individuals within the Aggies program. The Razorbacks haven’t played since Feb. 16 when they beat Florida 75-64 at home.
— Despite recording a 31-point victory over Arkansas earlier this season, Oats believes Alabama will have a much tougher test against the Razorbacks on Wednesday night. One of the Tide’s biggest challenges will be stopping freshman guard Moses Moody, who is averaging 16.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. The former Rivals100 recruit scored a season-high 28 points while pulling in nine rebounds against Alabama earlier this season.
“Shoot, they’ve got him going in the [NBA draft] lottery,” Oats said. “I can definitely see why. He’s super talented. He scores it in every possible way you can — hits 3s, hits pull-ups, finishes at the rim, scores in transition, handles it in ball screens, comes off screens, plays in isolation.
“It’s not like you can take just one part of his game out and shut it down. It’s a whole team effort.”
— Alabama has the opportunity to clinch its first SEC regular-season title since 2002. The 2002 team went on to become a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament where it lost in the second round to Kent State. This year’s Alabama team is also projected to be a No. 2 seed as it sits at No. 8 in the NET rankings used by the NCAA tournament committee.
— Alabama has not won at Bud Walton Arena since 2012, dropping its last four road games against Arkansas. Interestingly enough, the Tide still holds a 9-6 advantage in games played in Fayetteville, Ark. between the two schools.
“It’s the toughest game we’ve got left on the schedule,” Oats said. “It’s been that way for a little while now. They’re playing great, seven straight games in the SEC they’ve won. They haven’t lost since we beat them. They’re the hottest team in the SEC.”
— Alabama's 13-1 record in the SEC is its second-best start in league play. The only other Tide team to fare better was the “Rocket 8” in 1955-56 which finished with a perfect 14-0 record in conference play. Alabama’s 13 SEC wins this season are tied for its sixth-best single-season total.
— During his Zoom call, Oats was asked about being the basketball coach at Alabama, which is commonly referred to as a "football school." The lifelong Green Bay Packers fan said he doesn't mind the distinction one bit, stating that, if anything, Nick Saban's success on the football field makes his job easier.
“A lot of people recruit against us to try to turn it into a negative that our football team’s so good, asking guys we’re recruiting, ‘Do you really wanna go to a place that’s a football school?’” Oats said. “Well, to me, that’s kind of absurd and ridiculous. Yeah, football’s great here. They win national championships frequently. It also brings in a lot of money. It also shows that the athletic department as a whole is real healthy. There’s a lot of positives that come with having a great football program.
“I think you see it here, you see it at Ohio State. Michigan, their football is not as good as it maybe has been in the past, but they’re a proud football program. They’re gonna be talked about in the top 10 every year. Their basketball program’s great. Even in our conference back when Billy Donovan was at Florida, they were competing for national championships in both sports. I think you can help each other.
“Shoot, I’d like to be at a strong football school. I’m a big football fan. I think it’s good. I’d rather be at a strong football school than a weak football school. Whoever wants to use it as a negative, I think they’re reaching at straws trying to come up with something.”