NCAA Basketball: Alabama/Arkansas Preview, Odds, Prediction 02/24

by Alec McMordie

The college basketball doubleheader on ESPN2 for Wednesday concludes with an SEC showdown between two nationally-ranked teams at 9 PM ET.

Alabama has the opportunity to claim a share of the SEC regular title for the first time since 2002 with a victory tonight. The Crimson Tide won their third straight game with an 82-78 victory against Vanderbilt on Saturday. Sophomore Jaden Shackleford scored a season-high 27 points to improve his team-leading 14.5 points-per-game average.

Nate Oats has four starters back from his first year with the program, where they finished 16-15. He fortified this core by bringing several talented players, including former five-star recruit from Villanova, Jahvon Quinerly, and Jordan Bruner, a graduate transfer from Yale. Oats also recruited three four-star freshmen to the program to give this team depth.

Alabama is scoring 80.9 points-per-game executing Oats’ “pace-and-space” scheme that plays fast and shoots plenty of 3-pointers. The Crimson Tide is 2nd in the nation in possessions per game, and their average possession length of 14.2 seconds is third quickest. They average 30 shots from behind the arc, with these 3-pointers representing 47.6% of their shots from the field, 16th in the nation. Their 36.0% shooting mark from downtown is 71st nationally, with the team leading the SEC by making 39.1% of their 3-points in conference play. The Tide also rebounds 30.2% of their missed shots, 102nd in the country. Their offense ranks 24th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency by kenpom for the season.

The Alabama defense is second nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency at kenpom. They force turnovers in 20.7% of their opponent’s possessions, 80th nationally. They also hold their opponents to a 29.2% shooting mark from 3-point land, 13th nationally. Oats’ team is vulnerable to opponents committed to crashing the offensive glass. The Crimson Tide allow their opponents to rebound 29.0% of their missed shots, 218th in the nation.

For the first time since 2002, the Alabama basketball team ranks in the top-ten with their current sixth spot in the Associated Press poll. The Crimson Tide is 18-5 overall with a 13-1 mark in conference play with high-profile wins against Tennessee, Florida, LSU twice, and these Razorbacks. Their five losses are against Stanford, Clemson, Western Kentucky, Oklahoma, and their lone loss in the SEC is against Missouri.

Arkansas is nationally-ranked for the first time since January of 2018, with their current standing at 20th in the AP poll. The Razorbacks won their fourth game in a row with a 75-64 win against Florida on February 16th. Davante Davis scored 18 points, with Moses Moody and Jalen Tate adding 14 points apiece. Arkansas had their next game with Texas A&M postponed given the COVID outbreak in the Aggies’ program.

Seven Razorbacks are scoring at least 7.2 points-per-game. Moody leads the way with a 16.2 points-per-game scoring average, with the freshman making 37.1% of his 3-pointers. Connor Vanover is an intriguing contributor. The 7’3 250-lb redshirt sophomore transfer from California is scoring 7.2 points-per-game with 5.5 rebounds-per-game and 2.0 blocks-per-game.

Eric Musselman’s team is 17-5 with a 9-4 record in conference play which is good for second place in the SEC. Their highest-profile victories are against Florida, Kentucky, and Missouri. Their four losses in the SEC are against Tennessee, LSU, Alabama, and the Tigers. They also lost to Oklahoma State last month in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Arkansas is 32nd nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency at kenpom. The Razorbacks are also 23rd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. They rank 20th nationally with a block rate of 13.4%. They are also second in the SEC with a defensive rebounding rate of 72.3%.

Alabama won the first meeting, 90-59, as a 3.5-point favorite on January 6th. The Crimson Tide made 15 of their 36 shots from 3-point land, and Arkansas scored only 19 points in the first half.

Arkansas gets this rematch in Fayetteville, where they are 13-1 on their home court with an average winning margin of 20.6 points-per-game. BetAnySports lists the Razorbacks as a 2-point favorite, with the total set at 158.5.

Computer Prediction:  Arkansas 82 Alabama 78

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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