TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Despite having one of the toughest SEC schedules at the start of conference play, Alabama men's basketball is off to a hot start.
The Crimson Tide are now 5-0 to start SEC play, and has won its last six games. Alabama's resume has grown over the last several weeks, including road wins at Tennessee, Auburn and Kentucky as well as home victories against Ole Miss, Florida and
On Saturday, the Arkansas Razorbacks look to change that in Coleman Coliseum.
In what has been an interesting year in SEC basketball so far, road teams are 15-14. The Crimson Tide has contributed to that stat by returning home 3-0 from true road games, but the rest of the conference has also done well on the road.
Despite the challenge that is presented by a solid Arkansas team playing on the road, Alabama sophomore guard isn't concerned with that stat.
“It’s a stat that doesn’t mean much to us,” Shackelford said. “I mean, we’re coming in a mindset that we gotta protect home court. We got a target on our back being the top in the SEC right now so I feel like protect home court is number one for us and we just try not to be part of that statistic.”
The last time these two teams played in Coleman Coliseum back on Feb. 1, 2020, Alabama jumped out to a 12-0 lead to start the game. However, Arkansas came storming back, ultimately winning the game 82-78.
Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats hopes his team learned its lesson from the disappointing loss last season.
“I hope we learned a lot,” Oats said. “We were up a decent amount I think right out of the gate on them. We were up and we let it slip away. We’ve been up on some teams lately then they make a run and I think our guys group together and made some tough plays, got some stops, got some buckets. I think we’re mature. I like our group.”
This season, the Razorbacks sit at a 10-3 overall record — the same as its Crimson Tide counterparts. While Arkansas hasn't started off as well in SEC play, it still presents a major challenge.
On Tuesday at Kentucky, two of Alabama's key defensive players in senior wing Herb Jones and grad-student forward Jordan Bruner went down with injuries. Combine that with sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly, who has been out for two weeks with an unknown medical condition, and the fact that Alabama has trudged forward and remained unbeaten in conference play is quite impressive.
Senior guard John Petty Jr. contributes his team's success to leadership.
“I feel like it’s just the leadership and the effort the guys are giving,” Petty said. “Every day before a game, every couple of days before practice I feel like all the guys are locked in to the scouting report, locked into film and basically just locked into the game plan that coach wants us to execute going so I feel like the focus the guys are coming in with and just the effort we’re bringing is what’s kicking us off.”
Regardless of the team's leadership, Bruner and Jones will be missed in the lineup. With their solid defense absent, it leaves a huge hole in this Crimson Tide program until they return. In the meantime, senior forward Alex Reese — who has been playing off of the bench all season — will most likely have to see more minutes due to his size.
On Friday afternoon, Oats commented that Reese will indeed have to play more minutes, but also said that his team will also have to play small ball when it wants to give the senior forward some rest.
"Reese is gonna have to go closer to the 24 mark and a combination of Rojas, Keon Ambrose playing small ball kind of with the other options,” Oats said. “It would have been nice to have Alex Tchikou this year, but we don’t. Now that Tchikou and Bruner are both out, we’re a little bit small outside of Reese, but with our system, we like to play small ball anyways.
“[...] It’s gonna be a combination of Rojas, Ambrose, Juwan Gary, those three probably — and obviously Reese playing more.”
Alabama and Arkansas are scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. CT tip on Saturday (SEC Network).