The Alabama men’s basketball team welcomes the Kentucky Wildcats to Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday, Jan. 22. The Crimson Tide (11-6, 3-1 SEC) will look to claim its fourth straight Southeastern Conference victory over the young Wildcats (12-5, 3-1).
Alabama head coach Anthony Grant praised Kentucky from what he witnessed in his scouting report.
“I’m very impressed with their length, athleticism, speed and quickness,” Grant said. “Defensively, they’re an extremely diverse team. They’re very talented in terms of their ability to create steals, to block shots and to get into passing lanes.”
Kentucky head coach John Calipari had praise of his own for the Crimson Tide. He said defending the Tide’s talented backcourt will be a challenge for the Wildcats on Tuesday.
“Their guard play is as good as anybody in the country right now,” Calipari said. “Both guys are scoring the ball. [Trevor] Releford’s really scoring the ball as of late, and Trevor [Lacey] can shoot it with anybody. They still have [Andrew] Steele. Their guard play is why they’re 3-1 in our league.”
Sophomore guard Trevor Lacey has been on fire from behind the 3-point line. He currently leads the SEC in 3-point field goal percentage with 45.5 percent (35-77) for the season.
Alabama’s backcourt success has risen because of the lack of size on the Tide’s roster. However, senior guard Andrew Steele said smaller line-ups benefit his team’s ability in transition.
“I think it kind of gives us an advantage in terms of how we want to play up tempo. We like to press a lot,” Steele said. “I think on offense, it spaces the court for us, and plays to our advantage with our quickness and the skill level that we have.”
Kentucky possesses several weapons of its own, and most of them are only freshmen. Guard Archie Goodwin is averaging 15 points per game, while forward Alex Poythress is averaging 13.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
But the star of the Wildcats is center Nerlens Noel. Noel was named the SEC Freshman of the Week and is averaging 10.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game for Calipari.
Grant compared Noel to last year’s Naismith Award winner and No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis.
“They’re very similar,” Grant said. “I think that when you look at the numbers he’s getting about four blocks a game, in SEC play about five [blocks]. But what’s really impressive is his steals. He’s almost averaging three steals a game on the season. He’s got great length, great hands and very good quickness for a guy his size. The way he impacts the game is really impressive.”
Kentucky is the defending national champion, but Grant said he isn’t getting worked up over the Wildcats’ visit to Tuscaloosa.
“I get excited about every game. Every game, to me, that we play is the biggest game on our schedule,” Grant said. “That doesn’t take anything away from Kentucky. That doesn’t take anything away from Texas A&M or anybody else that we play.
“We’re certainly proud to be a member of the SEC, proud of them being able to win a national championship. But right now, for us, we’re competitors. Our mindset is we’re going out to prepare the best we can to go win a game.”
The game will begin at 8 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPN.