For the second straight Sunday, the Arizona Wildcats (7-2) face a true road test against a major-conference opponent, as the ‘Cats travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide (5-3).
Both schools have struggled against lesser opponents, with Arizona needing a strong second half to beat Utah Valley and Alabama losing to Northeastern and Georgia State.
We caught up with Brent Taylor at our sister site of Roll Bama Roll to discuss the matchup.
Here’s our Q&A.
Avery Johnson has definitely raised the level of this program. How would you rate his tenure so far?
I’d give it a B- overall. On one hand, Avery Johnson has brought a lot of energy, fan enthusiasm, and high-level recruiting. He’s said all the right things, got folks excited, and really brought life into a stagnant basketball program.
It feels like he’s done well, until you look at the actual results. We’re four years in, and he’s still only reached the NCAA tournament once — in a season where he had an NBA lottery pick on the team and still had to rely on a miracle buzzer beater just to make it.
Ultimately, this is his first season with 100 percent of all his own recruits. If we still hover at that same fringe-NCAA Tournament area like we have every single year, it may wind up being time to move on.
The Tide have taken tough losses to Northeastern and to Georgia State. What’s the main cause for the disappointing start?
The biggest issue is shooting, particularly at the free throw line. A team can do all the right things off the ball, but it ultimately does no good if the ball doesn’t go through the hoop. Plus, opponents have figured out over the last three years that they can just foul indiscriminately under the basket, as the Tide is most likely going to make under 60% of its free throws anyway.
Part of the cause of that issue is that Avery is determined to rotate and sub every single player on the bench like a YMCA league. It’s been a recurring theme in his tenure. The Tide has a starting lineup that does well, but they get subbed out so often that the offense never can get into a rhythm. It’s frustrating to watch, knowing the talent on the team that isn’t hitting its potential.
Has Kira Lewis lived up to the hype thus far? How does he compare to last year’s phenom for Alabama in Collin Sexton?
I would say Lewis has lived up to his expectations. He was a high rated recruit, but nobody expected him to be a lottery pick like Sexton last year. He hasn’t been transcendent or anything, but he/s been the Tide’s best offensive weapon from the moment he stepped on campus.
He’s honestly a more polished point guard with a better feel for passing lanes and deciding between shooting from deep vs driving than Sexton was. He doesn’t have the sheer athleticism and talent, but he’s a dynamic point guard nonetheless.
What scares you about facing Arizona?
Ha, I worry most about Justin Coleman. Karma has a way of biting a team, especially when it’s filed by revenge. Alabama hasn’t been great at defending three pointers, and Coleman’s annoyingly good at those.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
Alabama has been very good at playing up to better opponents (and conversely down to worse opponents) under Avery Johnson. I imagine this winds up an ugly slugfest of a game with Arizona pulling away over the final 5 minutes. Let’s say 70-61, Arizona.