Monday, December 11, 2017

Wildcats Get Fat on Tide; Arizona 88 Alabama 82

There are no moral victories, and Alabama let a great opportunity slip away in the final minutes against one of the nation's most talented teams in the desert.  Nevertheless, it was one of the better efforts of the year so far, and if they play with the same focus and effort on a consistent basis, it's going to be a fun year. 

Braxton Key warmed up but did not play, and is expected to return for the Mercer game.  I believe he could have made a difference in this one. 

Sexton got into some early foul trouble and had to head to the bench for part of the first half.  Arizona was able to open up an 11 point lead, and I was concerned we were about to get run out of the gym.  I was really proud of the way our young guys kept their composure and kept answering every time Arizona looked to be on the verge of pulling away. 

I was questioning Coach's decision to put Sexton back in the game trailing by 5 late in the first half with 2 fouls, but clearly I was wrong.  We finished the half on a 7-0 run, including a bank shot at the buzzer from Collin to give us a 40-38 lead going into the half. 

The second half started great as we increased the lead to 6, and it could have been more.  We had a couple of bad bounces in transition including a missed dunk and instead of potentially going up by double digits; Arizona was able to even things up. 

For whatever reason the officials started calling the game very tight in the last 8 minutes or so, and it turned into a free throw shooting contest.  Normally that would spell doom for us, but we actually shot very well from the charity stripe.  Collin Sexton made 15 of 16 accounting for half of his 30 points.  Donta Hall was 3 of 4 and Dazon was even 5 of 6 despite drawing a lot of iron.  We shot 85.7% as a team.  More of that, please. 

It was still a tie game with around 3 minutes left, but we just couldn't keep up with their scoring.  We had no answer for Arizona's big men.  They killed us on the boards on both ends.  Ayton scored 29 and Trier had 25.  I thought we panicked a bit when we fell down 4 with a little over a minute left and JP jacked up a terrible shot.  We had plenty of time to work for a better shot and go into the final minute of play in a one possession game.  Instead, we fell down by 6 and that was pretty much the game. 

At the end of the day we lost to a very good team playing at home because they killed us on the boards and we couldn't stop one of the best players in the country.  There were a lot of positives from this game that we can build on.  I'm encouraged that we improved on some areas that have been a problem all year.  I mentioned the free throw stats above, but we also did a better job of valuing the basketball, as evidenced by the 15 assists to 8 turnovers ratio.  Donta Hall had another double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds.  Petty was 4 of 10 from 3 point range and ended up with 13 points.  I thought he generally played a good game, but his bad shot selection at the end really killed us.  Dazon also scored in double digits with 10. 

Riley was simply over matched and give credit to Sean Miller for exploiting it.  He was able to get Ayton matched up with Riley who had no chance of stopping him in the post.  I do not understand why we didn't double team him at all in the first half.  Ayton is a beast, but I think Key could have at least slowed him down a little. Riley made a 3 early and a desperation one late, but he missed some wide open shots that we really needed.  Herb also looked over matched, as he fouled out in just 14 minutes.  This was the first time he struggled to lock his guy down on defense. 

There were some unusual circumstances in the second half.  There was a lengthy review after a block-charge call, but I was under the impression that was not reviewable until under 2 minutes left, and there was no explanation given at the arena but they did not adjust the clock or anything.  From my vantage point, it looked like Sexton may have gotten hit in the head at the other end, and I thought maybe they were reviewing to see if that should have been an intentional foul, but since they didn't even call a common foul, I'm not sure if that's the case either.  Also, we were called for a foul with exactly 8 minutes remaining in the half, and Arizona shot the first free throw, THEN a media timeout was called.  My understanding is that the rule is the first stoppage UNDER 8 minutes, but my guess is that the offical clock showed 7:59.X seconds and the scorer failed to inform the officials before the first shot.  If the TV broadcasters gave an explanation for either of those things, please post in the comments, because I would love to know what all that was about. 

The McKale Center is a nice arena.  Our seats were near the top, but we had a decent view with good sightlines, and it was easy to get in and out of.  The concourse walls are lined with pics of Arizona greats over the years.  It seats about 14,500, and was more or less packed, with just a handful of empty seats in the upper level behind the basket.  I would guess there were no more than 50 Bama fans, and we were all scattered about.  The atmosphere was not as intense as I was expecting.  They stood up and got loud at key points in the game, but overall it was much more quiet than one would think, especially for a crowd of that size in an intimate setting.  There was more of a sense of nervousness and relief that they survived than genuine excitement and enthusiasm from their fans. 

Compared to some other blue blood schools I have visited, they don't seem to have the same passion and dedication as schools like Kentucky.  We were able to get our tickets on the secondary market for a reasonable $30 or so each.  I don't think I've ever set foot in Rupp arena for less than 75.  Unlike when I went to UCLA a few years back, the Wildcat fans do actually show up and participate.  They are knowledgeable and supportive of their team.  For the most part, we were treated very well.  Several people asked us about Collin and were very complimentary of our team.  We also had several people wish us good luck against Clemson.  Tucson was a little bigger than I was expecting, but it's very spread out.  We had a good time going out downtown and on 4th street after the game, but there are some strange characters there.  We had a fun Uber ride in a Tesla Model S when the driver demonstrated the ludicrous mode, going from 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds, but it begs the question, why is somebody who can afford a $140,000 car driving for Uber?  Tucson also seems to have been badly impacted by the heroin epidemic. 

Up next, we have 9 days off for final exams before taking on a solid Mercer Bears squad up in Huntsville.  Hopefully the guys can get healthy and do well on their exams to stay eligible.  The Mercer game will tip off at 8pm Central time on Tuesday, December 19th.  It will be televised on SEC Network. 

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Game Preview - at Arizona

 The Alabama men's basketball team have traveled to Tuscon, Arizona for their first true road game of the season vs the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats were a preseason top five team, but early struggles forced them out of the top 25. Following a road win at UNLV and a semi-home court victory over Texas A&M, Arizona appears to be rebounding. More good news for the Wildcats: injured guard Rawle Alkins, who has yet to play this season, is expected to return in some capacity for this game. His return only adds to the overwhelming challenge facing Alabama as they prepare for a team that rarely loses at the McKale Center. Game time is 9 P.M. CT. It will be televised on ESPN2. Click the links for team and Pomeroy stats.

My Two Cents: It hasn't been easy, or  pretty to watch at times, but Alabama sits at 7-2 entering this game. They've been able to overcome lapses on defense, inconsistent rebounding, a lack of ball security and terrible free throw shooting to grind out most of their victories. In order to win this one though, the performances we've seen up to this point simply won't cut it. If Alabama turns the ball over 20+ times, or fails to convert their free throw opportunities, the likelihood of a competitive game, even against an Arizona team with its own share of issues, will be minimal.

Players to Watch: Braxton Key will be a game-time decision tonight, but I don't expect him to return until the Mercer game, based on comments made by Avery in his last press conference. Nevertheless, he did travel with the team so it will be something to watch.

Daniel Giddens played his best game in an Alabama uniform against Rhode Island. The sophomore big man finished with 12 points, 6 boards, 2 blocks, and most importantly, 2 fouls. Switching to a smaller line-up and bringing Daniel off the bench has helped him avoid early foul trouble, which has allowed him to have a greater impact on the game.

Arizona has one of the best 1-2 punches in college basketball in Alonzo Trier and DeAndre Ayton. Trier, a junior, is averaging 22.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.6 apg. He's already scored 25+ in five games so far this season. Ayton hasn't just been one of the best freshmen in college basketball this season, he's been one of the best players period. A potential top-3 draft pick in June if he decides to enter, Ayton is averaging 19.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 1.7 apg, and 1.3 bpg. The only knock against Ayton so far is he has a tendency to drift out to the 3-point line. He can make the shot, but his 26% mark from 3 suggests that he should spend more time dominating in the paint. For our guys to have any shot to win this game, they must limit Ayton and Trier, and live with someone else having to beat them.

Prediction: I don't have the schedules in front of me, but I feel confident this is the most prestigious non-conference program Alabama has faced since they met Duke in Madison Square Garden in the 2013-14 season. This is the first game of a home-and-home series so the Wildcats will come to Tuscaloosa next season. Both games will present Alabama with a great opportunity to elevate the status of its own program. As far as this game goes, I'm not convinced that Alabama is ready to make the statement that a road win at Arizona would make. The program is getting closer to what we all want it to be, and tonight's game will certainly serve as a  barometer, but I've got to go with the home team in this one. Arizona - 81 - Bama - 67

Friday, December 08, 2017

Sleeping with the Enemy, Arizona Wildcats

I reached out to Ryan Kelapire of Arizona Desert Swarm to get their perspective on tomorrow night's game, and he graciously shared the info below.  I also answered some questions about our team for their site, if you are interested.  If you visit Arizona Desert Swarm, please abide by their site's rules and be a good representative of our University.  


Arizona's biggest strength is that it has two of the top scorers in country in Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier. Both are averaging north of 20 points per game and they have carried Arizona's offense all season. Ayton can score from all over the floor, but is mostly a terror in the paint because of his size and athleticism. Trier is an incredible slasher, who's best at scoring off the dribble but has improved quite a bit as a shooter. Arizona has other players who are capable of scoring in double figures too (we'll get to one of them), but the main reason Arizona has had any type of success this year is because of these two guys.


Defense. Generally, Sean Miller-coached teams are excellent on defense, but this team isn't, ranking 212th in the country in defensive efficiency. Arizona doesn't have any lockdown perimeter defenders and aren't a fundamentally sound defensive team either (they don't communicate well or play with great effort). And while Arizona starts two 7-footers including the athletic Ayton, they aren't a great shot-blocking team. So opposing teams have been able to beat the Wildcats off the dribble and finish at the rim. However, Arizona has improved defensively as the season has worn on as evidenced by their win over Texas A&M.

Rebounding is another weakness, particularly on the defensive end. It seems odd that a team that starts two 7-footers would have trouble controlling the glass but one of those 7-footers (Dusan Ristic) just isn't a physical force in the paint. Add that to the fact Arizona's guards and wings aren't great rebounders and you get the struggles Arizona has had. Ayton is one of the top defensive rebounders in the country, and that's great because Arizona would be awful without him. That said, they are adding Rawle Alkins back to the mix and he is Arizona's best rebounding guard.

Players to watch for? 

I mentioned Ayton and Trier already, so I'll talk about two other guys. First, Rawle Alkins. Alkins is set to make his debut Saturday after missing the first nine games with a broken foot. While he is not the scorer that Trier is, he is good at basically everything. He will be an additional creator and shooter on the perimeter, and should help solve Arizona's defensive and rebounding woes as well.  He was Arizona's second-best defender last year and could be the go-to defender the team sorely needs this year. While Alkins won't have a full workload Saturday, he is arguably Arizona's second-best player, so he will surely be a difference maker in the minutes that he does play.

Also watch for Dusan Ristic. He is quite a different player than Ayton as Ristic relies completely on size, footwork and his touch around the basket to score. Ristic is fundamentally sound on the low block and has the best touch around the basket that I've seen for a college player. He also can step out and hit jumpers too. He is not good defensively because of a lack of athleticism, and he can get outmuscled on the boards, but if he catches the ball on the low block he is probably going to score. 


This Arizona team is trending upward and hardly ever loses at home, so I believe they'll win a tight one Saturday. Maybe something like 75-69.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Wham, Bam, Thank You Rams! Alabama 68 Rhode Island 64.

Alabama survived another close, hard fought battle against a solid team to improve to 7-2 on the season.

After the loss to UCF, Dazon called a players only meeting.  I was anxious to see how the team would respond to his veteran leadership. We looked focused and much improved defensively, especially in the first half.  We forced a few turnovers and got some easy baskets in transition to build a 10 point lead.

I lost some respect for Dan Hurley in this game.  He got a technical foul in the first half for arguing with the officials.  I do think he had a legitimate gripe on that play, as Sexton got away with carrying the ball, but he proceeded to whine and argue literally EVERY call, including some of the most obvious ones, that went against his team, all the while encouraging them to play very physical defense.   There were multiple incidents when he could and should have been called for a second and ejected.   I thought there were a lot of bad calls on both sides, but in fairness it was the type of game that is extremely difficult to officiate.  It was very sloppy, physical  Conversely, other than when Herb Jones was called for a travel after he got pushed in the first half, Coach Johnson really did not argue much with the officials.  I thought he was too far on the other spectrum, and at times would have liked to see him do more to try to protect his players.  It seemed Rhode Island got the benefit of a few calls in the second half because the refs were tired of listening to Hurley's whining.

Collin Sexton got poked in the eye with about 6 minutes remaining in the first half and finally returned late in the second half with stitches.  He only played 17 minutes but scored 11 points, including a huge 3 to regain momentum after Rhode Island had tied the game.  He had a few words for Hurley and the Rams' bench after said 3 as well, and he was in their heads.

With Collin out most of the game several players stepped up.  Dazon had to play 37 minutes and finished with a double-double, 10 points and 14 rebounds.  While he struggled with turnovers and free throws, he came through when we needed him the most, making 7 of 8 in the final 2 minutes.

Donta Hall continues to be the MVP of this team.  He led the team in points and rebounds with 13 and 14 respectively.  Petty's shooting slump continues as he was 1 of 5 from 3 point range, but he utilized some other parts of his game and managed to score 12 points.  He had a huge rebound and put back late in the game, but his defense and ball handling has a long way to go.  He tries to be too flashy at times and makes poor decisions, and like too many guys on this team, does not value the basketball.  At one point he appeared to re-injure his ankle but stayed in the game.  I don't think he's 100%, and hopefully the extended break after the Arizona game will get him back on track.

Give some credit to Rhode Island, as they are a good defensive team and were averaging 18 forced turnovers per game, but 24 turnovers is ridiculous.  I would go old school and make every guard carry a basketball around campus 24/7 and encourage students to try to steal it from them, and have them run stairs for each time they cough it up.  (I'm only half-joking here).

The defense was not as good in the second half.  Petty and Dazon were both guilty of not closing out on shooters or getting their hands up at times, and coupled with our turnover issues on the offensive end, the Rams were able to erase an 11 point deficit.  Sexton's immediate answer when they tied the game really set the tone for the remainder of the contest.

We had a balanced scoring attack with 5 guys in double digits, including 12 from Daniel Giddens off the bench.  He matches up very well against smaller forwards and centers that he can post up, and I expect we'll see a lot more of him in some games than others depending on the lineups.

Overall, it's always frustrating to watch a team turn the ball over 24 times and barely shoot 60% at the free throw line, but when you can do that and still beat a good team with your best player only playing 17 minutes that's an encouraging sign.  And to everyone still upset about the UCF lost, please note that Kansas lost to Washington last night, and a shout out to my Mom's alma mater, the Loyola University-Chicago Ramblers for upsetting Florida in Gainesville.  Even good teams lose games they shouldn't, especially this time of the year.

The crowd was decent but not as great as the last few games; I would estimate around 9,000 or so, and there was a nervousness atmosphere through much of the game, as it appeared we were on the verge of repeating the UCF collapse in the second half.  The last two games the seats around us have been occupied by a family with 4 or 5 (I honestly lose count because they are jumping and moving around so much) of the most undisciplined, obnoxious kids I've ever encountered.  The baby of the bunch who can barely walk, literally climbed over us multiple times per game going between parents.  They sneak in outside food and leave garbage all over the place.  One of the brats wiped avocado on my girlfriend's pants.  They constantly stand up on the seats and jump around while the game is going on.  They finally, mercifully, exited with about 8 minutes remaining, but not without the oldest, probably 8-10 yrs in age, throwing a full fledged tantrum and getting into a face to face screaming match with his father.  While I generally favor having more fans closer to the floor, I would prefer empty seats to this bunch, and if they come back and start that nonsense again I am going to ask the usher to start checking tickets, because I'm pretty sure they don't all have seats near us.

Up next, we travel to Tucson for our first true road game against the Arizona Wildcats, who are one of the most talented teams in the country.  They were ranked top 5 in the preseason, lost 3 games in their Thanksgiving tournament, but seem to have bounced back coming off a win over top 10 and previously unbeaten Texas A&M.  It will take our best effort to date to be competitive.  The game tips at 8pm local time, 9 Central, and will be televised on ESPN2.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Game Preview - Rhode Island

The Alabama men's basketball team won't have long to dwell on its second loss of the season as it will play host to the preseason A-10 favorite Rhode Island Rams on Wednesday night. Game time is 7:00 P.M. CT. It's disappointing that this game won't be on proper television, but you can watch it through SEC Network+, via the Watch ESPN app. Alabama fell out of the rankings following Sunday's loss to UCF, but both the Tide and Rams are receiving votes so a win by either team could get them into the next poll. Honestly, I'm surprised Rhode Island is not ranked as they have two good wins over Seton Hall and Providence, while their only two losses were to ranked Nevada and Virginia teams. Click the links for team and Pomeroy stats.

My Two Cents: Following the game on Sunday, I tweeted that if the Alabama program wants to be taken seriously it has to stop losing games like the one we saw on Sunday. We talk quite a bit here about the strength of fan turnout, and how important it is to growing the program. That is true. But it's also true that, in order to grow into an established program, you have to win your home games first and foremost. That's never more true than this season, as the program has more momentum and fan support than we've seen in years. And yet, with a good crowd on hand Sunday, the team did not perform well, and Alabama fans were sent home, once again, disappointed.

Home losses have been a consistent source of frustration for fans during the Avery Johnson tenure. And before you think I'm going after Avery, keep in mind that he's also focused on this issue in his press conferences as well. Following the loss to UCF on Sunday, Alabama now has lost 11 games in Coleman Coliseum in 35 home games during Avery's tenure. Don't trust my math (I wouldn't), but that's 31% of their home games up to this point. That's not good. If you want to count the semi-home games that Alabama has played in Birmingham the last two seasons, that's 13 games the team has lost in front of supportive crowds.

Alabama has posted some big wins so far in Avery's tenure (Wichita State, Notre Dame, at Florida for the first time since 1995 in year one; and the 4-OT win over a ranked South Carolina team last season), but these wins have all come on neutral or road courts. The best home court win the program has had up to this point is probably a 63-62 win over eventual SEC co-champ Texas A&M in Avery's first season; a win by the way that only happens if a 90% free throw shooter doesn't miss two from the line to preserve the win for Alabama.

Bottom line: scheduling in the manner that Avery has done is great - it's awesome to see great basketball teams come to Coleman - but you've got to win too. Fans have to do their part by showing up and supporting the team, but the team has to reward them with at least a handful of wins over those good teams to keep the excitement high. They will have another great opportunity to do just that on Wednesday night.

Players to Watch: Let's be honest, this season has been a bit shaky up to this point. There was the Kobe Baker situation, which resulted in Collin having to sit while his eligibility was reviewed; the injuries to Riley, Braxton and Ar'Mond; and the inconsistent play that we've seen from the team up to this point. That said, Donta Hall has been a silver lining as he's playing the best basketball of his Alabama career. Donta was the only one that played at a consistently high level on Saturday, and it's a shame that such an effort was in a loss. But his scoring is up, he leads the team in rebounds and blocks, and he's doing a far better job of staying out of foul trouble this season. He's no longer just a role player, but someone that Alabama can actually run plays through in the post.

Even with senior leader E.C. Matthews missing time with an injury, this Rhode Island team has been incredibly balanced. The fact they have nine juniors or seniors on the roster doesn't hurt, but in their previous game vs Providence, it was freshman Fatts Russell (love that name) that came off the bench and scored 20 points and added 5 rebounds. The Alabama coaches won't be able to focus on any one guy, which will make scouting this team difficult. The guy who stands out the most on paper is senior guard, Jared Terrell (17.9 ppg, 43% from 3, 82.4% FT, 2.8 apg and 1.8 spg).

Prediction: Another reason Sunday was so important for Alabama is that a win takes a little bit of pressure off the next two games against really good, well-coached, talented teams. I thought Rhode Island was the better team on paper going into the UCF game, and I certainly feel the same way now. But lo and behold, this has become a gut-check game for Alabama. The team is now in the meat of the non-conference schedule, and how they handle this stretch in December will go a long way in determining the conversation in March. Alabama is certainly more than capable of winning this game, they have the talent. But whereas Rhode Island is a veteran team with chemistry, this Alabama team appears to still be in the process of finding itself, and likely will even after Braxton returns from injury. Rhode Island is the better team, but I've still got some faith left. Show me something, guys! Bama - 78 - Rhode Island - 77  

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Bad Knight for Bama, UCF 65 Tide 62

Alabama drops to 6-2 on the season after a bad loss to a depleted UCF team.  Give credit to the Knights, they played great defense, made their open 3s, and found a way to get the win on the road over a top 25 team despite being short handed. 

It was a strange game.  If you told me before the game that one team would shoot nearly 50% from 3 point range and win, and the other would lose despite having a post player go for 20 points, I would have guessed our roles would be reversed. 

As frustrating as this loss was, there are a few positives to take away, but not many.  We actually played better in the first half for a change.  We had an 11 point lead at one point, but I thought we took the foot off the gas a bit at that point and got a little sloppy.  UCF was able to cut the lead to 6 by halftime. 

We did a good job on Tacko Fall. Donta and Giddens fronted the 7'6" center to deny him the ball, and we used our quickness to get several turnovers when they tried to lob the ball into the post.  We also attacked him on the other end with Donta and Sexton going right at him and managed to foul him out after only 14 minutes of playing time and 6 points. 

Donta Hall was a beast on both ends of the floor.  He finished with 20 points, several dunks,  and 4 blocks. Unfortunately, he did not have any help today. 

UCF controlled the tempo in the second half.  Avery tried to press to speed them up a bit, but with a few exceptions they did a nice job of breaking the press but not taking the bait of getting into a running game.  UCF was held in the 40s their last two outings, but already had that many by early in the second half.  They shot 50% from 3 point range, and it wasn't a matter of them making tough, contested shots.  We must get better in our man to man defense.  We continue to mis-communicate or simply not execute switches on screens, and both Sexton and Petty are susceptible to over-reacting to quick directional fakes.  At some point, we've got to get back to the fundamentals of moving your feet to stay in front of the dribbler and not trying to anticipate every move hoping to make a big play.  Herb Jones can't defend everyone on the court. 

Sexton had his worst game so far.  UCF's guards did a good job of being physical with him, and when he missed a few shots I think he started to get frustrated a bit.  I do give him credit for setting up Donta and our other bigs with some nice drives and dishes.  I assume he had some blood on his jersey because he wore #14 for the second half. 

Petty left the game briefly in the first half as it appeared he re-injured his ankle, but he came back in.  Personally, I wish we would have just sat him out until he's 100%.  He had a few nice looking 3s that went all the way in and came out.   In fact, Riley also had a couple of mid range jumpers do the same, and Ingram even missed some in the paint.  It was just one of those days.  Petty finished with 12 points, but also had some bad turnovers and was a liability on defense.  Dazon, Collin, Herb, and Petty all made some poor decisions with the basketball. 

Despite trailing by 6 or so for most of the second half, we had a chance to win the game at the end.  Sexton tied the game at the line, and then Herb Jones took a charge with 25 seconds left.  Unfortunately, the replay showed Herb had a foot in the restrictive circle and the call was changed to a block.  They made a free throw to take a one point lead, and Dazon turned it over at the other end trying to get the ball to Hall.  Given the great game Donta had, and the fact that Tacko was on the bench with 5 fouls, I did not have a problem with the decision to try to get the ball to Donta on the block in that situation, but the execution was not good.

 I do take issue with the last possession.  After UCF scored on a fast break to take a 3 point lead with a little over 12 seconds remaining, Sexton quickly got the ball into the front court.  I like that Avery seems to be giving these guys a lot of freedom, but I think he defers to Collin a bit too much at times.  Obviously I couldn't hear what was being said, but I think Avery wanted to call a timeout as soon as the ball crossed mid-court, but Collin seemed to say, "I got this," and proceeded to dribble into a triple team before calling a timeout with 2.8 seconds...a timeout that should have been called with about 6 seconds left.  Credit to coach Johnson for drawing up a play that actually got Petty a decent look to tie the game, but as was the story of the day, it wouldn't go down. 

A good team must be able to overcome poor shooting nights and win these types of games.  We showed our youth today.  If we don't dramatically improve our fundamentals, start valuing the basketball and start moving our feet and communicating on defense, we are going to be discussing a 3 game losing streak this time next week. 

The game took over 2 and a half hours due to several lengthy delays in the second half when the shot clock on the UCF end went out.  They turned them both off at that point and started announcing "20 seconds," "10 seconds," and "5 seconds," until it started working again 5 minutes or so later.  This is just another in a long list of embarrassing aspects of our facility that badly needs replacing and upgrading. 

The crowd was the best I've seen so far this year, and it's unfortunate we couldn't capitalize with a victory.  I would estimate close to 12,000 were in attendance on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and everyone was in a festive mood with the good news the football team received earlier this morning.  The crowd stayed till the end and remained positive and supportive throughout, but there were some quiet stretches with the slow pace of the game and all the interruptions. 

Up next, the Rhode Island Rams come to Tuscaloosa for a 7 pm tipoff Wednesday night.  Rhode Island is almost certainly an NCAA tournament team, and they already have impressive wins over Providence and Seton Hall on their resume.  The game will be broadcast on SEC Network +

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Game Preview - UCF

Alabama's homestand continues when UCF (a.k.a. the University of Central Florida) visits Tuscaloosa on Sunday afternoon. Game time is 1 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU. Alabama enters the game at 6-1, ranked 24th in the current AP poll. UCF enters at 4-3. The Knights are currently going through a 3-game losing streak. As always, click the links for team and Pomeroy stats.

My Two Cents: Expectations were high for UCF entering this season after they won 24 games last season and advanced to the NIT Final Four. One game into the season, their best player, B.J. Taylor fractured his foot, costing him 4-6 weeks of the season. Without Taylor, UCF has struggled, losing three straight games coming into this one. With the exception of a 38-point demolition at the hands of West Virginia, UCF have been competitive in their other two losses, both 3-point defeats to St. John's and Missouri. The biggest issue for UCF has been scoring. In their three losses, the Knights are only averaging 49 points per game. Taylor, who was an 18-point per game scorer a year ago, would certainly help in that area if he was available.

Turnovers have been a real struggle for this UCF team. They cough it up 17 times per game, and a turnover percentage of 24.3% every 100 possessions. For all of their struggles on offense, defense has been a strength for the Knights. They enter this game ranked in the top 20 at KenPom in defensive efficiency, and teams are only averaging 65.4 points per game. It's going to be a tempo game - UCF wants to keep the game in the 50s/60s, while Alabama would prefer to score in the 70s/80s. Transition offense was atrocious at times for Alabama vs Louisiana Tech. It must be better this game. Our guys  must make the Knights pay if they continue to turn the ball over at a high rate.

Players to Watch: The transition from high school to college for John Petty had been going pretty well until the Minnesota game, when he struggled in that game, and hurt his ankle as well. Despite starting the game vs Louisiana Tech, John's struggles continued. Whether it was because of the ankle injury or just having a bad night, Avery was forced to sit John in the second half as he managed the lineup in an effort to find a group of players that could get the team back into the game and ultimately get the win. John sat for all but three minutes of the second half, and the broadcast showed him visibly upset and disengaged from the game, choosing to remain seated on the bench during team timeouts. As the game progressed, John seemed to regain his cool and rejoined the team during timeouts. 

It wasn't a good look for John, but I'm sympathetic to his situation if it was merely a case of wanting to remain in the game and be competitive, and showing frustration when he wasn't given that chance. Honestly, I would prefer a guy be upset that he couldn't compete whether than placidly take his place on the bench. My hope is that it was a learning experience for him. Adversity happens to all of us in one form or another; there's nothing we can do to avoid it. The key is how one responds to adversity, and that will be the challenge for John on Sunday. My hope is that he bounces back.

Tacko Fall is likely the most unique player Alabama will confront this season. Tacko is 7'6, you see. But he isn't just a big body. Since Taylor's injury, Fall has become the most important player on this UCF team. He's leading the team in scoring at 11.0 ppg, making 71% of his shots. The fact that there are three players that have double (or more) the shot attempts that Tacko has (32) to this point in the season is a head-scratching stat to me, and likely plays a big part in the Knight's 4-3 start.

Interestingly, Fall does not lead the team in either rebounds (that would be A.J. Davis who averages a double-double of 10.7 ppg/10.9 rpg, and will also be a focal point of the scouting report) or blocks at the moment. But he's a guy that cuts off a large swath of the floor because of his presence in the paint. In my opinion, Alabama has to go at him early and often to make him defend, and hopefully get him into some early foul trouble.

Prediction: UCF is hurting without B.J. Taylor in the lineup, but they still have a roster capable of coming into Coleman and beating Alabama, particularly if the level of play is anything similar to what we saw for long stretches on Wednesday night. But the fact remains that this UCF team is struggling. Alabama needs to play well and take care of business in front of what is hopefully an enthusiastic home crowd on Sunday afternoon. Alabama - 73 - UCF - 63

Thursday, November 30, 2017

They Gave us Heck, But Bama Survives Tech- Tide 77 La Tech 74

Alabama came out flat after receiving a lot of positive national attention for their hoop-it-up squad's performance in Brooklyn last Saturday.  I was a little disappointed we didn't start Riley and Galin to acknowledge their efforts in the Minnesota game. 

 The defense was atrocious at times in the first half.  We continue to have issues switching on screens, so we went to a 2-3 zone for much of the game.  Unfortunately, their guards, especially Bracey, was able to penetrate and finish at the rim.  On the other end, when we weren't turning it over  we were getting good looks, but couldn't finish anything. The Bulldogs made their free throws while we bricked most of ours, and they built a 10 point lead, but we finished the first half on a nice run to cut it to 1.  This trend of starting slow really concerns me.  It's going to be very difficult to win true road games if we fall behind by double-digits in the first half and allow opposing crowds to be a factor in the games. 

Give Louisiana Tech a lot of credit for answering at the start of the second half.  They forced some turnovers and knocked down some jump shots to rebuild their lead back to 11.  We had some unusual substitution patterns, and finally made another run to get back in the game with the unorthodox lineup of AJ, Dazon, Herb, Alex, and Galin. 

A big turning point came when Donta blocked a shot off the glass that resulted in a Sexton dunk at the other end to cut the lead to 3.  The crowd really got into the game and the team seemed to play with a lot more confidence after that point. 

We struggled to get stops down the stretch but were able to match their scoring, and the lead changed hands several times in the final few minutes.  We managed to get to the free throw line and actually make 16 of our last 18, as our lead went between 3 and 1 the last few possessions.  La Tech had a chance to tie at the end when our deflection went straight to a wide open Bulldog on the wing, but thankfully his 3 at the buzzer didn't fall. 

Sexton played out of control for most of the game, but he made things happen in the final 10 minutes when we needed it most.  He still ended up with 22 points despite not having his best game.  Dazon Ingram was the MVP for us, also with 22 points and 9 rebounds.  He made plays on both ends to keep us in the game while the rest of the team was struggling.  Donta had a big game with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 blocks.  He had a few dunks on put backs, and remarkably went 3 for 3 from the free throw line. 

Petty was a game time decision after his injury, and he started the game, but did not play well.  In the first half he looked fine physically, but was pressing and making some bad decisions with the ball.  He watched most of the second half from the bench, even in the final minutes when one would think he would be needed for his free throw shooting.  Coach Johnson just said it was a matter of trying to find the right lineups, but I'm not buying that.  He appeared to be limping a bit to me when he came out of the game for the last time.  I heard from some watching the broadcast that he was seen showing some attitude on the bench.  I did notice that he wasn't as animated as his teammates on the bench, but did seem more engaged towards the end of the game.  It's pure speculation, but my guess is he was telling the coaches he was okay and wanted to continue playing, but the coaches decided he didn't look 100% and wasn't playing well, so they thought it better to bench him, and he was frustrated that he wasn't able to compete at the level he normally does. 

Speaking of injuries, Dazon was forced to head to the locker room after being taken out by the officials for a few minutes in the second half.  At first, I assumed he was bleeding, but the officials may have thought he was exhibiting concussion symptoms.  Regardless, thankfully he was able to return after the next timeout and seemed fine. 

It was another good crowd for a Wednesday night of about 10,000.  La Tech kept us quiet for much of the night by building and maintaining the early lead, but the atmosphere was generally positive and it got fairly loud when we finally made our run in the second half.  Everybody was on their feet and cheering for most of the final 2-3 minutes. 

Up next, another very good UCF team comes to Tuscaloosa for a 1 pm tipoff Sunday afternoon.  The game will be televised on ESPNU. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Game Preview - Louisiana Tech

Alabama returns to the comfort of Coleman Coliseum on Wednesday night when they host Louisiana Tech from Conference USA. Tech enters the game 5-0. Game time is 7 P.M. CT. The game will be streamed on SEC Network+, via the Watch ESPN app. After injuring his ankle in the Minnesota game, John Petty will be a game time decision on Wednesday. I won't be surprised if we see John sit this one out.

Despite the loss to Minnesota, Alabama moved up a spot in the latest AP poll, from 25th to 24th. No doubt the strange circumstances of the Minnesota game, which included Alabama forced to play 3-on-5 the final eleven minutes and only losing by five, may have led to a sympathetic vote of sorts for the team. Click the links for team and Pomeroy stats.

My Two Cents: While the odd circumstances of the Minnesota game brought Alabama some attention over the weekend (the story quickly went viral after the game wrapped up on Saturday), the hope is that the team and coaches have now turned their attention to their next opponent. During the press conferences on Tuesday, most of the questions to Avery and the players were about the Minnesota game. While Alabama will be the most talented team Louisiana Tech has faced to this point, the Tech program is far from a pushover. In the last five seasons, this program has averaged 25 wins per season. Mike White built the program up, but Eric Konkol has kept it upright, averaging 23 wins in his first two seasons at the helm. Once again, the program is expected to be part of a logjam of teams at the top of their conference. It all adds up to yet another quality opponent that is capable of exiting Tuscaloosa with an upset victory.

Players to Watch: Collin Sexton has more than lived up to the billing in his first five college games. Collin scored 40 in the game vs Minnesota, 19 after the ejections. But more than his ability to put the ball in the basket despite the odds, it was a small gesture he made once the game was complete that impressed me just as much. Despite being a freshman that just went through an unusual situation, Collin called Riley and Galin to him following the game for a huddle on the floor. That kind of leadership is rare in freshmen. Enjoy Collin, guys. He's likely only in Tuscaloosa for one season, but it's going to be a blast to watch him and this team continue to grow.

Tech has four players currently averaging double figures. DaQuan Bracey, a 5'11, 174 sophomore point guard, is second on the team in points (14.9 ppg) and the leader in assists (5.2). He's the floor general for a team that is averaging 83.8 points per game. Alabama cannot allow him to get comfortable and control the pace of the game because there are multiple guys on this team, including Bracey, that can score 20 if the offense is allowed to flow.

Prediction: I'm worried about this game. I don't have a sense of dread, but I am concerned how much hangover there may be about that Minnesota game. Is this young team focused on their next opponent despite getting some national love for a game that did end up being a loss? This game falls neatly between the Barclays games and an important 3-game stretch of UCF, Rhode Island and at Arizona. That makes this a potential trap game. Adding to the trickiness of this game is that John Petty may not be able to play, which would take away the current second leading scorer for this team. Don't be shocked if our guys find themselves in another close game. Alabama - 78 - Louisiana Tech - 72

Monday, November 27, 2017

Around the SEC- 11/27

I'll try to do this bi-monthly...

We're a couple weeks into the season and only one SEC team has a losing record (Vanderbilt). Actually, 11 of the 14 have 1 loss or less. From ESPN, the current records: