Wednesday, November 20, 2019

FU, Alabama 81 Furman 73

The short-handed Tide got back to the .500 mark with a gutsy win over a solid Paladins team.  Things started sloppy as neither team could control the basketball, much less gain control of the game.  Alabama turned the ball over 11 times in the first 8 minutes of the game.  At this point we slowed the pace down a bit and "only" had 10 more turnovers for the rest of the game.  Perhaps it would be more efficient to take a gradual approach to working up to the pace that Coach Oats wants to run.  It does no good to be in the top 5 in the country in possessions per game if we turn it over on 25% of those possessions.  I would be perfectly happy with a top 40ish pace and less than 15 turnovers per game.

The multiple injuries are another reason to let off the gas just a bit for the time being.  Beetle missed this game with a hand injury sustained in the Rhode Island game and was in a cast on the sideline.  Alex only played 11 minutes with a bad hip,  and Galin only played twelve with a thumb injury.  The starting lineup was Kira, JP, Herb, Alex, and Davis.  The defensive effort was much better overall in this game, and despite the early turnovers we never fell too far behind, and led by 3 going into the half.  Shack coming off the bench and making some 3s in the first half was huge, and the Tide held a three point lead at halftime.

Furman jumped out to an early 6 point lead in the second half, but Alabama quickly answered to go back on top.  Coach Oats picked up a technical foul after being warned with Furman seemingly building momentum in a tie game with approximately 9 minutes left.  The team responded and went on a run to build a 10 point lead, and made their free throws and got just enough stops down the stretch to hold on.  While the team has responded to both of Oats' technical fouls to go on runs, that is a tactic that can only be used so many times.  I understand that he is showing his team he will fight for them, and trying to establish respect in a new league, but I fear the officials are going to just tune him out if he keeps going nuts on every questionable call.

Shack had a great game with 25 points, and JP bounced back with 16 points, 5 rebounds, and only one turnover.  Kira had a nice second half after being largely shut down in the first.  The Paladins did a nice job defensively on him, forcing an uncharacteristic 7 turnovers.  Kira still finished with 19 points and 7 rebounds. Davis was also in double-figures with 10 points and 5 rebounds.  Herbert turned the ball over more than we would like with 4, but he scored 8 points, grabbed 6 boards, and had a huge blocked shot of Jordan Lyons in the final minutes of the game to help secure the victory.  The team made 20 of 27 from the free throw line, including 6 of 6 from Kira and 8 of 10 from Shack.  Jordan Lyons was fun to watch, he reminded me a bit of Nate Robinson, just a bulldog of a guard who plays with swagger, can get to the line (where he doesn't miss) and can shoot from anywhere on the floor.  He scored 33 points and almost single-handedly brought them back, thankfully he didn't have much help around him.

Once again, Alabama out-rebounded their opponent 43-34.  What was a big question mark going into the season has been a strength thus far, and is an indication of the effort and hustle these guys are playing with as a team.  If we could get down to around 12 turnovers per game, and get the 3 point shooting percentage up above 35%, this team would be very difficult to beat.

The crowd was a little disappointing.  I would estimate only about 3,500 or so were in attendance, but those who were there were supportive throughout.  The two losses and missing out on the two 5-star recruits in the last week seems to have taken the air out of the fanbase a bit.  A big win or two on the island next week would be great to restore some momentum.

Up next, we travel to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis on Paradise Island, where we open with 5th ranked North Carolina next Wednesday at 1:30 CST, 2:30 EST.  I may not fully re-cap each game, but I'll pry myself away from the beach and casino long enough to get something up at some point.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Game Preview: Furman

First things first: The staff landed the first commitment of the 2020 class. Keon Ambrose-Hylton, a 6'8, 200 lb forward from Toronto, Ontario, committed on Sunday. He's a four star prospect at 247, ranking 79th in the class of 2020. Coming at the tail end of what was a mostly forgettable weekend for Alabama fans, the news was much-needed. Even more so in the wake of two five star recruits (Nimari Burnett and Isaiah Jackson) that the staff had prioritized electing to commit elsewhere in the early period.

Following a disappointing road trip to Rhode Island, Alabama (1-2; KenPom: 74) returns home to face the Furman Paladins (4-0; KenPom: 70) of the Southern Conference. The game is a campus site contest for the Battle 4 Atlantis event. Game time is 7:00 P.M. CT, and can be streamed on ESPN+. Injuries continue to be an issue for Alabama. Beetle, coming off a rough individual performance, will be a game-time decision for this one. Herb played well in the last game, but is still nursing an elbow injury. I don't remember seeing anything officially mentioned, but Galin appeared to have a wrist injury of some kind coming into the Rhode Island game, and it looked like he may have aggravated it during the game. Finally, Alex is still nursing a hip injury.  

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Rhode Kill, Rhode Island 93 Alabama 79

Alabama drops to 1-2 with a 93-79 loss to Rhode Island on the road.  The game started out well as the Tide jumped out to an early lead, but Rhode Island answered with a huge run over the next 7 minutes or so building a 20 point lead, and that was the difference in the game.  Twelve first half turnovers, and honestly it seemed like more than that, contributed to that big run.  This team is going to have to start valuing the basketball at some point or it’s going to be a long season.  It’s time to start Shack over JP in my opinion.  I officiated three middle school games Thursday night and I’m pretty sure those teams combined for less travelling violations than we had in the first half of this game.  Those unforced errors are the result of playing completely out of control.

In addition to routinely coughing the ball up, we didn’t make a single three point shot in the first half.  That’s a recipe for disaster.  The last 15 minutes or so of the first half may have been the worst I have ever seen from a college basketball team.  I thought we waited about 3 possessions too long to finally call a timeout.  I know Coach Oats is philosophically opposed to playing zone defense, and I generally agree with him, but we have one player who is above average defensively (Herb).  Our help-side defense is non-existent, and our other guards aren’t capable of consistently staying in front of their man.  We fall for every cross-over or ball fake.  At some point, we need to mix in some zone to keep teams from getting to the rim at will.  All of that said, Rhode Island settled for a lot of mid-range low percentage 2 point shots, but they seemingly made every one of them.  It was just that type of night.

To the team’s credit, they kept pounding the stone and made a run in the second half.  We only had 5 turnovers in the second half and finally started making a few 3s.  We cut the lead to 6 a couple of times and got some big stops but just couldn’t finish closing the gap.  I feel it was a classic case of using everything you have to get back into the game but not having enough in the tank to get over the hump.  A key possession that sticks out in my mind was when we were down 5 or 6 and got a stop, had great spacing leading to a wide open Beetle 3 from the corner, but he air-balled it short.  Beetle struggled in this one, which is disappointing as he’s a senior who has played in some big games on the road before.

On the positive side, Kira and Herb had outstanding games. Kira finished with 21 points and Herb had 17.  We out-rebounded them 40-31.  This team always plays hard, but not necessarily good.

The Ryan Center is a reasonably nice facility with the fans close to the court and good sight lines, but they could improve quite a few things.  The video/scoreboard is nice, but they had some connections issues and the stats did not update beyond about halfway through the first half.  The lighting is somewhat dark, and the LED ribbon board on the fa├žade of the upper level drastically changes the color and lighting throughout the arena whenever the advertisements change.  The campus is in the middle of nowhere, I nearly hit two deer crossing the road less than a quarter of a mile from the arena.  It was dark, but from what little I saw their campus was unremarkable.  They have wifi in the arena, but it doesn’t work, and we were unable to get any data service. 

The arena holds about 8,000 and it wasn’t a sellout, but there was probably 7,000 in attendance, including about 100 Alabama fans.  Their student section was packed and it was a good atmosphere, their fans were supportive of their team and loud, chanting “URI” nearly the whole game.  Their alumni were generally nice to us, but their students were classless, with multiple “F^&# You Bama” and “Bama sucks” chants.  I’m not offended by profanity, but at least try to be a little bit creative.  I met some  URI athletic staff members at a brewery after the game through some common friends I have that work in athletics at other colleges in the area, and they were extremely welcoming.  They bought us several rounds of drinks and were very complimentary of our team and our athletic department as a whole.

I toured the Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s  home in Newport Saturday morning, so I’m including a few pics from there.  As a Chicago Cubs fan, I'm a sucker for old ballparks so I had to stop at Cardines Field and take a few pics, but unfortunately I was not able to get inside.    Newport is a really cool town, and I also had a good time later in Providence watching the football game with some friends there.

Up next, we return to home to Tuscaloosa to take on the Paladins from Furman Tuesday night.  Tip off is set for 7pm. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Game Preview: at Rhode Island

Alabama (KenPom: 69) will hit the road for the first time this season on Friday when they travel to Kingston, Rhode Island to play the University of Rhode Island (KenPom: 89) from the A-10. This is the back-end of a home-and-home series that began two seasons ago. Game time is 6:30 P.M.CT and will be televised on the NBC Sports Network. Both teams enter 1-1 on the season. Rhode Island is coming off an 18-point setback at Maryland. Jahvon Quinerly's appeal failed to sway the NCAA to grant him a waiver so he will sit out the remainder of the season and have three years of eligibility remaining next season. Herb Jones will once again be a game-time decision on Friday night. Galin, Alex and Beetle are nursing injuries, but are expected to play.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tide Grounds the Owls, Alabama 78 FAU 59

The day started with some bad news as the NCAA denied JQ's appeal and he will have to sit out the season before becoming eligible next year. 

The Tide bounced back from its disappointing season opening loss with a comfortable win over Florida Atlantic.  Injuries continue to leave the team short-handed as they only had a 7 man playing rotation for most of this game.  Herb dressed and was a game time decision but did not play.  He probably would have played some late game defensive possessions if we needed a stop in a close game, but thankfully it did not come to that. 

Coach Oats mentioned in his pre-game comments that improving the defense was an emphasis following the Penn lost.  He said the starting five are the guys who played the best defense in practice over the last week.  That starting five was Kira, Beetle, JP, Forbes, and Davis.  Davis took advantage of his starting opportunity and led all scorers with 19 points and 9 rebounds.  I think he's earned another start as he showed good hands, good movement without the ball, and an ability to finish around the rim.  He may not be the rim defender we are lacking on defense, and FAU wasn't particularly strong in the post, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against better competition, but that was certainly encouraging production from the five spot. 

Despite some sloppy play and turnovers early, Alabama slowly built a 10 point lead before FAU was able to slow the game down a bit and start chipping away.  They cut it to 3 following a technical foul on Coach Oats.  The team and staff had already been warned about standing up on the sideline during the play, and Coach addressed the situation, but following a questionable foul call and an FAU layup, the official blew the whistle to issue an official coach's box warning.  Coach Oats continued to argue the call and was promptly hit with the technical foul.  I should note, the entire FAU bench came on to the floor thinking the original whistle for the coach's box warning was a timeout, so that should have been a technical on them as well.  In fairness, it was a reasonable assumption on FAU's part as they were on a bit of a run and a timeout probably would have made sense there.  In any event, the technical seemed to re-focus the squad and they finished the half on a 20-2 run that put the game out of reach.

FAU did cut the lead to 13 about midway through the second half, but within minutes Alabama responded and pushed it back over 20 and the game never really felt in doubt.  Galin and Beetle are both still battling wrist injuries and both fouled out in only 11 minutes of play.  Coach seems more willing to roll the dice with guys playing with four fouls than conventional wisdom would suggest.  With the already short bench, Tyler Barnes got into the game with around 8 minutes remaining and a 20 point lead.  He grabbed a few rebounds and gave us four minutes.

Kira had 16 points and 6 rebounds with 8 assists and only two turnovers in 37 minutes of playing time.  Shack scored 17 off the bench and made 4 of 7 from three point range. Alex had 12 points with 8 rebounds. The biggest negative from my perspective was JP's six turnovers.  He appeared to injure his wrist in the first half, so maybe that was the issue, but he still seems to have a high dribble and struggles to secure the ball at times.  On a positive note he is playing hard and contributing in other ways with 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 9 points. 

Rebounding was a major concern for me entering the season, but we've won the battle of the boards in our first two games.  It may be a different story when we run up against a bigger team, but I've been impressed with the effort of our smaller quicker guys going in and contributing on the glass.

They say a team reflects the personality of their head coach, and that's starting to become apparent with this group.  Nate Oats is intense and passionate, and that's how the guys play.  Coach Oats is constantly working the refs and aggressively coaching his guys.  Shack missed an assignment on defense in the second half and Oats lit into him for an entire media timeout.  When guys make a mental error, he's quick to pull them and explain things and put them back in at the next dead ball.  The guys are playing with a lot of emotion.  Coming off the floor during a timeout in the first half Davis flexed and yelled "Let's Go!" so loud I think people in Northport heard him.  It was great to see Hawkins leading the team and crowd in "De-Fense" chants at big moments, despite him apparently not making the playing rotation.  At one point Shack turned around to the crowd and yelled "Get the F*&$! UP"  when we were starting one of our runs.  Beetle is probably the most passionate of them all, he was sitting on the risers on the baseline with his wrist in an ice cast coaching and cheering non-stop after fouling out.

The defensive effort was better, but it also helped that FAU was horrible shooting the ball.  They had at least 5 air-balls, went 5 of 28 from three point range, and a laughable 6 of 17 at the free throw line.  On the other hand, we made 17 of 22 from the charity stripe.  At the end of the day, it's always good to get that first win and we took care of business against a mediocre team at home.

The crowd was decent for a rainy Monday night against a C-USA team.  It was a big drop-off from the Penn game, but still probably close to 6,000 or so and they were loud and supportive throughout.  The student section has started doing a thing where they go crazy when our score hits exactly "69."  It's stupid and immature, but somehow hilarious all at the same time. 

Up next, the first true road game In Kingston, RI against the Rhode Island Rams on Friday at 7:30 EST, 6:30 Central.  The game will be televised on NBCSN.  If you watch hockey, you are familiar with that network, otherwise you will probably have to do a little searching to find it.    I'll post a first hand report later that weekend.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Game Preview: Florida Atlantic

After a season-opening loss at home to Penn, Alabama  (KenPom: 73) will seek its first win of the season on Monday night when the Florida Atlantic Owls (KenPom: 179) from Conference USA come to town. Game time is 7:00 PM, and can be streamed via SEC Network+. The Owls enter this game with a record of 1-1.

Herb Jones left the Penn game with a hyperextended elbow. Nate Oats said that Herb will be a game-time decision for this game. I thought the trajectory of the Penn game changed when Herb exited so I really hope he's healthy and back in the lineup for this game. Jahvon Quinerly's appeal for a waiver is expected to have a ruling before the game tips on Monday. If cleared he likely plays in this game.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Penn Pounds Post, Punishes Pachyderms, Quakers 81 Tide 80

Note: This ended up being a lot longer than I originally anticipated.  I've included a "TLDR" version at the bottom for those of you who have better things to do than read my rambling musings.

The Nate Oats era officially got off to an inauspicious start with a one point loss to Penn at home.  Steve Donahue's Ivy League squad ruined the Alabama coach's debut.  If you feel like you've read that somewhere before, you are correct.  It was Steve Donahue's Cornell team that beat Alabama in Anthony Grant's debut back in  2009.   In case you're feeling masochistic, here is what we said about it at the time.   The team played hard and fast, but in the end could not overcome the injuries and a lack of interior defense.  There's a lot to unpack here, so let's get started:

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Game Preview: Penn

After spending this summer asking "Is it basketball season yet?" over and over until I alienated myself from friends and family, the season is finally here. With it comes the beginning of the Nate Oats era in Tuscaloosa. Anticipation was already high before the charity exhibition vs Georgia Tech, but following a 93-65 Bama win, in which our guys knocked down seventeen three-pointers, the chatter about basketball is much louder than we're accustomed to in November. Alabama's first opponent will be the Penn Quakers from the Ivy League. Alabama enters the game ranked 70 at KenPom, while Penn enters as team 112 in KenPom's preseason rankings. Game time is 7:00 P.M. CT. The game will be streamed on SEC Network+ so you'll need the WatchESPN app.

Alabama will be without newcomers James Rojas and Juwan Gary, both out for the season with injuries. Jahvon Quinerly's status is unclear for this game. His initial request for a waiver to play this season was denied by the NCAA, but the school is appealing on his behalf. My guess is he won't play in this game. 

Saturday, November 02, 2019

2019-20 Schedule Preview: February/March

Saturday, February 1 - Arkansas - 5:00 P.M. CT - TV: SEC Network: Arkansas bid farewell to Mike Anderson and hired Eric Musselman from Nevada. Musselman's teams averaged 27.5 wins in his four seasons at Nevada, playing in three NCAA Tournaments. He inherits some talent in Fayetteville, notably Isaiah Joe (13.9 pts, 2.8 rebs, 1.7 asts, 1.5 stls, 41.4% from 3) and Mason Jones (13.6 pts, 3.9 rebs, 2.8 asts, 36.5% from 3) along with experienced returners in Jalen Harris, Desi Sills and Adrio Bailey. Musselman also added a pair of graduate transfers in Jimmy Whitt (SMU), who started his college career at Arkansas, and Jeantal Cylla (UNC-Wilmington). It's an intriguing roster. If Musselman can fit it all together, Arkansas should finish higher than the 11th place prediction in the preseason poll. Alabama has lost five straight to the Razorbacks.

Tuesday, February 4 - Tennessee - 6:00 P.M. CT - TV: TBD: The Vols lost a quartet of players (Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander) that averaged a combined 56.1 points last season and were instrumental in putting the program back on the map. Replacing them will be a challenge, and expectations from Vol fans should be tempered as a result. However, with Jordan Bowden (10.6 pts, 3.5 rebs, 1.9 asts, 37.8% from 3) and Lamonte Turner (11 pts, 3.8 asts, 2.8 rebs, 1.3 stls) returning for their senior seasons, the Vols will have a solid base to build around. Beyond those two, it will be up to returning role players to expand their production and an incoming class that is the sixth-ranked class in the league per 247. Most importantly, Rick Barnes is back for his fifth season despite reports that he strongly considered taking the UCLA job this past summer. Assuming Turner and Bowden get consistent help from their teammates, Tennessee should once again be in the mix for the NCAA Tournament.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

2019-20 Schedule Preview: January

January means the beginning of conference play (at least until the league expands to a 20-game schedule). In recent years the conference has done a great job in repairing the perception of the conference. The depth of coaches in the league is unmatched in my opinion, and that strength in the coaching ranks has led to increased recruiting success. In 18-19 the league had seven teams selected for the NCAA Tournament. Five of those seven teams won at least a game, while four of the seven teams advanced to the second weekend. While I don't predict the league to be as top-heavy as it was last season (UK, UT and LSU lost a combined eight games), I do think the middle and, more importantly, the bottom of the league will be improved.

Saturday, January 4 - at Florida - 5:00 P.M. CT - TV: TBD: Alabama will start its conference schedule with a bang as it travels to Gainesville to face a Florida team that was picked to finish second in the league preseason poll. The Gators return three starters (Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson, all sophomores), add the second-ranked recruiting class in the league (and eighth in the country), and add the top transfer in the country, Kerry Blackshear Jr. (14.9 pts, 7.5 rebs) from Virginia Tech. The Gators are good enough on paper to not only win the league, but advance deep in March. To do that, they will have to be a better offensive team this season (61st in offensive efficiency, 344 in tempo, and 291 in possession length). For what it's worth, Alabama has won in its last two trips to Gainesville.