Monday, November 20, 2017

Game Preview - UT Arlington

Campus play continues in the Barclays Center Classic on Tuesday night when Alabama hosts the UT Arlington (i.e., the University of Texas at Arlington) Mavericks. Both teams enter the game undefeated. Game time is 8 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. If you're in the Tuscaloosa area, but have yet to make it out to the game, you're going to want to buy a ticket to this one. Not only will Alabama need the fan support, but this has the potential to be a very entertaining basketball game. Hit the links for team and Pomeroy stats.

My Two Cents: For casual Bama Hoops fans that follow this site, don't be discouraged if Alabama loses this game on Tuesday night to a team you may not be familiar with by name. Arlington is a legit team, with a future pro. If you were to compile a list of the 10 best mid-major teams in college basketball at the conclusion of this season, I think it's very probable that Arlington will be on that list. This is a veteran team, well-coached (Scott Cross could see his name pop up on coaching searches at the conclusion of this season) that has already scored some impressive victories. They went to Norman for a scrimmage and beat the Oklahoma Sooners by a score of 99-84. I watched their previous game, an impressive 89-75 win at BYU. I would not be shocked if Bama is 3-1 heading into their two games in Brooklyn.

Players to Watch: John Petty had quite the night in the previous game. His ten 3-pointers were a single-game Alabama record. We're only three games into the season, but I think it's fair to say John is arguably the best pure shooter the program has had since Ernest Shelton. For the season, John is 15-30 from 3 (that's 50%). That's absurd. And let's not forget that Collin Sexton is also a fine shooter (5-9 from 3 so far this season). In fact, when this team is at full strength, it will have as many as five guys (John, Collin, Dazon, Riley and Braxton) that are all capable of having big nights from the perimeter. It's a nice problem to have. 

Arlington is not a one-man team (four players currently averaging double figures), but Kevin Hervey is definitely the centerpiece of this team. I would describe him as a poor man's Kevin Durant: a long (6'9, 230 lbs), athletic forward that can score anywhere on the floor (25.5 ppg/50% FG/40% 3-PT). Hervey also leads this team in rebounds (8.5) and steals (2.0). One of the strengths that I've noticed in Avery's coaching staffs so far in his tenure is the ability to game plan effectively for the opposing team's best player. That will need to be the case again on Tuesday night. If Hervey goes berserk, I'm not sure Bama wins the game.

Prediction: Both teams are playing at a high pace entering this game so I expect a high-scoring game. While Alabama has made strides on the offensive end from recent years, there have been inconsistencies on the defensive end. The first three opponents were unable to take advantage of this, but Arlington is a far better team that matches up well so Bama will get torched if they don't clean up some things on the defensive end. A year ago I would have picked Arlington in this match-up with little hesitation, but this is a different Alabama team than what we've seen in recent years. If the game does become a shootout, I believe this Alabama team is capable of  winning that type of game. I'll go with the home team in this one. Alabama - 82 - Arlington - 81

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Bama Obliterates Bulldogs, UA 104 Alabama A&M 67

My apologies for the delay in posting this recap, but I've been in Tuscaloosa all weekend and did not bring my computer. 

The Tide took care of business against a severely overmatched Alabama A&M team.  Let's be honest, AAMU is one of the worst basketball teams in the country.  Nevertheless, Alabama did exactly what they needed to do, and it was a lot of fun to watch. 

John Petty set a new school record with 10 three pointers made in the game.  All of his shots came from beyond the arc where he was an incredible 10 out of 13 for 30 points.  They weren't all wide open, easy shots either.  I recall one that he made on a catch, turn, and shoot without ever setting his feet, with a guy in his face, and moving away from the basket, nothing but net.  A couple more were easily from NBA range. 

Collin Sexton also played extremely well and scored 25 points himself.  As a team we were 16 of 27 from 3 point range.  Dazon was also in double-digits with 10 points and 6 rebounds. 

It was good to see the team get off to a nice start.  Collin was aggressive from the tip, and  Alabama jumped out to an early 10-0 lead and the game was never in doubt. 

Despite the lopsided result and all of the 3s, there are some things for the coaching staff to work on.  We are still having issues switching in our man to man half-court defense, leading to easy baskets and open looks.  67 points is a lot to give up to a team like AAMU.  We were out of position on quite a few rebounds, and free throw shooting continues to be atrocious, as we were only 8 of 15.  We shot better from 3 point range than we did the charity stripe. 

The most encouraging sign to me thus far is that Collin and JP seem to be great teammates and leaders in addition to being phenomenal players.  I was concerned about Collin's attitude, and that the "one and dones" may be more focused on individual accomplishments to improve their draft position rather than actually making the team better.  I think Collin may have quickly matured since the Canada trip.  I haven't noticed him talking nearly as much trash during the games, but more importantly, he seems totally invested in making everyone on the team better.  Even when he's not in the game he is constantly standing and talking to his teammates.  It's like having an extra coach on the bench.  When LawDog and Landon Fuller made their 3s in garbage time, Sexton and Petty were going crazy along with everyone else.  The chemistry on this team seems to be developing nicely. 

There was a decent crowd for a 6 pm tipoff.  I would estimate about 8,000, with another solid student turnout.  The atmosphere was loud and fun, as everyone enjoyed witnessing history with JP's ten 3 pointers, and the walk-ons getting in on the action late.  I know TV revenues rule the day, but the 6pm tipoffs really hurt attendance.  It's especially difficult for those of us coming from Birmingham to make the 6 o'clock starts during the week.  The 8pm starts aren't much better as it puts a lot of people getting home later than they would like. 

Up next, things get a lot more difficult as the UT-Arlington Mavericks come to Tuscaloosa for an 8pm start Tuesday night.  UT-Arlington is a solid team, they went 27-9 last year, won the regular season sun belt championship and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT.  They are coming off of an impressive 89-75 road win at BYU, who happens to be Bama's next opponent.  Our guys will need a good crowd behind them to help pull out a victory.  The game will be televised on the SEC Network. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Game Preview - Alabama A&M

The Alabama men's basketball team will play its first game as part of the Barclays Center Classic on Friday when it hosts Alabama A&M. This is the first of four games in the event for Alabama, with the team hosting one more game on Tuesday night before heading to Brooklyn for the Thanksgiving weekend slate of games. Game time for Friday is 6 P.M. CT. The game will be streamed via SEC Network +, via the Watch ESPN app. Hit the different links for team stats, Pomeroy scouting reports, etc. (please note: you'll need a Pomeroy subscription to view those pages).

I want to echo DJC's frustration with the two games in Barclays not being televised. Alabama and Minnesota could both be ranked when they meet next weekend, but the game will not be available to a national television audience. Avery has done a tremendous job raising the profile of this basketball program, but these November tournaments are a great opportunity for national exposure and, frankly, the program has not taken advantage by playing in these under the radar tournaments. Watching these games on Facebook Live (is there another way to watch?) is not my idea of exciting. As DJC also reported in the previous post, Alabama will take part in the Charleston Classic next season. That's an ESPN tournament so that one will be televised, and Charleston isn't a bad trip for those with a little traveling bread to spend. Check out DJC's post for more info on the other teams, including two that Bama hoops fans are very familiar with by this point. 

My Two Cents: Bama's non-conference schedule is devoid of games that, at least on paper, are clear mismatches, but this might be one. Alabama A&M only won two games last season, and they're off to an 0-2 start this season. Ken Pomeroy currently has them ranked 350 out of 351 Division I teams. As long as our guys don't completely implode, they should be able to handle their business in this one.

Players to Watch: Dazon Ingram is off to a great start in his sophomore season. He played arguably his finest game in an Alabama uniform in the opening game vs Memphis, and continued that strong play this past Tuesday vs Lipscomb. Turnovers continue to be an issue for Dazon (3.5 per game so far), but he's more aggressive on offense, he can rebound, assist, run the offense, he can defend, and he's showing signs of being more of a leader on the floor.

For A&M, Arthur Johnson is the team's leading scorer (17.0) and rebounder (7.0). He's shooting the ball well through two games (48.1% FG; 50% from 3). If A&M is to pull off the upset, Johnson will have to play well.

Prediction: Our guys have a clear advantage in talent in this game. The hope is that fans in town for the early football kickoff fill Coleman to watch this exciting basketball team, and the team delivers against what should be an inferior opponent. Alabama - 97 - Alabama A&M - 55

Alabama will play in the 2018 Gildan Charleston Classic

ESPN Events announced today.  We will have 3 games November 15,16, and 18 of 2018.  The field includes Wichita State, Purdue, Virginia Tech, Ball State, Appalachian State, Davidson, and Northeastern.

My only complaint with Avery is that I wish he would get us in better pre-conference tournaments. This year's Barclay Classic will be the 2nd year in a row we're in a tournament that isn't even televised.  Since ESPN Events is running the Charleston tournament, I assume it will  at least be on TV, so that's an improvement.   Also, while they are quality programs with usually good teams; I'm getting a little tired of playing Wichita State and Purdue all the time. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Bama's Bull Bludgeons Bison, Alabama 86 Lipscomb 64

The home opener and debut of Collin Sexton was a successful 22 point victory.  We had another slow start and didn't play particularly well for much of  the first half, but we did not fall as far behind as we have in the other games.  As MSmilie pointed out in the preview, Lipscomb is capable of scoring a lot of points.  They don't have a lot of size, but they have great spacing and ball movement and several prolific shooters.  Garrison Matthews averaged over 30 points per game, but we held him to half of that. 

We used the same starting lineup with the 2 bigs and tried to take advantage of our size in the post.  It seemed they realized we couldn't make free throws so they just hacked away.  Lipscomb started the game with some hot shooting, and we had some issues with our switching on defense.  AJ came off the bench and provided a spark to the offense, scoring 9 points in just 10 minutes. Bama had a 9 point lead, but horrendous free throw shooting and a scoring drought to end the first half prevented them from putting the game away.  We were 4 of 11 at the free throw line in the first half, and a pathetic 12 of 32 for 37.5% on the game.  That must improve. 

Missed free throws and careless turnovers allowed the Bison to claw back to within a point in the first few minutes of the second half.  Alabama called a timeout, and from that point on we just wore them out with our depth and athleticism.  The team is playing at a much faster pace and seems to have great chemistry in transition.  Donta runs the floor exceptionally well for a big man.  Collin is so quick and explosive, it's practically impossible to keep him from getting to the basket without fouling him, and this opens up the floor for other guys.  JP also showed an ability to finish around the basket and hit the mid-range jump shot. 

We pressed a fair amount in the second half but did not trap out of it very much.  Still, I think it served the purpose of speeding up the pace of the game. 

Sexton had 22 points despite shooting 5 of 12 from the free throw line.  He was visibly frustrated with himself, as he was a near 90% shooter in high school.  To me, his form just looked out of rhythm.  He held the ball a bit far out in front of him, bent his knees, but his arm motion on the release seemed quick and forced and not in sync with his legs.  I'd like to see all of our shooters develop a more consistent routine at the line.  I know we work on free throws and the general consensus is that coaches can't really do any more than give guys reps, but I'm not sure I buy that line of thinking.  Anyway, I thought he played much more under control and generally made better decisions than what we saw in the Canada games.  Collin is a special player, and we should cherish this one year we get to watch him.

I will go ahead and proclaim that we will not lose to any "one-man" teams, because we can put Herb Jones on that guy and he won't be able to beat us.  Herb's stats weren't that impressive, 6 points, 4 fouls, and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes, but that doesn't adequately reflect the value he brought to the floor as a defender.  He's far exceeded my expectations and I believe he will be the first guy off the bench when Key returns. 

I want to talk about Dazon Ingram for a minute.  He's absolutely one of my favorite players on this team.  Dazon came in as a starting point guard his true freshman year before being injured, and was one of our best players last year, playing mostly at guard.  While all the hype has centered on the freshmen, Dazon has maintained a great attitude and is playing just as well seeing most of his minutes at the forward positions.  He may not have the jump shot right now, but with his size, athleticism, versatility, and experience, he adds just as much value to the lineup as the freshmen do.

I've also been pleasantly surprised by Alex Reese.  I saw him play in high school and frankly didn't think he would have the strength to play as a forward at this level.  I thought his high school coach misused him a bit.  The staff has done a great job with him in a short amount of time.  He had 9 rebounds in 16 minutes last night. 

It's going to be interesting to see how the rotation plays out when Riley and Key return, as Herb, Reese, and Galin Smith have all earned a spot, in my opinion.  It's a great problem to have. 

Overall, this isn't a perfect team, yet.  We have some lapses on defense, unforced turnovers at times, and can't make a free throw, but those things are mostly correctable.  The team seems to be playing with great chemistry and we have several good shooters and 4 or 5 guys capable of scoring 10-20 points per night.  Coach seems to have turned them loose and has a lot of trust in them.  We may take a few ill advised shots early in the shot clock, but I'm okay with that, it means we have confidence.  This sure beats passing up open looks to jack up a contested desperation heave with under 3 seconds on the shot clock. 

There was a solid crowd for a Tuesday night non-conference game, I would estimate about 9,000 or so.  It was certainly a much more energetic crowd than the UAH game with the anticipation of many seeing Sexton for the first time.  The student section was mostly full with the exception of the bad seats in the corners, and some students opted to sit in other parts of the arena.  We also saw a few members of the football team there. 

Up next, Alabama A&M comes in for a 6pm tipoff Friday night.  If you are coming to the football game Saturday, it starts at 11 am, so you may as well come down the night before and check out this exciting basketball team.  There's no TV, but it will be streamed on SEC Network+.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Game Preview - Lipscomb

Following an impressive short-handed victory over the Memphis Tigers in the season opener, the Alabama men's basketball team return to Tuscaloosa for their home opener on Tuesday night against the Lipscomb Bisons from the Atlantic Sun conference. Game time is 7 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

This game will mark the debut of Collin Sexton. Collin sat out the exhibition game and the opener vs Memphis as the NCAA reviewed his eligibility. He's been cleared, and no doubt his presence in the game on Tuesday will come with a lot of excitement. My hope is we'll see a good fan turnout in Coleman on Tuesday night as a result.

There will be a slight difference in the presentation of the game previews this season. Last season, I would research and post the stats in the preview itself. This season, due to time constraints, I'm just going to link to the team stats page for the opponents, as well as link to Alabama's team stats. Alabama has yet to post their 17-18 stats on the official site, presumably because they've only played one game.

My Two Cents: Don't sleep on Lipscomb. This is a sneaky good team that is projected to challenge for the Atlantic Sun conference title. Seven of their top eight scorers from last season return so this is a veteran team. They can also score: they averaged 85 points per game a season ago, and they're off to a great start this season with a record of 2-0 and a scoring average of 87.5. This is a team that will test Alabama on the defensive end.

Players to Watch: It has to be Collin Sexton for Alabama. He's the highest rated recruit for the program since at least JaMychal Green, who was a 5-star recruit and McDonald's All-American. No doubt he is anxious to take the floor Tuesday.

For Alabama, the scouting report should start with limiting Garrison Mathews. This guy can fill it up. He averaged 20 points per game last season, and is off to a sizzling start this season with a scoring average of 31 points per game through his first two games.

Prediction: The hope is that the momentum generated by Alabama's opening win, along with Collin's debut, will result in a larger than normal crowd for a November weeknight basketball game. Our guys need to get off to a better start than what we saw in the opener. While Memphis had problems putting the ball in the basket, which allowed our guys to crawl back into the game after trailing by as much as 8 early, Lipscomb will likely not have the same issues making shots or creating attempts. Our guys will need a good defensive game plan and efficiency on the offensive end in order to exit with the victory. Alabama - 90 - Lipscomb - 75

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Low Tide still plenty to drown Tigers, 82-70

Despite playing without starting point guard Collin Sexton, last year's returning high scorer Braxton Key, and two experienced contributors off the bench in Riley and Davis; Bama was able to win convincingly over Tubby Smith's Memphis Tigers in the season opener.

The first half was nearly a disaster.  After jumping out to a 7-2 lead, we forgot how to play defense or set a screen without fouling.   They were in the bonus within 5 minutes.  At one point we had been called for 15 fouls to 5 for Memphis, and we ended the half with 20 FOULS!  For those keeping up at home, that's an average of one foul per minute.  For a team with only 8 scholarship players available, that's obviously a major problem.

The foul trouble led to some rather unorthodox lineups.  I posted after the exhibition game that Law-Dog would not see meaningful minutes in a close game that counts.  Obviously I was wrong, and credit to Schaffer for being a huge part of why we survived the first half.  He proved he's capable of being more than just a mascot.  He scored 5 points including one three where he actually created his own shot with a nice move.

In addition to the foul trouble, we had a difficult time holding on to the basketball.  I think at least part of this can be attributed to the unusual lineups.  We had ten turnovers to go along with our 20 fouls at halftime.

Memphis was able to build an 8 point lead during this stretch.  This is a trend that is starting to concern me.  I know it's still early, but in every single game going back to Canada and including the secret scrimmage against Baylor, we've faced significant deficits in the first half.  We've generally been able to overcome them, but I fear that may be a tall order in a true road game against a quality opponent.

Anyway, despite all of the above, we somehow managed to come back and lead by 2 at halftime.  I really love the way this team has shown the ability to respond to adversity.  With all the foul trouble and the short bench, things could have went south in a hurry, but our freshmen stepped up their game on both ends and just kept grinding.  Memphis helped us out by failing to convert some easy opportunities and bricking a bunch of free throws.
The Navy Drill Team Performs at Halftime

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Game Preview - Memphis [Veterans Classic at Annapolis, MD]

The season is finally here. It hasn't arrived without some adversity, but I think I speak for most Bama hoops fans when I say that I'm excited to watch college basketball again. My DVR is going to blow up as it records game after game after game. I plan to have basketball games to watch well into next summer. Alabama tips off the 17-18 season against the Memphis Tigers. Game time is 5:30 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.

As I said the team is going through some adversity as it enters the season. Three players (Braxton Key, Riley Norris and Ar'Mond Davis) are out with injury. All three will miss this game. Braxton had a successful surgery to repair a torn meniscus earlier this week. He's expected to return, but Avery says it could be at least four weeks before he returns to practice. Ar'Mond is out indefinitely. Riley could return as early as next week.

The team did receive some good news today. Collin Sexton, who was being held out indefinitely while the NCAA reviewed his eligibility status, will miss the Memphis game as part of a 1-game suspension, but he has been cleared to return on Tuesday in the home opener against Lipscomb. It's a sigh of relief in the wake of several conflicting reports by media outlets like ESPN that reported that the NCAA had ruled Collin ineligible. It's a break that Collin will be able to play, but the loss of Braxton for at least four weeks is still a blow for this team as it prepares for what I think could be one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Diante Wood Commits to Alabama

The 2018 recruiting class gained another commit on Wednesday when Diante Wood, a 3-star guard from Anniston, Alabama, committed to Alabama. Wood is a two-time class 1A player of the year, and he has won three straight state titles at Sacred Heart High School. ESPN ranks him as the top prospect in the state of Alabama. Wood is the third recruit to commit to Alabama in the class of 2018, joining Jared Butler and Javian Fleming.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Tide Larger than Chargers, Alabama 74 UAH 65

Let's start by addressing the big news of the day.  Many of us have been holding our breath regarding the Collin Sexton situation, and unfortunately our fears came to fruition a few hours before tip-off when it was announced that he would not play due to eligibility concerns.  Ever since the FBI investigation story broke which led to Kobie Baker's dismissal, we've heard the staff was optimistic that Sexton would be able to play.  However, those statements always came with qualifiers such as "as of right now," or "based on what we know" or "unless something else comes up."  It's true, there's nothing definitive in the FBI report that would indicate Collin either actually signed with an agent or accepted improper benefits.  Nevertheless, one would have to be pretty naive to believe that Kobie kept all of that money himself and none of it funneled down to Sexton or someone close to him.

When asked about the situation more recently Coach Johnson issued vague statements of "we're going forward with our roster."  He also said after the game last night that "new information surfaced not within the last 24 hrs but the last 8 hours."  The University released a statement saying that "The NCAA informed us late this afternoon that Collin Sexton has not had his eligibility reinstated by the NCAA. We don’t have any further information at this time, but we will continue to cooperate with the NCAA and work toward a resolution that results in Collin’s timely reinstatement."

That's all we know at this point, but here's my pure speculation on what is going on.  After conducting our internal review, we declared him ineligible and presented our findings to the NCAA and basically said, "look, we fired Kobie, we've talked to the player and his family, we don't think he's done anything to violate the amateurism rules but out of an abundance of caution we've declared him ineligible.  Please reinstate him before our upcoming game."  This is a fairly common procedure that schools do as a CYA, so if something comes out later they have the defense of, "we told you about this up front and you cleared it." We were hoping/expecting he would be cleared, but the NCAA probably said, "no, we want to look into this more."  They probably want to interview people involved.  Hopefully they don't ask the FBI to subpoena bank records and what-not.  The other concern is Kobie really does not have a reason to protect us or Collin at this point.  Regardless, it was the right decision not to push the envelope on this one.  I would not be any more surprised if he's reinstated this week for the Memphis game than I would be if he never sets foot on the court in a meaningful game for us.  At this point, we will just have to wait and see.  For whatever it's worth, his body language on the bench was generally upbeat and positive.  He was encouraging and supportive of his teammates, and certainly did not look like somebody who isn't expecting to be playing for this team.

With that out of the way, let's move on to the game.