Sunday, December 08, 2019

We Want Duke, Alabama 78 Stephen F. Austin 68

Alabama got its first 2 game winning streak of the season by beating the team that beat Duke to get back to a .500 record at 4-4.  Beetle was not able to play due to his wrist injury, so we were left with an 8 man rotation.  As MSmilie pointed out in his preview, SFA runs an unconventional system.  They play fast and physical, forcing a lot of turnovers while fouling a lot and getting most of their shots from down low.  I thought Coach Oats did a fantastic job of managing this game and making the proper adjustments.  He slowed it down just enough and we proved we could score and defend in the half-court when need be. This was, by far, our best defensive effort of the season.

We got off to a slow start with SFA building an early 11-5 lead.  The first few minutes looked as anticipated, a fast sloppy game from both teams.  After making a couple of 3s to draw even, the game went back and forth through the rest of the first half, with the Tide taking a one point lead into the the locker room.  JP started off hot from 3 point range to start the second half, which led us to a 10 point lead that we more or less maintained the rest of the way.

It was a great team effort as everyone contributed.  Kira played the whole game and ended up with 15 points.  He was also Alabama's leading rebound-er with 6.  Alex played 29 minutes with his bad hip and foot and also scored 15, including going 4 of 8 from three point range, despite not practicing since the Bahamas tournament.  JP had 14 points shooting 4 of 10 from 3 point range.  Davis added 11 points in the post while Shack led the scoring with 17 points.  Herb's stat line was not pretty, 2 points and 5 turnovers while fouling out in 16 minutes, but he contributed with his great defense.  He was largely responsible for limiting their best player, Kevon Harris, to only 3 of 16 shooting from the field.  For all of the talk about Herb's jump shot, if he could just improve on finishing around the rim that would improve his offensive game tremendously. 

We still had way too many turnovers with 20, and were out-rebounded 38-33, but I felt like we did a much better job of boxing out and getting rebounds in the second half.  At this point, it's hard to judge the quality of this win.  Despite the upset win at Duke, KenPom still had SFA ranked in the 200's, but their RPI was in the top 35.  It will be interesting to see their NET ranking when that comes out, but regardless, it's good to have this one in the win column. 

The crowd was decent with a solid student turnout on a Friday night, and for the first time this season there wasn't a significant number of empty seats around us.  I would estimate close to 7,000 were there, and the fans were generally supportive and appreciative of the grit and effort displayed on the court. 

Up next, it's finals week, followed by a road trip to State College, PA to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions  Saturday afternoon.  Tip off is set for 1pm CST on the Big Ten Network.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Game Preview: Stephen F. Austin

Okay, the vacation's over. The sun, sand and basketball were all fun and games, but it's back to the reality known as Tuscaloosa for this basketball team. From a basketball perspective, Alabama was outgunned for the most part at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Fortunately, they were able to salvage a win on the last day of the tournament. Unfortunately, the schedule doesn't let up. Alabama (3-4; KenPom: 79) will hope for back-to-back wins for the first time this season when it hosts the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (6-1; KenPom: 201) from the Southland Conference on Friday night. Game time is 7:00 P.M. CT, and will be streamed via SEC Network+.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Bad Bama Basketball at Bad Boys Battle for Atlantis in the Bahamas.

The Tide salvaged the last game against a bad Southern Miss team to take 7th place in the tournament after losing the first two games to North Carolina and Iowa State respectively.  I apologize for not posting updates from the island, but I could not access the blog from my wifi, and I didn't want to burn through my international data.  I'm not going to do a detailed re-cap analysis of each game, but instead will just hit the high notes and summarize the tournament as a whole.
My view for the UNC game

Friday, November 29, 2019

Game Preview: Southern Miss [Battle 4 Atlantis]

Alabama (2-4; KenPom: 81) was hoping to avoid the dreaded 7th place game, but ran into a buzzsaw on Thursday in the form of Iowa State. The Cyclones shot a blistering 52% from the field (51% from 3) and finished with 104 points. It was the first team to score 100 or more points against Alabama since Ole Miss did it way back in 2001. Nate Oats summed up the performance succinctly in the post-game by saying the team's defense "sucked".

Now Alabama finds itself badly needing a win today to salvage something basketball-related from this trip. They will face the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (2-5; KenPom: 238) from Conference USA. Game time is 8:30 P.M. CT, and will be televised by ESPNU. This will be the final game of the tournament.

My Two Cents: Honestly, Alabama has been more bad than good through six games. They've struggled to adapt to the new pace, and that has led to high turnover rates, rushed shots, and defensive breakdowns. Opponents are currently averaging 81 points per game. Maybe this team will figure things out by January or February, but will they have dug themselves too big of a hole by that point?

And it's not all on the players; the in-game coaching has been, quite frankly, not great. Let's take the last game for example. Iowa State put together an 18-2 run in the first half that allowed them to take control of the game. In the second half, after Alabama closed the gap to six points, Iowa State went on a 14-0 run in the span of two minutes. In both instances, Nate Oats did not call a timeout to stall the run and make adjustments. There was a similar circumstance in the game at Rhode Island. Furthermore, he seems to be unwilling to switch to a zone defense at any time in order to slow the game down and give the opposing team a different look. I'm all for giving the guy time to figure things out, but I gotta say I haven't been overly impressed with his game management so far.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Game Preview: Iowa State [Battle 4 Atlantis]

First things first: Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. I hope your holiday is peaceful. I'm going to do my best to keep this post short due to the holiday and the time I'm writing this (hint: it's late) in order to get it posted in advance of the game. Alabama (2-3; KenPom: 78) battled and did some good things on Wednesday, but ultimately couldn't overcome a poor shooting performance (38.2% from the field; 44.4% from the foul line) and UNC's interior size, falling 76-67. The Tarheels didn't play their best game either, turning it over twenty times, and making only 40% of their shot attempts. 

Our guys will need to bounce back quickly because another tough opponent awaits in the Iowa State Cyclones (3-2; KenPom: 43) from the Big 12. And yes, Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm is an Alabama alum. I'm telling you this because I'm sure the ESPN broadcast will not mention this.....Game time is 5:30 P.M. CT, and will be televised by ESPN2.

My Two Cents: Whoever put this Alabama schedule together is a real jerk. Alabama could potentially play three power conference teams in the Bahamas this week. They will then return home and host Stephen F. Austin, who just went to Duke and knocked off the number one ranked Blue Devils. Alabama is battling injuries, trying to adjust to a new style and coaching staff, and having to do it against the toughest non-conference schedule so far of any SEC school. I know some fans are upset with the slow start, but I think it's far too early for hot takes (and I say that as someone who does occasionally let my emotions override my brain when it comes to basketball).

Monday, November 25, 2019

Game Preview: North Carolina [Battle 4 Atlantis]

'Tis the season for daytime basketball. Alabama (2-2; Kenpom: 78) will take part in arguably the best in-season college basketball tournament when it travels to the Bahamas this week for the Battle 4 Atlantis. They will open the tournament with a bang as they face off against one of the blue bloods of the sport in the North Carolina Tarheels (4-0; AP: 5; Kenpom: 9) from the ACC. Game time is 1:30 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN. The injury situation remains the same. After missing the Furman game with a hand injury, Beetle Bolden will once again be a game-time decision for this one. Alex is still nursing a hip injury, which may explain why he only played 11 minutes in the last game. Galin left the Furman game briefly and returned, but he doesn't appear to be 100% either. Based on his play in the last two games, Herb appears to have progressed well after injuring his elbow in the Penn game.

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.