Southern Miss enters this game at 0-5. To say it's been a rough start for the Golden Eagles would be an understatement. Their average margin of defeat through five games is 13.4 ppg. The toughest loss so far was a six point loss at home to NAIA William Carey University. As of tonight (Thursday), Alabama is a 13.5 favorite entering the game tomorrow, despite being the road team.
No player is averaging double figures for this Southern Miss team, though there is balance as 8 players average 5 points or better. Khari Price, a Dayton transfer, is the leading scorer for this team at 9.4 ppg, 3.0 apg, 3.4 rpg, 1.0 spg. He's solid in all phases of the game, and will be yet another challenge for this young Alabama point guard group. Michael Ramey (7.8 ppg, .429% 3PT) and Keljin Blevins (7.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, .385% 3PT) are next in line. Like Alabama, Southern Miss counts on multiple guys to produce. The more balanced team would appear to be the team with the best chance to win this game.
I've watched enough college basketball to realize that no road game is a gimme. There is no sport that I can think of in which the home team has more of an advantage than college basketball. Alabama cannot afford to overlook this Southern Miss team for that very reason. But, let's be honest, this is a game that Alabama must win. This Southern Miss program is struggling. The aftermath of the Donnie Tyndall tenure has put them in a tough spot. If you're Avery Johnson trying to build a top 50 program at Alabama, these are the types of games you have to win early, to go along with the upsets like we saw in Orlando, in order to build momentum in the rebuilding process. Not to mention, should this Alabama team be in a position for a postseason bid of some kind at the end of the season, a loss here could seriously hurt their resume should Southern Miss' struggles continue throughout the season.
This will be a test for this Alabama team to see how they respond to success. The vibe around the program has been very positive since their two big wins in Orlando. Has this team moved on from Orlando, will they be focused in this game, or do they come out flat and allow Southern Miss to make this game interesting? It will be very interesting to see this team continue to progress.