Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Bama Comes From Behind, Takes Cocks in Overtime, Alabama 67, Jacksonville State 59.

This team has shown they are capable of beating some very good teams, but they've also shown they could very easily lose to some pretty bad teams.

This is a game we should have won easily.  Alabama is bigger, more talented, and more athletic than JSU at every position.  Unfortunately we came out flat, the shots were not falling, JSU shot the ball fairly well, outworked us on the glass, and was able to take the game into overtime.

JSU was hot from the outside in the first half, and took a 2 point lead into halftime.  Alabama turned up the defensive pressure in the second half and was able to build a 13 point lead with 11 minutes left, but allowed the Cocks to come back and send it to overtime.

We had some success when we pressed after made free throws, and I thought we should have pressed more in the second half.  JSU had a difficult time handling it, and we had a chance to put the game away with the 13 point lead.

The Cocks had no answer for Jimmie Taylor.  He scored 13 points and had 5 blocked shots, but I believe he could have easily scored 20+ if we would have got him the ball more.  There were several occasions where he had the ball on the low block in the post, and inexplicably passed it back out to the perimeter instead of going up over the small defender.  We couldn't make a jump shot, so I'm not sure why we kept chunking it up from the outside.

With the exception of Art Edwards, who played fantastic, the backcourt had an awful night.  After the great game in Birmingham, Justin came back with a 6 point, 3 assist, and 5 turnover performance, including going 0 for 5 from three point range.  To his credit, he did make his last 4 free throws in overtime to put the game away.

Speaking of free throws, 28 for 43 is unacceptable, we were under 60% in regulation.  I also note that we shot 43 free throws to JSU's 8.  That's not overly surprising considering how physically out-matched Jacksonville State was, but that's a huge margin and we probably did get the benefit of the doubt on a few calls.  They had 3 guys foul out, which was a huge benefit for us in the extra period.

I was glad to see Greg Tucker for them foul out, he made some big 3's for them, but frankly he was a turd.  He talked a lot of trash to our guys during dead balls, constantly whined to the officials, and flexed in front of our bench and plenty of  other non-sense.

Retin Obasohan was terrible on offense, and he missed a pair of free throws at the end of regulation that could have won the game.  To his credit, he did not allow his poor shooting to effect his defense. Regardless, we aren't going to win many games getting this level of production from our back court, especially if we shoot 5 of 24 from 3 point range and under 60% at the line.

We were also out rebounded 41-37, and they had 15 offensive rebounds to our 10.   That should never happen against a smaller, slower team.

Riley Norris had a good game with a double-double, 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Donta Hall only played 6 minutes but had 2 points and 4 rebounds in that time.  I would have liked to have seen him when Jimmy was out of the game in the second half.

Shannon Hale dressed out but did not play.  Art Edwards had to come out of the game briefly in the first half after re-injuring his ankle, but he returned and played well.

Overall, we played about as poorly as we have all year, but still found a way to win a close game.

The crowd was better than expected, I would estimate close to 6,000 were there, including maybe 100 or so rather vocal Jacksonville State supporters.  I was not surprised by their following; I lived in Calhoun County for a couple of years and while JSU is definitely a football school, the Anniston/Oxford/Jacksonville/Gadsden communities and surrounding area takes a lot of pride in their school.  They've now taken auburn to overtime in football, us to overtime in hoops, and are playing in the FCS championship game, so it's been a good year for them.

  The atmosphere was extremely quiet until the final minutes of regulation and the overtime period when the home crowd finally started to make some noise.  With the students gone and the band presumably already in Dallas, they allowed students from Bibb County and Sipsey high schools to play the role of the pep band.  A couple of changes I noticed to Coleman, there is now a small curtain between the cheerleaders and band behind the basket, and there's a new camera well near the tunnel closest to our bench in Section F.  I didn't think to take pics, but will try to remember for the next game.

Up next, the Norfolk State Spartans come to Tuscaloosa for a 1 pm tipoff Saturday.  Norfolk State has been a solid program recently, but they are struggling this year, currently sitting at 5-9, losers of 5 of their last 6, coming off a 68-57 loss to Old Dominion.  Nevertheless, it will take a better effort than we got against JSU to end the non-conference slate on a winning note.



Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sleeping with the Enemy, Jacksonville State

I reached out to Zack White over at Cocky Nation to get his thoughts on the upcoming game.  He was kind enough to provide us with the response below.  If you visit Cocky Nation, please follow the rules of their site and be a good representative of the University of Alabama.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

The JSU basketball program has been on stagnant for the past few years but better than it was under previous head coaches. As you could likely guess, Jacksonville State is a football school. Under Coach Green, the Gamecocks have hovered around .500 in the OVC, which is a conference loaded with mid-majors (Belmont, Murray State, etc.).

The strength of our basketball team is defending beyond the arch. JSU is 2nd in the OVC in 3-point defense. The team also does a good job protecting the ball and forcing turnovers (+3 for the season). Defense and maintaining possession is Coach Green's calling card.

There are many weaknesses on this year's team, but arguably the biggest issue is a lack of returning starters. The team has had fruit basket turnover in the roster for years, and it shows when JSU plays a team like Belmont, that features 5th-year seniors that are familiar with each team in the league. Our basketball staff writer, Austin, delved deeper into the roster issues earlier this year: http://cockynation.com/2015/10/19/mens-hoops-exodus/.

The Crimson Tide are on the rise. I knew when they announced the hire of Avery Johnson, it would only be a matter of time until Alabama would be a competitive team again. With the way Alabama is playing this year, I could easily see this becoming a lopsided score early.

Good luck to the Tide in the college football playoff. My father is a UA alumnus, so I'll be rooting for them a few days after the Gamecocks play in Frisco.

I'm also rooting for JSU in their football game, hopefully the state of Alabama will have a couple of football national championship within the next few weeks.  As for basketball, this is a game we should win, but we aren't good enough to just show up and get a W, hopefully our guys will come back focused after the long break.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Game Preview: Jacksonville State

Alabama will return to the court on Tuesday, December 29th for a game against Jacksonville State. The game will tip off at 7:00 PM. No TV for this one, but you can watch the game via Sec Network+ if you have the Watch ESPN app. Attendance at Coleman has been disappointing so far this season, and I don't expect that to change for Tuesday with students on break and many fans preparing to or making their way to Dallas for the football game on Thursday. For those of you who can make it out to Coleman, lend your voices. This team has been a joy to watch so far, and deserve a better home environment in Tuscaloosa than what they've seen so far.

Jacksonville State enters the game at 4-10. The Gamecocks have been competitive, but have failed to win close games (their average defeat in their 10 losses has been by 7.6 points). They're currently projected to finish last in the OVC, and their RPI rank is currently 343 out of 351 teams. Alabama will be heavily favored in the game, and must avoid any post-Christmas funk as a loss would be a lingering bruise on their resume moving forward.

Stats



Alabama
Jacksonville State



66.2 PPG 70.5
67.1 OPP 72.0
.437 FG% .419
.397 OPP .453
.340 3PT% .314
.352 OPP .312
.656 FT% .710
.692 OPP .694
34.1 RPG 32.2
37.9 OPP 38.2
14.5 TOPG 10.1
13.3 OPP 13.0

Malcolm Drumwright leads the team in scoring at 16.1 ppg, and assists at 3.7 ppg. Justin and Retin have had to face their share of very good point guards already this season. Drumwright will be yet another challenge. Two of the Gamecocks' top three scorers have been out in recent games. Unfortunately, I've been unable to find any information on the reasons for their absence so I have no idea if they will play on Tuesday. Erik Durham (13.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg) has missed the last three games, while Cameron Biedscheid (10.0 ppg), a transfer from Missouri, has only played in three games this season since becoming eligible in early December, and has missed the last two games. The numbers suggest this is a better team when those two are playing. The fact neither has played in all 14 games could also be a factor in why Jacksonville State currently sits at 4-10.

With so many unknowns about this roster and what it will look like come Tuesday, it's difficult what players to highlight, outside of Drumwright, when discussing this team. Alabama's roster is also uncertain. Shannon Hale's status remains fuzzy, and how healthy is Arthur Edwards after suffering an ankle injury in the Oregon game? I suspect Avery will update their status in his next press conference. But one thing is clear, and that is the Bama players that are playing in this game need to come out focused and ready to take care of business. Our guys have put together a nice season up to this point, but all it takes is one bad loss (and losing to no. 343 in the RPI would count as a bad loss) to put a dent into a promising season. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ducks Slam in Birmingham, Oregon 72 Bama 68



Despite an outstanding effort, the Tide came up short against a very talented Oregon Ducks squad.

Everything went our way in the first half.  The team seemed to feed off the energy from the large crowd in building a 12 point halftime lead.  Once we adjusted to their early press and started taking care of the basketball, we were getting some open looks and knocking them down.  Justin Coleman led the way making a couple of 3's and scoring 12 in the first half.  Art Edwards also added a couple, and we were 5 of 8 from 3 point range in the first half while Oregon was 1 for 7.  Unfortunately, Oregon was just too good of a team for us to realistically expect that to continue.

Dana Altman made some adjustments in the second half and they went on a huge run the first 8 minutes or so.  They extended their defense to deny Justin and take away our perimeter game, and their length made it difficult for us to score inside.      Our 12 point lead turned into a 6 point deficit.  The guys kept scrapping, but could never get over the hump.  It seemed like every time we had a chance to make it a one possession game we would turn the ball over.  Still, we kept the game close and even tied it a couple of times, but give Oregon a lot of credit for making huge shots to regain the lead in a hostile environment every time it looked like we had the momentum.

I think we really missed Shannon Hale defensively in this game, assuming we would have got the good version of Shannon.  Riley Norris played better than he has been, scoring 12 points, 5 rebounds, and even blocked a shot on a key possession late, but he was over matched in trying to defend Brooks.  He was slow on help side defense and got burned on the baseline cuts all night.

Retin Obasohan had a rough night.  He went 1 for 9 with 3 points and 3 turnovers.  Retin, Norris, and Coleman all had wide open 3s in the final 2 minutes that could have tied or given us the lead, but it just wasn't meant to be.  This was a tough matchup for Retin, as the Ducks length and quickness limited his ability to find space and finish at the hoop.  He really needed to have a good day shooting the ball, but he only went 0 for 4 from three point range.

As quick as the ducks are, Justin Coleman made them look slow at times.  Justin is shooting with a lot of confidence right now and he was showing off his quick release last night.  He ended up with 24 points, 6 assists, and 3 turnovers.  He did get rejected several times trying to drive to the basket and made some ill-advised passes that led to turnovers and easy points for Oregon.  At times it looked like he might be trying to do a little too much in front of his hometown crowd, but I don't think we would have been in position to win the game without his aggressiveness.  There will be learning pains, but I'm glad to see him being aggressive and playing with confidence.  

In the end, Oregon was just too long, too athletic, and too quick for us.  Give them credit for making the plays with the game on the line and making the free throws to seal it in the end.  Coach Johnson said in the post game that Oregon could be a sweet 16 type of team, and I don't disagree with that.  I think they are certainly a legitimate top 30 team, and we took them to the wire without Dazon or Shannon, and also without the services of Art Edwards who missed a significant portion of the second half after twisting an ankle.

I love Birmingham, it's my hometown and things have improved dramatically in this city over the last 5 years or so, but there are still a lot of things that need improvement if we want to continue to successfully host events like this.  We arrived in Uptown, the relatively new entertainment district adjacent to the BJCC a little before 6, but every establishment had nearly a two hour wait for food.  We went to one of my favorite places downtown, Rogue tavern a few blocks away, and they were packed and severely understaffed.  There's definitely a market for more pre and post event spots near the BJCC in uptown/downtown.  The arena itself is nice enough, but I noticed the majority of the concession stands were closed.  It wasn't an issue for us, as we ate before the game, but I understand some people were waiting in 30 minute plus lines.  Also, the start of the second half was delayed because there was debris on the floor from the halftime show, and it took about 10 minutes or so for the event staff to get that sorted out.  At the time, I thought perhaps the roof was leaking, but thankfully that wasn't the case.  There was another delay later in the game when it seemingly took an inordinate amount of time for someone to bring out a ladder and fix the padding on the backboard.

Despite all of that, it was the best atmosphere we've had at a basketball game in years.  I would estimate close to 13,000 were there, all but a couple of dozen cheering for Bama.  It was loud, and the fans were knowledgeable about when to cheer and everybody was on their feet at key moments in the game.  The players seemed to appreciate the energy and feed off of it.  I happened to be sitting next to Terrance Meade, and he seems like a super nice guy.  He seems excited about the direction of the team and mentioned that Coach Johnson has been great about welcoming back former players.

Up next, we play another school in the state of Alabama who also has a football team still trying to win a national championship.  The Jacksonville State Gamecocks will make the trip to Tuscaloosa for a 7pm tipoff, Tuesday, December 29th.  Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.






Sunday, December 20, 2015

Game Preview: Oregon

Alabama will seek another quality non-conference win on Monday night when it hosts Oregon in Birmingham at Legacy Arena at 8:00 PM. If you don't have a ticket to the game it will be televised on ESPNU. Hopefully you have a ticket to the game and will be in attendance. Crowds have not been exactly uplifting at Coleman this season despite the early success in Avery Johnson's tenure. Hopefully the city of Birmingham shows this team some love and turns out in force.

Oregon enters this game at 9-2, despite dealing with injuries to multiple starters. According to their official site, injuries have been so prevalent for the Ducks this season that they have already seen a total of 21 games missed due to injury. The Ducks have withstood the early adversity, posting quality wins against Baylor, Valparaiso (Horizon League favorite) and UC Irvine (Big West favorite). Their two losses were to UNLV and Boise State, two teams that appear to be among the best in the Mountain West conference this season. And yet, like Alabama, Oregon could use more quality wins on its resume if it is to be selected for the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season. This game is big for both teams.

Stats


Alabama
Oregon



66.0 PPG 77.5
66.6 OPP 65.7
.434 FG% .458
.393 OPP .397
.330 3PT% .324
.350 OPP .328
.657 FT% .702
.681 OPP .720
34.6 RPG 37.0
38.2 OPP 34.1
14.6 TOPG 12.9
13.8 OPP 16.1

Oregon's depth has been tested due to the injuries, but they've responded well by being very balanced on the offensive end, while being one of the better defensive teams of Dana Altman's tenure (currently ranked in the top 30 of Ken Pomeroy's defensive efficiency rankings). Five players currently average double figures for Oregon. They are Dillon Brooks (15.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.0 spg), Tyler Dorsey (14.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 47% from 3), Elgin Cook (14.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.8 spg), Chris Boucher (12.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 3.5 bpg) and Dwayne Benjamin (10.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.5 spg). Jordan Bell, who missed all but three games to open the season, is back in the line-up, averaging 8.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg and 2.0 spg. Another starter, Dylan Ennis, has yet to play a game due to a foot injury suffered in the preseason. He is not expected to play in this game. 

While this Oregon team is a deeper, more talented team than Alabama, both teams have had similar seasons in that they've had to overcome some adversity and gut out victories by playing balanced offensive basketball and defending well. The expectation for Oregon is, as their injured guys return to the court, they will only continue to improve. A win for Alabama in this game will likely join Notre Dame and Wichita State as victories that will hold a lot of water in March, should Bama be in a position for a postseason bid.

Nothing is official yet, but I don't expect Shannon Hale to play in this game. If he doesn't, that makes the task all the more tougher for Alabama. For our guys to win, it's going to take a balanced effort similar to the one they had against Winthrop. Both teams would prefer to play uptempo, but both have been so good defensively this season that it won't surprise me if the game is relatively low scoring. Hopefully the fans turn out for this game and provide a home court atmosphere for our guys. I'm also hoping that Oregon comes out flat. Even though this is a big game for both teams, traveling across the country is never easy, particularly when the destination is Birmingham, Alabama. With all due respect to the Magic City, I can't imagine any of the Oregon players are excited about a trip to Alabama just before Christmas break.

With this being the last game before Christmas I want to take the opportunity to wish my fellow writers at the blog, and our readers near and far, a safe and happy holiday season. Take care of yourselves, and Roll Tide!


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Elephants Eradicate Eagles, Alabama 72 Winthrop 60.

Next man up!  Shortly before the game it was announced that Shannon Hale would not play due to a "medical condition."  There are lots of rumors out there about what that "medical condition" may be, but I have not heard anything credible at this point and will not repeat anything that I consider to be unsubstantiated at this point.  When asked about Hale's availability for the Oregon game, his response was "potentially, but not likely."

The team collectively stepped up and took care of business without Shannon or Dazon.  Justin Coleman seems to have found his shot, going 3 for 5 from downtown and leading us in scoring with 18 points.  It was a team effort, with 4 guys scoring in double digits. Jimmie had 14, Retin had 12, and Art Edwards put up 11.  Jimmie Taylor was the MVP dropping a double-double.  I've advocated for more playing time for Donta Hall, but when Jimmie Taylor is finishing around the basket and cleaning the glass like he did in this game, it's hard to justify taking minutes away from him.

Perhaps somewhat overlooked, I thought Brandon Austin had a good game.  He scored 7 points for us in the first half when the game was close, and I felt like his first 3 was a big shot in the game. We had struggled shooting up to that point, and he sort of took the lid off the basket for us.

Without Dazon, I've said that Coleman stepping up is a must.  In addition to his 18 points he had 5 assists to 3 turnovers.  I thought he did a fine job running point for the most part, and despite giving up 17 first half points to Keon Johnson, I actually thought he did an adequate job defensively on him.

We made some defensive adjustments in the second half and played mostly a softer man with some half-court trapping mixed in, allowing Winthrop to put some shots up from the outside.  They never found their groove, going only 5 of 26 from the 3 point range on the game, and we were able to stretch the lead out to 23 points at one time.  Winthrop made a small charge to get it back down to 13 or so, but we were never really in danger after our big second half run.

We were also more aggressive in attacking the basket in the second half.  Winthrop seemed to live at the free throw line in the first 20 minutes, but those roles reversed in the second half.  We ended up 11 for 17, which considering Jimmie went a predictable 4 of 8, that's not awful.

We had a size and athleticism advantage in the post, and it looked like Winthrop's bigs didn't have any interest in doing battle in the paint.  Coach Johnson and staff did a great job of recognizing and taking advantage of this.

With Hale out for who knows how long, I'm going to call out Riley Norris much like I did when Dazon went down.  Norris has the best skill set to replace what we are missing with Shannon, but he seems to be in a bit of sophomore slump so far this season.  We need him to make some shots, give us solid minutes at the 3 and 4, grab a few rebounds, and play better defense.

The crowd was actually better than I expected, though still not what I would have liked.  I would estimate about 5,500 to 6,000 were in the house.  With the students gone, and the game a blowout for the most part, it wasn't a very loud and energetic atmosphere, although the fans did show their appreciation at appropriate times and most stayed till the end.

Up next, a true home game for me, as the Tide will play the Oregon Ducks at the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, just a couple of blocks from my office.  Oregon was ranked in the top 25 for much of the season until a tough loss at Boise, but they still sit at 8-2 and project to be a solid tournament team. The Knight-Eady group has done a fantastic job of marketing the Vulcan Classic, and I can say that the city of Birmingham is truly excited about hosting Bama basketball.   This is a great opportunity for us to pick up another quality win against tough competition.  Tip-off is set for 8 pm Monday night, and for those of you who can't make it to my hood, the game will be televised on ESPNU.

Current RPI and around the SEC

I'm superstitious so I'm going to stay away from previews going forward. Besides, MS has done a better job of it than I have the last 2 years :)

We are #23 according to this. Assuming we only lose 1 more before conference play all of a sudden we have loftier goals ahead of us. Heck, I'll go ahead and predict a W Monday night (I will be in attendance thanks to DJC) and say we win out the OoC schedule (10-2).
Unless my eyesight is bad, only UF and UK are higher up the list than us... with SC lite rounding out the SEC in the top 50 RPI.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Game Preview: Winthrop

Alabama will play their first game in Coleman Coliseum in 26 days when they tip off against Winthrop on Wednesday at 8:00 PM. The game will be televised on SEC Network. The hope is that fans in the Tuscaloosa area will forsake the SEC Network and head out to Coleman Coliseum to show support for this team that has really generated some excitement in its 6-2 start, with four of those wins coming outside the friendly walls of Coleman. Seriously, if you can easily make it out to the game, be there. This team deserves your support.

Winthrop also sits at 6-2 entering this game. Their two losses were on the road to N.C. State and Georgia, games in which they were very competitive before falling late in those games. I had the opportunity to watch the Winthrop/Georgia game. I was impressed with Winthrop's performance in that game, and believe they could pose a danger to Alabama's winning streak. This Winthrop program went through some down times once Gregg Marshall left for Wichita State, but Pat Kelsey has done a good job in four seasons in resurrecting this Winthrop program. His 53 victories in his first three seasons at Winthrop are only behind Marshall in terms of success through the first three seasons. The Eagles were picked to finish third in the Big South conference in the preseason poll, and their early play suggests they will certainly be in the mix for a conference title.

Stats Comparison


Alabama
Winthrop



65.2 PPG 83.4
67.4 OPP 79.1
.423 FG% .451
.395 OPP .414
.330 3PT% .360
.373 OPP .369
.658 FT% .746
.673 OPP .730
33.9 RPG 38.8
39.2 OPP 36.9
14.6 TOPG 12.8
14.1 OPP 11.0

Keon Johnson may only be 5'7, 160 lbs, but this guy can ball. Johnson leads the team in scoring at 18.9 ppg, shooting a blistering 47% from 3. He also averages 4.0 rpg, which is astounding for someone of his size. He also averages a little over 2 assists per game. While it's a favorable match-up physically for Justin, he'll be challenged as a defender in trying to limit Johnson's ability to produce. Any team that scores 83 a game is going to feature more than one guy, and Winthrop has several guys to keep an eye on in this game. Jimmy Gavin averages 17.5 ppg, 39% from 3, while Xavier Cooks (13.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.0 bpg) has also produced good numbers. In all, Winthrop has 8 guys averaging 5 points or more per game. 

These types of games always worry me. A mid-week game against a solid, well-coached mid-major opponent, scheduled between a nice road win at Clemson, and prior to a big game in Birmingham next Monday against Oregon, along with a lack of student turnout due to the winter break, and no guarantee that Bama fans in large numbers will come out and support this team. These types of games have been nightmares for Bama in recent years. This team seems different, but it's only human for a team to have letdowns over the course of a long season. And this season in college basketball has been rife with mid-majors upsetting power 5 opponents.

A big reason our guys have been able to put together a 4-game winning streak is their play on the defensive end. What looked like a weakness through the first 3-4 games has really come together in the grind-it-out type of games that have made up the winning streak (Alabama is averaging 61.7 points, while opponents are only averaging 59.5 points in the last four games). That level of defensive play must continue against a team like Winthrop that has put points on the board; and, at the same time, Bama must be aggressive on the offensive end against a Winthrop team that has given up almost as much as it has scored (ranked 262 in defensive efficiency at KenPom).

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sleeping with the Enemy, Winthrop Eagles

I reached out to WinthropEagleFan over at Winthrop Fans to get his thoughts on the game.  He was kind of enough to give us a very thoughtful response, which you can see below.   If you visit Winthrop Fans, please follow the rules of their forums and be a good representative of the University of Alabama.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Crimson Tide Crashes Clemson Tigers, 51-50

Alabama is now on a 4 game winning streak, including 2 over top 25 teams with all 4 wins being away from the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum.

Rebounding has been a weakness for this team all year, and then we lost our leading rebounder for the season, before going to play a road game against a team known for winning the battle for the boards. So, naturally we would out rebound them 44-30, including 21 offensive rebounds, because, basketball.

I thought we played about as well as could possibly be expected in the first half.  For the most part, we were able to keep the pace up, and knocking down some 3s early really set the tone for the game.  We built a double-digit lead, but would go through periodic dry spells when the Tigers would go on a brief run and make it a one possession game, but we almost always answered and were able to take an 8 point lead into the half.

Clemson dictated the tempo for much of the second half.  Give them credit for sticking around and coming back to take the lead late in the game.  Even with our success on the offensive glass, we had a 9 minute stretch where we only scored one field goal.  Taylor, Hall, and Kessens all missed bunnies that could have made the end of this game much less dramatic.

Coach Johnson had a great game plan defensively.  We fronted Blossomgame to deny him the ball, and double teamed him as soon as he got it.  This came at the cost of giving more opportunities to Nnoko, who was almost able to pick up enough of the slack to beat us.

Shannon Hale frustrates me at times, and he had a few unforced turnovers again today, but obviously he made the big play when it was needed most.  Out of a timeout trailing by 1, he stole the in-bounds pass and beat his man down the court for an uncontested dunk that proved to be the game winner.  Perhaps more importantly, he did a great job defensively in denying the ball to Blossomgame.  He did a lot of things defensively that won't be reflected in the box score.

On the other hand, Retin Obasohan's performance will jump off the page of the box score.  He put up 23 points going 4 of 7 from three point range.  He was fantastic on both ends of the floor, and he was primarily responsible for stopping Clemson's last scoring chance.

I still think Donta Hall should be playing more.  He had 4 points in 7 minutes including an impressive block on the defensive end followed by running the floor and getting an open dunk at the other.

With Dazon out, Justin Coleman is going to have to step up, and I thought he did a good job overall tonight.  He didn't score very much, but he led the team with 5 assists and I thought he made some great passes.  Even when Clemson was able to force us into half-court sets, I thought we had good spacing and very good execution on the pick n' roll and pick n' pop plays.  We opened the space under the basket for our screeners, and the guards were efficient in getting the ball to them in their cuts.

One very minor complaint about the ending of the game, we nearly turned the ball over on the in-bounds with 3 seconds remaining.  With neither team having any timeouts remaining, it's unwise to risk a contested pass under your own basket.  We should have had someone go long, and in the event the count got to 4 with nobody clearly open, throw it into the frontcourt for a 50/50 proposition.  As long as we touch the ball, even if we turn it over, they would have the ball in their backcourt with 2 seconds remaining and no timeouts.

Up next, we finally return home to face a solid Winthrop Eagles team at 8 pm Wednesday night.  I know it's the holiday season and students aren't on campus, and I also realize Wednesday is a church night, which is a big deal in a smallish town in the Bible belt like Tuscaloosa, but this team is coming home 6-2, after playing 5 games away from home, in which they were underdogs in 4 of them.  It would be nice to have a big supportive crowd to show them how appreciative and proud we are of what they've already been able to accomplish this year.  More importantly, we could use some positive energy in the building to help prevent a let down.  Winthrop comes in at 6-2, and we'll need to play more like we did tonight as opposed to how we played against Southern Miss if we want to keep this winning streak going.




Game Preview: Clemson

After a week off for exams, Alabama will return to the court when they face Clemson tonight at 5:00 PM. The game will be played in Greenville, South Carolina due to Clemson's home arena undergoing renovations, and will be televised on ESPNU. Greenville is 45 minutes from the Clemson campus, and the arena (Bon Secours Arena) is primarily used for concerts and hockey, not basketball. As a result, this will not be a true road environment that our guys will be facing tonight. Hopefully, that will aid them in their effort to add another solid win to their resume. In addition to exams, and making the trip to South Carolina, Alabama will also have to overcome the loss of talented freshman point guard Dazon Ingram, who was lost for the season due to a broken foot that he suffered in practice earlier in the week.

Clemson enters the game with a 6-2 record. Their two losses came to Umass on a neutral court and a road loss at Minnesota as part of the Big 10/ACC Challenge. Their six wins haven't come against stiff competition. A win on Sunday night would be their best win of the season by far. Despite their lack of a quality win, this Clemson team has played well, currently ranking in the top 75 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency.

Stats Comparison


Alabama
Clemson



67.3 PPG 74.3
69.9 OPP 59.6
.436 FG% .472
.398 OPP .398
.327 3PT% .395
.380 OPP .338
.667 FT% .652
.669 OPP .688
32.4 RPG 37.5
40.6 OPP 31.1
14.6 TOPG 9.3
14.6 OPP 10.8

Jaron Blossomgame is the top player so far for this Clemson team. He's averaging 18.5 ppg, 7.1 ppg, and 1.6 bpg. He will be the top priority for Bama on the defensive end. More of a stretch four than a traditional post player, Blossomgame can play multiple spots on the floor; and is a deadly shooter, knocking down 44% of his 3-point shots so far. Clemson also has two other players averaging double figure scoring in Donte Grantham (11.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Avry Holmes (10.3 ppg, 3.6 apg, .447% 3pt). Based on what I've read from fans, journalists, etc. Grantham is the x-factor for this team. In defending Blossomgame, they can't allow Grantham to take up the slack. Jordan Roper (9.3 ppg, 3.8 apg, 1.0 spg) and Landry Nnoko (8.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.1 bpg) are also worth keeping an eye on. Clemson has nine players averaging double figure minutes, but four of their starters average 30 minutes or more per game so they really lean on their starting five to be productive. 

The loss of Dazon Ingram is significant. He was leading this team in rebounds, was tied with Justin in assists, and was one of the best defenders. He will not be easily replaced in this line-up, and it will be interesting to see how the team adjusts to his loss. That said, this is a winnable game for Alabama in ACC country as these two teams look very similar on paper to me.

Clemson has been dynamite on the defensive end based on the numbers above, though it should be noted that in their two losses their opponents averaged a combined 85.5 ppg, 50% FG, 46.4% 3pt, and shot an average of 23.5 free throw attempts. I don't think they want to play an uptempo game, they are going to try and limit our guys from forcing the uptempo pace. Alabama has struggled in half-court situations. If Clemson does force a slower tempo, our guys have to be patient, work for good shots, and get the post players involved. It bears repeating that the three post players for Bama - Jimmie, Mike and Donta - did not have a single field goal attempt in the game at Southern Miss. I don't believe that can happen in this game if Alabama wants to leave South Carolina with their sixth victory.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dazon Ingram, out for the year.

Dazon Ingram broke his ankle in practice and will have surgery.  He is out for the year.  Of course, we all wish him a speedy and full recovery.

I can't even come up with words to describe how unlucky this team is.

Sleeping with the Enemy, Clemson Tigers

I reached out to Ryan Kantor at Shakin the Southland and asked him to tell us about Clemson basketball and share his thoughts on the upcoming game.  He suggested that we exchange Q & A's, so please see his responses to my questions below.  I also responded to some questions about our team, that I expect they will post at some point before the game. If you visit Shakin the Southland, please follow their site rules and be a good representative of the University of Alabama.

Q. I think there are some similarities between Clemson and Alabama basketball.  Certainly, we both operate in the shadow of football.  Can you share your thoughts on the current state and direction of Clemson's basketball program?

A. Clemson football is casting a much longer and more glorious shadow than usual, as we are hoping our bowl season lasts nearly two weeks into basketball's ACC play. Playing off-campus this season (due to arena construction), probably adds to the feeling that basketball is taking a backseat until Coach of the Year Dabo Swinney's Tigers complete their magical run.

As for the hardwood Tigers, it's extremely tough competing against schools like North Carolina who are heavily focused on basketball (only a tiny portion of the ACC Championship Game crowd consisted of UNC fans). Historically, Clemson has not fared well against these powers and the fan attention and facilities reflect that reality. Long term, the hope is that the current overhaul to Littlejohn Coliseum will spark the program in much the same way that Virginia's improved basketball facilities have helped push them into national basketball relevance.

Short term, I've said and continue to say that Brad Brownell will get his opportunity to coach in the new arena next season almost regardless of this year's outcome. There are a couple reasons for this but the two to highlight are his big buy-out and that Clemson's roster is primed for a NCAA tournament run next year. He's finally brought shooters onto the roster and we're finally seeing his motion offense work. They're currently 70th in offensive efficiency, which is the best they've been since 2011. The defense needs to round back into it's usual form, but I'm optimistic they can be competitive this year and make a run next year. If I'm wrong, it'll probably be time to start over at that point, but I'm still hopeful. 

Q. As you said, based on Clemson's schedule on paper, it doesn't appear the Tigers have really been tested so far.  What can we expect from this Clemson team Sunday night?

You can likely expect one of the best shooting Tiger teams in memory and maybe the worst defensive group in the Brownell era. Unlike last season when Clemson lost to Winthrop and Gardner-Webb but beat LSU and Arkansas, so far Clemson has lost to the only good teams they've played (UMass and Minnesota) and taken care of business against lesser competition. This game will be a great measuring stick as it will be the first good team they face at home.

Look out for Jaron Blossomgame at PF. He's our star player and has shown improved three-point shooting this season. He was already solid off the dribble and around the rim, so being able to shoot from range makes him nearly impossible to defend. Another guy to keep an eye out for sophomore Donte Grantham. He hasn't developed the same level of consistency as Jaron Blossomgame, but when he is on his game, he can do it all and is a threat to score in chunks, often from three, but also by creating his own shots inside the paint on occasion.

3. I understand you guys are playing all of your home games in Greenville due to construction on Littlejohn arena this year.  Is that negatively affecting your home court advantage and what type of crowd/atmosphere will we be facing Sunday night?

I visited the Bon Secour Wellness Arena this past Sunday for the game against Wofford and I didn't see a clear student section. I'm sure part of that is because the Pizza Party run until about 1:00pm so it was a rush to get to the arena, but nevertheless, I don't expect a raucous environment. Additionally, the arena is really set-up for the Greenville Swamp Rabbit hockey team to many of the seats are quite far from the court.

4. What are your thoughts on the matchup, and keys for Clemson to get the win?

KenPom says Alabama will be the best team we've faced, but despite two losses, it is predicting us to win (due in part to homecourt advantage). In past years I'd generally cite various players being able to knock down shots as keys, but to pull out a win Clemson will need to get back to Brownell's trademark gritty halfcourt defense.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Bama Survives Southern Miss, 58-55.

We are going to have some ups and downs this year.  Thankfully we were able to get a win despite playing very poorly.  We were all concerned about a let down following the two big wins in Orlando playing in front of a small gathering on the road against one of the worst teams in all of college basketball.

I'm afraid struggling on the road could be a theme for this team.  We aren't a great shooting team anyway, and most teams don't shoot as well on the road with unfamiliar backgrounds and settings.  Our fast style of play and insisting that we take the first decent shot, means we will be taking more jump shots.

This was a rare game where we should've had a favorable matchup in the post.  For reasons I don't understand, we made zero effort to go inside.  Jimmie Taylor only played 14 minutes, and didn't take a single shot.  Kessens and Hall combined for 30 minutes and zero shot attempts.  The fact that none of our big men attempted a field goal is totally baffling to me.

Unfortunately, the uninspired version of Shannon Hale was back.  Getting positive production from him is going to be a huge key to this team's success, and we desperately need more consistency from him. Art Edwards had a good game, going 5 of 8 from 3 point range and 17 points. Retin led the way with 20 points, but we didn't get much production out of anybody else.

USM made a long shot at the buzzer to conclude an ugly first half with a 1 point lead.  You could see the confidence in their team growing as they were able to keep it close.  Credit to our guys for coming out and playing a little better to start the second half.  We put together a nice run to take a 10 point lead, but unfortunately could not put it away.

We were only 13 of 18 from free throw line again.  We had a 5 point lead with about 30 seconds left, but proceeded to brick 3 straight from the line to give the Golden Eagles a chance to tie on their last possession.  Thankfully we contested their shot and time ran out.

Up next, we have a considerable more difficult road game in Greenville, SC against the Clemson Tigers.  Tip off is set for 5 pm CST next Sunday.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Game Preview: at Southern Miss

The Alabama men's basketball team will look to continue its positive momentum when it travels to Hattiesburg to face Southern Miss. This is the return game of a home-and-home agreement. Game time is 7 PM. For those of you that will not be traveling to beautiful Hattiesburg to watch this game in person, the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.

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.

Stats Comparison


Alabama
Southern Miss



68.8 PPG 58.4
72.3 OPP 71.8
.437 FG% .356
.403 OPP .427
.315 3PT% .308
.381 OPP .343
.659 FT% .724
.673 OPP .663
33.2 RPG 34.4
41.5 OPP 39.4
14.2 TOPG 14.8
14.3 OPP 11.4

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.