Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bama Buries Bucs, 76-46

If you haven't watched Coach Avery's pregame press conference linked in MSmilie's preview below; I highly encourage you to do so.  It's not the typical "coach speak" PC we normally get.  He expresses a lot of the same concerns we have voiced here following the Vegas trip.  I was curious to see how the team would respond in this game after being somewhat "called out" publicly by their coach.  For the most part, I think the effort was improved.

To be brutally honest, Charleston Southern is a bad basketball team.  It's hard to make many judgments based on this game, and this win certainly won't move the RPI needle for us, at least not in a favorable direction.  That being said, the team did exactly what they needed to do, take control of the game early and win in convincing fashion, and there are some positive takeaways before we embark on a very challenging two game road trip.

The defense was much better.  We shut them out for the first five minutes of the game and held them to 15 points in the first half.  It helps that we were playing a team that can't shoot, can't make free throws, and has no post presence, but still.

The starting 5 was actually Dazon, Corban, Key, King, and Jimmie.  I was a little surprised King got the start over Riley, but I heard Riley has been a bit under the weather lately so perhaps that played a role.  Nevertheless, I like this lineup.

Key seems to be handling the starting role just fine, leading all scorers with 14 points.  Dazon had a solid overall game with 9 points, 4 assists, and just one turnover, but could have scored more if he finished some easy chances near the basket.  AJ had a great game with 11 points, and Davis was impressive coming in off the bench, albeit with the game already well in hand, going 2 for 3 from 3 point range and scoring 10 points.

Coach Avery actually let the guys play together for at least 2 or 3 minutes at a time in the first half, so hopefully the substitution rotations are getting more settled.  I think abandoning the Chinese fire drill off the bench contributed greatly to holding them to only 15 points in the first half.  Davis and Bola did not get into the game until long after the outcome was determined.  Hale had 5 turnovers in 17 minutes, but did make a couple of 3s in the second half.  I thought Hall played well in the post, particularly on the glass.  While we only made 15 of 25 free throws, Jimmie and Donta were a combined 4 for 4.  I would not expect that on a regular basis.

Lawson Schaffer made a long, pull up 3 in the final minutes to put a cap on it and bring the crowd to it's feet.

At least, to the extent there was a "crowd" there.  I would guess no more than 4,000 turned out for this one.  The student turnout was particularly disappointing with this being the last game before winter break.  In fairness, the team was coming off a disappointing performance in the holiday tournament, the 6pm start is difficult for many of us from Birmingham as well as students with early evening classes, and Tuscaloosa was under a tornado watch for the duration of the game.

Up next, we travel to Austin, TX for an 8:30 p.m. tipoff Friday night against Shaka Smart's Longhorns.  Texas is a talented team, but they've lost 3 straight in ugly fashion, including a home loss to UT-Arlington, and are in danger of playing themselves out of NCAA bubble contention early in the season.  I'm looking forward to attending the game with MSmilie, those of you who cannot make it to Austin can watch on ESPNU.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Game Preview - Charleston Southern



The Alabama men's basketball team will make a brief return to the comfortable confines of Coleman Coliseum for a Tuesday night home contest against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers before road games to Texas and Oregon. The trip to Las Vegas made it clear this team has much room for improvement. The hope is that the guys can use this game to work out some of the kinks.

Stats

Alabama                                                 Charleston Southern


68.2 PPG 80.2
62.8 OPP 67.8
41.7 FG% 46.6
41.9 OPP 43
49.3 EFG% 47.3
48.8 OPP 55.4
36 3PT% 35
38.5 OPP 28.1
67.3 FT% 57.7
67 OPP 68.5
40.6 FTRATE 31.5
39.5 OPP 32.6
35.4 RPG 41.4
34.2 OPP 33
31.1 OREB% 30.5
28 OPP 28.1
12.2 TOPG 13.6
16.2 OPP 15.4
18.4 TO% 18
24.4 OPP 16.1
76 KenPom Ranking 287

My Two Cents: The season through five games has been a mixed bag. This team hasn't looked as good as I thought they might, but it is obvious that the potential is there for this team to improve. Unfortunately, for a fanbase starved for a return to the NCAA Tournament, can this Alabama team improve enough between now and March to pick up enough quality wins to nab an at-large spot? First and foremost, our guys need to take care of business in this game. They just barely missed what would have been a resume-crushing loss in Vegas vs Saint Louis, and a struggle on Tuesday won't do much to quell the nervousness that has developed about this team's prospects.

Players to Watch: After dropping 14 points in the opener (including 3-5 from the 3-point line), Riley Norris has been somewhat quiet offensively. This team doesn't need Riley to be a big scorer every night, but they must get better scoring production than the 1-5 performance in the Saint Louis game. Braxton Key may have emerged as a go-to player in the Saint Louis game; he certainly saved the team's bacon with his performance down the stretch of that game. But it was one game. Now that he appears to be part of the starting line-up moving forward, can he consistently produce in the manner he did this past Wednesday?

Christian Keeling leads the Buccaneers in points at an average of 16 per game. He's also a 41% 3-point shooter. This team rebounds well, averaging a total of 41 boards per game despite only one player 6'8 or taller averaging double figure minutes. That would be Jarvis Howard (10.4 ppg, 8 rpg, 1 bpg, 61.1% FG).

Prediction: I'm hesitant to predict a blowout, simply because Alabama has not been sharp on either end of the floor; however, this Charleston Southern team has also compiled their three wins against Columbia International, Abilene Christian and something called Toccoa Falls so you have to take their game stats with a grain of salt at this point. In their lone game against a power 5 team (Florida State), they lost by 21 points, with shooting averages of 40% FG, 28% 3-pt and 15 turnovers against a FSU team that has been less than thrilled with the concept of defense in the last two seasons. If our guys bring some defensive intensity to this game, a similar result should follow. Alabama - 78 - Charleston Southern - 54

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Bama barely beats Bilikens, Bama 62 Stl 57

Disclaimer : I'm posting this from my tablet on my flight home, so please forgive any typos.
Obligatory strip at night pic

A win is a win, I suppose, but we are not a very good team right now.  Once again we struggled against the zone and couldn't finish near the basket.  This team misses more bunnies than Elmer Fudd.  An even bigger concern, to me,  is we are playing way below our potential defensively.  We aren't closing out on shooters and aren't communicating.  There is no way a team like Stl should be 40% from 3 point land against us.

St. Louis was in control for  nearly the entire game, but we made the plays and they fell apart down the stretch, as we closed the game on a 17-3 run to avert disaster.

On the bright side,  Braxton Key is emerging as a star player. He scored 16 points and may prove to be that "go to" guy we've been looking for.  Dazon had 10 pts but 5 turnovers is way too many, although a couple weren't really his fault as Hale wasn't paying attention and not expecting the ball.

I question some of Coach Johnson's decisions this game. I don't understand why we played so much zone. It led to the aforementioned 40% from outside and being out rebounded by an inferior team.  If we are going to go 12 deep, we need to take advantage of our numbers and press more.  I understand not pressing against teams like Dayton and Valpo with talented, experienced back courts, but we could and should have easily ran these guys out of the gym.

Also, the Chinese fire drills substitutions, particularly in the first half, has got to stop. We are hesitant and have no chemistry as guys aren't used to playing together.

I told Bobbyjack that Hale was going to struggle as soon as he was responsible for a turnover the first time the ball was passed in his direction. when things don't go his way early, it's usually going to be a long night. I would have taken some minutes from him, but to his credit he did make a huge 3 late in the game.  Also, Davis is going to have to stop jacking up bad shots when he is off .

Frankly,  Corban and AJ Jr are the only ones who played with any real intensity these games.
Obligatory Bellagio fountains pic

There were only about 1500 or so fans there, about half of which were for  Bama. Great turnout from our Nevada alumni.  Stl only had about 150 tops.  Still, it wasn't much of a"home court advantage" as it was a fairly boring game that we trailed for most of.   Outside of Cassandra Johnson, the arena was pretty quiet.

A few non basketball things,  I met  Mike Crawford (stl player's) family at the concession stand during halftime. His dad complimented me on my (world series champion!) Cubs hat.  I normally wear a Bama hat to the games, but since we played so poorly against Valpo I decided to switch it up.  Admittedly, I more so wanted to troll the St. Louis fans. Anyway, he said they were from Indiana and Cubs fans too, and mentioned that they vacation in gulf shores. They were very complimentary of our state,  and I wish them well.
Luxor

As for Vegas, this was my 7th or 8th trip there,  and I enjoy it, but after about 2 days I'm ready to come home.   If LA and New Orleans somehow got together and had a bastard child, it would be named Las Vegas.  There are parts about all of those cities that I love,  but I can only take them in small doses.  Also, I DO NOT recommend staying at the Tropicana.  For 45 bucks per night,  you get what you pay for.

Up next, Charleston Southern comes to Tuscaloosa for a 6pm tipoff Tuesday night. It's our last chance to work out some issues before challenging road games at Oregon and Texas.  The game will be televised on SEC network.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend everybody,  and remember,  auburn sucks!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Game Preview - Saint Louis



Following a 60-68 loss to Valparaiso in the semifinals of the MGM Grand Main Event, our guys will look to bounce back on Wednesday night against the Billikens of Saint Louis and new head coach Travis Ford. Both teams enter with 2-2 records. Tip time is 8:30 PM CT. Once again, no television. You can stream the game via Youtube here.

Stats

Alabama                                                 Saint Louis


69.8 PPG 72
64.2 OPP 80.5
41.5 FG% 41
41.6 OPP 42.4
49.1 EFG% 46.4
48.6 OPP 48.4
36.6 3PT% 34.2
38.2 OPP 35.6
64.8 FT% 62.3
65.9 OPP 78.1
40.6 FTRATE 44.4
39.2 OPP 37.6
37.5 RPG 37
34.8 OPP 42.5
34 OREB% 25.9
28.8 OPP 32.1
11.8 TOPG 14.3
15.5 OPP 14
17.6 TO% 18.7
23.3 OPP 18.3
72 KenPom Ranking 262

My Two Cents: Alabama has lost their first two opportunities for quality wins by a total of 14 points. The game last night was certainly in reach, but the team never really played with the type of energy needed to beat good teams. Too many mental errors led to turnovers, missed layups, defensive breakdowns, and free throw shooting continues to be a major concern for this team. Maybe it was the Las Vegas environment or the time zone change, but the team never looked in sync. The only thing that kept the game from being lopsided in favor of Valparaiso is that they didn't play well either. Now the key is for our guys to not allow one loss to become two. I'm guessing a few field trips around town might be canceled today to focus on the practice floor. Going back to Tuscaloosa 0-2 for this trip cannot be an option for this team. Avery and his staff have got to figure out a rotation quickly. Too many guys are playing, and it's affecting chemistry, particularly on the offensive end. Ten guys are currently averaging double figure minutes, with another two averaging 9 and 9.5 minutes.

Players to Watch: This team does not have a go-to guy so it's impossible to determine who will be the guy to watch any given night. This has its advantages, but it also shows up late in games so far this season when Alabama needs a bucket and nobody is there to take the shots. I won't be surprised if Avery elects to sit Dazon for this game after the shoulder injury he suffered last night. If that happens, AJ Jr. and Corban Collins will have to shoulder the point guard duties. It's feast or famine with Ar'Mond Davis so far. Let's hope for a feast on Wednesday.

Saint Louis has three guys currently in double figures: Jermaine Bishop (13.8 ppg, 5 apg, 44% 3-pt), Reggie Agbeko (13.5 ppg, 10.3 rpg), Davell Roby (13 ppg, 2.8 apg, 45.5% 3-pt).  

Prediction: I'm off to a slow start with my predictions. I did not foresee the level of offensive struggles that this team has had so far. Any team studying that game last night is going to throw a lot of zone at this Alabama team going forward. It's up to them to make perimeter shots and finish shots around the rim; the number of missed layups by a team with the length and athleticism of Alabama is tough to comprehend. This team is still very much a work in progress, and may be so for the indefinite future. Again, this is a game that Alabama must win. There is no excuse for coming out flat on Wednesday. Alabama - 74 - Saint Louis - 59

Crap. Crusaders Curb Stomp Crimson, Valpo 68 Bama 60

Sloppy.  Unforced turnovers.  Missed dunks.  Missed layups.  Poor free throw shooting.  Add all of those up, and you get a loss to an inferior team.
View from my seat

No disrespect to Valpo.  They had the best player on the court, and he stepped up and made the big plays when needed, and got just enough help from his friends, but we were overall a bigger, stronger, deeper, more athletic team, and we crapped the bed in this one.

It was the first time we really faced a zone defense for the entire game, and it really seemed to frustrate our offense.  We had limited success attacking the middle against the 2-1-2, but seemed content to jack up 3s against the 2-3.  We went 6 of 21 from outside.  Davis in particular threw up some awful shots going 0 for 5.

The Mandelay Bay Elephants were not a good luck charm
Once again, when the pace of the game was up tempo, we were able to go on runs.  Bama held a brief lead in both halves after getting in transition after turnovers.  Unfortunately, Valpo generally did a good job of getting back on defense to get set and taking the air out of the ball on offense.

The only real bright spot I see in this game is Donta Hall played well with 9 points and 12 rebounds. Norris and Collins also added 10.  Braxton Key had 8 points but really should have ended up with more.  He made several nice moves to get to the basket but failed to finish.  Hale didn't score.  He turned the ball over early and seemed disinterested most of the rest of the game.  There were a few moments in the game when I thought he had a chance to step up and provide some senior leadership, but that didn't happen.  I said his freshman year that I thought he had borderline NBA potential, and I still believe he is that talented, but unfortunately he is wasting his skills.

There was a scary moment in the second half, after Donta Hall missed a dunk resulting in a mad scramble for the rebound, Dazon went down with an apparent arm or shoulder injury.  He was checked out in the locker room but was able to return to the game and appeared to be fine.

Overall, I did not think the officiating was that bad.   There were a handful of missed calls each way, but that happens in every game.  The technical foul on Coach Johnson, however, was egregious, and it more or less put the game out of reach.  Rewind to the first half, fairly early in the game when we were on offense at the other end, one of the officials blew the whistle to issue an official warning to Coach Johnson who, as usual, was way out of his coach's box near halfcourt.  Fair enough, but given where the official was positioned and what was going on at the time, he probably shouldn't have even seen Coach standing near halfcourt.  The official who gave the warning was at the center position table side, meaning he would have been right in front of our bench on Valpo's next possession.  I would have handled that by simply saying, "Coach, I need you to mind your box" on the next trip.  Perhaps he had already given him the informal warning, in which case I have less of a problem with it.  If he didn't get that official warning in the first half, who knows if he still gets nailed with the "T" in the second half.

Anyway, we were trailing by 4, and neither team had scored in the last couple of minutes with about 5 minutes to go in the game.  Riley drove to the basket and there was a collision in the lane.  It appeared to be a blocking foul to everyone in the gym except for the official who had primary coverage in that area.  Maybe his view was blocked, maybe he just missed it, it happens.  It was a train-wreck of a play, and there MUST be a whistle in that situation.  Donta Hall was called for a legitimate but much less contact foul at the other end, sending Valpo to the line.  Now, it's a fairly large arena with excellent acoustics, but a small crowd, which meant you could hear EVERYTHING anyone yelled, including players and coaches.   While they were shooting free throws, the official who blew the blocking call was at the trail position closest to the table.  Avery, standing in his box but MAYBE one foot or so over the line onto the floor yells "C'mon man, that was a block!"  The ref just gave him a dismissive look and turned away, so he repeated it again, a little louder, "THAT WAS A BLOCK!"  The ref called a technical, they made all 4 free throws sparking a run to stretch their lead to 9, and that was that.  Again, Coach Johnson was more or less in his box, did not use profanity, did not "show up" the ref, and did not say anything personally offensive.  Furthermore, he had a legitimate beef and given the situation (close game, final 5 minutes) should have been given more slack there, in my opinion.
Obligatory Strip Shot

We didn't play well enough to deserve to win the game, and probably wouldn't have anyway, but that sequence of events really made it an uphill battle that was too much to overcome.

The arena, located within the MGM grand casino, is very nice, although it did have a bit of an odd feel with the curtains blocking the upper sections and most of the concession stands closed.  The two they had open were more than enough for the sparse crowd.  I caught the end of BYU-St. Louis and BYU has by far the most fans here.  It's really hard to estimate attendance because I have no idea what the capacity of the lower level is, but I would guess there were only about 1,400 or so there.  I would guess we had about 300 fans to Valpo's 150.  There were quite a few annoying St. Louis sitting around me in the first half openly cheering for Valpo and against us, thankfully they left at halftime.  As I said above, you could hear EVERYTHING, including a Valpo fan yelling "he lowered his shoulder" after they fouled Corban during the final moments of our comeback attempt.  In probably not my greatest moment I yelled back across the gym, "They spotted you 6 points to give you this lead in the first place so shut it!"  One complaint I have is the lack of statistical information available.  There are 4 screens in the corners that give individual stats and the totals, but nowhere to find shooting percentages, turnovers, etc.  Also, in the second half, since the boards display game totals, team fouls is not displayed.

I have doubts about this tournament's long term viability.  Outside of a small on one of the entrances to the casino, I've seen virtually nothing promoting it.  The lack of television coverage and the ridiculously late starts for the biggest games is really limiting the audience.  The PA guy struggled at times, at one point he announced a bucket for Jimmie Taylor that was actually scored by Nick King, and his mic cut out several times.  All of the halftime and media timeout "entertainment" consisted of various shooting competitions between random fans.  Other than the great venue and setting, the whole production seemed sort of second rate.

Up next, the consolation game against St. Louis, that really isn't much of a consolation.  The real loss in last night's game is that instead of playing a very good BYU team that would give our RPI a boost even in a loss, we're playing a team that lost to Ball State at home by 20.  The Billikens, much like the MLB franchise that infests their cesspool of a city, are garbage.  Tip off is set for 6:30pm Pacific, 8:30 Central Wednesday night.  No TV again, but you can watch it on youtube.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Game Preview - Valparaiso



The team is in Sin City for the final two games of the MGM Grand Main Event. Their first opponent will be the Valparaiso Crusaders, led by Alec Peters, one of the top players in college basketball. This will be the second meeting between Alabama and Valparaiso. Alabama won the first match-up all the way back in 1955. Tip time is scheduled for 11 PM CT. The game will not be televised, but you can stream it on youtube here (yeah, I know).

Stats

Alabama                                                 Valparaiso


73 PPG 75
63 OPP 68.5
41.7 FG% 39.8
40 OPP 40.2
50 EFG% 41.8
46.9 OPP 44.3
38.9 3PT% 20
37.9 OPP 33
65.4 FT% 82.7
63.9 OPP 74.1
46.4 FTRATE 40.9
38.1 OPP 41.3
38.3 RPG 39.8
35.7 OPP 36
33.6 OREB% 33.3
29.4 OPP 32.7
11 TOPG 12.3
15 OPP 16.5
16.4 TO% 16.5
22.4 OPP 20.4
70 KenPom Ranking 77

My Two Cents: Teams like Coastal Carolina, Ball State and Valparaiso may not move the needle much with the average fan, but these are good programs who should compete in their respective leagues and help Alabama's strength of schedule. This Valparaiso team in particular could be a stiff challenge for our guys. The Crusaders are considered the favorite to win the Horizon League title, but they have put together a tough schedule (this event, Oregon, Kentucky and Rhode Island) to help their at-large chances, if necessary. This could be a huge game for both programs on Selection Sunday. One surprising stat for Valparaiso so far this season is they have not shot the ball well from 3 (only 20% for the season so far). They could be due for a breakout game so Alabama must continue to improve their 3-point defense.

Players to Watch: Shannon Hale finally emerged in the Ball State game after a slow start to the season. He finished with 19 pts on 7-12 shooting (3-5 from 3) with 2 boards, an assist and 2 steals, in 19 minutes of action. When Shannon plays like that, he's one of the better players in the SEC. Unfortunately, consistency has not been his forte. For Alabama to win this event and to have the kind of season they want, they need that kind of effort from Shannon on a regular basis.

Alec Peters gets most of the headlines for this Valparaiso team, but Shane Hammink ain't too shabby either. The 6'7, 210 lb redshirt senior is averaging 16 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.7 apg and 1.7 spg. Alabama's defense will be severely tested by the duo of Peters and Hammink.

Prediction: Valparaiso will have the best basketball player on the floor in Alec Peters, but Alabama will have the depth advantage on their side. I think that depth, along with Bama's strong defensive play, gives them a slight edge in this one. Alabama - 64 - Valparaiso - 60

Crimson Castrates Ball State, 77-59

The Tide showed off its depth by getting 59 points off the bench and cruising to a relatively easy win over the Ball State Cardinals.  The beginning of the game resembled the Alabama v. LSU football contest from last weekend, with the scoreboard still reading goose eggs going into the first media timeout.  Thankfully Shannon Hale provided a spark off the bench while the defense continued to shut down the cardinals.  Bama led by as many as 15 in the first half and took a 10 point lead into the locker room at half time.

Alabama put the game away in short order in the second half, building a 29 point lead with 9 minutes to play, before taking their foot off the gas a bit and coasting to an 18 point win.  Hale was the leading scorer with 19 points.  That's the kind of game we need to get consistently from the senior.  It was great to see Davis get back on track, he was 5 of 7 from 3 point range and scored 17 points.  I was beginning to doubt AJ Junior's ability after the first two games, but he proved he has a role on this team by scoring 13 points including 3 for 3 from beyond the arc.  More importantly, he had 6 assists with only one turnover, 3 steals, and an impressive 5 rebounds in only 18 minutes of playing time.

We continued to struggle at the free throw line, making only 13 of 22.  That must improve if we are going to be competitive in the big games coming up on our schedule.  I think we have the potential to be an outstanding defensive team.  Ball State is a fairly good shooting team, but we held them under 25% from 3 point range.  We forced several turnovers by pressing after the rare made free throw, and the transition defense was outstanding.  Ball State did not have any fast break points.

Former players were honored at halftime, and I think it's great that Coach Johnson is inviting the past greats to have an active role in the program.  After having no reunions of this type in the past 20 years, we've had 2 in the last two seasons.  I had the pleasure of sitting next to Leon Marlaire and his wife.  Mr Marlaire played on the 1956 Rocket 8 team.  They were super-nice people and still very knowledgeable and passionate about Alabama basketball.

The crowd was a little disappointing.  I would estimate only about 7,000 or so were on hand, and it was a fairly low key environment for the most part.

Up next, hopefully we can continue to feast on mid-majors from the Hoosier state, as it's off to Las Vegas for a late-night showdown with the Valparaiso Crusaders at the MGM Grand in the Men Who Speak Up Main Event.  Tip-off is set for 9 p.m. PST, 11 pm central.  There's no TV, but you can watch it live on YouTube

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Game Preview - Ball State



Following a tough 72-77 loss on Tuesday to Dayton, Alabama will look to bounce back on Friday night vs the Ball State Cardinals in the final campus game of the MGM Main Event. Ball State has already knocked off Saint Louis, one of the host schools in the event. With a non-conference schedule that is only going to get tougher moving forward, Alabama needs a bounce-back win on its home floor.

Stats

Alabama                                                 Ball State


71 PPG 79.5
65 OPP 72
41.1 FG% 44.2
38.7 OPP 41.5
48.6 EFG% 50.8
47.2 OPP 45.8
32.7 3PT% 42.5
43.9 OPP 27
67.9 FT% 73.7
61.2 OPP 67.9
52.3 FTRATE 29.5
46.2 OPP 44.9
39.5 RPG 42
35.5 OPP 36
33.8 OREB% 32.1
28.9 OPP 24.4
11 TOPG 16
12 OPP 15.5
16.8 TO% 20.7
18.3 OPP 20.1
72 KenPom Ranking 121

My Two Cents: Like Coastal Carolina, Ball State is a under-the-radar mid-major that has the goods to come into Tuscaloosa and compete with our guys. They won 21 games a season ago, and they opened this season with a 21-point win at Saint Louis, one of the host schools in this event. Through two games, their 3-point shooting (42.5%) and rebounding (42 per game) numbers look good, which are two areas that Alabama has struggled with in the first two games. The 3-point defense in particular needs to be strong in this game or our guys are in for another 40 minute game.

The first two games have shown that the offensive troubles for Bama of the last few seasons are not yet a thing of the past. As DJC pointed out in his always-great recap, this roster seemingly lacks a guy like a Retin Obasohan that can create a shot opportunity for himself and others. With a lack of guys in the post that can generate consistent offense, it's going to fall on the guards/wings to make this offense go. That means the tentativeness to shoot the ball that our guys showed in the 2nd half vs Dayton cannot be a factor going forward. Avery allows his team freedom in the offense if they get good, open shot attempts. Even if these shots aren't falling, our guys have to keep shooting. Once the team lost confidence in its shooting, the offense became noticeably stagnant as none of the ball-handlers could or would penetrate the Dayton defense.

Players to Watch: Braxton Key has been ahead of schedule so far in his freshman season, averaging 10.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, and 2.0 apg. With Avery and the staff still trying to nail down a rotation, Braxton has put himself in position to play more minutes, maybe even start when the game tips off Friday.

Through two games, Ball State has two 20+ point scorers in Tayler Persons (23.5) and Franko House (22.0). House is also averaging 10 rebounds per game so far. To say that Alabama needs to contain these two guys is an understatement.

Prediction: Avery mentioned in his press conference that he held Dazon, Riley and Corban out of practice on Wednesday because they needed to "recover". It's early in the season so this team should be fresh, but that's something to watch on Friday. If our guys come out with tired legs, it could lead to a slow start and the last thing we want to see on Friday, a grinder. I like this team, I expect them to improve as the season progresses. I think they bring their defense and bounce back Friday night. Alabama - 79 - Ball State - 68

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Freaking Flyers, Dayton 77 Bama 72

For the fourth time in the last five years, Alabama lost to Dayton.  Both teams fought hard in an exciting, back and forth affair, but the Flyers' talent and experience carried the day in the end.  

Bola got the start over Hale, but Tony Giles didn't get the memo, incorrectly announcing Shannon Hale during the intros.  We jumped out to an early 10-2 lead after forcing a couple of turnovers.  Dayton was double teaming Jimmy and trying to fight through screens, and Taylor did a good job of finding the open man.  

Credit Archie Miller for making some adjustments.  They started switching on more screens and delaying their double-downs on Jimmie, which brought our half-court offense to a grinding halt.  We simply don't appear to have anybody on this roster capable of creating and making their own shot in a half-court set.  

Once again we continued the revolving door of substitutions in the first half trying to find the right combo.  Dayton went on a run and took a 6 point lead before Bama answered with a run to close the half and take a 36-31 lead into the locker room.  

The second half was a foul fest, and neither team could shoot free throws worth a damn.  The last 8 minutes or so were back and forth with neither team able to fully take control of the game.  Dayton made a huge 3 to go up by 4 with about a minute and a half remaining.  Alabama continued to battle back, but couldn't get a stop when badly needed.  Still, we had the ball down 3 with less than 30 seconds to play, but Collins missed an open 3 from the corner.  Another key mistake came with about 40 seconds to play down 3 when Ingram made a bad decision after driving to the basket and tried to throw it back out to the perimeter resulting in a turnover.  

Dayton is a good team, and we gave them all they wanted, but give credit where it is due.  Their seniors showed tremendous poise and made some great plays down the stretch to get the win.  

I still think we are passing up too many shots.  Hale did not have a good day, but I did not agree with taking him out of the game twice after he missed fairly open looks from 3 point range.  We were better when the game was played at a faster tempo, but the offense really struggled in half-court sets.  Defensively, we still have a ways to go to develop the chemistry and communication needed to win these types of games.  We gave up way too many open 3s in the half court set due to not communicating on screens or not switching back and giving them favorable mismatches. I liked the press after made free-throws and we were able to force a few turnovers that way, but with the skill of Dayton's guards I don't think it would have been productive to press much more than we did.

Braxton Key had a great second half and ended up with 15 points.  Corban and Dazon also played well, scoring 15 and 14 respectively.  Jimmie had 8 points but only 1 rebound.  Donta pulled down 5 boards, including 3 offensive, but was unable to convert into points.  Nick King struggled and did not look healthy to me, he spent a lot of time on the bike and the trainers checked on him a couple of times.  Avery Jr dribbles too much in my opinion, but he did play better in limited action in the second half, scoring on a drive to the basket.  I think our best lineup is Dazon, Corban, Riley, Braxton, and Jimmie.  You can substitute Hale for Riley when the good version of Hale shows up.

The crowd was a little better than I expected, but I would still guess only about 6,500 or so.  I was pleased to see one small group of students allowed back on the floor, maybe about 15 seats or so, but they were forced to sit down by the ushers after an older lady seated directly behind them complained.  I can sort of see both sides of that issue, but they shouldn't have done away with the risers that were in place last season, in my opinion.  Dayton had a respectable following considering the distance, time of game, and inconvenient location.  There was about 150 Flyer fans scattered throughout.  The crowd was energized and into the game throughout, and at least we were treated to a close, entertaining game.  

Up next, the Ball State Cardinals come to town for an 8pm tipoff Friday night at Coleman Coliseum. This will be our final hosting game of the Las Vegas Main Event tournament before we head to MGM Grand next week.  If you can't make it to Tuscaloosa, the game will be broadcast on SEC Network.   

Monday, November 14, 2016

Game Preview - Dayton



Every college basketball season, teams with dreams of being selected for the NCAA Tournament have specific games on their schedule that can be considered "swing games". The results of these games go a long way in determining who makes the field of 68. For Alabama, the first of these games is tomorrow when the preseason A-10 favorite Dayton Flyers visit Coleman Coliseum for a 12:15 PM tip as part of ESPN's 24-hour college basketball marathon. The game will be televised on ESPN 2. The hope is fans and students in the Tuscaloosa area will turn out to have lunch with basketball. Dayton is a tough,seasoned, well-coached team so our guys will need all the help they can get.

Stats

Alabama                                                 Dayton


70 PPG 96
53 OPP 68
43.8 FG% 54.4
27.4 OPP 39.3
54.2 EFG% 64
34.7 OPP 45.5
38.5 3PT% 40.6
39.1 OPP 31.8
69.2 FT% 60
62.5 OPP 73.9
54.2 FTRATE 22.1
25.8 OPP 41.1
39 RPG 38
43 OPP 36
21.2 OREB% 30.6
34.7 OPP 28.9
11 TOPG 9
13 OPP 17
16.9 TO% 12.3
20 OPP 23.3
68 KenPom Ranking 37

My Two Cents: The Dayton program is enjoying a nice run under Archie Miller's leadership. The program has been to the NCAA Tournament three straight years, and is once again expected to be a top program in the A-10 conference. They have owned the SEC in recent years, posting a 9-2 record against the conference (including a 3-0 mark against Alabama) the last five years. Needless to say, Dayton will come into this game expecting to win. How can our guys prevent that? For starters, they must rebound the ball better. Seems like we've been saying that for years (because we have), but they struggled on the glass once again on Friday. For all of their strengths, Dayton is not a big team (only two players on the roster are taller than 6'7). Alabama has to use their height advantage and play physical on the glass. If Dayton is allowed multiple possessions, and are able to control the tempo, it's going to be another long day vs the Flyers.

Prediction: Dayton embarrassed Alabama a year ago, skull-dragging our guys by 32 points on national television. I gotta think our coaches and players circled this game on the calendar as a result. The early start time makes me anxious about the crowd turnout, but regardless of how many butts are in the seats, Alabama should have some motivation entering this game to not only pay back Dayton for the loss a season ago, but to make an early mark in year two under Avery. I think our guys get it done. Alabama - 80 - Dayton - 64

Player(s) to Watch: Shannon Hale played just 15 minutes on Friday, despite starting the game. Maybe it was just due to the match-ups on the floor, or maybe Avery was trying to send a message to the senior. Whatever it was, this team needs Shannon engaged and playing well to reach their full potential. Shannon turned 22 on Sunday, and I expect the birthday boy to show up tomorrow. Jimmie Taylor is quietly off to a solid start in his senior season. The experience of the seniors for this Alabama team will be key against a veteran Dayton team. Jimmie is always good for a few WTF performances per season. Can he put one together tomorrow?

Senior Charles Cooke went nuts in the first game of Dayton's season. He scored 31 points on 11-17 shooting (5-10 from 3), while dishing out 3 assists and blocking 2 shots. Not allowing him a similar performance would be a good start towards winning this game for Alabama. Another key player for Dayton - Kendall Pollard - sat out the opener with a leg injury. It's unknown if he will play tomorrow.

Sleeping with the Enemy- Dayton Flyers

Tom Blackburn at Blackburn Review kindly provided us with some details on the Dayton team, which I have posted below.  If you visit Blackburn Review, please follow their rules and be and be a good representative of the University of Alabama.

Dayton, coming off its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, returns 
four starters from a squad that won 25 games a season ago. The Flyers slumped 
into the Big Dance last year, losing five of their last nine games before bowing 
out in the first round of the tournament to eventual Final Four participant 
Syracuse. With plenty of depth, talent and experience returning to campus, this 
season has been the most anticipated campaign in the program’s modern history. 

The offseason was marred by the untimely death of rising sophomore center Steve 
McElvene. Big Steve was a legit 6’10” and had sincere NBA potential. His absence 
has resulted in an undersized roster, something Archie Miller has gotten used to 
since arriving in the Gem City. Impact transfer Josh Cunningham, a former Top 
150 recruit, will provide UD with some ability around the basket. Cunningham, 
who spent his freshman season at Bradley, is a double-double threat each time he 
takes the floor. 

Offensively, UD is led by senior wing Charles Cooke. Cooke is the team’s most 
consistent perimeter player, he opened up the season with 31 points against 
Austin Peay. Senior point guard Scoochie Smith captains the ship, the player 
most likely to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. Senior 
shooting guard Kyle Davis is the Flyers’ best defensive player, a somewhat 
limited player on the offensive side of the floor. 

Kendall Pollard, one of Dayton’s key contributors, will likely be out against 
the Tide. The senior forward has been battling injuries for the past year, 
sophomore Ryan Mikesell probably gets the starting nod at the four spot. The UD 
bench is led by Darrell Davis, a streaky shooter capable of knocking down threes 
and Sam Miller – a 6’9” sophomore who can stretch the floor and grab boards when 
he is feeling inclined. 

Dayton is expected to earn their fourth straight tournament berth this March, 
anything less would be a failure. Archie Miller has just begun his sixth season 
as the head coach of UD, expect to see his name attached to whatever Power 5 
jobs open this spring. 

I'm optimistic that we won't completely embarrass ourselves like we did last year, but I will be surprised if we manage to pull out a win.

Crimson Conquers Cliff's Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, 70-53

Bama's depth proved to be too much to handle for a tough Coastal Carolina team, and the Tide rolled in the second half for the come from behind victory.

In the first half, it was apparent that Coastal Carolina was the more experienced team.  This is a team with 7 juniors or seniors on their roster that's made postseason appearances the last three years.  I expect them to be very competitive in the sun belt this year.  They played with great chemistry on offense while we were trying to find a combination that works. I thought we may have been a little too hap-hazard with our substitutions in the first half as the team never looked comfortable and couldn't find their rhythm.  CCU controlled the boards and we appeared hesitant, passing up some good shots.  The Chanticleers led by as many as 8, and took a 33-27 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Bama settled down in the second half with a more stable rotation and showed what they are capable of defensively.  The Tide held CCU scoreless for a 5 minute stretch while going on a nice run to take a 50-40 lead.  The length, athleticism, and depth of this team will allow them to shut down opposing offenses at times.  Unfortunately, we had another scoring drought of our own, which allowed Cliff's boys to cut the lead to 4.  The team immediately responded with an 8-0 run out of a timeout to put the game out of reach.

Ingram, Norris, and Collins all scored in double-figures.  I was very impressed with Corban Collins.  He scored 15, making a couple of 3s and converting all of his free throws.  He has good size, and the leadership we've all heard about was on display.  He plays with a lot of enthusiasm and passion, and while they are completely different types of players, his attitude reminds me a bit of Pettway as a player.    He's not quite the slasher that Retin was, but he's going to play a big role on this team.

Dazon was 3 for 3 from downtown with 11 points.  We all know what he can do around the rim if he can get into the lane.  CCU's bigs were pretty skilled at stopping our penetration, but if Dazon can shoot like that on a consistent basis we're going to win more games than expected and he will have a career in the association.  Speaking of 3s, Riley also shot the ball well from the outside, so hopefully he is back on track after struggling a bit with his jumper later in the season last year.

Davis was off, only going 1 for 8, and Avery Jr. looked over-matched when he was in the game.

I really like the addition of Bola, he's a bit undersized but is a good rebounder who also has moves in the post and is capable of scoring.  He did pick up 4 fouls in just 13 minutes of playing time though.  It was nice to see Jimmie leading the team with 7 rebounds.  He and Donta both did a nice job of defending the rim, combining for 5 authoritative  blocked shots.

There was a nice crowd for this game, I would estimate around 8,500, which is solid for a November game against a Sun Belt opponent.  The fans stayed in the game and didn't get too discouraged when things were not going well early.

I do have a couple of complaints with regards to our athletic department's administration.  First, I have a parking pass in the "C lot," which according to the published maps is the lot adjacent to the athletic dept. directly across the entrance way from the baseball stadium.  Upon trying to enter said lot, security said you could only enter if you had a "code" and re-directed us to the "B" lots, which were nearly full.  This made me about 15 minutes later getting in, and we barely made tip-off, as I would have taken a different route to the bigger lot.  The bigger issue, is stuff like this makes me feel like basketball is an after-thought to the administration.  Can you imagine if they waited till a week before the first game, to the point they had to mail out "print at home tickets" for the exhibition game, for football season ticket holders?  Can you imagine them selling parking passes to an inaccessible lot for football?  Of course those things would never happen.

Secondly, the risers that the "Crimson Chaos" students used on the floor have been replaced by nice chairs and apparently season ticket/VIP types.  There are no longer any students sitting on the floor.  The lack of students on the floor negatively impacts the atmosphere, in my opinion, and detracts from what little home court advantage we have in our antiquated arena.

Up next, a Tuesday afternoon matinee with the Dayton Flyers.  The game is set to tip off at 12:15 pm in Tuscaloosa as part of ESPN's "24hrs of basketball" marathon.  If you have tickets but can't make the game, the ticket office has set up an easy online process to give your tickets to a student.  Nevertheless, I'm not expecting much of a crowd for what will be a very difficult game.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Game Preview - Coastal Carolina



It is finally game day! College basketball returns in all its glory. And for Alabama fans, there is a growing sense of excitement after the gains made in Avery's first season, plus the recruiting successes that suggest a bright future. The hope is this excitement will manifest itself with a large crowd on hand for this opener against Coastal Carolina. The game tips at 8:00. It will be televised on SEC Network + if you have the Watch ESPN app. Also remember, the women's team returns to Coleman tonight. They will play the University of New Orleans. That game tips off at 5:00. Tickets for both games are just $6.00 so, if you can, get out to Coleman tonight and support both teams.

Since this is the first game, there are obviously no stats to share so I will copy my preview of this game from a few weeks back. Speaking of future game preview posts: I'm always open to tweaking the stats posted in these previews. With analytics becoming more of a craze among fans, let me know if there are specific stats that you would like to see in future game previews. Here is what I wrote about this game on October 16th.

The season officially tips off with Cliff Ellis and the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers coming to Tuscaloosa. This game will be the first of two host games for Alabama as part of the Las Vegas Main Event. Cliff Ellis has done a great job at Coastal Carolina. In his nine seasons, the program has been to the postseason six times, including two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last three seasons. The program is making the move to the Sun Belt this season after previously being a member of the Big South Conference. The team returns two of their top four scorers from last season (Elijah Wilson - 13.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg; Jaylen Shaw 11.1 ppg, 3.9 apg). 

My opinion: Coastal Carolina is well-coached, and they will be prepared for this game. There is experience on this team (four significant players, three seniors and a junior, return this season) so they will not be intimidated going on the road to play a Power 5 program (it was just two seasons ago they went to Auburn and knocked them off). If you watched the exhibition game against Faulkner, you can see that this Alabama team has a lot of moving pieces. The question is how quickly can this team form as a solid unit? There were some nice moments in the exhibition game, but there were also plenty of moments where the team played sloppy on both ends, possibly as a result of having so many new guys playing together. If Alabama gets off to a sluggish start and Coastal gets this game well into the second half, it could be a nervous situation right off the bat.

Prediction: Coastal is well-coached, they have key experience returning, and this Alabama team is still a work in progress. I expect a tough game. Fortunately, one thing that I really like about this Alabama team is its depth. I think that depth is going to go a long way in helping this team pull out some tough games this season. I think it's the difference in this game. Alabama - 81 - Coastal Carolina - 71

Player to Watch: Corban Collins did not have a great debut in the exhibition game. An experienced player, he should be able to get over that performance and learn from it. I think he plays better in this game.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Buckle Up! John Petty and Collin Sexton Commit to Alabama!

It's been a rough week. The election, Leonard Cohen just passed away, it's not Friday yet.

Fortunately, there is some light in the darkness. Avery Johnson has been on the Alabama campus for only 15 months, and tonight he has put the finishing touches on a top 5 recruiting class. Earlier tonight 5 star guard Collin Sexton announced his commitment to Alabama on ESPNU. A few minutes ago, John Petty announced he will also be attending Alabama. As a result, the 2017 Alabama recruiting class is currently ranked #3 at 247 Sports! That number may decline as the top players in the 2017 class continue to commit, but this is likely no worse than a top 10 recruiting class when it's all said and done. That is amazing when you consider the length of time Avery has been in town. It's been a hell of a job by Avery and his staff in recruiting a class that may be the foundation of a historic future for this program. The work they have also done in promoting the program has also been inspiring to watch. I never put much stock in the idea of promoting a program, but Avery's hard work and vision for what this program can be has made me realize the importance of getting out into the community and bringing the fanbase together to enjoy the rebuilding of this once-great program. 

To recap (all ratings are based on 247 Sports)

Collin Sexton - 6'2, 185 lbs - 5 star rated recruit - Top 10 nationally rated player. Sexton is the first 5 star recruit to sign with Alabama since Jamychal Green. He has been called a "lunatic" on the floor because of how hard he competes on both ends. The sky is the limit for this guy.

John Petty - 6'5, 180 lbs - 4 star recruit - A top 50 nationally rated recruit. Ranked #2 in the state of Alabama. Like Sexton, the sky is the limit for Petty. I think he's currently being undervalued by the recruiting services. He's another in a growing list of long, versatile guards that Avery and the staff have recruited. This backcourt of Sexton and Petty is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

Alex Reese - 6'9, 225 lbs - 4 star recruit - Reese is a top 100 recruit. Ranked #3 in the state of Alabama. Reese is a skilled big man who should have an opportunity to compete for minutes right away next season. I've heard some criticisms that he plays too soft, but that can be overcome with good coaching, and Reese is going to get some of the best coaching in the SEC. I feel confident that Alex will prove to be a very significant player for Alabama in the years ahead.

Herb Jones - 6'7, 183 lbs - 3 star recruit - Jones is ranked #5 in the state of Alabama (Avery building that fence, just as he said he would). Yet another long, athletic, versatile guard, Jones is another guy who I believe will absolutely flourish under this coaching staff.

Galin Smith - 6'10, 220 lbs - 3 star recruit - Smith is ranked #2 in the state of Mississippi. Galin could prove to be a late bloomer on the national level. Alabama became involved in his recruitment just as some other programs (LSU, SMU, UAB, Cincinnati, Memphis) were beginning to take notice. With a year of high school remaining, Smith could take another step in his basketball development (he only began playing basketball at 14), and be even more regarded when he arrives on the Alabama campus next season.

Guys, I think the 16-17 season can be a successful one, but I can't stress the importance of Avery signing a big class like this for 2017. It has now positioned the program to continue making strides in a positive direction. The addition of this talent with the current players will put Alabama in a position to compete for several years. And if Avery and the staff can build on this momentum for the 2018 and 2019 classes, we're about to see this Alabama program achieve great things well into the future.

Buckle Up!

Sunday, November 06, 2016

2016-17 Schedule Preview: February/March

Alabama played their way onto the NCAA Tournament bubble in February last season before fading late. If this Alabama team can gel, they may be in a similar position in February of this season. The final stretch will include tough road games at Arkansas, South Carolina, Texas A&M and rival Tennessee. Kentucky also visits Tuscaloosa for the lone game of the regular season with the Wildcats. Should Alabama be in contention for the NCAA Tournament, February will be rife with opportunities to nail down a bid.
 
Wednesday, February 1st - at Arkansas - Alabama begins the month of February with a trip to the always tough Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks will be an older team with 9 juniors and seniors on the roster (it should be noted however that four of those players are newcomers), highlighted by the return of Moses Kingsley (15.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.3 bpg in 15-16), the preseason pick for SEC Player of the Year. Another key returning player is Dusty Hannahs, who led the team in scoring a season ago with an average of 16.5 ppg. Three critical juco recruits (Jaylen Barford, Arlando Cook and Daryl Macon) and a transfer (Dustin Thomas/Colorado) will have to contribute.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Alabama 91 Faulkner 71

Here is the Box Score.  What jumps out to me is how well Braxton Key played.  I'm surprised Collins started and didn't appear to have a very good game.  I apologize for the lack of a recap, but I was not able to watch this game.  I was travelling home from Cleveland at the time where I watched my CHICAGO CUBS WIN THE WORLD SERIES Wednesday night.

Up next, the first real game against a good Coastal Carolina team Friday night at 8 pm.  I'm hoping for a big crowd with a home football game scheduled for the next day.