Sunday, November 18, 2018

Tide takes fifth place in Charleston, Alabama 90 Wichita State 86

Yes, we've played these guys so much in recent years that even I have grown tired sophomoric "Shocker" jokes and puns.   Regardless, in never gets old giving it to Gregg.

The Tide played well for the first 30 minutes, but blew a sizable lead and had to hang on for dear life in the final minute.  The energy level was great in the first half.  We beat them to a number of rebounds despite them having better position.  We had some success with the press, we moved the ball and made open jump shots.  We had several possessions with a 12 point lead but were not able to put the game away. 

It was an entertaining, up tempo game that generally had good flow.  WSU got back into the game by limiting their turnovers and attacking the rim in the second half.  There was a stretch when they converted several second chance opportunities in the paint.  Though he was a non-factor today, I thought we should have put Donta Hall in to defend the rim during that time.  Galin just doesn't have the vertical to be that back-line defender. 

That being said, Donta has disappeared now in two of the last three games when he should have had advantageous match-ups.  I don't know what's going on with him, but it's concerning. 

The re-emergence of T-Mack is encouraging.  Even though he only had 5 points, he seems to be playing with confidence and understanding his role on both ends.  It was great to see JP make 3 of 6 from downtown away from Coleman.  He appears to be taking on a leadership role that this team obviously needs.   Kira continues to play way better than any of us could have realistically hoped for at this point.  I'm sure he will struggle at some point, but it's exciting to watch him right now.  Alex scored 19 after barely playing in the last game.  While I still don't always agree with the lineups, the substitution patterns have been much better the last 2 games.  He is at least letting guys stay on the court together for long enough to get into a rhythm and develop some chemistry.  We only played 9 guys, and had mostly an 8 man rotation with AJ getting 8 minutes at point. 

The story of the game was free throw shooting.  We made 31 of 33 and that was the difference in the game.  Maybe that's a good sign of things to come, but I'm not going to get my hopes up. 

Kudos to the Bama fans at the game.  I wasn't able to make it to this tournament, but I could hear you guys on TV.  I know we were outnumbered, but from all reports those of you who were there represented us well. 

Fifth place isn't what we had in mind, and I fear the Northeastern loss will haunt us, primarily because it robbed us of a chance to play Virginia Tech and/or Purdue, but at least we are 4-1 and coming home on a positive note.

Up next, the Murray State Racers come to Tuscaloosa next Monday night for a 7pm tip off.  That game will be broadcast on SEC Network + (WatchESPN app).  Until then, I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving week. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Game Preview: Wichita State [Charleston Classic]

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After a disappointing day one in Charleston, the Alabama men's basketball team bounced back with a 79-61 win over Ball State. It was by far the best performance of the young season for the team. The hope is we will see more of that Alabama team on Sunday, following a day off. Alabama will play their final game in Charleston against a familiar opponent: Wichita State (KenPom: 84). It will be the sixth time in nine seasons that the two programs have met. The Shockers hold a 3-2 advantage in the previous games during that span. Game time on Sunday is 12:30 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Busting Balls, Alabama 79 Ball State 61


I'm going to do this recap a little differently.  In honor of Ball State's most famous alum, Former Late Show host David Letterman, I present to you:

The Top Ten Reasons Alabama Beat Ball State

10. They started 2 white guys.  We were a much more athletic team and were able to take advantage of that. 

9.  John Pelphrey was back on the bench to tell Avery how to coach a college game.  I actually think this is a much bigger factor than people realize.  As I noted yesterday, he's been a more vocal in-game coach this season, and it's probably not a coincidence our bigs completely disappeared while he was gone.

8. Donta Hall decided to show up  Nice double-dozen (12 pts 12 rebounds) from the big man after one of the worst games of his career yesterday.  He also had 3 blocks and was a force in defending the basket

7. Herb Jones taking charges  Yeah, he fouled out, but he took about 3 charges, played great defense, scored 13 points, and had 3 assists with no turnovers.  After the whole team struggled defensively yesterday, it was good to see him back to playing lock down defense.

6. Someone took the lid off the basket After shooting 3 of 19 from downtown yesterday, we were a much more respectable 7 of 19 today.  Despite common perception, there's a lot more that goes into shooting percentages than just blind luck such as...

5. Movement and spacing- We generally did a much better job of cutting with purpose, setting screens, and moving away from the ball.  This got us more open shots that we were able to knock down.

4. We didn't play 120 guys.  You know how I feel about the starting lineup, and I still didn't care for the rotations so much, but at least we chilled a bit on the nonstop, hap-hazard substitutions.  I thought the team played with better chemistry.  Generally, I would like to see Alex get more minutes, but this wasn't the best match-up for him and it wouldn't make sense to take any minutes from Tevin the way he was playing today.

3. Dazon had his best game of the year.  This was the best he's looked guarding the perimeter defensively and off the dribble with the ball in a while.  Hopefully that nagging ankle injury is finally behind him and he can produce at levels similar to his freshman year going forward.  

2. T-Mack is Back!  I've noted in several of these recaps that I consider Tevin Mack to be a very important key to the success of our season.  We finally saw what he is capable of today.  20 points, 50% from the field, including 5 of 9 from three point range.  We'll overlook the two air-balls for now.  He had a great game, and if we can get consistent production like this from him, this team will be difficult to handle.  

1. We scored more points than they did.   That will result in a W every time.

It was nice bounce-back win to avoid what could have turned into a completely disastrous trip.  

Up next, we'll play the winner of the Wichita State v. Appalachian State Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on ESPNU for fifth place.  As of this writing, those teams are tied with about 10 minutes remaining.  The Shockers seem to be a bit down this year, but I'm rooting for them because 1) I still think they will end up with a higher NET than App State, 2) We've already beat App State and 3) I relish the opportunity to kick Gregg Marshall's butt.



Thursday, November 15, 2018

Game Preview: Ball State [Charleston Classic]

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This isn't the game we were hoping for, but it's the game we've got. And it looms large in Alabama's season, even in early November. Watching the game today, I was reminded of a line of dialogue from the 1995 comedy film, Friday. In the scene, Chris Tucker's character "Smokey" witnesses a one-sided fight and says to the loser at the conclusion, "You got knocked the f**k out, man!". That, more or less, captures what happened to Alabama today.

It was not an encouraging performance by Alabama on day one in Charleston against a veteran Northeastern team. The Huskies carved through Alabama's defense efficiently and without mercy. I can't even say Northeastern appeared to enjoy it as everything seemed to come so easy for them. It was one of the more disappointing defensive performances that I've seen from an Alabama team in quite a while. The gameplan, the effort, the inability to make adjustments in the game, it all played a part in Alabama's first loss of the season. For a more in-depth look at what went wrong, check out DJC's recap below.

The tournament moves on. Alabama will next play Ball State (KenPom: 99) from the Mid-American Conference. The Cardinals enter this game 1-2, but their two losses were to ranked opponents at Purdue in a non-bracketed game, and today vs Virginia Tech. Game time is 12:30 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

Huskies Hush the Tide, Northeastern 68 Alabama 52

First and foremost, condolences to Coach Pelphrey and his family as he was unable to make today's game due to his mother-in-law's passing.  I think we missed Coach Pelphrey today more than most people realize.  I've noticed he's been more vocal in-game coaching from the bench in the first two games than he generally was last season.

Regardless, this was a pathetic effort all the way around.  It reminded me a lot of the Georgia game from last year.  Northeastern was in control from the tip, and we never really showed any fight.

The Huskies started the game with an alley-oop out of their half-court set, and promptly took an 8-0 lead before we called a timeout.  I don't recall us ever getting any closer than a 5 point deficit, and Northeastern led by 11 at the break.  Petty made a couple of 3s early in the second half, but Northeastern answered and led by  10-12 for most of the game before finally stretching it out to 17 at one point. 

I was very disappointed in our defensive effort.  We had poor communication and way too many blown assignments.  On at least 3 different occasions they ran a simple pick and roll at the top of the key with their forwards clearing out to the corners to open the lane to the basket, and both of our defenders stayed with the ball and the help-side rotation never came down low, resulting in wide-open layups. 

I don't want to take anything away from Northeastern.  They are picked to win their conference, and are obviously a well coached, fundamentally sound team.  They had great ball movement which led to wide open 3s, where they made 9 of 17.  They made good decisions with the basketball and were not bothered by our press.

Meanwhile, we kept jacking up contested 3s that were not going in.  We were 3 of 19 from downtown, and two of those were the aforementioned from JP.  We should have made an effort to attack the basket.  I thought JP played a decent game, he ended up with 17 points and 5 rebounds, and did at least make some effort to drive to the hoop.  In what should have been a good matchup for Donta Hall, he was a complete non-factor, in part due to the game plan, but frankly the whole team looked disinterested for most of the game.

This is not necessarily a season breaking loss as Northeastern should at least finish in the top 100 NET if not better, but it's a big loss in that it deprives us of some real resume building opportunities on a neutral court.  For me, the bigger concern is that we continue to have a few games per year where we have this type of effort.  Even the best teams will have bad nights shooting the ball, but good teams don't give up and throw in the towel on defense.  The lack of adjustments is also concerning, at some point you have to stop jacking 3s when they aren't falling.

Up next, we play Ball State tomorrow on the same court at either 12 or 12:30 Central time.  The game will be televised on either ESPN2 or ESPNU. 



Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Game Preview: Northeastern [Charleston Classic]


Who's ready for daytime basketball! I'll let you behind the curtain, just a little bit. With the exception of March basketball, my favorite part of the college basketball season is in November when all of the holiday tournaments take place. Chief reason for this is daytime basketball. I think my love for it stems from when I was a kid and my father would let me take a day or two off from school prior to Thanksgiving to watch the Maui Invitational or one of the other tournaments. As an adult, it's taking a long lunch or taking a full day off from work to enjoy a day of hoops, surrounded by an assortment of finger foods and cold beverages. Come to think of it, that's probably what I love most about March basketball too. Anyway, daytime basketball is great regardless of the month.

Alabama will travel to Charleston for the aptly named Charleston Classic. Including Alabama, the tournament features five teams that made the NCAA tournament last season, Bama's previous opponent (Appalachian State), and two teams - Northeastern and Ball State - that are expected to contend for their league titles.

The first opponent for Alabama will be Northeastern (KenPom: 79). The Huskies are the preseason favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). They enter this game 1-1. Game time is 1 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU. This will be a big weekend for our guys from a resume standpoint. To insure they put themselves in the best possible spot for resume opportunities, they need to win this game. And this game itself won't be a slouch from a resume standpoint. If Northeastern goes on to have the season many expect them to, a win on Thursday could rate as high as a quad 2 win come March.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Tears for the Mountaineers: Alabama 81 Appalachian State 73

After struggling for much of the game, Alabama pulled ahead late to improve to 2-0 in the young season. 

Kira Lewis is way ahead of schedule at this point.  The youngest player in college basketball got off to a hot start by making some early 3s, and he's been very efficient running the point in the first two games.  He ended up with 21 points and only one turnover while shooting 50% from the field in 31 minutes of play.  He's already locked down the starting point guard position and he will only get better. 

I still do not like the substitution patterns, at all.  In general, I felt like we subbed too frequently and did not allow any unit on the floor to build any cohesiveness.  Beyond that, some of that combinations we use are completely inexplicable.  At one point we had AJ, Dazon, Alex, T-Mack and Galin in the game.  AJ had a terrible game, firing up a couple of air-balls and only playing for 6 minutes.  T-Mack has yet to show he can be an effective scorer this year.  Dazon was obviously still not 100% coming off of his injury.  Alex is most effective with another scorer on the floor who can open up the defense so he can exploit a bad match-up.  I'm not sure where we expect to get rebounding or defense, much less scoring, out of this group.  I'm not criticizing any of those players, they all bring positive skills to the floor, but they don't compliment each other in a way that makes sense to play them as a group.  This lineup blew the early lead and allowed App State to gain some confidence from beyond the arc, which would keep them in the game well into the second half. 

Tevin Mack was called for a technical foul for hanging onto the rim after a dunk, and was taken out of the game and did not return.  If the benching was due to the technical, I strongly disagree with that decision as I thought it was a bad call.  In fact, Donta appeared to hang on the rim longer after an earlier dunk and no technical was called. 

The team did show some maturity in how they handled the adversity of a 6 point deficit in the second half.  Herb really stepped up on defense and forced a few turnovers, and generally shut down the perimeter game that had been keeping the Mountaineers afloat.  Herb's offense is a bit of a concern, he still doesn't seem to have much of a jump shot and he had a difficult time finishing around the basket.  At one point he was only 1 of 6 from the free throw line, and he ended up 6 of 16.  Nevertheless, you have to love his hustle, and the fact that he does not let a bad shooting game impact the rest of his game.  We do not win that game without Herb Jones' defense.

We were able to come back and take a 10 point lead, primarily by doing what we should have been doing the whole game, and that's attacking the basket and crashing the offensive glass.  We were a much bigger and stronger team, but I felt like we did not assert ourselves physically until the final ten minutes of the game.  I know that analytics generally suggests that perimeter-oriented teams will be more successful, and while we have a few guys who are capable of knocking down the three, I still think the identity of this team should be centered on our size and depth inside. 

We ended up with 4 guys in double-figures.  In addition to Kira's 21, JP added 13, Hall 12, and Herb managed to get 10.  We were 26 of 43 from the line, but JP and Dazon both converted when we needed them in the final minutes to keep the game in hand.  We were fortunate that App State was somehow even worse than us from the free throw line, they went 14 of 25. 

After 2 games, there's a lot to be excited about, and still a lot of room for improvement.  In my opinion the two biggest keys to the season will be getting some production out of T-Mack and the coaching staff figuring out a logical playing rotation.  They also need to do a better job with the overall game plan than we had in these first two games.

There was a decent crowd on hand considering the strange 6 p.m. on Sunday night tip-off time.  I would estimate close to 5,000 in attendance.  I showed up an hour early hoping to snag one of the promotional Veteran's Day hats they were giving away, but they were already out, despite there being well less than 1,000 people there at that point.  I only saw 3 or 4 people with them, and I had friends who arrived as early as 4:45 and did not get them.  Anyway, there was a nervous, quiet energy throughout the crowd for most of the game, but the technical foul on Mack's dunk seemed to wake the crowd, and it was a nice atmosphere for the final run.  Up next, the Tide will play away from the friendly confines of Coleman for the first time this season as they travel to Charleston, SC and will face the Northeastern Huskies in the first round of the Charleston Classic at 1 p.m. CST Thursday.  The game will be televised on ESPNU, and I'm sure many of us will be taking a long, late lunch.







Saturday, November 10, 2018

Game Preview: Appalachian State


Following a sloppy but successful opening night, Alabama will look to improve as a team while also improving its record to 2-0. Next up is a home game with Appalachian State (KenPom Rank: 182) on Sunday. Game time is 6 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. The Mountaineers are a member of the Sun Belt conference. They enter this game 1-0 after a 125-62 demolition of D2 school, Mars Hill.

Daniel Giddens returned to the lineup for the Southern game. Dazon Ingram missed the game with an ankle injury, but it doesn't appear to be serious so I expect he will play on Sunday. No word yet if freshman Javian Davis-Fleming will make his debut after missing the first two games with a minor knee injury. As most of you have heard by now, Riley is listed as "week-to-week" after undergoing a medical procedure to address a heart condition. According to Avery, Riley had the procedure because his heart was beating at an accelerated rate. Riley is expected to make a full recovery, but who knows if he plays another game in an Alabama jersey. Honestly, I wouldn't blame Riley if he doesn't play again. Heart conditions are a scary deal and he's got his whole life ahead of him. 

My Two Cents: While a 20-point victory is always welcomed, I thought the opener was a mixed bag for Alabama from a performance standpoint. DJC went over some of the issues in his recap regarding the high number of turnovers, the officiating, etc. As always, if you haven't read DJC's recap, do that asap because he always does a great job of breaking down the game, the officiating, the crowd, etc.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Short-Handed, Sloppy Win over Southern 82-62

The University of Alabama's athletic dominance over schools from Baton Rouge, LA continued last night with a 20 point victory to defeat Southern on the hardwood.  With Dazon out with an ankle injury, we started Kira, Petty, Herb, Galin, and Hall.  Alabama had a significant size advantage at every position over Southern.

The Jaguars are not a very good or organized team.  Early in the game, they had two players go to the locker room due to a uniform violation as they were wearing white T-shirts under their yellow jerseys.  Later, they were accessed an administrative technical foul for putting a player into the game who was not recorded in the official score book.  These types of mistakes are inexcusable above the Junior Varsity High School level, much less for a division 1 college team.

In any event, this was a good game to get Kira some experience in the starting lineup, and he did not disappoint.  He's going to have his ups and downs against better competition, but he's playing better than I expected.  He generally makes good decisions with the basketball, and finished with 6 points, 7 assists, and 3 turnovers. 

I still do not like starting Galin and Hall.  That's 40% of our unit who cannot score outside of the lane.  I much prefer Alex starting over Galin.  That being said, Galin had a solid game against the smaller Jags, scoring 10 points and pulling down 4 rebounds. 

Dan Giddens returned but was the only big man who really struggled in this one.  Though he did get 6 rebounds, he also had 4 fouls and 3 turnovers in just 7 minutes.  In fairness to Dan, it was a poorly officiated game all the way around.  Hopefully the refs were just a little rusty, and this isn't indicative of the way games will be called this year.  I thought it was called way too tight, over 50 fouls making the game drag on well beyond the 2 hour mark.  On one of Dan's fouls, the Southern guard literally fell into him while he was standing still and set on a dribble drive.  AJ was later called for a flagrant foul on a blatant flop, but thankfully that was reversed on review. 

We had good scoring balance with 4 guys in double figures.  Hall led the way with 20, Petty had 17 making 5 of 8 from 3 point range, while Galin and Mack had 10 each.  Mack was only 3 of 12 from the field and 1 of 7 from downtown, hopefully he's just knocking off some rust and his shooting will improve. 

The team played great defense again, but turnovers continue to be a major issue.   Twenty turnovers against a team like Southern is more than a little concerning.  Tevin Mack had 5 of those, but it seems to be an issue up and down the lineup.  I'm hoping this will improve if and when the substitution patterns and playing rotations are set.

There wasn't much of a crowd there on election night.  I ended up giving away 3 tickets, and I would estimate no more than 4,000 were in attendance.  The student section was at least reasonably full up to the portals, and they probably made up close to half of the total crowd.  Traffic was once again horrendous in both directions to and from Birmingham.

Up next, Appalachian State comes to Coleman for the first game of the Charleston Classic Sunday evening.  Tip-off is set for 6pm on the SEC Network. 

Monday, November 05, 2018

Game Preview: Southern


The season officially tips off when Avery Johnson's alma mater comes to town. Coach was a star player at Southern - his name is on the basketball court - so I'm sure he's looking forward to this game. Alabama looked good in their lone exhibition game, a win over Montevallo, despite four players (Riley Norris, Daniel Giddens, Javian Davis-Fleming and Diante Wood) sitting out. Diante is likely out for the season, but there is no word yet (at the time of writing this post) on the status of the other guys. My guess is that Riley will give it a go assuming he's over the illness that kept him out last week, while Daniel and Javian will sit out as they nurse leg injuries. Game time is 7 P.M. CT. The game will be streamed on SEC Network+.

My Two Cents: It's great to have college basketball back. The sport is going through some adversity in light of the FBI investigation and the corruption trials, but I'm guessing most sports fans won't be thinking about that when they settle in to watch the Champions Classic on Tuesday night. Obviously I'll catch up with those games after checking out Alabama. Hopefully our guys will have a good crowd on hand in Coleman for the opener.