Friday, November 29, 2013

Does Drexel Loss Put Alabama Basketball Program At A Crossroads?

It's not a question I ask lightly. I've been a fan of the Anthony Grant hire since day one, but following yet another non-conference loss that could have dire repercussions for the team come March, I think it's now a fair question to ask.

DJC attended the game so I'm sure he will write a full recap. However, the majority of the readers who visit this site no doubt watched the game. Alabama's inability to ice the game in regulation will obviously be the hottest topic, but I would prefer to concentrate on the 1st half of this game as I think that's where the game was lost. There was a concern from DJC in his Duke recap and BJ's preview that Alabama might come out flat today. That fear was justified as Alabama played with no sense of urgency in the 1st half and found themselves trailing by 11 at the half to a pretty good basketball team that, unlike Bama, played with a real sense of urgency. Alabama came out in the second half with some renewed energy and played much better, overcoming the deficit and putting themselves in a position to win. It didn't happen of course, but it does make one wonder if the team had played for 40 minutes the way they did in the second half, would we actually be celebrating a double digit win? I think we would have.

Players are expected to play with focus and energy, but I do think the coaching staff must play some part in making their guys understand the urgency of a game and injecting some energy into them out of the gate. I thought the bench was lifeless in the 1st half and really contributed to the stale play on the floor. Drexel didn't exactly overwhelm Alabama to start the game. With a better effort from our guys, no doubt the game would have been much closer at the half, and Alabama may have even took the lead into the second half. The mantra of this team in the summer was learning how to finish games and getting back to the NCAA tournament. This loss today has sucked some of the momentum out of the season. With a tough schedule in front of them, can this team regain some momentum? Last year, this team went into conference play already behind the 8 ball in regards to March. There are opportunities remaining to overcome this loss today, but only if this team embraces the urgency that you must play with if you are to take part in the greatest sporting event on the planet.

For Anthony Grant, this latest setback is only going to increase the percentage of the fanbase who are of the opinion that Grant is not the guy to lead this program. Continuing to lose games such as today makes it harder to argue in his favor. There's been a consistency to this non-conference struggles. In 2010-11, the team went 0-3 in a November tournament, losing to Seton Hall, Iowa and St. Peter's. None of these three teams could have been considered a good loss that season. Alabama went on to have a great season, but missed the NCAA tournament primarily due to those losses. Last season, Alabama lost three home games to Dayton, Tulane and Mercer in December. Those three losses crushed Bama's RPI and contributed to them once again missing the tournament. The one season that these types of losses didn't happen was in 2011-12 when the program made its only tournament appearance under Grant. These types of losses have killed momentum and have made it even tougher to get the rather apathetic Bama fanbase to buy in and pledge their full support.

After this latest setback, it's put up or shut up time for Anthony Grant and his staff. They've got a veteran group that, frankly, has not played like one through the first six games. It's time for this team to get together and figure it out. Either they're going to continue this trend of mediocrity or they're going to say enough is enough and decide to kick some ass while taking names.

Condensed Know Your Enemy- Drexel Dragons

Since I am posting from a phone. I don't have the ability to multi task so this one will be short.

First off, Drexel gave Arizona all they could handle... being up as many as 16 in the first halfand was in the game up until the final 2 minutes. I suspect both Drexel and Alabama wwon't be fired up to play today... coaching will decide this one as whoever gets his team ready to play in this disappointing consolation game will most likely win it.

Preview from Drexel.
Note that Damion Lee is out for the game.
Season stats.

Drexel has 3 averaging double digits led by Chris Fouch. Not a good shooting team so we have that going for us.

They are 3-2. Other loss was at UCLA in a close one so we know the Zona game was not a fluke.

We need to win this game, but I don't have a good feeling about it. I really hope the team is motivated to play and can leave NYC 1-1. My gut feeling says Drexel wins by 6.

Game is at 3:30 pm EST on ESPN 2. Any errors... blame it on auto correct.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Duke Downs Bama, 74-64

Disappointing.  We had a great opportunity and came up short.  I don't believe in moral victories, and even if I did, I'm not sure this would qualify as one.  Sure, there were a few positives, but overall this was just a big disappointment for a number of reasons.

It was an ugly game to start but we were playing good defense and generally limiting Duke to only one shot.  Despite a slow start offensively, we were able to build an early lead.  We were up by 5 with around 11 minutes to play in the first half when Releford picked up his second foul.  When he left the game, our offense completely shut down, and Duke had the lead within a matter of just a few possessions.  It was a risky move to bring him back into the game in the first half, but I think it was the right call, as the game was dangerously close to slipping away.  He was forced to play somewhat tentatively due to the foul trouble, but we were still able to go into the half "only" down 11.

The halftime adjustments proved why Coach K is a hall of fame coach.  They baited our 1-3-1 halfcourt trap by getting the ball to their bigs, who also happen to catch and pass fairly well, in a position where they could find their shooters, especially Cook, wide open for 3.  I said before the game we needed to make Parker try to beat us by himself, and we didn't do that, allowing Quinn Cook to hang 17 on us. Levi and company did a good job on the much hyped Rodney Hood, holding him to 8 points before he fouled out.

After falling down 18 early in the second half, it looked like we would be run out of the gym, but credit to Coach Grant and the players for continuing to fight and making it a somewhat competitive game.  We started pressing more and was able to create a few turnovers.  I also think Duke let up defensively a bit with the big lead, and we were able to take advantage.  Nick Jacobs came off the bench to score 18 points and was a big reason why we were able to get back into the game.  He seems to show up in the big games, I wish we could get more consistency out of him.

I felt like if we could ever get the lead down under 5 we would have a chance, but every time we cut it to 6 or 7, we would commit a stupid foul or blow an assignment on defense, or we would get the ball back and commit a dumb turnover.  As an example, with around 2 minutes left we were down 7 and got a defensive stop, Algie got trapped in the back court, and nobody came to help him out.  I would have burned a timeout there, but Algie tried to make a long pass into traffic that resulted in an easy dunk for Duke.    Another key to the game was free throws: Duke made theirs while Retin was building houses.

We missed several shots at point blank range and several guys passed up open shots, especially when we got close, often times resulting in turnovers.  Levi and Cooper were both particularly bad about this.  To win the big games you have to have confidence that you can make the big plays, and we have some guys who seem to have confidence issues right now.  Cooper's are justified somewhat, his shot has been awful this year, but Levi has been playing well and should have taken more shots.

We also needed a bigger game from Relly to pull this one off.  The aforementioned foul trouble hurt him, but Duke also did a good job of extending the defense and denying him the ball, he never seemed to get into the flow of the game.

My biggest disappointment from this game has nothing to do with what actually happened on the court.  The guys gave it their best try and I'm truly appreciative of their efforts and the way they represent our University. The most disappointing thing about this game is that it showcased the losing, second rate culture that permeates our basketball program.  Three of the four schools involved in this highly regarded, nationally televised finals tournament brought pep bands to the event:  Guess which one didn't?  I'll give you a hint, it's the same school who told its season ticket holders that called the ticket office the day after they won their region that the school would not have tickets available for these games, only to send out an email the next day contradicting their statement.  When Duke got out to the big lead, the majority of our fans in attendance did not seem to be bothered at all, they just resorted to the "we're still the best in football and that's all that matters" trash talk.  I love the football team too, and I want to see ALL sports at UA succeed, but it's frustrating as someone who is passionate about basketball to see a revenue sport treated like an afterthought from seemingly everyone from the top of the athletic department down to a large part of the fan base, meanwhile even non-revenue sports like gymnastics, softball, and golf (all of which I'm very proud of), are succeeding and apparently not having to deal with the same sorts of issues.  Until that culture changes, and it starts with the athletic department, we will never be a perennial top 25 type of team, much less a serious contender like Duke.

It seems like every time I go to Madison Square Garden, it gets better and better.  They now have the best scoreboard in all of basketball, it's easy to read, gives all of the relevant stats, and has a huge high definition screen for replays and can easily be seen from every seat in the house.  The lower bowl was mostly full, I would estimate around 150 or so Alabama fans to 7,000 Duke fans, with maybe about 1,000 or so Arizona fans who remained after their game.  Drexel probably had close to 1,000 fans there for their fist game, being located in Philadelphia it's not a bad trip for them.  Most of the Duke fans were classy, but we did encounter a handful of epic douchebags.

I want to thank the folks at the NYC chapter of the alumni association for being great hosts.  They welcomed me to their pregame gathering and allowed me to sit with their group at the game.  It was a pleasure meeting a couple of very knowledgeable and passionate Alabama basketball fans.

Up next, the Drexel Dragons.  They almost beat Arizona, who I would argue looked like the best team in the nation coming into this tournament.  I only saw a bit of that game, but they appear to have a good frontcourt and they look like a team that could be a bad matchup for us.  I'm afraid our guys will still be down after the Duke game, and may have a hard time getting up for Drexel.  Frankly, I don't feel good about this game, at all.  In fact, when I got back from the Garden last night, I looked up options for changing my flight to come home today.  Unfortunately, it was cost prohibitive, so I'm going to stick it out and go to the game and come home Saturday morning as originally planned.  Tip-off is set for 3:30 EST.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Know Your Enemy- Duke Blue Devils

EDIT- 11/26/13 (adding more to original post)

Link to Duke's official website of Blue Devils basketball.
Game preview (short). article about the game tomorrow.

I've said this to others and I'm going to post it... this is the biggest non-conference/non-NCAAT game we have had in forever. Beating Duke would put our program on the map. A close loss will have folks talking about us for at least a week, but a blowout loss put us back on the irrelevant bus as a program. This is a statement game in the making and I hope we can make a statement.

How I think this game plays out:
- We come out strong and take an early 7 point lead with the hundreds of Bama fans in MSG going wild. Duke storms back and takes the lead at halftime (5 points)
- 2nd half is back and forth with us matching Duke bucket for bucket with the game close for the first 15 minutes.
- Last 5 minutes Duke pulls away as we get into foul trouble and panic throwing up ill-advised 3s and Duke wins by 11.

Obviously, I hope against the 3rd bullet and if we can keep Releford out of foul trouble I think we are in it to the end and in a position to win the game.

Here are the big problems I see from a stats standpoint:
- .550 FG
- .452 3pt FG
- 92.7 PPG
- Forcing 14 turnovers a game

We can't get into a scoring war with them as they'll blow us out. Realistically we need to keep this game in the 60s/low 70s.

I really believe we need a big game from Nick Jacobs. Getting some points from him and Jimmie Taylor inside could offset Parker and Hood somewhat. If we keep the front-court battle somewhat close I think we win.

Game is on ESPN2 at 9:30PM EST (or 30 minutes after the Arizona walkover).

End EDIT  11/26/13

I'm going to compile this over a couple of days so bear with me. Today is stats heavy.

First off, season stats. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood (you remember him from M$U) are both dropping 20+ per game.

Next, Duke comes into the game at 5-1, but have struggled mightily vs powerhouses East Carolina (83-74) and Vermont (91-90). Still, this is Duke we are talking about and I suspect they played to the level of their competition.

In their loss to Kansas, they led at halftime (42-40) and were tied 77 all with 3:50 to go in the game. I suspect we will see Kansas in the Final Four this year.

Link to their roster. From looking at it on paper and from the 2 games I've seen of them we actually matchup quite nicely with them. Obviously the issues of matching up with Parker and Hood are going to be tough, but I think Cooper, Hale, Jacobs, and Taylor can split fouls guarding them. At least I hope they can somewhat slow them down. I actually think we have the advantage in the backcourt as I don't think Releford will be stopped and if Obasohan continues to sky that will put pressure on the Duke frontcourt at the rim.

Link to a Duke blog (SBNation).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pachyderms Pounce on Panthers, Punch ticket to NYC, 75-58

We stuck with the same starting lineup, and after falling behind 5-0 early we basically dominated the rest of the game.  That was not a bad Georgia State team that we shut down.  Arguably the best starting back court among mid majors was held to merely 10 points.  Retin, Levi, and even Releford were all fantastic defensively.  Perhaps more significantly, at least in the first half, we managed to play great defense while staying out of foul trouble.  Unfortunately, that was not the case in the 2nd half, as we were called for 5 fouls in the first 2 minutes of the second half, and Georgia State was in the bonus for the final 15 minutes of the contest.  I was also very encouraged by our improved rebounding.  Ga. State did not get many second chance opportunities, and we significantly out rebounded them at both ends of the court.  While they aren't a very big team, they came in out rebounding their opponents by 6 per game, and that has been a weakness for us up to this point.

I can't say enough good things about Retin Obasohan.  He is an incredible athlete who just continues to improve. We all know about his quickness and his ability to get to the rim, but often overlooked is his defensive play and rebounding.  He is as explosive as anybody I've seen when it comes to getting up off the floor quickly.  He had 3 blocked shots and 4 rebounds to go along with his 4 steals last night, and we are talking about 6'1" guard!  In the first half Georgia had a break away and I could see the Panther sizing up Retin, and I said to myself, "he's about to get swatted."  I wish I could remember which Ga State player it was, but he attempted to dunk over Retin, but Retin got into perfect position, jumped straight up, and sent the ball back out to the perimeter.  Later in the second half Retin had the ball on a 3 on 2 fast break, both defenders overplayed the pass, opening up a lane to the basket and he took advantage with a thunderous dunk.  His jump shot still isn't there, and he does turn it over from time to time, but he sure is fun to watch, and I think our offense flows much more smoothly when he is in the game.

In fact, I think overall our offense has looked much better so far this year, we are getting into transition more, and in the half court set we are finding ways to attack and getting better ball movement.  We haven't seen much of the "high ball screen when the shot clock gets to 4" that plagued us most of last season.

Releford continues to be the senior leader we need him to be.  While his assist to turnover ratio is far from ideal for a starting PG, a big part of that is because he recognizes that he needs to be a scorer first on this team.  He is getting the job done, but needs to take a little bit better care of the basketball in the process.

I was pretty hard on Carl Engstrom early in the season, but he is playing much smarter and faster now.  He's finally starting to play at near the level he was prior to his injury last year.  He makes good passes from the high post, is at least getting into position to affect shots defensively, and his hands seem to be improving which is helping his rebounding.  I still think Jimmie Taylor has more upside over the long term, but Carl is definitely capable of giving us some quality minutes right now.

Also encouraging is that Shannon Hale had his best game so far.  He played more aggressive and was able to get some rebounds, and he did a nice job defensively.  I think this game was good experience for him as far as getting more comfortable and adapting to the speed of the game.  He played over 25 minutes and scored 8 points.

Cooper finally made a couple of 3s, but unfortunately he missed all 4 other shots he took.  While we certainly need his offense to come around, he really needs to step it up defensively in our next game, as he will likely draw the unenviable task of guarding Jabari Parker for most of the game.

Nick Jacobs only played 8 minutes and did not play well.  I don't know if his off season shoulder injury is still bothering him, but it's certainly disappointing that his weight loss, at least to this point, has not translated to increased productivity.

Overall, this was the best the team has played so far in this young season.  They are playing with great chemistry right now and everybody seems to understand their roles.  While we still committed way too many fouls in the 2nd half, the fact that we were able to shut them down and still keep everyone on the court for the most part is a good sign that maybe we are adjusting to the new rules.  Guys like Releford, Key, and Obasohan are learning to use the rules to their advantage and getting either to the line or the basket.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much of a crowd, I would say around 2,000 or so at best.  Even Duke had a poor student turnout for their home NIT games, thanks to the NIT's shortsighted policy of not allowing free admission for students.  It was good to see several members of our women's team there supporting the guys.  Also, the McNeese state players and quite a few of their fans stayed around to watch our game.  I would imagine they were rooting for GSU to boost their strength of schedule, but they were not very vocal.

Up next, Duke, Madison Square Garden, 9:30 EST next Wednesday on ESPN2.  I'm not saying we will win, but if we play like we did last night, we will not be embarrassed, and I think we have a puncher's chance.  For anyone in the NY area or interested in travelling, the UA NYC alumni chapter is offering a great deal on tickets plus a pregame gathering both days.  Our ticket office did not receive an allotment of tickets, so this is a good way to ensure you are at least around the few other Bama fans there.  Here is the link for details.

I watched a bit of the Arizona-Rhode Island game when I got back to Birmingham last night, and all the announcers talked about was how exciting the Arizona-Duke game will be. The rest of the country already hates us because we own college football, let's ruin everyone's dream Arizona-Duke championship game match-up and make them hate our basketball team too.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bama Slams Stillman, 102-65

We hit the century mark for the first time since 2005.  We went with a starting lineup of Releford, Retin, Levi, Cooper, and Taylor.  Nick Jacobs started the game on the exercise bike, where he would return later in the game.  We got off to a bit of a slow start, as Stillman was seemingly getting 3 shots at the basket every possession.  We opened up in a zone, and the Tigers game plan was clearly to get a 3 point shot up before they turned the ball over.  It wasn't a bad plan, they were severely outsized, and their only chance was to get hot from downtown.  We did not rebound very well out of the zone, and Stillman shot well enough to keep the game respectable for most of the first half.  It seemed like every time we were on the verge of blowing it open, they would drain another 3.  Stillman's #4 must be related to Hollywood Robinson, that dude was looking to pull up as soon as he crossed half court.  He jacked 15 3's and ended up with 17 points.

Our pressure defense created some turnovers and easy baskets which helped us pull away to a 52-36 lead at halftime, and put the game away fairly quickly in the second half.  Carl Engstrom had a great game against the smaller squad, scoring 11 points in 15 minutes and playing solid defense as well.  Levi Randolph played great, scoring 17 points and most encouraging is his 3 point shot looks greatly improved.  He actually had good rotation on its shots, which is something we did not see much of last year.  Maybe he will emerge as that second perimeter scoring option we so desperately need.

Maybe I am nitpicking now, but the circumstances surrounding Jimmie Taylor's 3rd foul in the first half bothered me.  Jimmie was called for an illegal screen for his 2nd foul with around 4 minutes to go in the first half.  The coaching staff was a little slow at first to realize it was his second, but I could hear Coach Brannen tell Coach Grant "that's 2" to which Grant replied, "get Nick."  Nick Jacobs was still on the bike at the time, so by the time the staff could get his attention and he could get all the way to the scorer's table, it was too late to check into the game.  Jimmie then picked up his third foul on that possession.  Obviously, it didn't hurt us in this particular game, but that's the type of stuff that you can't have happen in close games.  When they realized Nick wasn't on the bench, somebody should have thought to send Carl in for a possession instead.

 Speaking of fouls, they called 8 fouls in the first 5 minutes of the second half.  I won't rehash it, but a strong argument can be made that the "new rules" are making the game even more unwatchable than the 43-38 slug fests we were seeing last year.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of this game, was the fact that there were 3 throw-in violations.  In the last 5 years of officiating high school basketball, I've only seen 2 that I can remember, and both were at the junior high level.  For Stillman to commit 2 in one game, and then for us to have one of our own, is unfathomable.

It was great to see guys like Dakota Slaughter and Isiah Wilson get some playing time in the second half.  Wilson got to the line and made the free throw to put us in triple digits, much to the delight of the dozens of fans still there.

It was one of the smallest crowds I've ever seen for a game.  I would guess there was about 2,000 there at most.  Stillman did not bring many fans across town, but they did bring their cheerleaders, mascot, and a pep band.  I enjoyed their band, and wish they would have been allowed to play more.

Up next, the Georgia State Panthers tonight at 7 p.m.  As we've said many times on here, they are good, and this is arguably the biggest game of the season.  I know that sounds ridiculous at first, they are a Sun Belt team (but a damned good one) and it's November, but the winner gets to play Duke and one other at least decent game on a neutral floor in New York.  Regardless of the outcomes of those games, that is huge for strength of schedule and RPI purposes.  The loser will be relegated to playing losers from the other regions Monday and Tuesday of next week, which conversely could be an RPI killer.  Come out to Coleman and give these guys a boost so we can spend thanksgiving in New York.

Know Your Enemy- Georgia St Panthers

Another school right up the road from me goes to Tuscaloosa to play OUR Crimson Tide in the 2nd round of the NIT Tip-off (or is it pre-season NIT... never can get the names right). GA St won yesterday 96-70 over McNeese St. While the competition was garbage, the 59% FG and 52.6% 3pt FG bothers me.

C/P from an earlier preview by MS (I'll add stats below):
Georgia State has a formidable line-up that could be the best in the Sun Belt Conference (the program's first year in the conference) when all is said and done. This team has some real star power in guys like R.J. Hunter (17.5 ppg, CAA freshman of the year), Devonta White (14.5 ppg), and Manny Atkins (14.5 ppg, Virginia Tech transfer). The program also received a gift from the NCAA when it approved Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow's hardship waiver to play immediately. Harrow had his ups and downs at both N.C. State and Kentucky, but I think the lack of unfair expectations at Georgia State should benefit him. And if that wasn't enough, the program also adds Curtis Washington (6'9, 240 lb), a redshirt junior that transferred from USC. With Georgia State's mix of size, athleticism and scoring ability, this could be the epitome of a trap game should Alabama be matched up with the Panthers.

State comes in 2-1. Their only loss was a tight one @ Vanderbilt where they led with under 4 minutes to go. Vandy took the lead for good at the 1:55 mark. Like everyone is expecting... this is going to be a tough game for us.

So far, the Panthers have 4 averaging double digits in R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow, Devonta White, and Manny Atkins. Of those 4, Hunter and Atkins are shooting the ball well early from beyond the arc. Inside, Curtis Washington  is pulling 7.3 boards to go with 9 PPG. He's been efficient (although limited in shots) shooting 61% from the field. I suspect he'll get more shots tonight against our fairly weak front court.

R.J. Hunter could pose match-up problems for us in the backcourt. My guess is Obasohan and Cooper gets the majority of time defending him.

Season stats
- 91 PPG
- 6.66 blocks
- +6.7 rebound margin

The last one I listed bothers me as so far we have not been good rebounding the ball. If we allow GA State to get too many 2nd chances they will win. I hope Jacobs (who should be fired up to play against a state school) can help Cooper on the boards and maybe get Engstrom and Taylor involved as well.

This is a HUGE game for this program... win and we go to NYC to play Duke which win or lose (most likely lose) gives us a true barometer on the state of the program... and it's great exposure to play the NY Yankees/Dallas Cowboys/ Boston Celtics/Montreal Canadians of college basketball. We had this chance in 08 and blew it by getting thumped by Oregon in Maui (wish I still had the recording of that game... you could hear me curse out xCMG back from a TO). I'm going to be positive and predict a 5 point win.

Tipoff is 8PM EST (7PM CST) on ESPN3 again. Chances are I'm going to miss the game or if I'm lucky see the last 10 minutes of it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Know Your Enemy- Stillman Tigers

I'm going to load up this post with links for the most part.

Stillman HC Michael Grant leads his 1-2 Stillman Tigers up the road to Tuscaloosa for this NIT season tip-off tilt. Grant is 85-61 in his 6 years at Stillman... and no... not related to Anthony Grant.

Not only is Stillman 1-2, but they're 1-2 vs teams in Alabama (losses to West and North Alabama and a win over Huntsville).

I noticed that of their 10 man roster, 8 of them are juniors/seniors (2 freshmen). Also, they have 4 averaging double digits in scoring.

Season stats
Note- a smallish team with only 2 taller than 6'6"

Changing things up a bit I'll make you click the season stats link to find out what they do offensively.
- .492 FG
- .419 3pt FG
- 87 PPG allowed
- 7 steals a game

Markeith Madison and Justin Harris are the only players shooting over 40% from the field with more than 10 shots taken in the season. That's kinda ungood. Madison is the only guy we should keep track of... the rest of them should be easily contained.

After losing by 30 to West Alabama we should beat them by a similar score. I'd be disappointed if we don't win by at least 18. I would guess we'll play Georgia St the following day.

Link to the NIT bracket

Game is 11/18 at 8PM EST (7PM CST). For those who cannot make it to the game it is on ESPN3. For those that ask, ESPN3 is not a TV station, it is their online page where you can watch the game streaming to your desktop/phone (or if you're like me, you'll attach a HDMI cable to your laptop, plug other end to TV, and watch it there).

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tide's Trevor Tops Tubby's Texas Tech, 76-64

We did our part in the SEC/Big 12 challenge, giving the conference an early 1-0 lead in the event.  The starting lineup was 1. Releford, 2. Retin, 3. Cooper, 4. Jacobs, 5. Taylor.  I said after the last game that Jimmie Taylor needed to play more and Carl less.  Jimmie started and played 21 minutes, and did fairly well, with 6 rebounds (3 offensive), 4 blocked shots, 4 points, and a steal.  Carl played only 2 minutes, and picked up 2 fouls between turning the ball over.  I like this starting lineup, but I would prefer Levi to start over Retin.  I don't like starting both Relly and Retin, because if they both get in foul trouble, as they did against Oklahoma, we have nobody to come off the bench and handle the basketball.  Algie Key went from starting and scoring 20+ in the first game to playing only 11 minutes and taking only one shot.  I thought he earned more playing in time in this game, but it's hard to argue for taking minutes away from Retin who played an outstanding game, scoring 15 points in 37 minutes, including a perfect 5 for 5 from the free throw line.

This game was all about Trevor Releford.  He was on fire from downtown, making three early 3 pointers and scoring 11 of our first 15 points to give the Tide an early 7 point lead.  We made some substitutions at the first media timeout, and the new group with Algie and Carl in the game did not seem to play with the same chemistry.  Some sloppy turnovers and poor interior defense allowed the lead to slip away.  When Retin and Releford came back into the game, the offense got rolling again and we turned up the defensive pressure, creating some turnovers and built a 12 point lead going into halftime.

Tubby's team played hard and would not completely fold, but they never seriously challenged again either.  The lead fluctuated between 16 or 18 points back to 12 or 14 for most of the second half.  Every time Tech would start to get a little bit of momentum, we had the answer.  Releford ended up with 29 points including 5 of 7 from downtown.  He picked up a touch foul early in the game, and I was afraid it would be the Oklahoma game all over again, but he was able to play smart defensively and not take himself out of the game.  We stayed out of foul trouble for the most part and still played well defensively, so hopefully our guys are adjusting to the new rules.  I think Coach Grant is doing a good job of being more selective about when to utilize the full court defense, and our half court zone trap has been very effective.

We were more uptempo offensively, and it was the Tech team that struggled with the shot clock most of the game.  That's mostly a combination of our defense and Tubby's deliberate offensive system.  From our perspective, so far it seems we aren't passing up good shots early in the shot clock which I felt was a big problem last year.  We still need to get more out of Cooper, he played 36 minutes and scored only 7 points, and was 0 for 4 from 3 point range.  He is brick mason right now, and his shot is way too flat.  We are going to need him to find a way to score from the 3 position, either attacking the rim or putting some arc on his outside shots, if we are going to compete against good teams.  I was hopeful that Shannon Hale could help us score from the SF spot, but he looked completely lost out there the 6 minutes he was in the game.

The crowd was about what you would expect for a November game at 8 pm coming off of a loss while college football was on television.  I was estimate around 6,000 or so in the house, with more people sitting above the portals than below thanks to the stupid Tide Totals points system.  On another note, Saul Smith, Tubby's son, is working for his dad as the video coordinator, and he has aged a lot from his playing days.  It doesn't seem like that long ago I was taunting him with the "Daddy's boy" chant as we pulled off the upset over Kentucky at Coleman.

Up next, the Stillman Tigers make the short drive over from the west side of Tuscaloosa to take on the Tide in the first game of the preseason NIT tournament.  Tip-off is set for 7 pm Monday night, or 30 minutes after the conclusion of the McNeese State/Georgia State game.  Stillman played us competitively in an exhibition game a year ago, and I'm sure they will be excited about playing for a trip to New York.  In a game that counts though, I hope we can take care of business early and rest our key guys in the 2nd half so we will be ready to go Tuesday night.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

William Lee to UAB and recapping the tip-off marathon.

William Lee, a 4 star, top 150 PF nationally and the #2 recruit in the state committed to UAB.  I wish him well, but was really hoping he would come to Bama.  He chose the Blazers over UA, UGA, and SMU.  I suspect he wanted to stay in-state but did not want to compete with Jimmie Taylor and Michael Kessens for playing time.  I  like what Jerod Haase is doing with the UAB program, and I expect he will have them turned around in short order.

As most of you know, ESPN hosted a 29 straight hours of basketball culminating with Kentucky/Michigan State and Duke/Kansas games in Chicago last night.  I would love to see Alabama take part in this one year, even if it means playing at an odd hour.    In a past life, I probably would have stayed up through the entire thing.  I'm too old and productive for that now, but I did watch most of the big games last night and I tried to keep up with games involving our future opponents.

Overall, it was not a great start to the season for us from an RPI perspective.  I was not surprised at all that Michigan State beat Kentucky, but I was impressed that UK was able to battle back and make it a close game after Sparty ran out to an early lead.  I don't care how good the 5 freshmen are, you aren't going to beat a very good, seasoned, Izzo coached team with a group that has no game time experience playing together.  I would love to see these two teams play again in March.  Kentucky is obviously a good team, how well they are able to gel and play together will determine if they can be a great team.

Likewise, a Duke win would have been preferable for us, since we have a potential match-up with them looming in New York.  Like Kentucky, the best chance of beating Duke is to catch them early in the season.  After watching that game though, I have no idea how we can hang with them.  Jabari Parker is a beast.  I think my game plan would be to try to shut everybody else down (easier said that done) and make Parker beat us by himself.  Problem is, I think he can probably do it, he is that good.

LSU lost 92-90 at UMass.  This surprised me as I expected the Tigers to be much improved this year.  South Carolina also lost by 2 at Baylor.  Again, bad for our strength of schedule, but Cock fans have to be encouraged with the progress under Frank Martin, Baylor is a top 25 team and they played them to the wire on the road.  We have to go to Columbia this year, and that looks like a more challenging game than it has been in recent history.

Our old pal Mark Gottfried picked up a technical foul for having 6 players on the court in a loss to Cincinnati.  The more things change...

Robert Morris won 90-81 over Lafayette.  I didn't see any of that game, but they come to Tuscaloosa in early January, so nice to see the Colonials pick up a win.

Vandy beat Georgia State 86-80.  In theory, this is good for us, since we definitely will play Vandy and GSU is just a potential match-up at this point (they have to get by McNeese State).  Vandy should be improved over last year, and GSU played them within 6 in what we all know is a very difficult place to play.  I remain concerned about the possibility of Georgia State derailing our trip to New York.

Speaking of McNeese State, they lost 92-66 at Louisiana-Lafayette.  I doubt we will be playing them.

24th ranked UCLA beat Oakland by over 30.  Playing in Pauley Pavilion will help our strength of schedule, but I doubt it does much for our record.

Unfortunately, Florida lost to Wisconsin on the road 59-53.  This was a bad matchup for the Gators, they have trouble with teams that can grind it out in the halfcourt.  Florida will bounce back and contend for the SEC.  Xavier went on the road and beat Tennessee, 67-63.  This is an RPI neutral game for us since we play both teams, but UT is a solid team, so that home game against the Musketeers looks even more challenging now.  Mizzou picked up a solid 72-59 win over Southern Illinois.

Texas Tech went to 2-0 with a 20 point win over Northern Arizona.  They haven't played anyone yet, but have been impressive in their wins.  Tubby will have them much improved over last year.

Oklahoma won 95-82 over North Texas, North Florida got a 2 point win on the road at Arkansas-Little Rock, Texas A&M won 91-67 over Mississippi Valley State, and 16th ranked Wichita State took care of business 66-49 against Western Kentucky.

Know Your Enemy- Texas Tech

Tubby Smith brings his 2-0 Red Raiders into Tuscaloosa for the return matchup from our trip to Lubbock last year where we held off a really bad squad for the road win.

Texas Tech beat Houston Baptist on 11/8 and Northern Arizona on 11/11. Make of those wins as you will.

Season stats
Below are some stats if you don't feel like looking at the link above:
- FG: 51.9%
- 3pt FG: 38.5%
- FT: 62.5%
- Rebound margin: +9.5

Snippet from MS's November preview of Texas Tech:

Texas Tech - Thursday, November 14th - Alabama returns to Tuscaloosa for their home opener against another Big 12 school in Texas Tech. It's a return trip for Tech after Bama traveled to Lubbock a year ago. ESPN decided to be lazy and shoehorned it into the SEC/Big 12 Challenge slate of games. Tech made one of the more interesting coaching hires of the offseason by plucking Tubby Smith following Smith's head-scratching firing at Minnesota on the heels of an NCAA appearance in which Smith led his team to a first round win over UCLA before losing to Florida. It is the hope in Lubbock that Tubby will bring some much needed momentum to a program that hasn't had much to cheer about since Bobby Knight retired in 2008.
The biggest challenge for Bama could be the inside trio of Jaye Crockett, Jordan Tolbert and Dejan Kravic, who totaled 30.5 ppg and 17.3 rpg last season. Also of note is Dusty Hannahs, a 6'4 guard who will be Tech's primary deep threat. The most important newcomer appears to be a JC recruit, Robert Turner, who is slated to be the starting PG. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tubby Smith - his teams are usually well-prepared and give great effort - but this Tech team is projected to finish near the bottom of the Big 12 and probably needs a couple of good recruiting classes before it makes a significant jump in their conference.

It's early, but it looks like Tubby is rotating 10 guys in with no one so far logging more than 30 minutes a game.

I don't have a real feel for this game. In theory we should win because talent-wise we are better and it is a home game, but I suspect a crowd not much bigger than the neutral site OU game to be in Coleman so is that really home court advantage? If Releford (and the rest of the team) can stay out of foul trouble and we can find someone to hit the occasional 3 ball I say we win by 8. If not, I could see Tech pulling the upset. I'm going to be positive and go with the 8 point win.

Game time on 11/14 is 9PM EST (8PM CST) on ESPN2. Plenty of tickets available for the game so if you're in or around town I think the team would appreciate your support.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Schedule Preview - February/March

Concluding the 13-14 schedule preview. I meant to have this done before the season began. My apologies for the delay.

Tennessee - Saturday, February 1st - The Vols have received a lot of love coming into the season. In fact, Tennessee just missed the cut for the latest AP and Coaches polls. Many media outlets have named them as a legitimate contender with Florida and Kentucky in the SEC.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Oklahoma 82 Bama 73

First of all, I apologize for the delay in posting a recap.  I did not make it to Dallas, so I watched it on TV at a sports bar in Tuscaloosa, and with the football game and everything else going on this weekend, rehashing the painful details of this game was pretty low on the priority list.

The first big surprise came with the starting lineup.  I speculated that we may go small, but I was shocked that Algie Key got the start.  I was even more shocked that he played so well, scoring over 20 points and actually making a few jump shots.  That just goes to show you can take everything posted on this blog with a grain of salt, the little bit of him I saw in practice and at the exhibition game led me to believe he would be a limited role player for us at best.  The rest of the starting lineup was Releford, Retin, Cooper, and Jacobs.

We jumped out to a 26-10 lead, but unfortunately my concerns about the new rules and our lack of depth proved to be justified.  When Releford went to the bench with 2 fouls, we had no other real scoring options and OU slowly but surely chipped away at the lead.  Retin picked up 3 fouls in the first half, and many of these calls came with very little contact.  We ended up with Levi running the point the last few minutes of the first half, and while the 16 point lead completely evaporated, we were still in the game.

When Releford came back into the game, he did not play as well.  We had several unforced turnovers and mental mistakes that cost us dearly.  There was an inexplicable lane violation on a free throw in the second half when we were actually still in the game.  The foul trouble also forced us to switch to a zone defense for much of the second half, and the Sooners made us pay with their talented back court by knocking down some crucial 3 point shots.

The rebounding numbers ended up close to even, but it sure seemed like Oklahoma was able to get more 2nd chance opportunities.  The offense looked bad when Releford was not in the game.  I know we went with a smaller lineup most of the night, but Carl played 6 minutes while Jimmie Taylor only played 3.  In my opinion Taylor should be playing more and Carl less.

This was a winnable game, but foul trouble did us in, and we need somebody else (other than Algie, who played well) to step up and help Releford.  Releford is not going to be able to carry us every game.  We really need more consistency out of Cooper, but he was a brick mason from the perimeter.

Up next, our old friend Tubby Smith will bring his Texas Tech Raiders to Tuscaloosa for an 8 pm tipoff Thursday night.  It will be televised on ESPN2, in case you are in need of a cure for insomnia.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Know your enemy- Oklahoma Sooners

Edit- More info on OU.

Game time is 5PM EST on Fox Sports Network (FSN) Southwest.

Exhibition summary:
They beat Washburn on 11/2 104-72. Details here.
On 11/4 they struggled to beat Oklahoma Christian 88-76. They trailed 41-38 at the half.
In those 2 games they were 21/48 from 3 and 68/129 overall from the field. Rebounding they were +4 and +16 and altogether 35/43 from the charity stripe.

Good news is they're a smallish team with only one player taller than 6'8 (and only comes in for spells) so this is a good matchup for us. Do I think we win? Nope, but I suspect it'll be close with very few 8 point gaps in the game.

I'm going to go about this a little differently than in years' past. Since MS did such an outstanding job in his preview posts by months I'm going to c/p his for each game in addition to my mind-numbing stats and predictions with injury updates if needed.. Also, I'll do what I can to find interviews and such.

Let's start with this interview with Lon Kruger from the OU SBNation site.

Next- Copy and Paste from a preview posted last month by MS:

Oklahoma - Friday, November 8th - Alabama kicks off the 2013-14 season with a real challenge in the Oklahoma Sooners. This game is part of the Tip-Off Showcase in Dallas at the American Airlines Center. It's also a concerted effort by college basketball to tip off its season with a little more fanfare, similar to the handful of high profile college football games that put a little zest into its opening weekend.

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger enters his third season in Norman. In his second season, he guided the program to the NCAA tournament. With this accomplishment, Kruger became the first coach in D-1 history to take five different programs to the tournament. While this achievement proves Kruger's worth as a basketball coach, it also proves that his career has been quite nomadic. Oklahoma probably isn't his final stop, but as long as he keeps guiding teams to the tournament, he'll be welcomed by AD's with open arms.

Returning to the tournament this season could be tricky for the Sooners as they lost four of their top six scorers, while also welcoming in seven newcomers. The backbone of this Oklahoma team will lay in its backcourt, highlighted by four returning guards in Cameron Clark (6'7, 209 lb), Isaiah Cousins (6'4, 181), Buddy Hield (6'4, 200) and Je'lon Hornbreak (6'4, 186). Add incoming freshman Frank Booker (6'4, 201), expected to be a contributor, and that's quite a size advantage for Oklahoma in its backcourt. With the size, experience and talent that Oklahoma has at the position, it won't be surprising if Kruger chooses to go with a 4-guard line-up most nights.

The frontcourt has question marks, but there are certainly possibilities. Leading the way will be Ryan Spangler, a 6'8, 230 lb forward that transferred from Gonzaga. Other key guys could be D.J. Bennett (6'8, 202), who redshirted last season, and JC transfer, Keshaun Hamilton (6'10, 270). This team might be at its most vulnerable early as Kruger sorts out his roster. It's a great opportunity for Bama to notch a quality win that may look very good in March.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Game by Game Season Predictions

Just for fun, I thought I would look at the schedule and predict the outcome of each game. I think we usually do this every year, and I'm notoriously awful at it, but here goes.

Oklahoma (Dallas) W- A young but decent team that will be very well coached.  This "neutral" site, will be more like a road game.  Nevertheless, I'm going with a W, but could see it going either way.

Texas Tech- W, in the most boring game in the history of college basketball.  Tubby's defense will shut us down, but they won't have enough offense to beat us at home.  This game may not get out of the 30s.

Stillman (NIT)- W.
Georgia St (NIT)-W.-  Note, I'm predicting GSU beats McNeese State.  I'm picking us to win, but this one worries me.

Duke (NIT, NYC)- L.  Conventional wisdom says the better team wins, but this isn't an awful matchup for us.  Duke is more athletic than they've been in recent years, but they may struggle early before they put it all together.

Rutgers (NIT consolation game, NYC)- W.  Both games in NY will feel like a road game, but I think we are the better team.  Note, if we play Arizona for some reason, I think we get killed.  I'm predicting 1-1 in NY either way.

North Florida. W
Charleson Southern- W
Wichita State- L
Xavier- W  In 2 tough games back to back, I think we get one of them at home.
@USF- W, A game nobody will watch because the SEC Championship game is going on.
@ UCLA- L.  Long travel, road game against a decent team.  I hope I'm wrong because I'm going to this game.
Robert Morris- W, but could be a trap game.
Vandy- W
@UGA- W.  Fox's days are numbered in Athens.
m$u- W.
@Mizzou- L.  Could see this going either way though.
Florida -L  Really hope I'm wrong here, Coach Grant needs to get over this hurdle, and it's not likely to happen in Gainesville.
LSU- L.  The Tigers are going to surprise some people this year.
@auburn- W.  After last year...Never again.
Tennessee-W We always play well against them, this will be considered a mild upset.
@Arkansas- L.  I think the Hogs finally start showing some life this year
@Florida - L.  They are our new Vandy, except they are always good.
Ole Miss- W, but this could go either way.  I'm thinking Eminem is back in jail by this point though.
@South Carolina. W.  Martin will have them improving, but we get the win.
@aTm, W. Could go either way though.
Mizzou- W, Haith's seat is on fire
@ Ole Miss. L.  We don't win in Oxford.
auburn- W.  Best crowd of the year, but everyone leaves after halftime.
@ Kentucky. L(ol)
Arkansas. W- Could go either way, but Releford refuses to lose on senior night.

9-3 going into conference play (given our schedule, that would be fantastic.) 11-7 in SEC play for a 20-10 overall record.  Win a game or 2 in the SEC tournament and we are in as a 9-10 seed thanks to a strong RPI.

Bama Beats Big Bad Wolves, 65-64 (OT)

Yes, we had to go to overtime to beat a division II team.  There are certainly some things from this game that concern me, but I caution against being too upset about the close outcome of these exhibition types of games.  There have been teams in recent memory that have lost exhibition games to Division II teams and went on to have good NCAA tournament runs.  Remember, just 2 years ago we needed 2 overtimes to beat UAH and we eventually went on to make the tournament that season.  These games are an opportunity for a program defining win for the visitors, and are little more than a meaningless scrimmage for the home team.  That being said, I don't believe the West Georgia team is on the same level as that UAH bunch from 2 years ago.

The starting lineup was Releford, Retin, Coop, Jacobs, and Carl.  This was also the lineup we used to start the 2nd half, and also during crunch time at the end of the game.  Releford had a great game, but frankly, he didn't have much help.  Whenever he came out of the game, the offense went stagnant.  We really need someone else to step up and be a legit scoring option, this is where I am afraid we are missing Trevor Lacey.  Retin showed some promise toward the end of last season, but he did not play very well in this game.  He played well on defense and made his free throws, but he had trouble with pressure and made some bad decisions with the basketball.  He did have one great play where he blocked a dunk attempt on a 3 on 1 break, he was rightfully called for the foul, but it was still an impressive play.  Algie Key simply does not look ready right now.  His quickness and speed is evident, and he even showed an impressive vertical when snagging a rebound, but his shot is AWFUL and he telegraphs his passes.  I am hopeful that Shannon Hale can develop into an outside shooting threat, even at his size playing the 3 and 4, he has a very good looking shot.  He seemed to play well when he first came into the game, but then got lost defensively a couple of times and was indecisive on offense.  I would like to see us run some pick and pop plays to get him some looks from the elbow area.    I do see a lot of potential in both Hale and Jimmie Taylor.

Speaking of Jimmie Taylor, there is no doubt in my mind he should be starting over Carl right now.  His instincts, athleticism, and basketball IQ are already much ahead of Carl, who is having to re-learn some things after his injury.  While he only scored one basket, he had 7 blocked shots in 20 minutes of play, and it's not like he was completely lost on offense either, we just didn't make much of an effort to get him the ball. I would like to see him improve his rebounding, I think sometimes he goes after the block too far away from the basket instead of just trying to affect the shot and block out.

Which brings me to my other big concern:  we were bigger than them at every position on the floor, but was badly out-rebounded.  At one point, according to the ribbon board, they had 27 offensive rebounds to our 7, but the official box score shows the final count as 22-6.  The problem, is that despite losing the weight and getting a little quicker in the post, Nick Jacobs still can't jump.  Carl might be the least physical 7 footer I have ever seen, half of the time rather than going up with 2 hands to try to catch the ball on a rebound, he just tries to swat it in the general direction of a teammate.  As mentioned above, Jimmie Taylor is a human windmill, the blocks are fun to watch but when he misses, he's not in position to get the rebound.  One of our bigs really needs to make rebounding a priority.

We pressed for a bit in the first half and again later in the game, but we seemed more interested in changing defensive sets at regular intervals.  We opened up in a halfcourt man to man that we ran most of the game, but we switched to a 2-3 zone later in the second half and also ran some 1-3-1 halfcourt trap in the second half.  As I said, we used a lot of different lineups, and I think the coaching staff was wanting to experiment with some different things.  I doubt we will see Dakota Slaughter play 10 minutes Friday.  Levi did not dress out, getting him back will obviously help.

We were down 8 with under 6 minutes to play, but the starters were able to bring us back and take 1 point lead with 30 seconds left in the game.  We had a foul to give, but chose not to use it, and UWG made a wide open 3 in the corner to give them a 2 point lead with 7 seconds remaining.  We opted not to call a timeout, and Releford took it coast to coast and drew a foul with 2 seconds remaining, and knocked down the clutch free throws to send the game into overtime.  We built a 5 point lead in overtime, and was able to hold on thanks to Releford and Retin making their free throws.

Congrats to the team for stepping it up and finding a way to win.  Also, I give UWG a lot of credit, they were out-sized and over matched, but they kept their cool even after shooting a number of air balls early in the game, and were not intimidated.  They played with great chemistry and I was very impressed with their ball movement on offense and they were very scrappy on defense.

It was a very small, quiet crowd, probably less than 1,000, with about 50 or so UWG fans, including their cheerleaders, in attendance.  As I was leaving my car a student asked me, "is there a basketball game tonight?"  I won't rehash the subject again, but am merely citing this as further evidence to my numerous previous posts regarding the marketing of this program.

Up next, we travel to Dallas to take on the Oklahoma Sooners at 4 pm. CST this Friday.  The game will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest, so you'll likely need the sports package to get it.  I'm not going to be able to make it to Dallas, but hope to find it on TV.