Monday, December 30, 2013

Bruins Bruise Bama 75-67

I apologize if this post seems even more disjointed than normal.  I am throwing it together on my flight home, and dealing with Southwest Wifi connection issues plus trying to finish it up before my battery dies.

Another close game, another loss.  Releford didn't start, apparently due to missing his flight back from KC after the holiday break.  I have mixed feeling about Grant's handling of the situation.  I could see just making him run more in practice or something, but moreso it's disappointing that our senior leader would make such a mistake.  He's been suspended or otherwise subjected to discipline every year he's been here, but in fairness each infraction has been relatively minor in nature.  As a result of his suspension, Shannon Hale cracked the starting lineup.  We also started Carl again for whatever reason.  It's a little concerning that we are almost to conference play and still don't seem to have a settled starting lineup.

Releford made up for his transgressions by nearly winning the game for us single-handedly. He scored 34 points and made some incredible shots down the stretch to keep us in the game.  Unfortunately, it was the same story as every other game against a decent opponent this year.  We missed some key free throws and more importantly couldn't get a defensive rebound in crucial possessions late in the game, leading to another loss.

As great as Releford played, his stats are a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, it was a remarkable performance and you have to appreciate his effort.  On the other hand, I felt like he tried to do too much late in the game.  While he made some circus shots and made couple of 3's with hands in his face, his decision making indicated that he lacked confidence in his teammates.  I have no problem with that, I lack confidence in his teammates too, and judging by their body language and own shot selection, Relly's teammates even lack confidence in themselves right now.  To some degree, Releford's great performance was a symptom of a larger team problem right now.

The substitution pattern, beyond the wacky starting lineup, I thought made more sense in this game. Shannon Hale scored 9 points and 9 rebounds, and despite starting, Carl only saw the court for 5 minutes, and Jimmie Taylor was allowed to play long enough to grab 6 boards in 22 minutes.  We only got 2 rebounds between Nick and Carl, that's not going to cut it.

For those who have been on Coach Grant about not being animated enough, he was more emotional in this game than I have ever seen him.  There were a couple of occasions where I thought he would pick up a technical foul arguing with the officials.  From my point of view, most of the calls he argued so adamantly appeared to be good calls.  While there were a couple of blown calls as with all basketball games, overall I thought it was a fairly well officiated game.

The last call that Coach Grant was extremely upset about was in the final minute after we called our last timeout.  UCLA was at the line, and when we got the ball, Rodney Cooper drove in against 3 bigger Bruins in the paint.  Whatever contact there was, it looked like it was mostly initiated by Coop.  The bigger issue in my opinion is why, out of a timeout, our "play" is seemingly to have Coop just drive to the basket come hell or high water, regardless of the circumstances?  Even if he somehow got a shot on the rim in that situation, we didn't even have anybody else down there to get the rebound.

It's frustrating that this team continues to show just enough to get your hopes up every game, when we tied it around the one minute mark I actually thought, "maybe, just maybe, this time will be different.  Maybe Relly can do it by himself."  Nope.

Pauley Pavilion seats about 15,000, and their crowd was not very good considering the history of that program.  I would estimate maybe 9,000 or so were there.  Similar to our games, there were more people in the 200 level, due to their ridiculous pricing structure.  I paid $50 for my ticket, and that got me a seat on the very top row, but I was able to sneak down into the top row of the 100 level at halftime.  The pics above were taken from my respective seats.  From the top row, the ceiling is very low and you can't see the boards that show the stats.   Lower level tickets had a face value of up to $250.  I was surprised that I didn't see a single person scalping tickets outside of the arena.  I was pleasantly surprised by the number of Bama fans there, I would guess we had close to 500, with at least a smattering of crimson in every section.

The atmosphere was eerily quiet for most of the game.  The Bruin fans really didn't get loud at all until the last minute, which was the only time in the game than anybody other than the student section stood up.  They don't seem as passionate as the fans of the other blue blood schools that I've encountered, but they were all very knowledgeable.  They were also very gracious hosts and there were no negative comments or trash talk whatsoever.

One thing I will miss when the inevitable happens and Anthony Grant is no longer our coach, he at least schedules away games and tournaments in desirable locales.   While I'm generally not a huge fan of LA as a whole, I had a good time in Santa Monica, drove up to Malibu, and enjoyed the pool at my hotel in Beverly Hills (the scenery there was exponentially better than the Buffalo convention in Tampa a couple of weeks ago).  The pic above is the best I could do with my cell phone, but if you look closely you can see a couple of whales off the coast of Malibu.

Up next, Robert Morris Colonials come to Tuscaloosa for a 4:30 pm tipoff next Saturday.  The game will be televised on CSS.  Happy New Year.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Know Your Enemy- @ UCLA Bruins

Game is December 28th at 10PM EST (9PM CST) on ESPN2. From what I understand Bill Walton will be calling the game so we should expect him to call this down the middle with ZERO bias.

(Okay, got that out of the way)

First, a preview from UCLA.
Next, season stats.

UCLA comes in 10-2 with no real big wins of note (they did beat Drexel though) and losses to Duke in MSG (we played them closer) and @ Missouri. Their high powered offense drops 86.4 PPG while allowing 70.2. They are 8-0 at home this year.

Jordan Adams is leading the way @ 18.9 PPG shooting 50.7% from the field and 84.1% from the free throw line. He is also pulling in roughly 5 boards a game. Adams is a 6'5" sophomore guard who gives us some matchup problems. I assume Levi or Rodney take turns defending him.

Kyle Anderson drops 14.7 PPG to go with almost 9 boards and leads the team in assists at 6.67 a game. He is a 6'9" F that has played the guard position some this year. Again, another matchup problem as we don't have guards that can match his size and don't have big men that can keep up. This one worries me more.

They also have the Wear twins (you remember them from their cup of coffee at UNC). David starts and is 2nd on the team in FG percentage at 57.6%. Travis has started the last 3 games and has been less effective, but is the better FT shooter of the 2 (9/9 vs 13/18). Both are 6'10" and both play roughly 20 minutes a game.

Zach LaVine and Norman Powell also average double digits in scoring (12.8 and 11.0) Zach comes off the bench and is an accomplished shooter (55% FG/42.9% 3pt FG). Powell also shoots over 50% (57.5%).

Tony Parker was starting, but now comes off the bench. He's shooting almost 60% from the field. He's a 6'9" F/C. If you noticed UCLA has a lot of height.

I'm not sold on UCLA being a very good team (they did drop out of the rankings after getting dominated by Duke), but it's a road game and I see a lot of matchup issues. Unless we get hot from the perimeter (which I haven't seen yet) I see UCLA dominating us inside and winning comfortably.

I do not know if DJC made his way out there. If he did, I hope he took some time to enjoy Santa Monica and maybe walk around the UCLA campus. It will be the highlight of the trip.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

State of the RPI - Christmas Eve Style

Well, it ain't good. After another bone-crushing defeat, this time at the hands of Xavier, Alabama has fallen to 5-6 on the season. The general consensus here at the blog is that the season is, to put it nicely, over. Bama currently finds itself with a triple digit RPI, and they are drifting dangerously close to becoming an RPI buster instead of an asset.

And, yet, it's the time of miracles. Would we be remiss to not wish, hope and pray for a Christmas miracle where it concerns our beloved Crimson Tide? When all is said and done, fans only care about the W/L record. That is what shapes the perception of a team. However, it should be stressed that with a bounce of the ball here, a bounce of the ball there and a bounce of the ball everywhere, this Bama team could easily be 9-2/8-3 at this juncture with a different kind of light shining on them altogether.

Perhaps the inspiration of jolly old St. Nick is flowing through me (it could also be the booze), but I see twenty games left on the regular season schedule. And perhaps I've been encouraged by the ghosts of Bama basketball's past, who remind me of 2010-11. That Bama team struggled to a 5-6 record before winning 15 of their final 19 regular season games. I don't have the patience to go that far back in the blog archives, but I would bet a few of us considered the season toast after that 5-6 start.

For Alabama to perform a similar miracle, they must figure out how to make the right play during winning time. They have struggled with that up to this point. But basketball is a fickle game. That's why you can be #1 at one point in a season and barely make the postseason at a later point. Pardon me for those of you who discount the law of averages, but at some point the scales must tip in the favor of our beloved Crimson Tide.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Xavier 77 Bama 74. Season over.

Same stuff, different day, another close game that we let slip away.  Our substitution patterns made no sense to me.  Shannon Hale scores 14 points in 13 minutes then sits on the bench the whole second half.  I understand his defense is not ideal, but we really could have used his shooting against the zone.  This is just another example of how we put way too much emphasis on defense to the detriment of our ability to score.  

Our interior defense and rebounding was pathetic.  Xavier is not known for their post play, but their front court killed us.  We played decent defense on the perimeter, holding them to 5 of 15 from 3 point range, but we got killed on the offensive boards.  Nick Jacobs is obviously still bothered by his shoulder, and Carl isn't physical enough to actually block anybody out.  I wish we would have gave Jimmie Taylor more of a chance in the 2nd half.  

What bothered me most about this game is the fact that nobody, not the players, coaches, or the fans in the stands seemed to appreciate what was on the line.  To have any realistic chance of getting into the NCAA tournament discussion, we had to win this game and hope to pull off an upset in LA to turn things around.  I did not see that sense of urgency from our guys. Conversely, you can see in their eyes that they are scared of losing these games now.  This team has no confidence that they can win a close game.  Even when we were up 10, I never thought we were going to win the game.

Xavier is a good defensive team, and it is difficult to score on them in the half court.  I don't understand why we did not press or run some 1-3-1 half court trap that we've been successful with this season to try to force some turnover and get into transition and create a more uptempo game.  We were forced to play somewhat conservatively due to foul trouble, Nick and Releford played much of the 2nd half with 4 fouls and Carl fouled out.  

Free throws hurt us once again.  As noted above, we foul a lot, and Xavier made their free throws, despite being one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country coming into the game.  On the other hand, we only made 20 of 30 and once again choked at the line late.  

I think it's time to reconsider our goals for the season.  This team isn't anywhere close to being an NCAA tournament team.  We are now playing for a winning record and an NIT bid.  That's not going to be an easy task; we are looking at a 6-7 record going into league play. Looking at the SEC schedule, I see at least 5 sure losses.  Assuming we don't steal any against Mizzou, Florida, or Kentucky, we would need to go 10-3 against the rest of the conference. 

There was another heated exchange on the sideline between Coach Grant and Coach Brannen.  I am starting to believe that those two are not seeing eye to eye.  It's also interesting to note that Trevor Lacey was in attendance for this game, and was seen hanging out with several current players in the parking lot about 4 hours before tipoff.  

Despite the dirt cheap tickets, it being a holiday weekend with no students around and severe weather looming kept most fans away.  I would estimate around 3,500 in the house, including about 200 or so Xavier fans.  The atmosphere was dead and lame for most of the night.  I know it's somewhat hypocritical of me to complain about the fans who actually show up, but we had the most annoying people imaginable sitting near us.  First, there was the lady who screamed the whole game, when Xavier had the ball it was "No No No" on every pass, dribble, shot, etc, and when we had the ball it was "Yes Yes Yes, there it is!" (even if it was a contested, off balance jump shot at the end of the shot clock.)  Then we had the people who inexplicably believed Carl Engstrom to be the second coming of Michael Jordan.  They screamed at coach to put him in every time he came out, and cheered wildly for every little thing he did.  Their basketball knowledge was lacking, to say the least.  Finally there was a group of about a dozen or so teenagers who were cheering obnoxiously for Xavier, I'm not sure if they were related to some of Xavier's players or if they were local auburn kids taking advantage of the $1 tickets.  

I am going to continue going to games to support the players.  They are working hard, and I appreciate their contributions to our University.  That being said, I don't blame anyone who chooses to spend their time and money on other things at this point.  Furthermore, these recaps are likely going to get much shorter, and maybe even non-existent in the near future.  Frankly, writing basically the same thing about loss after loss is getting depressing.

Up next, we go across the country to historic Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles to take on the UCLA Bruins.  Tip off is set for 7 p.m. PST (9pm Central) and will be televised on ESPN2.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.  

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Know Your Enemy- Xavier Musketeers

This one will be short and sweet since I'm remote.

Preview from Xavier site
Season stats

Leading scorer: Semaj Christon at 15.5 a game. He was the A-10 rookie of the year last season. Christon is their version of Trevor Releford.
Matt Stainbrook grabs 8.5 boards. He's a 6'10 junior transfer from Western Michigan
Myles Davis is shooting 47.3% from beyond the arc.

Xavier has 7 averaging 20 minutes per game, 10 logging more than 13 minutes. They are also a defensive minded club at 63.5 PPG (score 73.8).

Better than average FG percentage and 3pt shooting... lousy FT with a +5.9 rebound margin.

Upside- this is the first true road game of the year.
Upside 2- haven't played in a week (hope for rust).
Downside- winners of 3 straight

Prediction- I have no idea... whoever gets up by 10 probably wins.

Game time is 7PM EST (6PM CST) on CSS and ESPN3. Tickets are like a buck for kids under 18. I hope we have a decent crowd to support the team. Only students that MIGHT attend are those local to Tuscaloosa.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

One in the Stink, Shockers 72 Tide 67

With the game on the line, we played like the pink, and now our season is in the stink.  The team played hard and battled, but didn't make the plays in crunch time and lost yet another close but winnable game to drop to 5-5 on the year.

I thought we were tight to start the game.  We had several turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game, and Wichita State was able to beat us back down the court for some easy baskets to build a 7-0 lead.  Cecil Hurt tweeted that we had 10 turnovers in the first 10 minutes, but according to ESPN's box score we only had 9 at halftime, and the official box score showed us only having 9 for the entire game.  Regardless, the point is we were sloppy with the ball early, but once we settled down we did a much better job of holding onto the ball.  Most of the early turnovers were the result of our forwards losing it on the drive or the bigs not catching the ball or making bad passes. 

Releford had a great game in his return.  He only had one turnover, and his 22 points kept us in the game.  We were able to scrap back from the early deficit and trailed by only 1 going into halftime.

Wichita State is not significantly more talented than us.  They aren't bigger, and aren't really any faster or more athletic overall.  They won this game with their physical and mental toughness.  Whenever we would make a run or even take the lead, with the crowd into the game, they did not stay rattled for long.  They shot a ridiculous 92% from the free throw line, and while we shot a respectable 73.7%, we were only 6 of 10 in the second half and we missed some crucial ones down the stretch.

Physically, their front court plays a lot bigger than their size.  We had no answer for Cleanthony Early.  Cooper did the best he could on him when he was in the game, but Early was just too big for him.  He was too quick for Nick and too strong for Taylor.  When we tried to front him, our backside defense was too slow to help.  When we switched to a zone, we couldn't block him out.

I also thought Wichita State did a much better job of adjusting to the way the game was being officiated.  It was obvious that any contact in the press would be called a block on the defense.  So, the Shockers stopped pressing, and their ball handlers would initiate the slightest contact whenever we tried to trap and draw the foul call.  Towards the end of the first half we were getting to the line on our dribble drive, and I think Gregg Marshall picked up on the fact that we often weren't in the best position to score when we were drawing the fouls, and I noticed in the second half they started backing off and letting us shoot contested shots rather than going for the blocks in the paint.

I did not like the way this game was called, but again, we should have made some adjustments.  One play that sticks out in my mind is when a Shocker jumped to catch a pass and fell over, landing on what appeared to me to be a stationary Releford, and Relly was called for the foul.  Of course, if Relly just gets out of the way when he sees the guy falling down, it probably would have been a travel.

Also, the officials were preoccupied with our bench for some reason.  They warned the transfers a couple of times about standing up during play, as they are prone to do, and actually issued a bench warning on us.  Then late in the game one of the officials inexplicably came over and yelled at Coach Grant's son, who was sitting behind the bench minding his own business.

With about 3 minutes to go, Releford missed a free throw that would have tied the game.  That was his only miss from the charity stripe from the night, but it came at a bad time.  He made up for it by coming up with a huge steal at the other end, and passed the ball to an open Retin on the break.  Retin missed the layup, perhaps expecting contact that never came, and the Shockers beat us back down the court for an open dunk to stretch the lead to 3.  To me, that was the key sequence in the game, and pretty much sums up how this season is going.  The other big play at the end came when the Shockers got 3 opportunities in the final minute to prevent us from having the ball only down 1.

Cooper had a good game, and I would like to see him back in the starting lineup again soon.  He was 2 for 4 from beyond the arc and our second leading scorer with 14 points, but he did miss the front end of a big one and one late in the game.

Forget the NCAA/RPI ramifications for a moment, and see my paragraph in the recap to the Duke game talking about how this was a blown opportunity for the program.  This was another such blown opportunity.  Looking at the big picture, I said we need to win 2 of the next 3 going into this game.  That's still mathematically possible, but seems rather improbable at this point.  We are 5-5, and have 3 non-conference games left.  One of those could go either way, one is a "should win," and the other is likely a loss.  We are looking at either 6-7 or 7-6 going into conference play, and when you consider we play Mizzou twice, Florida twice, and @Kentucky, we can't afford to lose to many of the mid-tier teams if we hope to finish above .500.  We are looking more like an NIT bubble team than an NCAA bubble team, as a winning record is a prerequisite for the NIT.  Again, our schedule gives us plenty of opportunities to get back into the NCAA discussion, but 0-5 in big games isn't going to cut it.

The crowd was better than it has been, but still not what I would hope for a game of this magnitude.  I would estimate around 7,500 or so.  There were probably 300 or so Wichita State fans scattered throughout.  Despite the lack of students, it was a loud and enthusiastic crowd for the most part.   I don't think this game would have been as close in their house or on a neutral court.

Up next, the Xavier Musketeers come in Saturday night in a must-win game for Bama.  Tip-off is at 6 p.m. and will be televised on CSS.  If you have kids, ages 18 and under can get in for a dollar.  Xavier is 8-3, splitting games with Tennessee and losing in OT to Iowa and by 6 to USC on a neutral court.  This will be their first true road game.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Know Your Enemy- Wichita State Shockers

As DJC alluded to below... this is the 2nd HIGHEST RANKED NON-CONFERENCE TEAM to play at Coleman. I so wish I could make the trip, but at this late juncture probably couldn't find anyone to go to the game with (if I could get the day job cleared early). I hope there is a solid crowd... if not, we REALLY need to revisit having more OOC games in Bham.

Anyways, the Shockers are 10-0 with really no huge wins to note (they beat UTK at home 70-61). They do have 2 true road wins @ Tulsa and St Louis (drilled Tulsa, squeaked by STL).


The Shockers have four averaging 10 PPG or better led by Ron Baker at 14.6. He's a 6'3" guard that looks half surfer dude/half IT geek. regardless he's efficient and we need to keep an eye on him as he's their best 3 point shooter (with more than a handful of attempts). Cleanthony Early leads the team in boards and is 2nd at 14.2 PPG. For a 'big guy' (6'8") his FG% isn't that great (.432). Tekele Cotton and Fred VanVleet drop 11.2 PPG with Cotton 2nd in boards and VanVleet technically being their best 3pt shooter (10-20 for the season).

In 3 of their last 4 games the Shockers have trailed at the half. Also of note is Wichita St isn't overly enamored with the 3 ball as roughly 31% of their shots come from beyond the arc. They average 77.6 PPG while giving up 60.4.

- .458 FG
- .331 3pt FG
- +8 rebound margin (THIS ONE WORRIES ME)
- Only 10 turnovers/game

My keys to the game:
- Get Jacobs involved early in the offense
- Have another shooter emerge tonight beside Releford (Cooper- I'm looking at you)
- Rebound, rebound, REBOUND!

I suspect this game will be in the low 60s which sort of favors us, but note that the Shockers play good D. I'd like to gump and say we SHOCK THE WORLD, but my brain tells me otherwise.

Game is at 9PM EST (8 CST) on ESPNU. If you are in the Bham/Tuscaloosa area try to make it out there to support the team. Tickets are available for as little as $8. See DJC's post below on the link.

Monday, December 16, 2013

State of the RPI

The next two weeks are going to be very big for Alabama basketball in regards to its postseason resume. The Tide only plays three games in that span, but all three opponents are currently ranked in the RPI top 75. It presents the last opportunity for Alabama to notch some impact wins before conference play begins. Should Alabama fail to win at least one of these games, they will once again find themselves having to finish in the top three in conference play to have any real shot at securing a bid to the NCAA tournament.

Alabama's RPI currently sits at 96. Despite the lackluster 5-4 start to the season, an improved schedule has kept Bama in the top 100. Three out of Bama's four losses would currently be considered "good" losses (a loss to teams in the top 100 is typically not considered a resume killer, assuming you don't have a plethora of them). Oklahoma (31) and Drexel (34) have maintained their spots in the RPI top 50 for now. Duke only sits at 69 currently, but ACC competition should improve that number. "Bad" losses are typically losses to teams ranked 150+. For that reason, the South Florida (156) loss still stings.

As you may have heard, Alabama has a two-game home-stand this week against Wichita State and Xavier. Wichita State is 11th in the latest AP poll and will be the second highest ranked non-conference opponent to play in Coleman ever. Wichita is also high in the RPI rankings at 12. Not only will it be an opportunity to beat a ranked opponent, but it will also be a chance for a high quality RPI win that could linger well into March. A loss isn't the worst thing from an RPI standpoint, but how many opportunities will Alabama have to play a top 15 RPI team in Coleman this season? This is the epitome of a big game.

On Saturday, Xavier will visit Tuscaloosa. The Musketeers currently sit at 59 in the RPI, fresh off a convincing win over their crosstown rival, Cincinnati. They also have a home win over Tennessee (The Vols did beat them in the Battle for Atlantis tournament). Once again, it will be an opportunity for Alabama to play a team in the top 100 of the RPI. Win both games in Coleman this week and Bama's RPI should receive a significant boost. Even winning one of the two would help the RPI, but Alabama desperately needs quality wins before the new year. This might be as big of a two-game stretch as Alabama has had under Anthony Grant.

Around the conference: Going into last weekend, the SEC was only 1-11 against ranked opponents. The conference got a boost in that regard when Missouri defeated UCLA and Florida defeated Kansas this past week. It also appears that a majority of the conference was listening in the summer when calls for improved non-conference scheduling were made. Six conference programs - Missouri (18), Arkansas (22), Florida (29), Ole Miss (42), Kentucky (46) and LSU (49) - all currently find themselves in the top 50 of the RPI. An additional four programs - South Carolina (78), Tennessee (89), Alabama and Vanderbilt (97) find themselves in the top 100. Hopefully this trend will continue. Better scheduling results in a stronger conference rating, and that has been the SEC's greatest foe in recent years when the committee meets.

The remaining teams have not scheduled as well and their RPI bears this out. Texas A&M (168), Mississippi State (210), Auburn (268) and Georgia (an egregious 315) have not done the conference any favors and will be viewed as must-wins in conference play in order to avoid a major RPI hit. Alabama will play a combined five games (three of them on the road) against these teams.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Banged up Bama Beats Bucs 59-45.

The good news is our defense played awesome, holding the highest scoring team in the country to less than half of their average.  The bad news is our half court offense looked even more inept than usual for most of the game, against a team not known for the defensive ability.

Algie Key got the start in favor of Releford who sat out with an aggravated hip injury.  Our bad offense is horrendous without him on the floor.  To make matters worse Nick Jacobs re-injured his shoulder and had to come out of the game.  He returned wearing a support, but it was obvious he was trying to play through a lot of pain.  He showed some toughness in getting to the line and making some big free throws for us in the second half.

First, the positives.  That was one of the best defensive efforts you will ever see.  We wore them down with the press and played great man to man defense in the half court.  Communication was excellent.  Even guys like Algie Key and Levi Randolph who didn't do much on the offensive end, never lose their man and did a great job of closing out on the perimeter.  Jimmie Taylor didn't allow them to establish anything in the paint.  The Bucs are a great 3 point shooting team and we held them to 4 of 17.

Retin Obasohan had a career day, and he continues to be the most exciting player to watch on the Tide.  With Releford out, it was imperative that Retin step up for us, and he did in a big way with 22 points, 6 steals, 9 rebounds, and a couple more ridiculous blocked shots.  He may not be the distributor or the shooter that Releford is, but he played his game and took care of the basketball, with only 2 turnovers, which is exactly what we needed.

Despite Retin's fantastic game, the MVP in my eyes was Rodney Cooper.  When we fell behind by 8 in the first 10 minutes of the game, it was Coop who scored the next 5 points to get us back in it.  We managed to take a 1 point lead into halftime, and then he made 3 straight 3-pointers about midway through the second half to stretch the lead to a comfortable 10 point margin.  While we never really put them away, they never seriously challenged us after that either.  Cooper has been going through an awful slump and had lost his starting job, but hopefully this game restored his confidence.  He probably won't go 4 from 7 from downtown every night, but a confident Rodney Cooper is capable of giving us over 10 pts per night, and we desperately need that.

It was an extremely ugly and frankly boring game at times.  The score was stuck at 33-29 for over 4 minutes of the second half.  CSU switched between a 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone, and we had no answer.  The basic primary ways of attacking a 2-3 zone defense are:

1) shoot over it.
2) Spread them out and create lanes to drive to the basket
3) Get the ball to a big man with good passing skills in the high post who can either shoot from the elbow or get the ball to your slashers
4) Quick ball reversal from the strong side to the weak side to get your 3 or 4 position an open look in the short corner.

Obviously, option 1 really isn't much of an option with our personnel, especially with Releford on the bench.  We simply aren't a great perimeter shooting team.  Also, if you have a dominant post player who you can get the ball to down low, you can collapse the zone and play inside-out for an open look.  Again, we simply don't have the personnel to do this, especially with Nick Jacobs on the bench.

All of the other 3 options have one thing in common:  They require good ball movement and spacing.  For the most part, I think we get pretty good spacing and our guys make an effort to move without the ball.  The biggest problem with our offense, in my opinion, is a lack of ball movement.  Part of this is likely due to the differentl lineups we have been forced to use throughout the year due to injuries and foul trouble.  The guys aren't used to playing with the same groups, and they don't have a good feel for what their teammates are going to do without the ball.  All of our guards and small forwards seem to take 3 seconds or so from the time they receive a pass to survey the situation and decide their next move.  This gives the zone defense time to recover back to their proper positions.  I have no idea what we do in practice, but I would like to see us run some drills that require the guys to make a correct decision within 1.5 seconds of catching the ball whether to shoot, pass, or dribble with a purpose to either attack the rim or create a passing lane.

It's worth noting that Coach Grant and Coach Brannen had a fairly heated exchange with around 15 minutes remaining in the game.  I could not quite make out what was said or figure out what it was about, but they both referred to their stat sheets and it was clear that Coach Grant was angry at Brannen for something, but Brannen was not backing down.  Their interactions did not seemed strained later in the game.  Sometimes it's good for an assistant to challenge the head coach on some things, and hopefully that was the case here as opposed to it being a sign of dissension among the staff.

It was a very subpar crowd with graduation ceremonies going on earlier in the day.  I would estimate no more than 3,000 there.  The atmosphere was especially dead with there being virtually no students there.  At the start of the game there was only one student sitting on the floor, a handful of others made their way down toward the end of the first half.  It's really unfortunate that arguably the two biggest home games of the year coming up will be played while the students are out for winter break.  I wish we would have scheduled one of these in Birmingham.

If we can somehow win 2 out of the next 3 (Wichita State, Xavier, @UCLA) we will be back to being reasonably within the conversation of having a chance to make the NCAA tournament.  Realistically, I fear we will be lucky to win 1 of the 3.

Up next, the 2nd highest ranked non-conference opponent EVER to play in Coleman Coliseum when the Shocker of Wichita State come in for an 8 p.m. tipoff Tuesday night.  This is a great chance to turn the season around.  They are 10-0 and coming off a win over Tennessee, and also have road wins at Tulsa and St. Louis.  THIS IS A HUGE GAME AND TICKETS ARE ONLY $8.  GET YOUR ASSES TO COLEMAN AND SUPPORT THIS TEAM!

Bama Bests Bucs

This was first visit to Coleman Coliseum this year and for the first 30 minutes of the game I was wishing I had stayed home.  The defense was good enough against the hottest scoring team in the country, but the half-court offense (if you can call it that) was painful to watch.  Poor Nick Jacobs could not get the ball to fall through the hoop to save his life, although he did hit a few free throws down the stretch.  We were.out rebounded by a smaller team playing a zone until the last 150 seconds of the game. Even The Crimson Cabaret looked out of synch and a bit out of shape.  Fortunately Obosohan had a career night and (I think it was) five offensive rebounds.  Rodney Cooper also broke his scoring drought and hit three shots outside the arc in the last ten minutes of the game to stretch the Tide's narrow lead.

Hopefully one of our regulars will chime in with some real insight.  I am having trouble typing on this iPad mini and am sleepy.  I shudder to think how tired I will be Tuesday night driving home from e Wichita State game.

Roll Tide!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Know Your Enemy- Charleston Southern

OUR 4-4 Crimson Tide host the 3-4 Buccaneers in a pivotal match-up. Okay, I'm using hyperbole now.

Charleston preview.
CS (abbreviating as I'm too lazy to type) is better than their record. Of their 4 losses, 2 were to ranked teams on the road (New Mexico and Baylor) and the others were close losses (UNC-Wilmington in OT and Delaware).

Season stats

This is a typical offense power vs defensive power match-up as CS averages 92.1 a game while we give up 67.8. In CS's 4 losses they average 78.8... we keep it in the low 70s and we win this one. If it gets in the 80s... we're in trouble.

CS has 5 averaging 10+ PPG led by Saah Nimbly at 15. He's a 5'8" guard that runs the offense and averages 6.3 assists/game, He's a better 3pt shooter than inside the arc. Matt Kennedy, Will Saunders, and Sheldon Strickland are also ones to watch outside as all of them are 45% or better beyond the arc (45, 54, 48). Cedric Bowen is an undersized, but effective forward who pulls in 5.3 boards to go with his 9.1 PPG. Arlon Harper is their other scorer, but to be honest his shooting stats kind of suck (40.4/32.0).

- 48.3% FG
- 41.7% 3pt FG
-  +4 rebound margin
- 74.6 FT

Obviously every non-conference game going forward is a MUST WIN for us if we are to dream (and it's a pipe dream right now) of making the NCAAT and this game will be a tough out. I wonder about the mindset of our team right now... losing 3 of 4 this early doesn't bode well. Will Anthony Grant gets the troops ready for this game or will we continue this slide? I'm going to be optimistic and say we win this one... by 4.

Tip-off is 8:30 PM EST (7:30 PM CST). Note this is a change as originally it was supposed to tip-off at 7PM CST. No TV for this one that I know of so you can either pay to watch it on or listen to it on the radio/internet.

Monday, December 09, 2013

State of the RPI

Now a month into the season, I'm going to track Alabama's RPI along with their opponents and the SEC as a whole. I will be lazy and go off the RPI rankings listed at the ESPN website. According to ESPN: "Joe Lunardi and his team of Bracketologists have replicated the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), used by the NCAA to help pick at-large teams and determine seeds for the NCAA Tournament. Lunardi & Co. update it daily, providing readers with the most comprehensive source of original data on all 347 Division I teams, available only on".

Despite the season getting off to a shaky 4-4 start, the decision to upgrade the non-conference schedule in the summer has proven to be advantageous. Perhaps even more so considering the way things have gone to this point. Entering the South Florida game on Saturday, Alabama had an RPI hovering in the low 100s. As of today, despite the loss to USF, their RPI has actually gone up to 97. Not great by any means, and if the selection committee released a bracket today, Alabama would not be on it. However, if Alabama can find a way to break through in some upcoming high profile games, they may be able to improve their RPI enough that the SEC slate will be more than anti-climatic.

Alabama maintaining a solid RPI despite their struggles is a direct reflection of playing teams with high RPIs: Oklahoma (27), Drexel (32) and Duke (their RPI is currently only 63, but will continue to rise with ACC play on the horizon). South Florida remains a bad RPI loss (the Bulls currently have an RPI of 177), but the hope is that multiple games against the likes of Louisville, Uconn, Memphis, Cincinnati and perhaps SMU will put USF, at worst, in the top 100 by season's end. This shows why non-conference scheduling is so important and why Alabama, and the SEC as a whole, must improve in this aspect. Even if you struggle early, you still leave yourself some wriggle room going into conference play. This would have served Alabama well in 2010-11 and last season when both teams won 12 conference games, yet were dragged down by bad RPI losses in the non-conference.

However, losses, even "good" losses, will not put a team in the tournament. With that in mind, Alabama must make good use of a December schedule that offers several great opportunities, but also pitfalls. First and foremost, they must win games such as Charleston Southern (currently 153 in the RPI) and Robert Morris (currently 257). A loss to either of these teams, especially at home, would be devastating. Secondly, they must find a way to break through with a trio of upcoming games against Wichita State (RPI: 17), Xavier (with an RPI of 96, Alabama needs to find a way at home to beat the Musketeers), and UCLA (RPI: 33). That is two (currently) top 50 RPI and a top 100 school in three games. But that is the future. What is most pressing for this team is to get a victory at home on Saturday against a scrappy Charleston Southern team that has been a top 50 team offensively, but not so great defensively. This Alabama team is better than their current record indicates, but they've got to start turning some of these losses into wins or it's not going to matter.

Once again, the SEC has not gotten off to a great start from a national perspective. SEC teams are just 1-11 (I need to verify that number) against ranked opponents so far this season. Even the bell cows of the conference (Kentucky and Florida) have struggled in their high profile match-ups. In Florida's case, injuries and suspensions have been a valid excuse. Meanwhile, UK fans have quickly forgotten about undefeated seasons and are simply coming to grips with how special the 2011-12 team really was.

Despite the struggles, the SEC currently has three teams (Arkansas, Missouri and Florida) in the top 50 of the RPI with two more (LSU and Ole Miss) on the fringes of the top 50. Alabama will play four of those five teams twice in league play. Rounding out the top 100 from the SEC: South Carolina (82), Kentucky (92) and Vandy (94). Tennessee and Texas A&M currently sit at 114 and 128 respectively. Tennessee needs to do some major work. The Vol fans are expecting NCAA tournament this year, and a 114 RPI isn't going to get it done.

Some teams obviously didn't get the memo about improving their non-conference schedules. Georgia currently sits at 332 in the RPI while Mississippi State (238) and Auburn (254) are not going to do their conference brethren any favors either. Those three currently look like the teams that everyone else will try to avoid losing to in order to avoid an RPI hit. Some of the coaches may not like the SEC office becoming involved in scheduling, but something needs to be done because no power conference school should ever have an RPI in the 200 or 300 range.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Bulls Beat Bama 66-64

The good news is there is still a lot basketball to be played this season, it's only December.  That's also the bad news.

We changed the starting lineup once again, and started Retin over Algie Key.  We got off to a good start, building an early lead.  We started off in the press, and while we didn't force a lot of turnovers, I felt like we disrupted their offense.  We were able to get in transition after their missed shots, and we had an 11-2 lead in the early going.  I thought we got away from the press too soon.  USF does not shoot the ball very well, and we allowed them to settle into a halfcourt game where their bigs killed us.

That was one of many coaching decisions that I questioned throughout this game.  I understand Jimmie and Nick were having a difficult time guarding the Bulls freshman center, and Carl did as well as could be expected, but I would have used Jimmie more in the second half.  He has too much more upside to not be in the game.

Then, Shannon Hale comes in off the bench and makes a 3 and has a chance to win the game.  If Coach Grant has that much confidence in him to put him into the game at clutch time after sitting on the bench for 39 minutes, why doesn't he at least bring him in as a zone buster at some point earlier in the game?

We squandered the big early lead thanks to our inability to score on offense.  Much of this game was ugly, at one point I was wondering if the score would get out of the 40s.  We trailed by 4 at halftime, but we started the second half much like the first half and was able to retake the lead.  Unfortunately, USF answered with a run of their own and we were never able to get back over the hump, although we did manage to be in position to win or tie on the last possession.  Thankfully, they serve beer at the Sun Dome, that's about the only thing that made this game watchable.

On the positive side, we made our free throws, Retin had a great game, and Releford played well before fouling out.  Levi also had a solid game with 12 points and 5 boards.  Nick played well early and scored 10 points before the Bulls figured out he can't go right.  Cooper continues to be MIA.

We are better than our 4-4 record would indicate, but we aren't anywhere close to being an NCAA tournament team, and barring a miraculous run of upsets that isn't likely to change.  There are games on the schedule that you should win, some that could go either way, and some you will most likely lose.  We aren't pulling off any upsets and so far we've lost every game that falls into the "could go either way" category.  We will have at least 7 losses going into conference play, and once again our season is essentially over in December.

The Sun Dome is an excellent facility.  It seats about 10,000, and all of the seats are close to the court.  I'm sure the locals know a way around it, but I wasn't crazy about paying $10 to park and being directed in a way that led me to believe there were no other options.  The crowd was sparse, which makes the loss even more disheartening.  This was a chance to get a "road win" in an environment that was not at all hostile.  I will give credit to their students, the student section was pretty much full, they probably had around 2,500 students at the game.  Taking away the student section, I'm not sure there were 500 people there, and I would say 30% of that remaining 500 or so were Bama fans.  I'm not sure if you could hear it on TV, but their student section had organized chants of "au-burn" and "fuck you bama" at different points in the second half.  The only interactions I had with USF fans was with a couple of students who came over and sat with our group because they didn't want to sit in the 300 level of the student section.  They were actually very nice and hospitable.

The team was on my flight home this morning.  I sat next to one of the managers, who remained optimistic that we will get things turned around.  He said they normally charter a flight, but the athletic department requires them to fly commercially once per year, and this was their one commercial flight.  I wonder if the football team ever has to take a commercial flight?  I wonder if Kansas, Kentucky, or Duke take Southwest to their games?  Anyway, the guys seemed to still be down from the loss.  

On a completely unrelated note, Buffalo Bills fans apparently travel well.  My hotel was full of them, and for the most part they were fat, loud, drunk, and obnoxious.  It was quite a scene at the pool yesterday afternoon.  I am glad to see the Bucs are beating them handily.  No offense to any Bills fans who may be reading this, my opinion is based only on the few handful of people I encountered.

Up next, the team takes the week off for final exams before facing the Charleston Southern Buccaneers in Tuscaloosa next Saturday.  Tip off has been moved to 7:30 p.m. due to graduation ceremonies.

SEC Standings ending 12/7/13

I'll post this up here randomly so you guys don't have to dig deep into a sports website to find it. Yeah, that's us near the bottom.

SEC Standings
Ole Miss0-06-1
Texas A&M0-07-2
Mississippi State0-05-2
South Carolina0-02-3

Friday, December 06, 2013

Know Your Enemy- @ USF Bulls

This is our first true road game of the year and we greet a familiar face in Stan Heath in Tampa, FL. Heath's tenure at USF has been okay, one NCAAT which is good for them (2 wins and round of 32), but more often than not they were fighting for last in the Big East. Now they are in that HORRIBLE AAC that gets even worse next year when Louisville leaves.

USF preview of the game tomorrow night.
Team roster
Season stats

USF is 5-2 beating some crap teams while losing to Oklahoma St and Detroit at home. They did beat Paul Hewitt's George Mason squad on the road if that counts for something.

I have not seen them play so I'm just going to throw stats out there for the MILLIONS of readers here to digest.

- .444 FG
- .276 3pt FG (yikes)
- 12.7 turnovers/game
- 72.1 PPG
- Roughly 6 blocks/game

Victor Rudd and Corey Allen Jr lead the team in scoring at 14.3 and 14.0 PPG. USF does have 4 guys averaging 5 boards a game, yet overall they are being out-rebounded slightly per game (-.6). John Egbunu might cause some issues inside if they decide to use him in the paint.

I'm not going to say we should win this one as we are not world beaters, but note Detroit (4-5) went in there and won. Detroit who has lost 2x to Toledo and got beat @ South Alabama this year.

As DJC said below, game time is 9PM EST (8PM CST) on ESPNU.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Tide Skunks Ospreys, 76-48

Coach Grant made some changes in this game that worked out very well.  I really liked the starting lineup of 1. Relly, 2. Algie, 3. Levi, 4. Jacobs, and 5. Taylor.  As I posted before, I don't like starting both Releford and Retin, and while Retin has been fantastic, I think he is a great asset as the first off the bench.  Nick Jacobs and Jimmie Taylor compliment each other well in the post.  Jimmie helps Nick out on defense and the opposite is true offensively.

We set the tone early with our press, whereas in the last few games we have waited a bit to get into the press.  UNF's guards turned the ball over several times in the early going leading to easy baskets.  We built an early 11-0 lead and never looked back.   The defense was outstanding, which led to increased opportunities on the offensive end.  After defensive rebounds, the guards did a great job of pushing the ball up the court, and our bigs ran the floor well, allowing us to go up-tempo and get scoring opportunities before the Osprey's could get set up in their zone.  I'm not sure if North Florida normally runs a lot of zone, or if they were just trying to follow the Drexel blueprint, but they did not look comfortable on defense.  The Osprey's were generally hesitant to collapse and slow to close out, and we were able to exploit them with good ball movement and backside screens.

We went through a cold spell toward the end of the first half, but was able to maintain a 13 point lead at halftime thanks to solid defense and free throw shooting.  The second half started much the same as the first half and the lead was 20+ points by the first media timeout, and never in doubt.

Levi scored 20 points, most importantly including 3 of 6 from the point range.  I've noted that his outside shot looks better this year, he just needs to have the confidence to take it in big game situations.  He could be that second perimeter scorer we so desperately need.  He also briefly had some gullible fans believing that he has a pet skunk named "Stank."

 Releford had another solid game with 10 points and only one turnover.  Nick Jacobs and Jimmie Taylor both put up double digits as well.  I was very impressed with the way Jimmie Taylor played, both in moving without the ball on offense and providing help defensively.  Retin's scoring was down but he still contributed with 3 blocked shots, a couple of steals and six rebounds.  He plays much bigger than his size.  I also thought Algie played well even though he was only 2 of 8 from the floor.  Shannon Hale came off the bench and knocked down a couple of 3s in 5 minutes of playing time.  Cooper continues to struggle, and I'm not sure what it's going to take to get him going, but he will be badly missed if he doesn't turn it around.  It was good to see Isiah Wilson get into the game.  Dakota Slaughter is out indefinitely with a broken nose.

The crowd was sparse, I would estimate no more than 1,500 in the house.  UNF's coach Matt Driscoll called out the fans saying he "expected a different atmosphere and for more people to be there..." because "we should appreciate this team." While I may agree with the sentiment, it's not the place of an opposing coach, especially one from the mighty North Florida Ospreys, to say it.  Take your 30 point loss, your paycheck, and your 5 foot nothing butt back to Jacksonville and shut your pie-hole, Driscoll.  That being said, scheduling a women's game and a men's game at the same time demonstrates how little the athletic department cares about both basketball programs.

Up next, we travel to Tampa, FL to take on the South Florida Bulls in the Sun Dome Saturday at 9 p.m. EST (8 pm CST).  The game will be televised on ESPNU.  It's hard to get a read on how good USF is, they got blown out by a great Oklahoma State team, but have otherwise taken care of business with the exception of a home loss to Detroit.  It's a huge game for us, as we need to get our first win away from Coleman.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Know Your Enemy- North Florida Ospreys

They come in at 4-4 playing the Gators close in their opening game and getting blown out by Ohio State in their previous one. They actually have a game tonight (vs Edward Waters) so maybe we can catch them worn down.

EDIT- North Florida throttled Edward Waters 90-68. I am officially worried now. Or maybe not.

Season Stats

Travis Wallace leads the team in points and board per game (12.5/7.4). He is an undersized forward I think we can handle quite easily inside.

Dallas Moore is hitting 48% from 3 and is their 2nd leading scorer. He shoots he ball better from beyond the arc than inside it. He has put up almost 15 a game the last 3.

Beau Beech is another one averaging double digits scoring and also is better beyond the arc (.395) than inside it (.394). He is a 6'8" guard that so far chucks up the most 3s on the team.

Charles McRoy and Chris Davenport round out the starting five. Davenport could be a slight issue inside and on the boards.

Some numbers:
- 74.1 PPG
- .720 FT
- +3.5 rebound margin
- 15.6 turnovers a game

This is a good opponent for us after the disappointing showing in MSG. Get Jacobs started inside (and keep him interested in the game) then let Relly and Retin take over with the dribble drive. I would like to see Cooper and Randolph work on some mid-range shots if the game is out of reach as they both need the confidence.

Game time is 8PM EST (7 CST) 12/4 on CSS I think.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Drexel Dragons Drop Tide, 85-83

I apologize for the delay in posting this recap.  I flew back early the next day and went straight to the iron bowl.  I'm sure you can understand that I didn't feel like writing about this disappointing basketball loss when I got back.

Most of what I have to say about this game has already been said.  As I feared, we came out flat against a good team that was fired up to be playing an SEC team.  We had no answer for the zone.  It's no secret that we can't shoot and their front court shut us down when we drove to the basket.  We only scored 21 in the first half.  I understand it's difficult to get up for Drexel playing in front of about 250 people after battling Duke 2 nights earlier, but this is one we had to have.

We played much better in the second half, and was able to get to the free throw line where we actually shot fairly well.  Retin, Releford, and Jacobs all had good games.  Algie Key added 10 points.  Releford had 10 turnovers, which is way too much.   I suspect until someone figures out how to shoot from the perimeter, we were 4 from 15 from 3 point range in this game, we can expect to see a lot of zone from our opponents.

Our inability to finish close games is disheartening.  It reminded me a bit of the loss to LSU in Baton Rouge last year.  We had the lead and the ball with 42 seconds left, but turned it over (it looked like there could have been a foul called on the steal), and Drexel tied the game.  We had a timeout, didn't call it, and missed a shot at the buzzer.  There was another situation in one of the other overtimes where we had the last shot, had a timeout remaining, and forced a contested shot rather than drawing up a play.  It seems that Coach Grant has more confidence in his team's ability to make something happen on their own than his own ability to draw up a play that will give us a good shot.

It seemed like we were playing from behind in each overtime.  We did a good job of continuing to fight back, but we've got to start winning some of these games.   Drexel is a good team, they played UCLA and Arizona close, but we've got to start winning some of these games.  Given the difficulty of the non-conference schedule, we are looking at 6 or 7 losses going into SEC play otherwise.

At the beginning of the game, there was probably only 1,000 or so people there, but of course by the end it was packed with all of the Arizona and Duke fans showing up.  The whole arena was rooting against us as we had to play from behind each overtime, and they were ready for the big game to start.  I originally planned on sticking around for the Arizona-Duke game, but I was so disgusted with this loss, plus I had an obnoxious douchebag Duke fan sitting next to me, so I decided to split after we failed to score on the offensive rebound from Jimmie Taylor's missed free throw.

I've seen a lot of people criticizing Coach Grant for smiling after the game.  Obviously, I could not see his expression, but I would not read too much into that.  Keep in mind Coach Grant knows Drexel's coach very well from their time together in the Colonial Athletic Conference.

Up next, the North Florida Ospreys come to Tuscaloosa for a 7 p.m. tipoff Wednesday night that will be televised by CSS.  It's a game we should win, but as Mercer and Tulane proved last season, we aren't good enough to take games off.  Hopefully the team will be ready to bounce back from this disappointing trip.