Monday, December 29, 2014

Bama Bests Bruins, 56-50

UCLA won the tip-off and scored on an alley-oop dunk to start the game.  After that, the Bama defense held the Bruins to just one made fg over the next 14 minutes, building a 20-5 lead.  While UCLA did not help their cause with a handful of unforced errors, most of the credit for the first half lead goes to the Alabama defense.  UCLA only got a few open looks, and none from inside the perimeter.  More importantly, Jimmie Taylor, Rodney Cooper, and Michael Kessens controlled the glass and limited their second chance opportunities.

I thought we actually played fairly well offensively in the first half.  We had good spacing and ball movement for the most part, and had a lot of open, high percentage shots that just didn't fall.  We weren't very good at finishing around the basket, and unfortunately, putting the ball through the hoop is kind of important in basketball.  We probably should have been up 15-20 points at the half, but instead only took a 29-17 advantage into the locker room.

Steve Alford and UCLA made some nice adjustments at halftime.  They worked the ball to their athletic bigs in the post and quickly drew Jimmie Taylor's 3rd and 4th foul.  Taylor did a great job of defending the rim when he was in the game, but we really struggled to stop them in the post when he came out.  We finally made the proper adjustment of switching to a zone, but not before UCLA was back in the game.

On the offensive end, we had no real inside presence and they started hedging the off-ball screens and bumping our cutters, which slowed the offense to a grind.  For much of the second half, we were back to the old "high ball screen with 5 seconds on the shot clock" offense.  Thankfully, Ricky Tarrant went off for 24 points.

I was afraid we put Taylor back in the game too early with 7 minutes left, but he played solid defense the rest of the game without fouling.  Levi Randolph didn't have one of his better games, and he was uncharacteristically bad from the free throw line most of the night, but he came up big when needed.  I thought it was critical that we never allowed UCLA to get the lead.  Levi made an incredible contested jump shot to put us up 2 with just under 2 minutes to play.

I would still like to see a little bit more leadership in key situations in tight games.  With the lead and about a minute or so remaining, Taylor turned the ball over trying to pass to Kessens on the perimeter.  Tarrant and Levi cannot allow that to happen, somebody has to go get the ball in that situation.

We overcame another poor shooting night, 4 of 22 from 3 point range and only 18 of 30 from the line, but Ricky and Levi stepped up as we made 8 of our final 10 free throws to finally put the game away.

We had trouble getting the ball in bounds at times, which led to only having one timeout remaining at the end of the game.  I thought we used that timeout too early, with a 3 point lead and around 30 seconds remaining.  If UCLA would have scored there, we could have been in big trouble if we couldn't get the ball in bounds.  To Coach Grant's credit, it worked out as the team executed the man to man defense he set up, switching on every screen and forcing a bad shot from UCLA.

This isn't a traditional national power UCLA team, but I also don't think they are as bad as many are making them out to be.  This was their first loss to a team outside of the top 20.  Yes, they looked horrible against Kentucky, but Kentucky is going to make a lot of decent teams look horrible.  They don't have much depth, but they have some talented young players, some decent bigs, and are well coached.  Hopefully they can continue to develop and this will ultimately be a top 100 win for us.

The crowd was great, I would estimate close to 13,000 actually showed up, which is fantastic for a Sunday night during the winter break, even against a somewhat down UCLA team.  The Bruins probably had a couple of hundred fans scattered throughout, honestly I think we had more fans at their place last year than they brought here.  Several former players were in attendance, Eric Washington was recognized on the video screen, Chris Hines was sitting behind the goal with a group of high school aged kids and they all appeared to be having a blast, and Andrew Steele was also there.  There were a lot of school and church groups in attendance, whoever did the marketing for group sales for this game apparently did a good job.  Justin Coleman's church group was there and sitting near us.  The crowd was loud and stayed till the very end, hopefully seeing the home team win a close game will make some of those folks want to come back.

Unfortunately, the arena was apparently severely understaffed.  We arrived 30 minutes or so before tip-off and immediately noticed the long lines for tickets and concessions.  I understand many people weren't able to purchase their walk-up tickets until midway through the first half, and based on comments from people sitting around us, the lines for the concession stands were generally over 40 minutes.  I never patronize the Coleman concession stands because in my experience they are overpriced with limited choices of very poor quality.  Parking and post-game traffic is a complete cluster due to a number of factors including but not limited to: construction of the baseball stadium, incompetence of those directing traffic, and those stupid shuttle buses clogging the flow of traffic.  They need to rectify some of these issues if we ever expect to draw large crowds on a regular basis.

Up next, the North Florida Osprey's come to Ttown for a 6 pm tipoff Friday night for the last non-conference game of the season.  UNF upset Perdue, so we will need to stay focused if we want to avoid our annual season-killing non-conference home loss.  The game will be televised on SEC Network.  If your travels back from the Sugar Bowl take you through Tuscaloosa, there's no reason not to stop and take in the game.  Happy New Year and Roll Tide.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Fresh Meat- UCLA 12/28 in Tuscaloosa 6:30PM EST (5:30 CST)

One of the premiere basketball programs of all-time visits Tuscaloosa in the return trip from last year's disappointing close loss in Pauley Pavilion. This isn't the same UCLA squad from last year... as they lost 3 to early defections to the NBA draft (all 1st round draft picks). UCLA has a pattern so far this year.. win 4, lose 2, win 4, lose 2... the pattern says they win. We shall see. Note that is is UCLA's first and ONLY true OOC road game this season.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Tide survives, 60-59 over Appalachian State.

I've always said there is no such thing as an ugly win.  This game provides the strongest contradictory evidence to that statement that you will ever find.

Tarrant and Kessens were back in the starting lineup.  The team appeared flat early on as the Mountaineers built an 8 point first half lead.  By starting Kessens, Cooper, and Taylor, it appeared our game plan early was to take advantage of ASU's apparent weakness, which is their lack of size and inability to defend in the post.  Unfortunately, this also took us away from our strength of playing up-tempo and shooting from the perimeter.  Taylor and Cooper got several good looks from the low block early on but could not finish around the rim.  Kessens was slow to start, but turned it around and had a fantastic game.

In fact, Kessens and Riley Norris were arguably the only bright spots in this one.  Thankfully it was just enough.  We finally realized the jumpers were not falling and started working the ball in to Kessens consistently in the second half.  We finally took the lead with about 8 minutes to play, but could never put them away, every time we got up by 4 we had a turnover or gave up an open 3.

I've been calling for Justin Coleman to play more, but he didn't really help his case in this game.  He only played 10 minutes, and while I thought he initially gave us a spark in the first half, he had two horrible turnovers where he telegraphed a lazy pass at the top of the key that resulted in uncontested dunks for App State.

Rodney Cooper sat on the bench for most of the 2nd half.  While he didn't have a great game, we certainly could have used his rebounding, and I would have put him in on defense at the end of the game.  At one point Kessens scored 5 in a row to cut the App. State lead from 8 to 3, and was promptly pulled from the game.  Our substitution patterns continue to baffle me.

Those of you who have been around for a while may remember Ron Steele's comments from last year regarding how guys playing scared can hurt their game, ie that they are afraid to make mistakes for fear of losing playing time.  I think we are seeing a bit of that right now with Coleman and Hale.  Coleman is a freshman, he's going to make some mistakes, but he's at his best when he plays wide open. Hale is more experienced, but both were taken out of the game following turnovers and defensive lapses respectively.  Moreover, in these last few games the team as a whole seems a lot more calculating on offense, hesitant to shoot or quickly move the ball.  We need to let the guys play, live with the mistakes, and get the tempo back up on offense.

This was the last game before Christmas, and with the UCLA game looming, while it's still disappointing, it's certainly not surprising that we came out flat.  Levi played a solid game, but as the captain I would have liked to see him be a more vocal leader in this game, and do something to energize and focus his teammates.  He got called for 5 seconds late in the game which gave App State a chance for the win.   The last few years we've lost at least one of these December games that has killed any hopes for suspense on selection Sunday.  Thankfully, the guys found a way to win and got the stop at the end to avoid another disaster.  I've criticized Coach Grant's timeout management in the past, but will give him credit for using every single remaining one and giving the Mountaineers different looks, while evaluating their lineups, on the final play.

The crowd was sparse, but a little better than Friday night.  I would estimate maybe 2,000 or so.  They actually got into the game and gave our guys a boost when things were tight in the second half.

Up next, the UCLA Bruins come in Sunday night for a 5:30 pm tipoff on ESPNU.  They will be looking to avenge their embarrassing loss to Kentucky.  It's a chance to watch our Tide against one of the historically great programs in college basketball, so hopefully we'll have a nice crowd.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fresh Meat- Appalachian State 6:30PM EST (5:30PM CST)

Quick turnaround to face App State. They come in 3-5, but are better than their record shows. They have 2 true road wins (@ VA Tech and Jacksonville). They've played 2 non-exhibition home games so far this season.

Link to App State write-up.
Season stats

Frank Eaves leads the team at 16.4 PPG on horrendous shooting (35%/26%). Chris Burgess is the only real threat beyond the arc at a respectable 42%. Tommy Spagnolo cleans up the boards at 7.4 a game... averaging 9.5 his last 3.

- 62.4 PPG
- .402 FG/.279 3pt FG
- +.6 rebound margin
- -2.7 turnover margin/game

We should end up winning, but don't be shocked if this game is closer than you'd think it should be.

Game is on

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Tide Tackles Tigers, 69-49

Stillman is not very good, and we basically treated this as an exhibition game, playing lots of players and experimenting with different lineups.  Rodney Cooper and Ricky Tarrant got the night off.  Justin Coleman and Riley Norris were joined by Devin Mitchell, who hasn't been playing much in recent games, in the starting lineup.

Coming off the heartbreaking loss at Wichita, many were concerned that there would be a hangover effect.  The young starting lineup did their job and set the tone of the game right off the bat, jumping out to a 12-2 lead, while holding Stillman scoreless for the first 5 minutes of the game.

After that, it got a little sloppy, as we treaded water for the rest of the first half and only lead by 13 at the break. We pulled away in the second half, but it was a sloppy game for the most part.  We only shot 3 of 20 from 3 point range, turned it over 16 times, and we had stretches during the game where we did not rebound well.

On the positive side we had 5 guys score in double figures, with Justin Coleman leading all scorers with 14.  It was good to see John Gibson and Dakota Slaughter get some minutes.  I thought Shannon Hale played well, despite missing 5 free throws.  Levi was solid as always and Riley Norris played a great game, putting up 13 points and 7 boards. Kessens really struggled, with 4 fouls, 2 points, and a couple of bad turnovers in 16 minutes.  That's Moussa Gueye/Karl Engstrom bad, and we're going to need much better production out of him in the post if we expect to beat decent teams.

One of the more exciting moments of the night came when one of the Coliseum's light bulbs blew, which sounded light a firecracker going off.  The fixture was smoking for several minutes later, but thankfully nothing caught on fire.

With the students gone and an early 6 pm tipoff on a rainy Friday night during the holiday season, attendance was predictably horrible.  I would estimate a gathering of no more than 1,200. I don't understand why we start games at 6pm when there is no TV.  I was barely able to make tipoff myself coming from Birmingham.  Stillman normally brings a decent crowd across town, but they were noticeably absent last night.

Up next, it's a quick turnaround to get ready for Appalachian State, who comes in for a 5:30 p.m. tipoff Sunday.  Speaking of Birmingham, this would be a perfect game to play in the state's largest city.  I'm not expecting much of a crowd going up against Sunday before Christmas church services in Ttown tomorrow night.  The game will be televised on SEC Network.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Fresh Meat- Stillman Tigers 7PM EST (6PM CST)

Stillman makes the long road trip to Coleman to face a dejected team that should've beaten Wichita State Tuesday. Let's see how the Tide performs.

Season stats

Stillman is 4-3 on the season... played a bunch of tomato cans so far so we'll see if this is a laugher at the half.

Offensive stats look good at 85.8 PPG, 46.5% FG and 39.2% from beyond the arc... against questionable competition though. Rodnerius Lewis leads the team with 25.2 PPG with Jamon Jackson-Wilson grabbing over 7 board a game.

they have a +11 rebound edge so that could pose a problem if we let them hang around. I don't think we will, and the thousands in attendance can celebrate a Friday night win.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Shocked by Shockers, Wichita State 53, Bama 52.

This was a golden opportunity to pick up a huge road win over a quality opponent to boost our NCAA tournament resume, and we blew it.  Yes, we played better than expected, but there are no moral victories.  This was a painful loss that epitomizes our inability to finish games over the last 6 years.  We were in great position to shock the country with an 11 point lead with 6 minutes left in the game.  We proceeded to be outscored 13-1 in the last 6 minutes.

The end result is all that matters, but it wasn't like the night was a complete disaster.  We faced a top 15 team on the road, and not only held our own, but took it to them for most of the game.  The offense wasn't great, but WSU is a very good defensive team, so I can live with that.  Shannon Hale has struggled much of this year, but made some great plays for us.  He finished tied with Levi for leading team scorer with 13 points, and really gave us a spark off the bench.

The bench was constantly up and into the game, and there were several possessions in the second half when WSU scored to cut the lead to 5 or 6, and we showed great poise in executing the offense and getting a basket on the other end to maintain our comfortable 8-10 pt lead.

I liked our game plan overall.  WSU has some big wings and guards, but while they have a size advantage in the post their big men aren't particularly skilled.  We started out in a tight man and put some pressure on them, but then switched to a zone mostly in the second half and we did a good job, for the most part, of closing out on their perimeter shooters.  Taylor and Kessens cleaned up the glass and guarded the rim well.  Everything was looking as good as could be expected and we had a double digit lead on the road with around 6 minutes to play, but then the momentum shifted.

I loved the effort tonight.  I felt like we outworked them for most of the evening.  We had better energy, beat them to loose balls, etc.  When it came down to clutch time, they responded and we didn't have an answer.  There were a few questionable calls in the last 5 minutes that did not go our way, but you have to expect that and be able to overcome it on the road, and we were not.  I thought Taylor fouling out was a huge factor in the outcome of the game.  They relentlessly attacked the rim the final minutes, and routinely either got to the line or got second chance opportunities.

We were outmatched and on the road in a hostile environment and had a chance to win, so I'm hesitant to criticize Coach Grant for this one.  I thought we were well prepared, and showed  a great amount of mental toughness for much of the game (at least up until the point when Taylor fouled out), but again, I think we misused the timeout situation at the end of the game.  We had a timeout remaining, down one (we would have been tied, but Levi had another off night from the line and only made one of two the previous trip), and with about 4-5 seconds remaining it was obvious there was no clear path to the basket that would result in an open shot.  THAT is the time to call a timeout.  Instead, we waited until the ball was knocked away and we were fortunate to recover with 1.2 seconds remaining, which only leaves enough time to draw up a desperation catch and shoot from Cooper from beyond the arc.

Heartbreaking loss, and while there is a lot of basketball to be played, it's very possible that this will be one that keeps us out of the tournament.  Up next, Stillman comes across town for another ridiculous tipoff time, 6 pm Central Friday night.

Fresh Meat- @ Wichita St

Day job has kept me busy so here's a link from earlier in the year with a team preview.
Game is 9pm EST (8CST).

My expectation is for us to be in the game for the most part. Keep it competitive and I'm content.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tide 65 Tennessee Tech 53.

Bama came out flat and appeared uninspired for much of the first half.  The offense was stagnant with little movement and we had problems with Eagles man to man defense.  Tennessee Tech was able to knock down some open 3s and get some second chance opportunities to build a 13 point lead in the first half. We finished strong after the 8 minute media timeout in the first half and was able to take a 1 point lead into halftime.

Rodney Cooper had a great game and led us to victory with 23 points including 2 of 4 from 3 point range and 11 of 14 from the free throw line.  On the bright side, our defense was much better than it's been most of the season.  I think the Eagles only scored once from the floor in the final 9 minutes or so.

The last couple of seasons we have played poorly in these December games immediately after finals.  At least this year we found a way to avoid the embarrassing loss.

The substitution patterns did not make much sense to me.  Kessens got his first start over Shannon Hale, and played reasonably well.  Tarrant was said to be cramping up and did not play much in the second half, but Retin Obasohan got the bulk of his minutes over Justin Coleman.  Retin played fairly well, but I still think Coleman should be getting more minutes.  He's rarely used in the second half of games.

We only shot 14 three pointers in this game, and made 6.  Credit to Tennessee Tech for putting an emphasis on slowing down our perimeter game.  Other than Rodney Cooper, we did not make our free throws either.  The normally automatic Levi was only 4 for 8.

The 8pm start on the same night as graduation resulted in a very small, apathetic gathering to watch this one.  I would estimate no more than 2,000 fans in the house, with probably less than 100 students. I expect more of the same with the 2 games next weekend.

Up next, we travel to Wichita, Kansas to take on the 11th ranked Wichita State Shockers.  In theory, it's a great opportunity to pick up a huge quality win on the road.  In reality, we will probably be on the wrong end of a severe beat down.   The game is Tuesday night at 8 pm Central time on ESPN2.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fresh Meat- Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles 9PM EST (8PM CST)

If you put a gun to my head and asked me before I googled what the Tennessee Tech mascot was I would've been a goner. Golden Eagles... that's about as bland as... Tigers.

Write up from Tenn Tech.
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle
Webcast: TideTV
Season stats

Charles Jackson and Dwan Cardwell lead the team offensively at 14.0 and 13.8 a game. Jackson also pulls down 10 boards a game so watch him on the glass. I suspect Jimmie Taylor gets the assignment most of the game with Kessens/Norris switching up.

Offensively as a team... meh as 45% FG and 26.4% beyond the arc (which is about what I shoot today). They are +6 on the boards.

Tech has lost all of their road games so far... and I don't expect that to change after tonight.

If you want to see our season stats click here. Besides yours truly, no one would've guessed that Cooper would be leading in 3 point percentage (attempting more than 10 shots). We know about Levi's offensive side, but what I'm most impressed about is his 19/6 assist to turnover margin.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Musketeers Maul Men's Team

Alabama jumped out to a quick lead before falling to the Xavier Musketeers 97 to 84, but the game did not seem as close as the final score.  Our team played fairly effectively in the middle of the first half while Xavier's big man sat on the bench with two fouls.  Then Bama's outside shots refused to fall while they could not work the ball underneath the basket.  We had no answers for their zone.  Here's a Box Score.

Please see the comments to Bobby Jack's "Fresh Meat" post previewing the game for real analysis.  I was flipping back and forth between our game and the ACC Championship football game.

The one thing I liked most about this game was when Head Coach Anthony Grant (finally) drew a technical foul after protesting a charge called against Riley Norris after a Musketeer "flop" caused an official to waive off one of the few inside hoops I saw us score.  The official might have made a good call.  I don't know.  The camera angle we had did not allow me to see whether any real contact was made.  It seemed to me the official who blew the whistle suffered the same disadvantage, and I suspect that is why Grant was so upset with the call.  It really was good to see Coach Grant defend his player so vigorously that he drew a zebra's ire.  I hope his passion continues and filters its way into the team.

As has been noted below, our kids are not playing particularly good defense right now, but they still are much more fun to watch than they have been recently.  I hope to make my first pilgrimage to Coleman Coliseum next Saturday/

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Fresh Meat- @ Xavier Musketeers 8PM EST (7PM CST)

1st true road game as we head to Cincinnati (WKRP?) to play Xavier in the return game from last season's loss 77-74 in Coleman. Xavier is on a 2 game losing streak and so far hasn't played anyone of note.

Trevon Bluieitt and Miles Davis are ones to watch outside the arc while Matt Stainbrook is shooting 72.6% from the field and pulling down over 8 boards a game. Stainbrook worries me more than the perimeter shooting as we all know how thin we are inside.

Xavier is big... really need Taylor, Norris, and Kessens to slow them down on the boards.

Season stats
Write up from Xavier's site.
Xavier's roster

Game is on CBS Sportsnet... since I will be attending the SECCG down the road chances are if I catch any of this game it will be late 2nd half.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Bama Bests Bulls

Here is your late report on the victory of the South Florida Bulls.

Alabama (5-1) avenged last season's two-point loss to the South Florida Bulls (5-2) by a convincing score of 82-71 within the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum.  Here is a Box Score.  

I was only able to watch the second half and have not yet viewed my recording of the game, but Bama played sound defense most of the game and enjoyed balanced scoring. Four of our players hit double figures, lead by Rodney Cooper with 20 and Ricky Tarrant with 17.  Bama hit 8 of its 25 three point shots and continues to shoot well from the foul line, going 20 out of 25.  Levi Randolph came one shot short of tying the school record of consecutive free throws made after having been jinxed on the air by former Alabama star Wendell Hudson.  (More on Hudson later.) 

It appears the infusion of new blood, the continuing emergence of Levi Randolph (my favorite player of the past three years), Cooper's finding his shot again, and the influence of new coach Reggie Witherspoon all have breathed new life into what had become a frustrating program.  Every Bama Basketball fan has been rooting for Head Coach Anthony Grant and hoping he could regain the energy and success his teams showed during his second, third and fourth seasons.  As much as I personally liked Tony Pujol, Witherspoon appears to be a substantial upgrade.  Knowing nothing about the inner workings of the team, I also suspect the personalities of this season's squad are more conducive to success than those we have witnessed the previous two seasons. 

This team is fun to watch.  The players actually move without the ball on offense and pass the ball around the court.  Perhaps previous squads had become too dependent on their point guard leader. I do not know.  DJC and MSmilie are much better students of the game than I.  Hopefully they can offer some real observations as the season progresses. The defense has dipped a bit from what we saw in earlier squads, but at this point I am more than happy with the trade off.  

Other than the performance of the team, the greatest treat I enjoyed last night was hearing Wendell Hudson (pictured above from his college days) provide color commentary in the absence of Bryan Passink who was away performing other duties.  Most of our readers likely will know Wendell only as the former head coach of our Women's Basketball Team, but he is an important historical icon in Alabama history.  Wendell was the first African-American scholarship athlete to play any sport at The University of Alabama and a very good basketball player.  

Wendell was a senior power forward my freshman year and led our team to its first NIT appearance (this was when the NCAA Tournament field was only 22 teams and an NIT invitation carried significant prestige) in many years.  Playing for Head Coach C.M. Newton, Wendell was instrumental in bringing Bama Basketball back to relevance.  I owe Wendell a huge personal debt because that team his senior year is the one thing that influenced me to become a fan of Bama Basketball.  I'd never played organized basketball or even been a fan of the game before then.  I always enjoy Wendell's commentary during the games and have found him personally charming and engaging the few times I've had the privileged to meet him.  If you ever see him at any of our games, please introduce yourself and thank him for everything he has done for us.  

Thank you, Wendell Hudson, for everything you have done for our program,  our school, and for me. 

Roll Tide! 

Monday, December 01, 2014

Fresh Meat- USF Bulls 12/2 @ 9PM EST (8PM CST)

The Stan Heath Orlando Antigua led Bulls come to Tuscaloosa with a 5-1 record looking to complete the 2 game series sweep (from last year) and continue its dominance in the state of Alabama (they won @ UAB in a thriller). Former NBA good Rod Strickland is an assistant on the team... you know him from his forgettable days with OUR NY Knickerbockers.

Their only loss came to our good pal Mark Gottfried in Raleigh 68-65. Being that NC State is so far looking like a NCAAT team thanks to Kat Barber and the great Trevor Lacey) this game is going to be a real test to us.

Write up from USF.
Season stats

4 average double digits led by Corey Allen Jr @ 15.8 PPG. He's 50% from 3, 55.8% overall, and 75% from the line. Anthony Collins runs the point dropping over 7 assists a game.

Statistically, nothing really jumps out... as a team they kinda suck from beyond the arc, below average FT shooting, slight rebounding margin, but are shooting 49% overall from the field.

The game is on the SEC Network... for more in depth coverage read this post from MS in October.