Monday, November 30, 2015

Bama takes 5th place in Advocare Invitational with 74-73 upset over Notre Dame

For the first time in nine years, we have back to back wins over ranked teams.  I posted after the WSU win that beating a ranked Shockers team was a technicality, they aren't going to be ranked for long and they are missing their best players right now.  That win over Notre Dame on the other hand is as legit as they come.  That is a very good Irish basketball team that we beat.  I'll admit, I was somewhat dreading this game, I attended by myself as my other UA friends had all departed Orlando, and I wasn't very optimistic that we could even cover the 10 point spread as underdogs.  Instead, it was the most fun I've had at an Alabama basketball game in years!

Around the SEC- ending 11/30/2015

I will occasionally post some updates on what the rest of the SEC is doing this season. Before I do that, I'm going to go on a mini-rant about the Advocare Invitational.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Game Preview: Notre Dame

The Alabama men's basketball team will seek their second straight win over a ranked opponent on Sunday when they face off against Notre Dame at 6 PM CT. The official site does not offer TV information, but it looks like the game will be on ESPNU. If you don't have ESPNU, you can watch using the Watch ESPN app. The Irish were upset on day one of the Advocare Invitational by Monmouth, but bounced back with a nice win over Iowa on Friday. For Alabama, their win over Wichita State was the program's first win over a ranked opponent in 22 attempts. The team should enter this game with confidence following that hard-fought win.

Stats Comparison

Notre Dame

67.8 PPG 78.4
72.2 OPP 64.6
.415 FG% .467
.395 OPP .397
.309 3PT% .366
.367 OPP .408
.664 FT% .699
.669 OPP .716
33.0 RPG 41.0
43.4 OPP 32.4
14.6 TOPG 9.4
15.4 OPP 10.4

This will be yet another challenge for this Alabama basketball team. Notre Dame is one of the most efficient offenses in the country, currently ranked in Ken Pomeroy's top 5 for adjusted offensive efficiency rankings. Demetrius Jackson (18.8 ppg, 4.2 apg, 3.8 rpg) is and will continue to be one of the top guards in the country. But this Irish team, while not very deep, has a very good rotation of 5-6 guys, including Zach Auguste (13.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.2 spg and 1.0 bpg), V.J. Beachem (12.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, .429 3PT%) and Steve Vasturia (11.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.0 apg).

Dazon and Justin (and maybe Retin) will have their hands full in trying to contain Demetrius Jackson; the guy is a workhorse. And Zach Auguste is going to be a match-up nightmare for Alabama's post guys. That said, I believe Alabama will have a chance to compete in this game. Notre Dame is efficient on offense (and not shabby on defense, currently top 75 in adjusted defensive rankings), but, as I mentioned, they are not very deep; only seven players average double figure minutes. If Alabama can force some early foul trouble for the Irish, limit Jackson and Auguste, I think they have a chance. I do think they need to muddy it up a little, though. Notre Dame is too efficient on offense (and Alabama isn't) for Alabama to play this one clean. Make it ugly, keep it close, and keep the pressure on the favored team to play mistake-free basketball down the stretch.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Sleeping with the Enemy, Notre Dame

I asked JoeSchu from One Foot Down to tell us a bit about Notre Dame basketball and their perspective on our game Sunday night.  He was kind enough to take the time to share his thoughts below.  If you visit One Foot Down, please follow the rules of their site and be a positive representative of the University of Alabama.

Irish Strengths
Mike Brey has built his program on the pillars of offensive efficiency and senior leadership. His teams don't turn the ball over, space the floor well, and knock down shots. Last year's team was 2nd in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency, and this year's team is in the top 5 again. 

This year's team has all the components to continue as a top-5 offense. Demetrius Jackson, the junior PG, is a tremendous athlete and a top NBA draft prospect. Zach Auguste, the senior big, is also very athletic and capable of scoring in a number of ways around the rim. Juniors Steve Vasturia and VJ Beachem, along with freshman Matt Ryan space the floor as deadly 3-point threats. Sophomore Bonzie Colson is another capable scorer around the rim and plays much bigger than his listed 6'5" height.

Irish Weaknesses 
While the offense has all the components, they aren't quite clicking yet. Coming off a banner year for Notre Dame basketball, everyone knew replacing two NBA draft picks would be a challenge. Notre Dame played almost exclusively in 4-out sets last year. Occasionally, they would go small and play 5-out. This year, with Colson in the starting line-up, the Irish are playing more 3-around-2, and they're showing some confusion. The ball movement isn't quite as crisp as guys are feeling out new roles. In each of their last 2 games, the Irish built double-digit leads in the first half, only to see them melt away in the second. A lot of this had to do with defenses adjusting and ND not having an immediate answer. The offense started to look a little static, which led to extended scoring droughts. While it is something most Irish fans trust Brey to fix, it is a concern.

The other concern is defense. If you look at the history of the ND program under Brey, there's a pretty consistent standard of efficient offense. The best Brey teams combine great offense with a competent defense. While last year's team wasn't a statistically great defense, the run to the ACC title and Elite Eight was highlighted by Notre Dame's ability to get stops in key stretches of big games. This year's team has an opportunity to be even better defensively, even if the offense drops off a little. The thing to watch with Notre Dame is whether or not their defense is dictated by their offense or vice versa. In the second half against Monmouth, the Irish missed some early shots around the rim, and it seemed to impact their defensive effort. If the Irish can dig a little deeper on defense, even when shots aren't falling, they'll be a very good team. If not, it could be a long year in the deep and difficult ACC.

Impression of the Alabama Program
As any Irish basketball fan will tell you, it ain't easy living in football's shadow. I imagine that Tuscaloosa is one of the few places in America where football's shadow is even bigger than Notre Dame's. However, where Alabama basketball has a clear advantage over the Irish is in facilities. Pictures of Alabama's basketball facilities look great. The Irish still practice in a basement gym named the Pit (and not out of affection). 

Avery Johnson feels like a high risk/reward hire for Alabama. In 1991, Notre Dame brought in an NBA guy named John MacLeod behind Digger Phelps. It didn't work out great for the Irish, and it wasn't until Brey, a former Duke assistant who had head coaching experience at Delaware, was hired that the program built some consistency. That being said, Johnson is a much higher profile guy with a much better NBA track record than MacLeod. I like the hire because he can bring some identity to the program. He's a guy who loves defensive intensity and likes to push the pace offensively. As the college game starts to see a lot more ball screens, Johnson's NBA experience will be valuable. I really like the hire, but Johnson is going to need to show his staff can recruit at a level to get the Tide back in to the upper tier of the SEC.

Thoughts on the Match-Up
I'll admit, I haven't seen Alabama play this season, but looking at the numbers, it will be an interesting conflict of styles. The Irish are an offensive machine with a serviceable defense. The Tide seem to be built the other way around. I see this coming down to two things. First, can Alabama score by dictating tempo. The Tide play much quicker than the Irish, who are becoming one of the more deliberate half court teams in the country. Second, can the Irish make shots. Dayton shoots the ball at about the same percentage as Notre Dame, and Alabama struggled with the Flyers.

Watch the fatigue factor in this one. Coach Johnson has been a little more balanced in his minutes than Coach Brey. If heavy legs cause Jackson or Auguste to pick up some early whistles, it could represent a huge advantage for Alabama. If I'm coaching the Tide Sunday, I look for ways to push tempo vs. the Irish and see if I can run them a bit to expose their short bench.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Bama Stuns Shockers, 64-60

Before I get into the details of this game, let me say that first and foremost our thoughts and prayers are with Anton Grady, the Wichita State player who is hospitalized after leaving the court on a stretcher with an apparent head injury with 3 minutes remaining in the game.

For the first time in 22 tries, after three and a half years, we finally defeated a ranked opponent.  It was a huge upset, as we were 10 point underdogs coming into the game.  Now, before we get too excited, please note that WSU is now 2-3, will not be ranked in the upcoming polls, and is playing without their best player who happens to be their only true point guard.  All of that being said, it was still a huge win for a team.

Defense was the story of this game.  In my last recap, I noted that we don't change defenses very often.  That changed today, as Coach Johnson opened up in a half-court trap, and made several defensive adjustments throughout the game that seemed to keep Wichita State out of sync.

When we led 17-12 with 8 minutes to play in the first half, only to surrender the lead before halftime, I feared this game would follow the script of our other losses this year, play well early, get blown out in the second half.  Instead, the team kept battling every time things started to look bleak, and put themselves in position to win before making the plays at both ends of the court in the final minute to pull off the upset.

I'm very proud of this team.  They've looked awful against quality competition this year, and it wasn't always pretty today, but they stuck with it and got the job done.  The good Shannon Hale was back, he scored 20 points and actually showed some aggressiveness in attacking the basket at key moments late in the second half.  Riley Norris also had a great game, scoring 12 and making 2 of 4 from three point range.  Dazon Ingram added 11 points but had 5 turnovers to only 3 assists.  Justin Coleman struggled going 0 for 7 from downtown including some awful misses that weren't even close.

The Shockers went with a zone defense much of the second half, and it seemed to really frustrate our offense.  We only made 5 of 20 from downtown, but we seemed to make them at key moments when we needed them the most.  Their zone helped them control the tempo, and it was more of a half-court type of game than I think we would prefer to play.  In a sense, we beat them at their own game, but ironically I'm not sure we would have been able to beat them if we were able to play as fast as we would have liked.  Even though the shots weren't falling, we were aggressive in attacking the basket and able to get to the free throw line.

Ted Valentine and his crew were inconsistent at best, and Jeff Pon made several calls that I disagreed with, both for and against us.  Speaking of officiating, I want to go back to the Grady injury for a moment.  It is my understanding that according to the rules, the officials should only stop the clock for an injured defensive player if they need to review for an intentional foul.  They did stop the play to review it after Gregg Marshall adamantly claimed that he was elbowed, but that is a rule that needs to change, in my opinion.  I understand if a score is imminent, the officials should not blow a play dead if a team is seconds away from an uncontested layup or dunk, but otherwise no player should lie on the court more than 4 or 5 seconds without medical attention in my opinion.  As some of you know, I officiate basketball at the high school level.  Last year, I had a similar situation, a defensive player went down in a heap in the back-court in transition.  I immediately blew the play dead, and during the delay the offensive coach took issue with my decision. I told him, "by rule, you are right, but it's a player safety issue in my mind and I would have done the same for your player."  I'm no doctor, but I know with some types of injuries response time is of paramount importance, and I'm not going to risk a kid suffering a worse outcome because I followed some stupid rule about allowing play to continue because the injured player happened to be on defense at the time. This is an area that I feel strongly that the rules committees, at all levels, should take a serious look at.  

All of that being said, Gregg Marshall was quoted as saying "I was scared when he fell because to me it looked like a heart issue,"  Well, Gregg, that's not exactly consistent with you pitching a fit to the officials and screaming that Dazon threw an elbow.  I've watched the replay, and it's clear that the contact was incidental, and if anything was primarily instigated by Grady.  I thought his actions unnecessarily incited the crowd and brought undue disdain to our team.  There's no doubt Marshall is a good coach, but he's a weird dude, very animated on the sidelines and frankly comes across as a prick.  I'm glad we have Coach Johnson, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching our squad hand Greggy another "L."

This was Coach Johnson's best game so far, in my opinion.  As I mentioned above, he did a great job of switching defenses when necessary.  One of the great things about going to these types of tournaments is that with the smaller venues and crowds, sitting so close to the court you can hear a lot more of the interactions between the coaches, players, and officials.  He picks his battles with the officials wisely, at one point he got us a 3 second call by bringing it to the attention of the officials, and I don't think it would have been called otherwise.

This was the second time this year that the first half score matched the second half, as we won both 32-30.  I like that a lot better than the 40-24 per half beat down we suffered at Dayton.

My only complaint about this venue is the scoreboard.  There's very little information available as far as stats, fouls, etc go, and the color scheme is maddening.  The time appears in green when the clock is running, but red when it's stopped. The team who's currently winning's score is green, while the losing team's score is red, but they both turn yellow when the score is tied.  Team fouls also appear in red, while everything else is yellow.  The result is a clashing mix of red/yellow/green in various places at different times.

There was another good crowd today, but we only had about 75 fans or so.  It was a road environment for the most part, but our small crowd was loud and we had a lot of fun at the end of the game.  We had several Xavier fans sitting around us, who were very gracious and supportive of our team.  The WSU fans we interacted with after the game were all also very nice.  One even apologized for the rudeness of their fans, but they've been pretty well behaved for the most part from what I've seen at this tournament.

Up next, another top 25 opponent, as we play number 17 Notre Dame for 5th place Sunday night at 7pm ET.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Game Preview: Wichita State

Following a disappointing showing against Xavier, the Alabama men's basketball team will attempt to bounce back in Orlando against yet another quality foe in Wichita State. Obviously there will be plenty of talk about Alabama's courtship of Gregg Marshall before turning to Avery Johnson. But I believe the more important discussion is why Alabama has looked seemingly so clueless in two games against quality competition so far. The next couple of days are important for this Alabama team. Alabama has looked, more or less, pitiful against quality competition so far. Did I expect them to win at Dayton or on a neutral floor against Xavier? No. I did expect them to be more competitive, and not lose both games by a combined 51 points! This team has some holes, no doubt about it, but I believe they're better than what we've seen. In my humble opinion, the problem is Avery is asking this team to play a brand of basketball it's simply not capable of playing; and by doing so he's giving them no chance to compete against better teams. I'm all for him recruiting players for the brand of basketball he wants to play and playing that style. But, as the head coach, he owes it to the current players to game plan in a way that allows them the best chance to win. This team isn't capable of consistently shooting the ball well so I fail to understand the logic in playing fast and creating more possessions for the opposing team, particularly when this Alabama team is far from lockdown on the defensive end (Xavier's second half numbers - 56% FG, 45% 3pt% - along with the 19 free throw attempts in the 1st half when Alabama had a chance to build a sizable lead due to Xavier's poor shooting).  Playing fast is great in theory, but in both the Dayton and Xavier games, when adjustments were made on the defensive end by those teams, Alabama did not respond well. It's only four games in, but the playing fast for the sake of playing fast needs to be shelved until Avery has players with a better skill set to play that way. Otherwise blowout defeats are going to be the rule, not the exception, and this team is going to be lucky to finish .500. Who cares how pretty or "fun" it is if the end result (losses) is the same as it was under Grant?

Wichita State enters this game following a loss to USC on Thursday. Wichita is ranked 20th in the AP poll, but will likely exit the next poll as they currently sit at 2-2. The Shockers are vulnerable right now as Fred Van Vleet, their starting point guard, and arguably their best overall player, is sitting out with a hamstring injury. Nevertheless, they're still a veteran, well-coached team with a fanbase that travels, and there will be pressure for them to bounce back and finish strong this weekend. For all intents and purposes, tomorrow will be like a true road game environment for Alabama as the Shocker fans will easily outnumber the Crimson Tide supporters in attendance. This Bama team showed an ability to bounce back following the loss at Dayton. Let's hope they can do it again. 

Wichita State

68.8 PPG 75.0
75.2 OPP 66.5
.417 FG% .401
.417 OPP .422
.322 3PT% .313
.378 OPP .388
.629 FT% .745
.670 OPP .656
33.8 RPG .398
44.0 OPP 35.0
15.3 TOPG 11.5
16.8 OPP 16.3

Ron Baker has been forced to take up the slack while Van Vleet sits out. He's responded by averaging 21.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.3 apg and has knocked down 43% of his 3 point shots. Alabama must limit his production tomorrow.  The other double figure scorer for Wichita State is Anton Grady. He's averaging 10.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and 1.0 bpg. In total, Wichita State has seven players that are averaging 5 points or higher so there is balance on the offensive end. As of now, Van Vleet is expected to miss all three games in Orlando. His backup, Landry Shamet, also sat out the USC game. His status for the remainder of the event is unknown. In their place, Wichita has been playing Baker and Ty Taylor II, a freshman, at the point. Alabama needs to exploit Wichita's weakness and inexperience at that position. Forcing turnovers while not allowing Wichita State to control the pace of the game will be imperative for Alabama. Post scoring has also been an issue for Alabama. It would be nice to see more touches for Jimmie (only 4.25 field goal attempts per game so far) and Mike (2.25 field goal attempts per game, despite the fact that Mike has converted 88% of his field goals). 

Maimed by Musketeers, Xavier 64 Alabama 45.

Turnovers, fouls, and air-balls, that was the story of the game for Alabama.  We got off to a great start, especially defensively.  Xavier didn't score a basket until nearly 6 minutes into the game, and we were able to attack the basket to take a 9-2 lead.  Xavier made some adjustments and started playing a softer man before switching to a zone, which completely shut down our offense.  We were 5 of 28 from 3 point range.  Eventually, Xavier started making some shots and they were able to come back and put the game away.

On the positive side, we didn't completely fold when things went south.  Shannon Hale made a 3 at the end of the first half to cut the lead to 3, and while we never really threatened after the 15 minute mark of the second half, we at least answered enough to keep the score somewhat respectable.  Early in the game we did a good job of keeping them off the boards, but Xavier finally took control of the glass as they are prone to do.

Defense was a lot better, but we still fouled way too much.  At one point in the first half they had shot something like 19 free throws to our 2.  The intentional foul call, which I thought was questionable, was one of the turning points in the game.

Give credit to Xavier for keeping their composure despite not playing their best game.  They only shot 15 for 25 from the free throw line and had 18 turnovers themselves.  Early in the second half, Dazon Ingram had a 360 dunk to cut the lead to two points, but Xavier promptly answered by making back to back 3's to stretch the lead to 8, and that was pretty much the ball game.

Given our inability to shoot, it's not surprising that we struggled against the zone.  We actually ran a 2-3 zone, and briefly showed a 2-2-1 press in the second half.  It was moderately successful, but with our inability to score the defensive strategy was largely inconsequential.  The final box score says we "only" had 18 turnovers, but it sure seemed like a lot more watching the game.  I think at one point we turned it over on 5 straight possessions.  Many of them were unforced, double-dribbles, errant passes, and travels, that seemed to be the result of guys trying to rush their decisions but being non-committal.

Despite the aforementioned dunk, Ingram did not have one of his better games.  He had 6 points, one assist, and 6 turnovers.  Coleman was a little better with 10 points and only one turnover, but he was only 2 for 7 from three point range. On the rare occasion we went to the free throw line, we shot poorly again, making only 6 of 10.  Shannon scored 10 points but again, I think he did more harm than good with his 5 turnovers and lapses on defense.  Our bigs played decent, but couldn't stay out of foul trouble.  Jimmie showed some good moves in the first half and probably should have scored more, but he was unable to finish close to the basket.  Hall blocked 3 shots in 16 minutes and was a good defender of the rim, but also picked up 3 fouls in short order.  We were over matched, and the final outcome was not too surprising.

 The HP Field House is located in Disney/ESPNs Wide World of Sports Complex, and is a very nice facility that seats about 5,000.  Xavier brought significantly more fans than we did, I would estimate we had maybe 100 there to Xavier's 1,500.  Wichita State brought more than both teams combined, and there were also 50 or so Dayton fans across the way.  The Xavier fans were louder and more enthusiastic as you might expect.

We had several Shocker fans sitting near us, and while my past experience with that fan base has not always been positive, the people around us were great.  We were sitting right behind the bench and they were even cheering for and encouraging our guys. At halftime, I went to the concession stand to purchase beer, assuming that Bobbyjack would tend to our general admission seats.  Instead, he also made a concession stand run, and I returned to our seats to find four yellow clad WSU fans sitting there.  I politely explained that we had merely left to go to the concession stand, and offered to hold the seats for them and make sure they got them at the conclusion of our game.  The gentleman sitting closest to me was extremely accommodating, he apologized, vacated the seats, and wished us luck,  The WSU fan sitting in front us then informed me that "you just kicked the president of Wichita State University out of his seat!"  A quick google image search confirmed, their University president was indeed sitting in the 3rd row wearing a yellow WSU t-shirt.   Anyway, I know there is a bit of bad blood between our schools due to our courtship of Gregg Marshall (and I'm still not a fan of his goofy ass), but I thought it was really cool that a) their President makes the trip and sits in the stands like a normal fan and b) he was so kind to let us have our seats back for the remainder of our game and didn't pull the "do you know who I am" card.

Despite the loss, and their lack of seat-saving abilities, it was great to see Bobbyjack and his son again.

Up next, we play those Wichita State Shockers tomorrow at noon eastern since they were just upset by USC.  It will be another road game type environment against a top 25 team.  The Shockers are missing their best player and a contributing freshman guard, but this will still be a very difficult matchup for us.

Game Preview: Xavier

The Alabama men's basketball team has traveled to Orlando to take part in the Advocare Invitational, one of the many college basketball events that take place the week of Thanksgiving. Alabama will open the event against a familiar foe in Xavier, tipping off the event on Thursday at 11 AM. For those unable to make the trip to Orlando the game will be televised on ESPN2. This will be the third time in three years that the two programs will face each other. Xavier has won the last two meetings, and holds a 4-3 advantage in the all-time series. Xavier will also enter this game as the 23rd ranked team in the country in the AP poll. This game will be another significant challenge for Alabama. Xavier is deep, talented, experienced and well-coached.

Stats Comparison

Alabama                                    Xavier

76.7                  PPG                   80.8                                         
.451                  FG%                 .410
.387                  3PT%                .350
.633                  FT%                  .805
34.7                  RPG                   43.5
14.3                  TOPG                11.8

Xavier has seven players that average 9 points or better so Alabama will have to play a better brand of team defense than what we saw on Friday when they allowed Louisiana Lafayette to shoot 46% from the floor (40% from the 3 point line). Scoring 105 points while knocking down 15 3-point shots is fun to watch but, let's be honest, that was likely an outlier. Miss half of those 3-point shots and Alabama would have potentially been faced with a second straight ugly loss, this one at home. To beat the best teams on its schedule (and Xavier is definitely in that category), this Alabama team will have to defend at a higher level than what we've seen thus far.

Due to family obligations for Thanksgiving, I will be unable to watch the game live so I will be the annoying guy at the table checking his phone every two minutes. For those of you making the trip to Orlando, have a safe trip and enjoy yourselves. And may all of our readers and contributors have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. If the worst thing that happens to us this week is the Alabama basketball team loses some games, so be it. Roll Tide!  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sleeping with the Enemy, Xavier Musketeers

In advance of the opening game of the Advocare Invitational, I asked Joel D. from Banners on the Parkway to share his thoughts on the Xavier team and our upcoming game.  In addition to his response below, he also mentioned that they will run an "Alabama fan's guide to Xavier basketball," on the morning of the game.  I'm looking forward to reading it on my flight to Orlando.  If you visit the Banners on the Parkway site, please follow their rules and be a good representative of the University of Alabama.  Here is Joel D.'s response:

Xavier's biggest strength is in its depth. They have six guys averaging double figures and a seventh in Remy Abell who doesn't look for his own shot but can really hurt you if left alone. James Farr and Jalen Reynolds are both monster forwards, each listed at 6'10" and weighing over 230 pounds. Reynolds is a guy who is the focus of the offense when he posts deep whereas Farr gets his buckets more by chasing boards and being in the right place at the right time. More on these guys a hair later.

On the perimeter, Trevon Bluiett is the guy to look out for. He can jar jumpers from all over and has a nifty set of moves to get himself space. Myles Davis is the emotional leader of the team and - despite a slow start this year - a heck of a shooter. Edmond Sumner is a 6'6" redshirt freshman point guard who is just incredibly athletic. If he gets up a head of steam, he's looking to bury someone. He's prone to freshman mistakes, but we deal with them because he's so darn talented.

JP Macura comes off the bench to play the wing; he has serious gym rat game. He is a frenetic whirlwind of action all over the floor, has huge range, and can score from a lot of unusual angles. And don't forget Remy Abell, the team's best perimeter defender, a good shooter if left open, and an athletic finisher at the rack.

The other strength right now is rebounding. Xavier is shooting like garbage inside the arc right now, but they rebound 40% of their own misses. This is where Farr and Reynolds - and also Bluiett and Macura - come back into play. The Muskies feast on second-chance points, and Coach Mack rewards effort on the offensive glass with playing time.

The biggest team weakness is three-point defense. Do you have some guys who can shoot it from deep? They'll get their chances to hurt X. Aside from Remy Abell and reserve point guard Larry Austin, Jr., Xavier is basically bereft of even average perimeter defenders. This leads to guys getting torched off the bounce and opening up looks as the defense rotates. Xavier's counter to this is a 1-3-1 zone. The zone tends to get other teams scrambling a bit, but there are still clean looks to be had against it. We also tend to foul a lot.

My impression of Alabama right now is shaped by the drubbing they took at the hands of Dayton. Dayton and Xavier are rivals going way back, so we're kind of passively aware of each other all year. When I saw what UD had done to Alabama, I kind of noted it away as something to come back to this week once I see how X fares against the Tide.

My overarching impression of Alabama right now is that Avery Johnson has his work cut out for him. He can clearly recruit, but I'm not sure his style of coaching is going to translate from the NBA to college ball. Any transition between coaches is rough on a program, so Xavier is catching Alabama at a nadir in my estimation.

I think Xavier can control the game from the outset if they avoid turnovers. Any shot is going to be a fairly solid chance at point because Xavier should have the rebounding advantage at both ends. The advantage inside should translate into second-chance points and Alabama in foul trouble, which should in turn give X the chance to pull away fairly early. The potential spanner in the works is that Xavier has been miserable in holiday tournaments under Coach Mack. We've lost to teams much, much worse than Alabama is right now. Anything can happen on Thanksgiving with this program.

This seems like a terrible matchup for us.  I just hope we can be a little more competitive than we were against Dayton, which obviously isn't setting a very high bar.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Crimson Caps Cajuns, Alabama 105 ULL 93

Hopefully everybody took the over in this game. We had more points at halftime, 55, than we did in the entire game against Dayton.  It was the first time since 2004 that we scored 100 points against a Division 1 opponent.  It's amazing how much better this offense looks when the shots are falling. We had 6 guys in double digits, with Shannon, Justin, and Riley all scoring 18.  Retin added 17, Art Edwards had 12 and Dazon Ingran scored 10.  Obviously, we aren't going to shoot 15 of 25 from 3 point range every game, but when we do, and take care of the basketball like we did Friday night (only 11 turnovers) we will be able to put some points on the board.

I was especially pleased with the play of both point guards.  Dazon Ingram had 10 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and only 1 turnover.  For him to reach double digits in scoring despite Shawn Long protecting the rim for the Cajuns was impressive.  Justin had 18 points, 8 assists, and only one turnover, despite only shooting 2 for 9 from three point range.  He was 6 for 6 from the free throw line and generally made great decisions with the ball.  We were quite effective with both of them in the game at the same time in the second half, when Justin mainly played the 2.  I still think Justin holds the ball and dribbles a bit too much at times, but overall he had an excellent game, and was outstanding at protecting the ball late in the game.  The good Shannon Hale was back, shooting with confidence going 5 of 6 from downtown and only one turnover.  He seems much more comfortable at the 3 position than the 4.

Louisiana Lafayette is a lot like us in some ways.  They want to play very fast, but aren't particularly strong at shooting the ball.  Before we get too excited about the offensive outburst, it's important to note that ULL was giving up about 85 points per game coming into this contest.  Shawn Long was as good as advertised, making some 3s and dominating the boards for 25 points and 14 rebounds.  Thankfully, his free throw shooting wasn't very good, at only 4 for 10.  For some reason they sat him on the bench for a stretch in the first half during which we stretched our lead up to 16 points.  

Speaking of free throw shooting, we were much improved at the charity stripe this game.  Retin bricked a couple of technical shots in the first half, but otherwise we shot a respectable 26 of 35 for 74%.  That was important, as there were a lot of fouls in this game, by both teams.  

We need to improve defensively.  We were often beat down the floor and caught out of position leading to many of the fouls. In fairness, the pace of play unfairly influences a lot of people's perception regarding the quality of defense being played.  A lot of people notice point totals, but the simple math is the more possession you have in a game, the more possessions your opponent will have, and the more points you will give up.  A better measure of a defense's effectiveness is to look at defensive efficiency, or points allowed per possession.  Many people thought we played good defense last year under Coach Grant because we were involved in so many low scoring games, in fact, our defensive efficiency rating was .995, good for 171st in the nation.  So far this year, admittedly in a small sample size, our rating is 1.031 which ranks us 211th. Obviously that's not good, and we have regressed, but it's not as dramatic as it may seem.  

Beyond the fact that we are often caught out of position, I would like to see us try to change defenses a little more often.  We rarely press or run zone.  We stayed in a soft man most of the game, which wasn't an unreasonable approach, but against a team like ULL that can't really shoot but has a beast of a center, I would have liked to have seen a little bit of zone to try to prevent him from getting the ball.  We did switch to a half-court trap for a bit in the second half that created a few turnovers. 

I'm also a little surprised our opponents have not tried more zone or pressing defenses against us thus far.  With Coach Johnson's NBA background, he doesn't have a lot of experience in coaching against a press or trapping defense, and I'm curious to see how we will respond against those types of systems.  

The crowd was embarrassingly pathetic.  I would guess no more than 3,500 or so there, which is inexcusable for a Friday night 7pm tipoff against a team picked to win their conference, on a weekend with a home football game.  The student turnout was respectable, sections R,S, and T were more or less full up to the portals, and it was a noticeable contrast from the season ticket holders.  With the exception of a few of the women's basketball players, we had the entire row to ourselves.  The poor attendance was really disappointing after the solid crowd we had for Kennesaw State.  It is disheartening that so many seemingly threw in the towel after one bad loss.  If Terrance Ferguson ultimately signs elsewhere, or Coach Johnson goes back to the NBA in a couple of years after having some moderate success here, nights like this will probably be a big part of the reason why.  I realize traffic was horrendous coming from Birmingham, it took me an hour and 20 minutes. Still, we should have had at least twice as many people attend this game, if not more.  Furthermore, the University roped off a huge section of the parking lot to accommodate the football RVs, of which I think I counted a grand total of 4 that were present at tip-off.  On the bright side, the lack of a crowd made it easier to get out than what I feared.  The few present were loud and into the game throughout, and mostly stayed till the end.  It was our last true home game for nearly a month.  

Up next, we're going to Disney World!  Bama will travel to Orlando to participate in the Advocare Invitational at ESPN's Wide World of Sports.  Our first game is at noon EST on Thanksgiving Thursday against the Xavier Musketeers, so enjoy some Tide hoops with your turkey.  Xavier is already 3-0 with a 16 point road win over top 25 Michigan on their resume, so this will be another very tough test.  Bobbyjack and I will both be there, so be sure to check back here for a first hand report.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Game Preview: Louisiana Lafayette

Alabama will look to rebound from a humbling 32 point loss at Dayton when they host Louisiana Lafayette on Friday night at 7:00 PM. If you can't make it out to Coleman Coliseum, the game will be carried on SEC Network+, accessible through the Watch ESPN app. Lafayette was the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt Conference. They enter this game at 1-1, with the loss coming at Miami. They are an experienced, talented team with a potential draft pick in star big man, Shawn Long. This will be yet another challenge for a young Alabama team looking to regain some confidence following that tough game this past Tuesday.

Stats Comparison

Alabama                                  Louisiana Lafayette

62.5                 PPG                 92.5
.404                 FG%               .530
.243                 3PT%              .200
.545                 FT%                .643
36.0                 RPG                .430
16.0                 TOPG              12.5

Three Players to Watch for Louisiana Lafayette

1. Shawn Long - F - 6'11, 246 lbs - 17.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.0 bpg.
2. Devonta Walker - F - 6'7, 220 lbs - 14.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg
3. Jay Wright - G - 6'1, 180 lbs - 10.0 ppg, 5.0 apg

This Lafayette team begins and ends with Long, a legitimate NBA prospect, whose length, interior scoring ability and rebounding prowess are going to make him a tough task for Jimmie, Donta, Mike, and anyone else who has to guard him. But Long is only one of five players averaging double figure scoring through two games so Alabama can not focus on him exclusively. Lafayette wants to play fast, which is how Alabama wants to play, but Lafayette may be the more skilled team, and is certainly the more experienced team with a roster dotted with juniors and seniors. There are some similarities between the two teams. Neither is great when it comes to perimeter shooting or particularly effective at the free throw line, and they have a lot of work to do on the defensive end as Alabama opponents are averaging 72.0 ppg through two games, while Lafayette's opponents are averaging 80.5.

I believe the key to this game will be how Alabama competes on the boards against a team that was one of the best rebounding teams in the nation last season, and is +15 in rebounding margin through their first two games this season. While both teams may not be stellar when it comes to shooting the ball, if Lafayette gains extra possessions off the glass the odds will shift favorably in their direction. Jimmie Taylor has to avoid silly fouls, and stay on the floor in this game or I'm not sure Alabama can win. But, with a series of tough games looming in Orlando next week, Alabama has to find a way to win this game tonight.

The SEC could also use some victories. In what was expected to be a step forward for the conference as a basketball league this season, the first week of the season has instead been brutal. Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas have already dropped games. Some of the losses have been RPI killers (Southern over Mississippi State, George Mason over Ole Miss on a neutral court, Chattanooga over Georgia, Akron over Arkansas) while others have just been face plants (Alabama at Dayton, Auburn gives up 91 points to Colorado in a home loss). The projections from the league have dipped from talk of six, maybe seven teams, making the tournament in the preseason to only four teams being the magic number now. The conference as a whole really needs to step up its level of play.                 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Darkest before Dawn, Dayton Dominates, 80-48.

This is what happens when you have a young team, trying to learn a new system, which frankly does not suit their talent, playing against a good team on the road.  This won't be the last game like this in the 2015-16 season.  I really don't even want to write about this game, but I know some of you were probably stuck at work and unable to watch, so I feel I owe you at least a halfhearted recap.  

Let me preface this by saying I was watching on TV in a bar with no audio.  Also, I missed part of the second half as I left once it got out of hand to walk back to my office.  

We were competitive early.  It was an ugly game for the first 10-15 minutes or so, with both teams committing numerous fouls and turnovers, but we were scrapping.  The game had no rhythm, but we were sticking around, and actually went on a 7-0 run to take an 18-16 lead.  Dayton promptly answered to go on a big run to take a 40-24 lead into the half, and that was that.

We were simply over-matched.  We tried to play fast, but that often resulted in turnovers or horrible shots in traffic near the basket that were easily blocked.  We didn't have a single player score in double-digits.  Once Dayton started taking care of the basketball and making their open shots, it was game over.

Neither point guard had a great game.  Ingram had 2 points, 4 assists, but 4 turnovers, while Coleman had 3 points, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers.  Hale is supposed to be a veteran on this team, but once again he had 2 points and 6 turnovers. He is hurting this team more than he is helping it right now.  Retin was 2 for 10, and only scored 7 points.  Again, we need more out of our veteran leaders.  

If you are looking for a bright spot, I thought Donta Hall played reasonably well again.  He had 7 points and 6 rebounds in 20 minutes.  Norris also didn't have a terrible game, he was our leading scorer with 9 points, although I'm fine with never seeing him attempt to dunk again.

The bottom line is this is a team that is trying to play with a fast tempo despite a horrific inability to shoot the basketball.  We were 5 for 20 from three point range and once again stunk it up at the free throw line, going 9 for 17.

I thought we got frustrated on defense once the game got out of hand.  We switched to a zone early in the second half but did not look comfortable in it at all.  It felt like a desperation move at the time.  

Coach Johnson is in a tough position.  He's promised the incoming recruits that we are going to play this way, but this style of play really doesn't give the current team much of a chance to win against better competition.  I worry that many losses in this fashion could hurt our recruiting efforts, but at the same time he loses credibility with prospects if he doesn't do what he says.  He's also still learning the college game, and I think he expects his players to be a little better fundamentally than they are.  

As fans, we need to accept the fact that this is a transitional year.  Stay positive, support the team and the staff, don't worry too much about wins and losses (and margin of defeat), watch for player development throughout the season and rest easy knowing that help is on the way.  The team never gave up, they just got stomped by a far superior opponent.

Up next, the Ragin Cajuns from Louisiana Lafayette come to Coleman for a 7pm tipoff Friday night.  They were in the NCAA tournament 2 years ago and made it to the quarterfinals of the CIT last season, so this will be another challenging game.  We need another good crowd in Tuscaloosa to let the guys know we're still behind them.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Game Preview: at Dayton

Alabama travels to Dayton for their first road game of the season. The game will be televised on ESPN tomorrow at 12:00 PM as part of the College Basketball Tip Off Marathon event. It's a great opportunity early in the season for this Alabama team to make a statement against a top 40 program. Dayton has won 53 games the past two seasons while advancing to the NCAA Tournament. This game will be a challenge. Dayton is experienced, well-coached, and UD Arena is one of the tougher places that Alabama will visit this season.

Stats Comparison

Alabama                                                  Dayton

77.0                           PPG                       84.0
.509                           FG%                      .519                     
.235                           3PT%                    .364
.556                           FT%                      .595
38.0                           RPG                       52.0
12.0                           TOPG                    17.0

Three Players to Watch for Dayton:

1. Scoochie Smith - G - 6'2, 180 lbs - 8.0 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.0 spg.
2. Kendall Pollard - F - 6'6, 235 lbs - 8.0 ppg, 10.0 apg
3. Ryan Mikesell - F - 6'7, 195 lbs - 21.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.0 apg

It's a small sample size for the Flyers, but Mikesell, a freshman, exploded for 21 points (5 of 7 from 3) in a 31 point victory in their season opener against Southeast Missouri State. Sophomore Darrell Davis also contributed 15 points and 8 boards. But it's Smith and Pollard, both veteran guards, who will be the heart and soul of this team. If the game is close late, it will be Pollard or Smith who will be called on to make plays. This Dayton team has won 53 games the last two seasons despite a lack of depth and size. While they will miss Dyshawn Pierre, their leading returning scorer and rebounder, as he serves a suspension, this is a deeper Dayton team than they've had in years. Throw in the edge in experience and a strong home court advantage, and Alabama will have its hands full tomorrow.

Sleeping with the Enemy, Dayton Fliers.

I asked Tom Blackburn at Blackburn Review to tell us a little bit about Dayton and thoughts on tomorrow's game.  If you visit the Blackburn Review, please follow their rules and be a good representative of the University of Alabama.  Here was his response:

Dayton, the preseason pick to win the Atlantic Ten, returns 3 starters from last year's 27-9 team. UD's lone senior, and arguably most vital puzzle piece, Dyshawn Pierre, has been suspended for the first semester for violating the school's code of conduct. Archie Miller has brought in a solid freshman class and Charles Cooke, a transfer from James Madison, to add some much needed depth to the roster. Dayton goes about 8-9 deep, employs a frenetic pace on offense and places an emphasis on defensive rebounding. 

UD Arena is a tough place for any opponent to play, and I'm sure the student section will be extra raucous with an excuse to start drinking on a Tuesday morning. Vegas has the Flyers as nine point favorites, but I think Bama keeps it closer than that -- call it a five point win for UD.

 My first impression of the Tide is that they are young and lack depth. I think the powers that be were wise to cut ties with Anthony Grant and I assume that Avery Johnson will be an improvement -- particulary on the recruiting trail. There's reason for optimism in Tuscaloosa, as Alabama will likely be a consistent and competitive program in a year or two.

I guess both teams like to play fast, so it should be an entertaining game.  I'm hoping the early Tuesday tip off will keep some of their fans away.  Still, this is an away game against a team that has advanced in the tournament the last two years and has a lot of guys returning, it's going to be an uphill battle.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Bama on the Prowl, Stomps the Owls, Alabama 77 Kennesaw State 64

Bama was able to take advantage of their significant size, strength, and athleticism advantage to secure the first official win of the Coach Avery Johnson era.  Alabama took an early 15-3 game, and it looked as though it may be a route, but give credit to a scrappy KSU bunch for not going away quietly.

We attacked the basket early in the game to exploit the Owls smaller size, and we were able to get to the free throw line with some regularity.  Unfortunately, we do not appear to be a very good free throw shooting team right now.  We finished 15 for 27 after a putrid 4 of 13 in the first half.  We could have easily built a 20 point lead if we were somewhat competent at the foul line.

Dazon Ingram got the start at point guard and did a great job.  He had 16 points, 4 assists, and only one turnover.  He did a great job of finishing around the basket.  I was most impressed with his defense, I thought we lost a bit defensively when he came out of the game for Justin Coleman.

Retin quietly led the way in scoring with 18 points, and Shannon Hale had 13, although 8 of those came in the first part of the game.  Hale was inconsistent, and his turnovers hurt us a bit.

The lead fluctuated between 10 and 15 points for most of the game, but I never really felt we were in serious danger.  Kennesaw State managed to slow the pace down in the second half which seemed to frustrate our offense.  We had a 5 minute scoring drought, and at one point KSU made back to back 3's around an Alabama turnover cutting the lead to single-digits.  The team and crowd responded well and the lead was back to 14 a few minutes later.

Yonel Brown for KSU was amazing.  For the most part, we played solid defense against him, but he still scored 34 points.  He looked like a poor mans Steph Curry out there.  Despite being only 5'7" he scored from anywhere on the floor, with a hand in his face, regardless of whether his feet were set or even facing the basket.  If the Owls could get him just a little bit of help, they wouldn't be a bad team.

Overall, it was a good win despite being a little sloppy at times.  We will need to clean up the turnovers and do better from the free throw line if we expect to win some of our tough upcoming games.  We only shot 4 of 17 from three point range, and that won't cut it against bigger teams.  We will find out what we have over the next couple of weeks, with tough games at Dayton, a solid Louisiana-Lafayette team coming in next week, followed by the Thanksgiving tournament in Orlando.

There was a solid crowd, I would guess about 10,000, the most I can remember for a home opener in some time.  It was mostly all Alabama fans, as I didn't see or hear more than a handful of KSU supporters.  The atmosphere was great, and most people stayed till the end.  We need to keep this up all year so recruits will know that we are serious about supporting Coach Johnson and this program.

Up next, we go to Dayton for a noon CDT tipoff as part of the ESPN 24 hour tip-off marathon.  It will be a very tough test, and also a very long lunch break for some of us Tuesday.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Game Preview: Kennesaw State

The Avery Johnson era officially begins tomorrow night at 7:30 PM when the season tips off against Kennesaw State. The game will be the second of a doubleheader, which also includes the women's team tipping off their season against Alabama A&M at 4:30 PM. Tickets for both games are $5.00. If you're in the area, please go support both teams and help them get off to a successful start. Avery Johnson announced today on Twitter that only 2,000 tickets remain for the game so a good crowd is anticipated for tomorrow night. If you can't make it to Coleman, the game will be available to watch on SEC Network+, accessible through the Watch ESPN app.

Kennesaw State, a member of the Atlantic Sun conference, will also be introducing a new head coach in Al Skinner, previously the head man at Rhode Island (1988-1997) and Boston College (1997-2010). At Boston College, he was the National Coach of the Year in 2001, as well as the Big East Coach of the Year in 2001 and 2005. He brings a wealth of experience to the bench, and I expect him to have success at Kennesaw. He will have a nice foundation with two senior starters back who were also the top two scorers for the team last season.

Three Players to Watch for Kennesaw State:

1. Yonel Brown - G - 5'9, 160 lbs - Led team in scoring (15.2), assists (2.8), steals (1.2) last season.
                                                       Shot 38% from 3, 90% from the free throw line. Can do a little bit of
                                                       everything for this team.
2. Nigel Pruitt - F - 6'7, 180 lbs - 2nd on the team in scoring (12.2) last season.
3. Bernard Morena - F - 6'8, 200 lbs - Began his career at Auburn. This Kennesaw team does not have a
                                                            lot of size. Morena (and fellow forward, Jordan Jones) are the
                                                            tallest players on the team at 6'8.

The Bama guards will have their hands full trying to contain Brown, and Skinner's college coaching experience (even Coach Avery cited it in his press conference) on the bench is an x-factor in this game. Otherwise, Alabama appears to have the advantage in all other areas, at least on paper. It will be one of the few times this season Alabama will have a clear size advantage on the floor so they need to exploit it. Buckle up, a new season is upon us. Roll Tide!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sleeping with the Enemy, Kennesaw State Owls.

Welcome to the first edition of what we hope will be a regular feature going forward on the blog.  We thought it would be a good idea to get our opposing fans' perspective on  upcoming games.  So, I reached out to King Owl at The Owl Howl and asked him to tell us about his team and his thoughts on the game.  If you visit the Owl Howl, please follow their rules and be a good representative of the University of Alabama.

Please note, this will not replace the game previews that Bobbyjack has posted in the post. Bobbyjack always did a great job of giving us all the stats and keys to the game.   I believe MSmilie is going to be taking over that role this year, and we all know he is basically a walking college basketball encyclopedia.  However, fans usually know their own teams a little better than anybody else, plus its always interesting to get an idea of how others view our team and program.

Without further ado, King Owl was kind enough to take the time to send us his thoughts below:

Kennesaw State's basketball program is one that is in a seemingly eternal state of rebuilding after two horrible hires by Director of Athletics Vaughn Williams. Looking for stability, Williams turned to fellow Massachusetts alum and former Boston College head coach Al Skinner to lead the program.

I look at this game against Alabama as one that was scheduled late to help offset the cost of paying three head coaches this season. A game against a smaller school to prepare KSU for upcoming contests against LSU and Arizona State would have been ideal. Our team is led by seniors and team captains Yonel Brown and Nigel Pruitt. Brown is a 5'9" point guard who can finish seemingly impossible shots inside but also hit the open three point shot with ease. Pruitt is a wiry 6'7" forward that can score in bunches. Joining the list of top scorers should be unredshirted Quinnipiac transfer combo guard Kendrick Ray, a long 6'1" athlete who is the brother of former Villanova standout Allan Ray. Sophomore guard Nick Masterson is a sharpshooter from the outside who earned a scholarship as a freshman after entering school as a preferred walk-on. 6'8" forward Bernard Morena is an Auburn transfer who will be playing under his fourth D1 coach.

Because we were one of the last two or three teams to hire a head coach this offseason, they didn't get their pick of the litter in terms of recruits but I think they did a pretty good job. Toledo transfer power forward Aubrey Williams leads the list. Freshman defensive specialist Tracy Hector should also see time as one of the first guards off the bench. Forward Kosta Jankovic and guard Josh Burnett can hit the open three while point guard Kyle Clarke may get spot minutes. I would say that right now the team's biggest strength is its guard play, and I would call our starting backcourt duo one of the top two or three in the 8 team Atlantic Sun Conference. It all depends on how well Ray performs, but I trust that he will be very good at this level. I also think that our outside shooting will be better than it has been in past years, but you never know what will happen with young players, a new coach and a shorter shot clock. Al Skinner has traditionally run a flex offense, with lots of screen the screener action and flex cuts.

Our biggest weakness right now is that we have no defensive presence inside. We really have no answer, and we didn't last year either. Our biggest players are 6'6" 225 and 6'8" 205. My expectations for Kennesaw State are few. I expect a steady improvement from the beginning of the year to the end, good effort all around and some sort of hope for the future to arise. When it comes to Friday's game, I can name one player on the Tide, Avery Johnson Jr. I'm not going to do any research, I'm just going to let the game be a surprise and see what happens! 

I could see the Flex giving our team some trouble defensively, as Coach Johnson obviously prefers to play at a much faster pace.   It should make for an interesting clash of styles between two teams that have similar expectations on the season.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Tide Trumps Trevecca Trojans, 87-65

The Avery Johnson era is off to a good start with a 87-65 win in an exhibition game against the Division II TNU Trojans.  Although these games are ultimately meaningless, and have proven to be poor predictors for the season ahead; winning handily sure beats the hell out of struggling with Stillman as we have in recent years (no disrespect to our neighboring Tigers).

Coach Johnson has totally transformed the offensive system.  It looked nothing like what we've seen the last few years.  It is very much an NBA type of system, designed to quickly identify and exploit a favorable matchup.  I suspect it won't look quite as pretty when we are playing a team that doesn't give us a favorable matchup at every position, but we will not be struggling to score against lesser teams as we have in the past.

For the first time in years, I actually sat through an entire game without once screaming in frustration, "SHOOT THE DAMN BALL!"  These guys know when they get an open look, they better put it up. Shannon Hale looks much more comfortable in this system, and hopefully he is over his injuries and and/or sophomore slump.  He led the way with 18 points and played like the Shannon Hale we had seen glimpses of his freshman season.

I was pleasantly surprised by the play of Arthur Edwards.  I was not expecting much based on his numbers from New Mexico, but he played 22 minutes and scored 12 points while shooting 2 for 5 from three point range.  Shannon Hale was 3 for 5 from downtown, but as a whole the team only made 6 of 25 from behind the arc, so you can do the math and figure out how poorly everyone else shot.  Brandon Austin, who I hyped here as having a nice shot, was 0 for 6 and really struggled.  He looked exhausted when he was on the floor.

Donta Hall played very well and I think he's going to be an outstanding player for us before his career is over.  He was a little overlooked in the recruiting process because he played for a small school, but right now I don't feel like we lose anything with him in the game instead of Jimmie Taylor.  In 11 minutes he had 3 blocked shots, 6 points, and made an athletic play in getting a steal in the open court and taking it in for a fast break dunk.

The starting lineup was 1. Justin Coleman 2. Retin Obasohan 3. Shannon Hale 4. Riley Norris 5. Jimmie Taylor.  I've heard a lot of people commenting that Dazon Ingram should be the starting point guard, but at this point I disagree.  He obviously has more size, strength, and athletic ability, so perhaps he has a higher ceiling, but I think Coleman is slightly better overall right now.  Both made some outstanding plays.  Ingram came into the game and immediately had a no look pass for an assist on the break.  On the other hand, his next no look pass ended up in the third row.  Coleman had 2 assists and no turnovers, while Ingram had 4 assists but 3 turnovers.  Coleman isn't afraid to shoot, but he only scored 9 points going 1 for 5 from three point range.  Both are going to look to pass before they shoot for the most part, but Coleman's points will come from the perimeter whereas Ingram will be finishing around the basket.  They compliment each other well, and even played together for a stretch, though I doubt we will see much of that when the season starts.

Defensively, we played mostly man to man in the half-court, and we really didn't press much. Trevecca was able to keep the game close in the first half, in large part because we did not play well on defense.  We failed to get through some screens and didn't bother getting our hands up or in the shooter's faces, allowing them to knock down some open 3's.  Our guards and SFs also allowed their guards to beat us on the baseline a few times.  We were able to outscore them and take a 45-34 lead into the locker room at halftime, and the defensive effort was much better in the second half, as we put the game away in the first 5 to 6 minutes despite missing about 10 straight threes during that stretch.  

Generally speaking, I was very pleased with Coach Johnson's approach.  The picture above with him speaking to Justin Coleman was taken while Kessens was shooting a free throw.  He called him over and quickly illustrated something using his coach's board.  There are a few adjustments he's going to have to make to adapt to the college game.  For one, the college court is not quite as long as the NBA court, and therefore the coach's boxes are much smaller.  At times, Coach Johnson was at midcourt, and possibly even on the other side of midcourt.  I rarely say this, but credit to Ted Valentine for being understanding and explaining/reminding him multiple times without calling a technical.  Also, we had a substitution disallowed because our player did not report before the first horn during a timeout.  These are minor issues that I'm sure Coach will get accustomed to sooner rather than later.  

I know most people view this as relatively insignificant, but I was ecstatic by the way we managed the clock at the end of the first half. Long time readers of this blog know that clock management somewhat of a pet peeve of mine.  For the last six years, on seemingly every last offensive possession of the first half, I've watched us either a) not use the "use it or lose it" timeout, b)use said timeout, but draw up a play that has us shooting with nearly 10 seconds left, giving our opponent the final possession or c) just dribbling the clock down to 5 seconds or so before setting a high ball screen for the point guard, or some combination thereof.   With 16 seconds left in the first half, Coach Johnson used the "use it or lose it" timeout, before I even thought to start screaming about it like a mad man as I've become accustomed to doing. Not only that, he drew up a play that actually featured several passes and off the ball screens, resulting in Hale getting an open look in the corner with 2 seconds left, which he knocked down.  

While we are on the subject of coaches, the TNU coach was quoted after the game saying something to the effect of, "they were a lot faster than what we saw on video from last year, we weren't prepared for that tempo."  I probably shouldn't be ripping on a Division 2 coach who was kind enough to come down here and give us a game, but...c'mon man!  Seriously?  It wasn't exactly a big secret that we have a new coach, and that new coach has repeatedly announced publicly, on an almost daily basis since taking the job, "we're going to play fast."  How anybody, much less an opposing coach, could be surprised that a team that practices with a 20 second shot clock shoots the ball quickly, is totally baffling to me.  

The crowd was a huge disappointment, I would guess no more than 3,000 were there.  I know it's only an exhibition game, but I was hopeful we would have a better turnout for the new coach with so many people in town for the big football game.  The weather was less than ideal, so perhaps that kept some folks away.  Those who did show up were enthusiastic and loud throughout.  There was a real sense of excitement in the building, and I do think having the students closer to the floor contributed to a better atmosphere.  Also, the NBA influence did not end at the product on the floor, as the entire presentation has been reformed to have an NBA feel to it. Prior to the game, the cheerleaders are spread out around the floor in front of all of the sections instead of being concentrated in the student section or on the floor, and they've brought in an "MC" type of person with a microphone to announce the contests and do various things during timeouts and dead balls to keep the crowd into it.  I'm normally a traditionalist when it comes to such things; I find it insulting to a fanbase to need to be told when to "get loud," but it really didn't bother me in this case. We're obviously looking for ways to create some excitement and get more fans in the seats. I've heard credible rumors regarding the amount of money the athletic department paid to have Rae Sremmurd play the Tide tip-off event, and it's about three times what I expected it to be.  I only mention this to say it's encouraging that we actually seem to be dedicating some resources to basketball, including marketing the program.  We've come a long way since I was student when Coach Gottfried had to buy us pizza out of his own pocket.

Up next, we play for keeps in the season opener against the Kennesaw State Owls.  Tip-off is tentatively set for 7:30 pm Friday night.  It's the second half of a double header, the women will play Alabama A&M at 4:30.  Let's pack the house and support both of our basketball teams Friday night as the 2015-16 season officially gets underway!

Friday, November 06, 2015

It's Game Day! Alabama vs Trevecca Nazarene

Alabama basketball returns tonight! The men's team will face Trevecca Nazarene in an exhibition game at Coleman Coliseum. Tip time is 7:00.

Trevecca Nazarene is a Division II school from Nashville. An experienced team, they return virtually their entire roster from last season. After playing tonight, Trevecca will officially begin their season with a game tomorrow (!) against Tennessee Wesleyan, a conference opponent (!!). Talk about a quick turnaround.

As the season progresses and actual stats are accumulated, I will list stats in this space. Expect to see full stats for each team for every game preview starting with the Dayton game.

Three Players to Watch for Trevecca Nazarene:

1. Byron Sanford - G - 6'0, 175 lbs - Led team in scoring (18.1) assists (4.4) and steals (2.7) last season.
2. Matt Gamberoni - C - 6'10, 250 lbs - Third in scoring (10.7). Led team in rebounds (7.6) and blocks (1.0) last season.
3. Tyrell Corlew - G - 6'4, 195 lbs - Second in scoring (10.8). 37% from 3, 78% at the free throw line.

For a Bama team breaking in a new coaching staff, and a roster that is half made up of freshmen and sophomores, a deep, experienced team like Trevecca may provide some challenges, particularly if Alabama comes out sloppy. Exhibitions are no longer glorified scrimmages. Alabama has had some close calls in recent years; and just this week, a D2 school beat St. John's by 32 points (yes, 32 points), while Auburn was taken to overtime last night, winning a game that totaled 223 points. It may not count against the record, but nobody likes to lose these types of games.   

Catching up before the first exhibition game tonight.

My apologies for the lack of updates over the last few weeks.  The day job has been time consuming.
BBQ and Practice

A few weeks ago I went to the annual Tide Pride/Tuscaloosa tip off club bbq and practice.  As always, I tried to focus on the newcomers.  Shannon Hale and Mike Kessons sat out due to injuries.  The practice was much more up-tempo than we've seen in the past.  They started with the teams split working on various half-court drills, then there was a 20 minute or so full court scrimmage.  There were much fewer stoppages in play than what we saw under Coach Grant's practices.  Another major difference I noticed is that the assistant coaches are much more involved.  Coach Pospichal is very energetic, and he even interacted with the crowd at times.  

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Schedule Preview - February/March

With the first game of the season against Trevecca Nazarene tomorrow night, it's time to conclude the schedule preview by looking at the final stretch of games that Alabama will play during February and early March. 

February 2nd, 2016 - at Mississippi State - You have to give Mississippi State credit. Rick Ray was a first class guy, and I believe he's a good coach, but it was obvious he was struggling to tunnel out of the mess that Rick Stansbury left the program in. Realizing this, the administration made a change, and possibly made the best hire in the sport in the offseason. Bringing a coach with Howland's resume to Starkville was a home run for the school. This conference is filling up fast with quality coaches, but Howland is quickly making moves that could put him and this Mississippi State program at the top. Howland showed no rust in quickly signing 5 star guard Malik Newman, and already has a potential top five recruiting class on tap for 2016. The man is putting in work, and the circumstances are such that there may not be much rebuilding for him to do in Starkville. The 15-16 team will have a rare number of experienced players for a first year coaching staff as the program returns 6 of the top 8 scorers from a year ago, including Craig Sword (11.3 ppg, 1.0 spg), Gavin Ware (10.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.1 bpg) and Fred Thomas (9.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg). Throw in a talented recruiting class led by the aforementioned Newman and 4 star Quinndary Weatherspoon, and some college basketball media types think this Mississippi State team could be a darkhorse in the league. That may be a little premature for a program that has only won 13 conference games in the last three seasons; however, the NIT is not an unfair expectation. Alabama will play Mississippi State again a couple of weeks after this game.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Schedule Preview - January

The new year means conference play. Alabama will have one final non-conference game before entering league play at Ole Miss, where they will be the first opponent in the new Ole Miss basketball arena, The Pavilion at Ole Miss. Three of their first five league games are on the road, with one of the home games being Kentucky. Welcome to conference play, Avery Johnson.

January 2nd, 2016 - Norfolk State - In the last four seasons the Norfolk State program has won 86 games, and has advanced to the postseason in each of those seasons. Only 3 of the top 8 scorers return from the 14-15 squad so Norfolk will be challenged to maintain the consistency they've enjoyed. One major reason why they may still factor into the MEAC race is the return of their leading scorer from last season, Jeff Short, an All-MEAC player that averaged 19.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 1.9 apg. The other notable returner is D'Shon Taylor, with averages of 13.0 ppg and 5.0 rpg.