My Two Cents: After a season of ups and downs, this Alabama team finally seemed to turn a corner in Nashville last week. Can they maintain that level of play in the NIT? If so, this team can win multiple games in this tournament. Richmond should be a good first test. I haven't had an opportunity to watch this Richmond team, but the Spiders have typically been a well-coached team from an underrated conference in the A-10. Head Coach Chris Mooney played for Pete Carril at Princeton, incorporating aspects of the famed "Princeton offense" (a disciplined style of play that emphasizes constant motion and passing, picks, and back-door cuts) at Air Force and now at Richmond. Unlike those great Princeton teams under Carril, Mooney's teams play at a much faster tempo (this team is ranked just outside the top 100 of adjusted tempo at KenPom; Alabama by comparison is ranked 301). High tempo teams have been an issue for this Alabama team. With such a short turnaround, it will be a tough match-up to prepare for. Avery Johnson has mentioned in his press conferences that his team is ready to play more basketball. That's good. The mental hurdle of the disappointment of missing the NCAA Tournament is always the first step to competing in this tournament. It will take a focused effort for Alabama to win this game and advance.
Players to Watch: Dazon Ingram had a great SEC Tournament, finishing with averages of 13.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.3 apg, and only 1.3 turnovers per game (he did not turn the ball over in Alabama's two wins in the tournament). I think we all agree that Dazon has the potential to be a special player if he ever puts it all together. There were sustained glimpses of that last week. Let's hope there is more to come. I also want to give props to Riley Norris who also had a nice week in Nashville, averaging 9.6 ppg and 6 rpg. We know that Riley does a lot of little things to help this team win, but when he's making shots, this Alabama team becomes a very capable offensive unit.
T.J. Cline is going to be a problem. The 6'9, 230 lb senior has an impressive stat line: 18 ppg (51% FG), 7.8 rpg, and leads the team with 5.6 apg. And if Cline isn't intimidating enough on paper, ShawnDre' Jones adds 16.8 ppg, 3.9 apg and makes just under 40% of his 3-point attempts. Limiting those two guys is a priority to say the least.
Prediction: I always like teams that enter the postseason playing at a high level, and Alabama certainly appears to be playing their best basketball of the season coming into this tournament. That said, I like what Richmond has on paper, and the Spiders did have a 5-game win streak before losing an OT game to VCU in the A-10 semifinals. While Richmond's tempo could be a problem, I think our defense and rebounding could be the difference. Alabama could have a battle on their hands here, but I'm going to stick with the good guys to continue their improved play. Alabama - 69 - Richmond - 61