Thursday, August 24, 2017

We have a Schedule!

The SEC released it's full schedule, so combined with the non-conference schedule that's been out for a few weeks now, we know the full slate.

v. Memphis (Annapolis, MD) Nov. 10 (Fri)
v. Lipscomb Nov. 14 (Tues)
v. Alabama A&M Nov. 17 (Fri)
v. UT Arlington Nov. 21 (Tues)
v. BYU (Barclays Classic, Brooklyn, NY) Nov. 24 (Frid)
v. Minnesota (Barclays Classic, Brooklyn, NY) Nov. 25 (Sat)
v. La Tech Nov. 29 (Wed)
v. UCF Dec. 3 (Sun)
v. Rhode Island Dec. 6 (Wed)
@Arizona Dec.9 (Sat)
v. Mercer Dec.19 (Huntsville, AL) (Tues)
v. Texas Dec. 22 (Birmingham, AL) (Fri)
v. Texas A&M Dec. 30 (Sat)
@Vandy Jan.2 (Tues)
@Georgia Jan.6 (Sat)
@LSU Jan.13 (Sat)
v. auburn Jan. 17 (wed)
v. miss $tate Jan. 20 (Sat)
@ Ole Miss Jan. 23 (Tues)
v. Oklahoma Jan. 27 (Sat)
v. Mizzou Jan. 31 (Wed)
@Florida Feb.3 (Sat)
@miss $tate Feb.6 (Tues)
v. Tennessee Feb.10 (Sat)
v. LSU Feb. 13 (Tues)
@Kentucky Feb.17 (Sat)
@auburn Feb. 21 (Wed)
v. Arkansas Feb.24 (Sat)
v. Florida Feb. 27 (Tues)
@Texas A&M Mar. 3 (Sat)
SEC Tournament (St. Louis, MO) Mar. 7-11
NCAA Tournament  TBA

A few thoughts, we've discussed how tough the non-conference schedule is, but there's only one true road game, albeit very possibly against the top ranked team in the country.  Three straight road games to start the conference play, but all very winnable, though we know what a house of horrors Memorial gym can be.  No Monday or Thursday starts in conference play this year, so we won't have the short Thursday Saturday turnaround.  The final stretch is pretty salty, @uk, @au, Ark, Fla, @aTm

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Recruiting Update: 2018 3-star Guard Schedules Visit

Diante Wood, a 6'4, 175 lb guard from Anniston, Alabama has scheduled an official visit to Alabama the weekend of October 13-15. That's the weekend of the football game vs Arkansas. Wood is currently rated as a 3-star guard in the class of 2018 by 247 Sports.

Wood's head coach at Sacred Heart Catholic School - Ralpheal Graves - was quoted in a recent Bama Online article that Diante is in contact with the Bama staff every day, and that he has a very close relationship with Antoine Pettway. If Bama emerges as Wood's leader, don't be surprised if he commits to Alabama after his official visit in October. Here's some recent  video of Diante.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Recruiting Update: Alabama in Final 6 for 4-star 2018 Guard

This news was announced last week, but I decided to wait until after the games in Canada to write about it. Jared Butler is a 4-star, top 100 guard in the class of 2018. Last week he announced via Twitter the final six schools he is considering. Alabama made the cut, along with Texas, USC, Virginia, Wichita State and Baylor. Butler is from Reserve, Louisiana. He was quoted in a July article posted by Evan Daniels at Scout that he was going to take an official visit to Alabama. He has previously made an unofficial visit to Tuscaloosa, which I detailed here. Butler was a member of MEBO Team Hood this spring and summer. MEBO is based in Mississippi, and features another 2018 Alabama target, Robert Woodard. You can see Butler and Woodard (12) playing together in the video posted below.

Elsewhere, Alabama made the "final 9" list for 3-star Mississippi recruit, Javian Fleming. Among the other eight schools that made the cut are Georgetown, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Tennessee. My belief is Alabama is the favorite for Fleming. For what it's worth, the early predictions for Fleming at 247 Sports also list Alabama as the favorite. Still a long way to go with Javian's recruitment, but that's encouraging. Hit the break for a highlight video of Jared and Javian.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bama Grinds Out 81-71 Victory vs Ottawa

In the final game of their Canadian tour, our guys overcame another slow start and poor shooting night to knock off the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, 81-71. Several players - Dazon Ingram, Herb Jones and Collin Sexton - sat out for precautionary reasons.

Ottawa got off to a hot start, leading by as much as 7 points in the 1st quarter. Alabama put together a strong 2nd quarter, outscoring the Gee-Gees by 11, and a 6-point halftime lead. From there the game was a close affair until Alabama was able to put together a run in the 4th quarter to lead by as many as 13, which ultimately helped Alabama close the game out.

Six guys finished in double figures - Avery Jr with 15, Braxton with 12, John Petty with 11, Riley with 13, Donta with 11, and Ar'Mond with 10. After being out-rebounded by 10 in their previous game, Alabama was +11 on the boards. On the flip side, defense continues to be a work in progress, Alabama only forced nine turnovers, and Ottawa attempted 79 shots. Fortunately, the Gee-Gees only made 38% of their field goals. On offense, Alabama only had 11 assists vs 14 turnovers. Once again, the free throw line was a struggle as the team finished at just 60%.

While John Petty and Collin Sexton have received a lot of attention so far this season, I was encouraged by the play of the veterans tonight. The young guys are great, but how far this team will go will be determined by the veterans. Braxton, Donta, Riley, Avery Jr. and Ar'Mond all had good games tonight. Of note: Braxton is in noticeably better shape as a sophomore, and Ar'Mond looks much more comfortable on the floor than he did last season. Regarding the young guys: John Petty and Collin look the part so far. Petty in particular raised his profile with the casual fans by his performance in Canada. Yeah, he can shoot the heck out of the ball, but he impressed me tonight with his passing ability (4 assists tonight).

Alabama finishes the Canadian tour at 2-1. Though they will come home with some bumps and bruises, they appear to be relatively healthy as we look forward to November. These teams in Canada were quality competition, and I think this was a good experience for this Alabama team. 13 weeks until Memphis. Stay buckled. 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Carleton Cruises over Crimson, 84-71.

I watched this on the live facebook stream, and was on a conference call through much of the first half, so wasn't able to pay as close attention as I would like.  We got off to another slow start, but Carleton was a much more talented and athletic team than McGill.  Coming off a loss to Towson, they were motivated, and I wonder if they overlooked their first opponent a bit in anticipation for playing us.  Likewise, I think the 40 point win in the first game gave our guys a false sense of confidence.

Bottom line, if we don't take care of the basketball and play better defense, this team will not live up to its expectations.  With about 3 minutes to go Sexton went down with an injury and the feed would not show him.  My thoughts immediately went to "this would be the most Alabama basketball thing ever for this to be a serious injury."  A friend of mine who was at the game said it look like he got the wind knocked out of him and banged up his knee a bit.  He said they checked him out in the locker room and he came back out on the bench and looked fine, and he thought he could have returned if it was close.  I hope that's right.

Hopefully someone who was able to watch this one more closely throughout can give a more detailed recap.  I've got to run but thought I would throw something up quickly.

Up next, the University of Ottawa Gee Gees tomorrow night at 5:30 Central.  I probably won't be able watch this one.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Bama Thrills Against McGill, 96-57

The Tide rolled to an easy victory in the first exhibition game of the 2017-18 season over the Redmen of McGill University in Montreal Canada.  The starting lineup was 1. Sexton 2. Petty, 3. Key, 4. Riley, 5. Hall.  Dazon Ingram did not play as expected.

Before I get into the meat of the game, I would like to discuss the rule differences in this league.  I know many of you probably don't care about this topic, but being an official I tend to focus on these things.  You will notice from the pics that the lane is wider.  I could not tell if the 3-point line was longer or the court is slightly narrower, but there was less room in the corners between the arc and the sideline.  This caused a handful of turnovers for our guys.  You'll note the 24 second clock, which reset to 14 on offensive rebounds.  They play 4 ten minute quarters, with a team entering the bonus on either the 3rd or 4th foul (it was confusing to figure out because the scoreboard was consistently wrong, and often-times the officials would be about to put the ball in play before being alerted that we were in the bonus).  Overall, I really like these rules.  You don't spend 13 minutes of a half shooting free throws if one team hacks away early.  The shorter shot clock and wider lane really opens up the court and increases the pace of play.  It's an exciting brand of basketball, and I hope the NCAA continues to trend in that direction.  The officials also used a couple of different signals.  The official closest to the table makes an X to signal substitutions to his partners; I also like this, as the standard hand raised could be for a number of issues.  Anything that increases communications with your partners will make the game go more smoothly, in my opinion.  Likewise, they use their fingers to form a "T" to indicate a timeout, rather than just the raised hand and pointing at a bench.  I don't like this one as much, as it can be easily confused with the "technical foul" sign.  They do not require the defensive team to occupy the low blocks on the first of two free throws, and the lead official signals such by raising both hands.  I suppose this prevents some bone-headed lane violations.  In any event, I thought the officials called a fair game and did not give McGill any "home cooking," but perhaps did throw some mercy calls their way in the second half.  They generally let the teams play and did a nice job of managing the game.

Now, onto the game itself.  It was obvious in pre-game warmups that McGill just wasn't going to be big enough or athletic enough to hang with us.  They are a scrappy, well coached team who won their division last year, but from talking to some locals it's my understanding they lost their two best players from that team.  Nevertheless, both teams opened in a man to man defense and the Redman ran some nice plays, set a couple of good screens to make open shots, and forced some early turnovers to take an 11-2 lead.  Alabama then proceeded to go on a 31-2 run that completely demoralized the McGill team and effectively ended the game in the second quarter.

Petty was bombing 3s from all over the court.  Sexton was also lighting it up and slashing to the basket.  Daniel Giddens had a fantastic game with several awesome dunks.  Of the two big men, I think Hall looked better in the scrimmage but Giddens definitely had the better game.  I think the up-tempo flow of the game favored Giddens as Hall still has issues with his footwork in transition at times.  The score stuck for a bit on 19-11 as we seemed to temporarily lose our momentum before resuming the onslaught.  While McGill did miss a few decent looks, the defense played very well from middle of the first quarter till almost halftime.  The Redmen went several minutes without a basket.

Meanwhile the offense showed its explosiveness.  McGill finally switched to a zone to try to slow us down, and Giddens immediately went back door for an oop.

Collin mainly ran the point but Petty got some time there too, along with Key in a point forward role, before AJ ran it much of the second half.

Ar'Mond Davis had a nice game off the bench and looked more comfortable than he did at any point last year.

I was hoping to score 100, but the team backed off a bit and played mostly the bench guys in the second half.  AJ, Law Dog, Alex Reese, Herb Jones, and Galin Smith all got some valuable work in while still moderately extending the lead.

The only negative in this game from my perspective was too many turnovers, but again, at least 4 of those I think were a result of the dimensions of the court.  We had a few unforced travels, but most of the turnovers were the result of guys trying to do too much, particular Collin driving in and trying to make the highlight pass.  I can live with that in this game, it's an exhibition and guys are trying to put on a show, but I hope we make better decisions when the chips are down.

The official box score only credits us with 5 assists and one block, but I'm pretty certain that isn't right.  I thought we moved the ball well offensively, and I recall at least 4 or 5 blocked shots.  It appeared McGill was using students at the scorer's table, so take the final stat sheet with a grain of salt.   Generally speaking, we moved the ball well on offense when we wanted to, and passes were more on-time and on-target than most of our games last season.  It's a shame we didn't send more staff, including Chris and Bryan on this trip, but by all accounts the McGill crew did a great job on the live stream.

Collin Sexton is an extremely gifted basketball player.  He's also more than a little eccentric.  In the pic at the top, you can see him warming up shooting by himself while all of his other teammates were on the other end.  He joined them for sprints just moments after that was taken.  At one point when we were on our run in the first half, he made a nice play on a put back "and one" and immediately stared down and clapped aggressively in the direction of the McGill student section.  I was sitting near these students, and a few moments later during a dead ball he comes walking toward us bowed up yelling, "who's talkin shit?  who wants to talk shit!?  Who got something to say now!?"  Keep in mind the score is 44-22 at this point.  When he was shooting free throws, the students started the "o-ver-ra-ted" chant, and after making the shots, Collin gave it right back to them, complete with the hand claps.  I love the fire and competitiveness, but to the extent there was beef between Collin and the students, frankly, it appeared to me that Collin started it.  Most of the McGill fans there admitted they were mainly there to see him play.  In fact, he was very animated in complaining about his fifth foul call (in fairness, I think the last 2 on him were mercy calls), despite the fact that McGill's coach was kind enough to tell the officials to allow him to stay in the game, since that's what everyone came to see.  Coach Johnson ended up taking him out a few minutes later.  For what it's worth, the team seems to respond well to him and respect him.  He's a vocal leader on both ends while the ball is in play, and it was good to see him joking around with Dazon on the bench at the end of the game.

This concludes the basketball portion of this post, but I'm going to spend a little more time than usual talking about the game experience here because it was such an unusual situation.  There are much more knowledgeable basketball writers on this blog, but I'm fortunate  my real life obligations provide with the flexibility to be able to attend more games than most.  So, I hope I can give a sense of the first hand experience to our readers, but for those of you who just want to read about the game itself, you can skip the rest.

Montreal is a wonderful city, and the people at McGill were very nice and hospitable, but the facility would be average at best for a 4A high school here.  Pictured above is the entrance.    They refer to the arena as the "Love Competition arena," but you'll note there are no outdoor signs indicating such.  A search of "Love Competition arena" in my GPS app was fruitless.  Thankfully, they print the address on the ticket in English.  Unfortunately, putting that address into the GPS also proves fruitless.  Finally, thanks to google translate, I translated the address from English (as it was printed on the ticket) to French and was able to locate it for my Uber driver.

Upon walking through that door, you do not enter a gymnasium.  There is a turnstile, a desk, and a guard sitting at the desk.  I showed him my ticket and said, "umm, I'm here for the basketball game?"  He replies as he motions me through, "okay, just show them your ticket upstairs."  I look around, and I see no stairs.  He explains, "go down the hall, pass the weight room and the pool, turn  left, go up stairs, turn right, and the arena is on your left."  Basically, they play in their student rec center.

Upon walking in, the first thing I notice is there is no air conditioning.  In fairness, it's a luxury probably not often needed during basketball season in Canada, but even though it was only 68F outside, it was brutally hot in there.  I was sweating like an Ole Miss athletic administrator at an NCAA infractions committee hearing within 5 minutes of taking my seat.  There is only seating on one side of the gym.  If you look closely at the pic at the very top, yes, those are those foam AC insulation tubes (kind of ironic actually) placed over the rails in the front row and secured with duct tape to provide padding.  They have one concession stand, with limited options, but the people working it were very friendly and the food was much higher quality and much more reasonably priced than what we serve at Coleman (which admittedly isn't saying much.)  I had a hot dog that was very good as far as stadium hot dogs go and a Molson Canadian for 9 Canadian dollars, which comes out to about 7 bucks.  You can barely get a water for that at our games.

The seats are temporary risers, the place was about 90% full but only the lower level was open, they had another section of risers folded up.  There were probably only about 400 or so there, with several dozen Alabama fans including a few prominent booster and former trustee types.

I spent some time sight seeing during the day since it was my first trip to Montreal.  I hope it's not my last; I really can't say enough good things about the city.  Even though the only French I speak is the type that Bobby doesn't allow on this blog, it wasn't a hindrance.  Almost everyone is bilingual and most of the signs are in both French and English.  The few places that aren't, google translate can help fill in the gaps.  The people were very helpful and friendly and nice.

I went for a run in the morning and kept stopping to take pictures...the architecture, particularly some of the older churches, was very impressive.  I toured the Notre-Dame Basilica which I highly recommend, it's well worth the $6 price of admission.  The city is also very clean.  I noticed numerous workers out very early meticulously making sure there was no trash, cigarette butts, etc on the streets.   Being a baseball fan, I couldn't pass on the free "history of baseball in Montreal" exhibit that's currently on display at city hall.  It was neat to see one of my childhood favorites, Andre Dawson's gold glove award.  In the afternoon I hiked up nearby Mt. Royal which is an easy hike and offers breathtaking views of the city and skyline.  Oh, and the food was phenomenal.

Up next, we go to Ottawa to play the Carleton University Ravens tomorrow night at 6 p.m. central.  This will be a much tougher test, as they are the dominant team in the league and have knocked off several NCAA teams over the years, including a 20 point win over Wichita last year.  Unfortunately, there is no television or streaming for this game, and day job obligations forced me back into the States today.  I do have a friend who will be attending, and I'm going to try to convince him to broadcast on periscope.  If he agrees to do so, I will post the details here.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Alabama Rolls McGill, 96-57

In the first game of their Canadian tour, Alabama overcame a sluggish start to beat McGill by a final of 96-57. Freshman John Petty had an explosive first game in an Alabama uniform, scoring 22 points on 8-10 (6-8 from 3) shooting. Petty also added 5 rebounds. Ar'Mond Davis added 14 points (4-6 from the field, 2-4 from 3, 4-5 from the free throw line), while Collin Sexton and Daniel Giddens scored 13 points in their debuts. Dazon Ingram sat out the game due to a minor foot injury. He will likely not suit up for the remaining games in Canada, but is expected at full strength by the time we reach November.

Criticisms: 1] Too many turnovers. The final box score showed 28 turnovers for Alabama. Sloppiness is to be expected in a game played in August, but the 2nd half in particular, the team was really sloppy with the ball. 2] Braxton Key and John Petty led the team in rebounding with 5 each. I would like to see our big guys (Donta, Daniel and Galin) more active on the glass, particularly against this level of competition. 3] Free throw shooting was up and down. The team finished with a 60% rate (14-23).  Turnovers and free throw shooting were two of the biggest weaknesses for Avery's first two teams. That needs to improve in year three.

DJC was in Montreal. Expect a much more in-depth recap from him in the coming days.

Alabama will now travel to Ottawa for their final two games. Our guys play Carleton University on Wednesday night. Game time is 6 PM C.T. There is no stream currently available for that game.  

Sunday, August 06, 2017


The official site has links to the games in Canada this week at the schedule page here. If you don't want to connect via that page, here are those links for the McGill game, and the Ottawa game. The Carleton game - the second of the three games - currently does not have a stream planned. This is unfortunate as Carleton is likely the toughest of the three teams that Alabama will play this week.

There is also a blog documenting the Canada trip here. Our own DJC is also in Montreal to watch the McGill game so expect a recap of that game in the near future. Enjoy the games this week, folks. Buckle up!  

Friday, August 04, 2017

Avery Johnson gets 2 year extension

I'm normally not fond of these extensions before results, but in this case I'm fine with it as it does a couple things:

1) Shows a commitment to Avery Johnson and his vision
2) Shows the fans the athletic department is committed to being competitive

I know this goes on a lot... heck it happened with our last coach, but I think even Stevie Wonder can see why in this case an extension is a good idea. We have potentially a top 25 team on our hands in year 3 and it only looks like even better things for hoops is on the horizon.

I'm going to go ahead and reserve a hotel for the Final Four.. or crash on MS's couch and make the 60 minute drive back and forth!

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Practice!? We're talkin about PRACTICE!

Credit to Allen Iverson, it never gets old.

My apologies for the delay in posting this report, but the day job obligations make it difficult to contribute here in a timely manner.

The freshmen not only lived up to the hype, but far exceeded my expectation.  John Petty in his current form would have been the best player on last year's team.  Collin Sexton is even better.  We have shooters, we have depth, and we will have the best post game we've had since JaMychal Green graduated.

The event opened with Coach Johnson thanking the fans and bringing out the team.  He explained they had already been practicing for about an hour and a half in the back gym, and reminded everybody that what we were about to see was far from a finished product.  He said this was the 7th of 10 practices allowed for the Canada trip, and the team will leave this Friday.

  I think it was telling that Sexton walked out first.  He's clearly establishing himself as the leader of this team, and his body language and demeanor exudes a certain arrogance and swag that is difficult to define.  He is obviously super-competitive and will no doubt rub some people the wrong way in the heat of the battle, but he's exactly what this team and program have needed.

They began by splitting into crimson and white teams and running skeleton half court "bail out" plays off the pick and roll, with different players initiating the play at the point.   Coach Johnson seems to have confidence in Sexton, Petty, Key, and AJ all handling the ball.  These sets usually involved 3 or 4 passes and ended with an open 3 or an entry pass to the low post for a dunk.

At one point Sexton drove in and attempted a behind the back pass to a big that was intercepted by Giddens (I think, can't remember for sure).  Anyway, Coach didn't get onto Collin for the unnecessary turnover.  Instead, he said, "in that situation, know where your defender is, and here's what you do" as he faked the same pass that Sexton made for the turnover and layed it in.

They ran a number of full court, fast break drills with either 3 or 4 players and 3-4 passes per trip.  Coach mentioned after the practice that he thinks we will be much improved with our decision making and passing ability, and you could see those skills verified in these drills.  They also worked on using the rim to finish on the opposite side in transition.

They also worked on the full court press and press-break, running what coach termed a "45 into a 42" which was an initial showing of a full court man to man, switching into a 2-2-1 full court trap.  Coach said we have more speed and depth (which is a huge understatement) and we will press more.  I suspect with the lack of a true point guard, we will also see more presses from our opposition.  AJ got a steal from Riley, but otherwise we generally did a good job of breaking the press.

They ran some half court plays simulating coming out of a timeout against a 2-3 zone with varying degrees of success.

There was a brief scrimmage that was incredibly fun to watch.  Petty and Sexton took turns making about 5 threes in a row.  They both had some amazing passes.  Davis, Riley, and Herb all shot well from the perimeter.

While I mostly tried to focus on the new guys, the one player who stood out to me other than Petty and Sexton was Donta Hall.  He seems to have really improved his offensive game. He's developed a bit of a baby hook shot and used an up and under move on a couple of occasions as well.  I think he's benefited from having Giddens there to push him.  Giddens is at least as good now as Hall was last year.  Both were effective in defending the rim.  Newcomer Galin Smith is a little undersized at the 4, but he plays physical around the basket and can finish with authority.

This practice did not have the emphasis on rebounding that I saw at the open practice I went to last year, and that is one area that concerns me a bit.  I do think we will miss Bola on the boards.  I'd like to see Galin beef up a bit and grow into that type of role.

Alex Reese has talent but seems to be adjusting to the speed of the college game.  I can see him growing into a stretch 4 type, but right now he's just a bit slow and not physical.  He did generally make good decisions and passes though.

Herb Jones can be a solid all around player for us.  He's not overly flashy, but has a nice shot, can handle the ball, and plays solid defense.  He probably needs to add a bit of muscle if he's going to play the 3 or the 4.

I hate to keep harping on Sexton and Petty, but wow, those guys are good.  Petty has such a pretty shot, great handles, and seems to have a really high basketball IQ.  There simply aren't enough superlatives to describe Sexton.  He wins the sprints by 30 feet.  He's lightning quick.  He gets great elevation on his jump shot and has a super-quick trigger.  It's like he goes from being closely guarded in the dribble to releasing a perfect shot over the top of his defender in less than half a second.  He makes everything look easy.

Dazon Ingram did not practice due to an injury, and will likely not play much, if at all, in Canada.

The only negative I saw was free throw shooting.  It's not that we don't practice it, Coach would randomly select someone to shoot at various points during the practice, and towards the end he had everyone line up along the baseline and take turns shooting one each.  The goal was to make 7 in a row within 2 minutes else they would run sprints.  After 3 or 4 attempts at this, and never reaching more than 4 in a row, he gave up and moved on to something else.  Even Sexton, who was a 92% free throw shooter in high school, missed 3 in a row at one point.  On the bright side, Hall and Giddens combined to go 7 of 8.

There was a great turnout of close to 3,000 people there.  The night concluded with Coach Johnson taking some questions, but nobody really asked anything particularly interesting.  Coach did note that we beat Vandy last year who made the tournament with a worse record, and we've got one of the most difficult schedules in the country in hopes of building a resume that will get us in.

I know we have an extremely challenging schedule, and I know it was just one practice, but frankly, I'll be very disappointed if we are anywhere near the bubble this year.  If these guys play to their potential and develop chemistry, we will be at least a 5 seed.

Up next, it's off to Montreal to take on the McGill University Redmen.  My understanding is that all 3 of these Canadian teams are very good, with the Carleton team in Ottawa that we play second being the best.  I'll be making the trip north for the McGill game and will post a report when I can.  For those of you remaining in the states, it will be streamed live on  Buckle Up!