Sunday, October 29, 2017

Alabama Downs Baylor In Secret Scrimmage

This past Saturday in Atlanta, Alabama played Baylor in a secret scrimmage at the Phillips Arena practice floor. Alabama won the scrimmage, 75-67. Collin Sexton led all scorers with 15, Herb Jones added 12, while Braxton and Dazon scored 10.

The university did not release a box score, but they did add in a press release that our guys outscored Baylor 42-24 over the final 20 minutes. Bama shot 53% from the floor (16/30) and 41% from 3 (5/12).

Quick thoughts: These scrimmages don't mean much in the grand scheme of things; my understanding is that Baylor only had seven available scholarship players. But it's nice to see that our guys were able to win the scrimmage against an established program, and that it was a combination of young guys and veterans that led the way.

Herb Jones playing well is a big positive; he appears to be far ahead of schedule so far. In the summer I wasn't sure if he would play a big role this season, but he looks like he may be the first or second guy off the bench (my assumption is the starting line-up will be Collin, Dazon, John, Braxton and Donta).

We're eight days from the exhibition vs Alabama-Huntsville, and twelve days from the opener vs Memphis.

Friday, October 27, 2017

2017-18 Schedule Preview: January

The SEC conference is expected to take a major step forward in basketball this season. I think it's fair to say that Alabama benefited from their conference schedule last season (six of their ten conference wins came against LSU, Missouri and Mississippi State, which were the three worst teams in the league, per the standings). That will not be the case this season. Alabama will play league contenders Florida and Texas A&M twice, travel to Rupp to play Kentucky, and their three permanent opponents (Auburn, Mississippi State and LSU) should all be improved. It's going to be a challenge for our guys.

Tuesday, January 2 - at Vanderbilt - Bama's first road game in conference play will be to that house of horrors, Memorial Gym. Those of us who keep up with this stuff know how difficult it's been for Bama to win there (one victory in the last 27 years). Vandy finished last season 19-15. Thanks to one of the most difficult schedules in the country, the Commodores made the NCAA Tournament, but fell in the first round to Northwestern. Returning players include Matthew Fisher-Davis (13.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.0 apg), Jeff Roberson (10.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.7 apg) and Riley LaChance (10.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.9 apg). The big question mark for this team will be in the middle where the absence of Luke Kornet (13.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 2.0 bpg) is sure to be felt.

Saturday, January 6 - at Georgia - Big season for Georgia head coach Mark Fox. There were rumors at the conclusion of last season that moves were being made to let him go, but those rumors fizzled once the media ran the story. Fox has been to two NCAA Tournaments in eight seasons. Even at Georgia that's going to be a problem with the fanbase. Fortunately, Yante Maten (18.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.5 bpg) decided to return to Georgia for his senior season. Maten is one of three players selected as Preseason SEC Player of the Year by the media. The biggest question for Georgia is who will step up to help Maten? Likely candidates are Juwan Parker (9.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.8 apg), Derek Ogbeide (7.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.1 bpg) or perhaps top 50 freshman Rayshaun Hammonds, a 4-star forward.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Tide Tip-Off 2017

Last night I attended the Tide Tip-Off event promoting the University's basketball teams. This was the third annual edition of the event, and it has grown and improved every year.  The players and coaches were set up at tables spread out across the concourse signing autographs prior to the event.  They gave away free T-shirts and posters and had several drawings for other prizes including video game console systems, Fitbits, 50 inch televisions, and an Apple watch, and a couple of guys air-balled half-court shots that could have won them $25,000.  The women's team had a 3-point shooting contest with student guests, and the SkySquad Dunk team performed.    This event is more catered to the casual or prospective fan, but there are a couple of things worth noting.

Coach Johnson addressed the crowd and said there are 3 important numbers to think about tonight, 6,7, and 8.

6- We have sold 6,000 season tickets, supposedly the most we've ever sold.  We need everyone to show up plus the students to make it a packed house every night.
7- "There are 7,000 people here tonight."  Frankly, I'm not sure where he got that, it looked more like about 4,000 to me, which is still a great crowd for this type of event, on our standards anyway.
8- "It's only an 8 hour drive to St. Louis."  (Again with the SEC tournament attendance push.  I'm not sure why this is suddenly a point of emphasis)

There was also a 20 minute scrimmage with the score starting at a 50-50 tie (why not just start at zeros?)  Here were the teams:

The White team won 106-103, but it was hard to tell a whole lot by the scrimmage.  If you've ever watched an NBA All-star game, that was basically the level of defensive intensity for the first 20 minutes, and the first open 3 was being jacked up at both ends.  The last 10 minutes featured a bit of a press and at least a little more effort defensively.

-Petty continues to look like the best player on the team.  He was draining 3s from all over.
-Tevin Mack has a nice shot and a strong presence, he will help us next year.
-Norris and Davis were out with injuries.
-Sexton...We all know he's the most athletic and by far the quickest player on the court.  There is simply no way to stop him from getting to the rim if he wants to, but he's also prone to turnovers, even against a squad that wasn't playing defense.  He constantly complained to the officials, which seemed silly to me in a setting like this.  If anything, this was the time to try to build some rapport with the zebras.  Finally, he had the ball with his team down 3 in the final seconds, and missed a dunk rather than trying to tie the game.  I'm trying not to read too much into these things, but based on everything I've seen so far, I have some concerns about him having the proper mentality to reach his full physical capabilities.

The event concluded with a slam dunk contest, but I did not stay for that, as it was already 8:30 by that point.  While the SkySquad dunk team was very good and entertaining; I would have preferred the team's dunk contest to be in that spot instead, as I think two hours is a bit long for this type of event.  At least half the crowd left with me after the scrimmage.

Up next, the exhibition game against UAH on Monday, November 6 at Coleman Coliseum.  The game will tip-off at 7pm.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Annual Tide Pride BBQ Practice

My apologies for not posting this sooner, but the day job has kept me busy this week.  I attended the BBQ/Open Practice for Tide Pride Members Tuesday.

-Unlike in previous years, Coach Johnson was mic'd up.  It was interesting to hear the team's terminology for certain things.  CAJ was constantly coaching, stopping plays for "teachable moments" and really gave thorough instructions throughout.

-Athletic Director Greg Byrne attended and introduced the Coach and staff.

-The team looked fresh despite having already practiced for two hours in the back gym. 

-I was a little disappointed that there was no scrimmaging.  It was a more structured practice with an emphasis on the offense. 

-Floor spacing was a major point of emphasis.  Coach spent a lot of time working with the guards and small forwards on reading the defense and making the right decision.  I think he knows that with Sexton and Petty's speed, they will get some penetration which will cause some defensive rotations leading to mismatches on the weak side. 

-Davis shot the ball well making a few 3s.  Hopefully he will be a bit more consistent this year.  I think having Herb Jones, who has tremendous upside as an all-around player, pushing him for playing time will be a positive. 

-Giddens and Hall will give us the best inside presence we've had in years.  Coach did have to implore Giddens to use his size and be more physical in the paint a couple of times. 

-Alex Reese has improved even since the Canada trip.  He's getting stronger, and I could see him getting some minutes as a stretch 4 depending on matchups.

-They did a lot of work on transition situations where Coach would simulate a "make or miss" by the opponent and everyone would sprint to the other end to try to score quickly.

-Sexton stole the show in the late game situation drill.  They practiced a tie game scenario coming out of a timeout with 20 seconds left.  Coach had to stop him a few times because he was starting the play too soon, which would have left time on the clock.  After Coach made him wait till about 8 seconds to start the play, he went to his left between the wing and the corner, elevated with a man in his face and calmly drained a 3 that barely even touched the net.  Next on defense, while the guard was running down the clock waiting to start the play, Collin began clapping his hands and starting the "DE-FENSE" chant. 

-Enjoy Sexton and Petty this year, because I expect both will be in the NBA in 2018.

-Riley Norris did not practice as he is recovering from a groin injury.

-Coach spoke and answered questions at the conclusion, some things that stood out to me:

-"We need you to be here and be loud, and if you can't use your tickets, find someone who can.  A lot of places we play in the SEC sell out every game, and it's loud, and we need that here.  Because we have a 15,000 seat arena, when we only have 6,000 or so here, it looks and feels kind of empty."

-We're going to try to run and press more.  We have a lot of different combinations we can use.  We can play Hall and Giddens at the same time and have a really big lineup, and we have a lot of smaller quick guys we can use and go small.  We have a lot of length and should be a good defensive team.

-"St. Louis is an 8 hour drive.  Pair up and drive 4 hrs each.  Plan your vacation now like some of our fans do to travel for other sports around here.  I want there to be the largest Bama fan contingent ever at the SEC tournament in St. Louis."  (Personal editorial here on this one...I REALLY disagree with the SEC putting the tournament in St. Louis.  We are the SOUTHEASTERN Conference, so why are we playing it in a Midwestern city?  It's not convenient to anybody not in Kentucky, Arkansas, or Missouri, and it's not easy to get to from here.  There's no longer direct flights from BHM so by the time you connect, etc you only save one or two hours over driving.  All of that being said, if we make it to Saturday I'll be there.  I think going to Arizona, NYC, and Maryland earns me a hall pass out of the weekday games in that armpit of a city.)

Of course it's still early, but after watching this practice and seeing the games in Canada, my impressions are that this is a good team right now.  I think our top 25 ranking is legit, and we have the potential to be a great team.  The keys to the season will be continuing to develop chemistry between the newcomers and veterans, and taking care of the basketball.  We have a lot of decent ball handlers, expect to see Sexton, Petty, Dazon, and Jr all run point at different times, but we don't have a "true point guard."  If we limit turnovers and play good defense, we can compete with any team in the country.  For once, I'm not really worried about our ability to score.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Alabama Picked to Finish Fourth in SEC Media Poll

SEC Media Days was held in Nashville today. Avery Johnson traveled with Braxton Key and Dazon Ingram to take part in the event. The media released their preseason poll, and All-Conference teams. Alabama was picked to finish fourth, and Collin Sexton was selected to the preseason All-Conference second team.

The complete poll.

1. Kentucky
2. Florida
3. Texas A&M
4. Alabama
5. Missouri
6. Arkansas
7. Vanderbilt
8. Georgia
9. Auburn
10. Ole Miss
11. South Carolina
12. Mississippi State
13. Tennessee
14. LSU

Quick thoughts: I don't think Kentucky is the runaway favorite they've been in recent years. I understand that it's the safe choice for the media to choose the Wildcats, but the rest of the league, at least for this season, appears to have taken a step closer to the Wildcats. Missouri is intriguing, but I'm a little more skeptical of the Tigers than the media appears to be. No doubt they should be improved, but so is the league. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are probably better this season than 10th and 12th. Auburn is also probably picked too low relative to their talent, but I get it in the wake of the Chuck Person mess.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Top 100 Guard Jared Butler Commits to Alabama

This post is going up late so I'm sure most of you know by now that Jared Butler - a top 100 guard in the class of 2018 - committed to Alabama earlier tonight. This is another recruiting win for the staff. They identified Butler early before his stock rose over the last year. Cultivating that relationship early along with Avery's NBA experience (something that has been mentioned by every recruit that has committed to Alabama during Avery's tenure) ultimately helped Alabama secure Butler's commitment.


We will have to see how the roster shakes out at the conclusion of this season, but it's likely that Butler will be able to earn minutes immediately as a freshman. That no doubt also played a role in his decision to commit.

We're just over three weeks from the start of the season. Roll Tide! Buckle Up!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

2017-18 Schedule Preview: December

The schedule really picks up in December. Assuming our guys can hold their own in November, the team will have a chance to solidify their non-conference resume with five opponents that could be in the NCAA Tournament come March.

Before we get into that, some news and notes from this past weekend. In addition to the visits I referenced in the previous post (Diante Wood and James Wiseman), Malcolm Dandridge (a 6'8, 200 lb center in the class of 2019) was also on campus. Dandridge and Wiseman both attend East High School in Memphis, and both appear to be top targets for the coaching staff in the 2019 class.

Also of note: Jared Butler (a 6'2, 180 lb point guard in the class of 2018) tweeted that he will announce his college choice tomorrow (Monday, October 16). Alabama is in his final three schools along with Virginia and Baylor. For what it's worth the crystal ball predictions at 247 Sports have Alabama as the favorite to earn his commitment. We will see tomorrow.

Sunday, December 3 - UCF - One of several high profile non-conference games in Coleman this season. UCF had a great season in Johnny Dawkins first season as head coach, finishing 24-12 and reaching the NIT semifinals. Expectations for the Knights should be high entering this season with last season's top scorer B.J. Taylor (17.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.1 spg) returning alongside 7'6 big man Tacko Fall (10.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.6 bpg). In all, UCF returns roughly 60% of its scoring from last season. Dawkins also added a transfer heavy class, with a total of four D-1 transfers eligible to play for the Knights this season.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Bama Hoops News & Notes

Avery Johnson spoke to the media for the first time in preparation for the 17-18 season. Topics covered included the Kobie Baker situation, Riley Norris has a hip injury (Avery says he's week to week in his recovery), one-and-dones, the returning players, the freshman class, the pro day, Tide tipoff, recruiting and the homecoming weekend (several recruits will be on campus for visits - more on that later).

Big recruiting news regarding the 2018 class. Alabama has offered 5-star guard Anfernee Simons. A former Louisville commit, Simons is a 6'3 combo guard from Bradenton, FL. An electric scorer, Simons has become highly sought after in the wake of his decommitment. Florida is considered the favorite as of now. Hit the link for video.

James Wiseman, a top 3 prospect in the class of 2019, will be on campus this weekend for an unofficial visit. Wiseman is a 6'11 forward that can play with his back to the basket, driving to the basket, facing the basket. He can do it all. He will be one of the elite players in what is shaping up to be a very strong 2019 class.

2018 3-star guard Diante Wood will be on campus this weekend for an official visit. Wood's final four schools are Bama, Auburn, South Florida and Colorado State.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

2017-18 Schedule Preview: November

Despite the uncertainty hanging over college basketball as a result of the FBI investigation into the sport's connection with apparel companies, the fact remains that we will be watching games five weeks from now. Between a tough slate of non-conference games and the expectation that the SEC conference will take a step forward this year as a basketball conference, Alabama should have one of the tougher schedules in the country.

Monday, November 6 - Alabama-Huntsville - The 17-18 season tips off with an exhibition game against the D-II Chargers. UAH is a national power at the D-II level. Last season the team finished with a record of 26-8, won their conference tournament title, and were a 1 seed in the national tournament, reaching the south regional of the tournament. The Chargers could be looking at a rebuilding year of sorts this season after 61% of their scoring finished their college careers.

Friday, November 10 - vs Memphis [Annapolis, MD] - The season officially kicks off vs Tubby Smith and the Memphis Tigers. The Tigers finished last season with a 19-13 record, and did not receive a postseason invitation. On paper it looks like a rebuilding season for Memphis after seeing 78% of their scoring from last season depart. I wouldn't count out Tubby Smith, though. He's one of the more underappreciated coaches in the sport.

Tuesday, November 14 - Lipscomb - The home opener will take place against a sneaky good mid-major in Lipscomb. The Bison should be one of the top teams in the Atlantic Sun this season. Lipscomb finished 20-13 last season with no postseason invite. Lipscomb returns 79% of its scoring from last season, including Garrison Mathews (20.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.3 apg).