Thursday, November 09, 2017

Game Preview - Memphis [Veterans Classic at Annapolis, MD]

The season is finally here. It hasn't arrived without some adversity, but I think I speak for most Bama hoops fans when I say that I'm excited to watch college basketball again. My DVR is going to blow up as it records game after game after game. I plan to have basketball games to watch well into next summer. Alabama tips off the 17-18 season against the Memphis Tigers. Game time is 5:30 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.

As I said the team is going through some adversity as it enters the season. Three players (Braxton Key, Riley Norris and Ar'Mond Davis) are out with injury. All three will miss this game. Braxton had a successful surgery to repair a torn meniscus earlier this week. He's expected to return, but Avery says it could be at least four weeks before he returns to practice. Ar'Mond is out indefinitely. Riley could return as early as next week.

The team did receive some good news today. Collin Sexton, who was being held out indefinitely while the NCAA reviewed his eligibility status, will miss the Memphis game as part of a 1-game suspension, but he has been cleared to return on Tuesday in the home opener against Lipscomb. It's a sigh of relief in the wake of several conflicting reports by media outlets like ESPN that reported that the NCAA had ruled Collin ineligible. It's a break that Collin will be able to play, but the loss of Braxton for at least four weeks is still a blow for this team as it prepares for what I think could be one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country.

My Two Cents: Memphis is historically a top 50 program, but is going through a transition in Tubby Smith's second season. In his first season, the Tigers won 19 games, but failed to make a postseason tournament. Following the season, the top three scorers from that team decided to transfer. This left only two players returning that played quality minutes for Tubby last season. Scrambling to put together a roster for this season, Tubby and his staff signed eight new players - three freshmen and five juco recruits. Expectations are low for this team: the Tigers were picked to finish ninth in the preseason American Athletic Conference poll. I think they're better than that. Tubby has to figure out his rotation with all of the new faces, but the man can x and o with the best of them. He'll have this team ready to play come Friday night. With Alabama's shortened roster, that makes this game even tougher.

Players to Watch: Daniel Giddens was the difference in the exhibition game win vs Alabama-Huntsville. The Chargers were unable to match up with the 6'11, 247 lb big man, and Alabama took advantage in the second half. Daniel finished with 17 points, 10 boards, and 5 blocks. Now the question is can Daniel produce similar numbers against teams that can match up better physically with Alabama? Memphis can't match his height, but they have several 6'8/6'9 guys with beef that will present a bigger challenge for Bama's interior players.

Kyvon Davenport is one of the eight new players on this Memphis roster. A juco recruit from Georgia Highlands College, Davenport was named a First Team Juco All-American last season. He  made quite a first impression in the Tigers exhibition win over LeMoyne-Owen. Davenport posted team highs in points (19), rebounds (7) and blocks (3). Davenport is a combo forward that will likely spend most of his time in college at the 3 or 4 spot. But he's also capable of pulling bigger defenders away from the basket and driving or knocking down jump shots. Based on what little I've seen of Memphis (and there isn't much for a team bringing in eight newcomers), Davenport looks like the most difficult match-up to scout defensively.

Also keep an eye out for Jamal Johnson. Jamal, a freshman, played his high school ball at Spain Park in Birmingham. He's also the son of Alabama great, Buck Johnson. Jamal has already emerged as perhaps the top 3-point threat for Memphis. He knocked down 4-7 in the exhibition game. No doubt he'll be excited to play the home state school.

Prediction: Two weeks ago, I would have felt very confident in Alabama's chances to win this game. They were the more talented team in my opinion, and I felt that would be enough to overcome the challenges that come with playing a Tubby Smith team. But now Alabama will be without four players - two of their top players in Braxton and Collin, plus two veterans in Riley and Ar'Mond. The available roster that takes the floor tomorrow night will only include eight scholarship players and a walk-on should Avery elect to play Lawson. Four of those eight scholarship players will be freshmen. Memphis welcomes in eight new players, but five of those guys are older juco guys, and there are also two returning players in Jeremiah Martin and Jimario Rivers, who are both rotation guys for this team. That evens the playing field quite a bit, and I think the result is this will be a close game that may come down to the final minutes. I'll go with the older team. Memphis - 70 - Bama - 67.  

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