Sunday, December 31, 2017

Alabama Antagonizes Aggies, Bama 79 Texas A&M 57

Before we get too excited about a 22 point win over a top 5 team; I think it's important to note that the Aggies were missing two starters.  Nevertheless, they still had the talent to make this a difficult game, but our guys came to play and got a much needed, relatively easy win that should look very nice on the resume in March. 

The day started with news of Riley Norris' scheduled hip surgery, taking him out for the rest of the year. The injury likely explains why Riley has appeared a bit slow and over-matched in recent games.  I hate it for Riley, missing most of his senior season, but perhaps this will help CAJ figure out a sensible playing rotation.  My understanding is Riley will be eligible for a medical redshirt, and it would be great to have him back for one more year. 

We stuck with the same starting lineup and overall they played very well together.  I would still rather have Braxton Key come in off the bench until he gets back up to speed.  I would prefer to start both bigs or maybe even Herb over Key for now.  While Braxton still only scored 2 points, I thought this was his best game since returning.  He didn't let his offensive struggles effect other parts of his game.  He contributed with some nice stops defensively and a few huge rebounds.  He ended up with 6 boards.  One of the key plays came after an offensive rebound that Braxton saved from going out of bounds, all 5 guys touched the ball and it ended with alley-oop to Donta which brought down the house.

Sexton scored 9 points very quickly in the first half and it looked like he was going to carry the team himself.  I think this early explosion opened up a lot of opportunities for our other guys who took advantage.  Collin also played very smart.  I don't think he gets enough credit for his court vision, and anticipating his double-teams and setting up guys to get good looks. 

We led by as many as 12 in the first half, but didn't take full advantage of the Aggies' cold shooting.  They went 0 for 10 from 3 point range in the first half, but we got stupid with the substitutions again and had a scoring drought to the end half, going into the locker room with only a 7 point lead.  I don't understand why we decided to randomly throw Alex Reece and Galin Smith into the game, along with AJ.  That being said, Galin played well in his 7 minutes, coming up with a couple of blocks and a big rebound, along with a few other hustle plays that won't make the box score.

Back to the rotation again, I thought it was much better in the second half.  It's no coincidence that we built the lead to 15+ primarily with the starters playing together.  We also didn't use Alex and Galin didn't come in until later when Donta had some contact issues.  Collin Sexton played 29 minutes and AJ played 12.  That split needs to be more like 35/5, and they shouldn't be on the court at the same time.

Collin was the victim of a flagrant 1 foul, and that just seemed to re-focus the team.  We stretched the lead back out to 13 and the outcome was never in doubt again.  The Aggies seemed to be frustrated and started taking some cheap shots, but Sexton wouldn't let the guys lose focus.  Even though Collin was only 1 for 6 from 3 point range, I like that he's pulling up from out there a few times, as it opens up his dribble drive game, and his dribble drive game opens up so much for the rest of the offense. 

They tried to zone us, as we've struggled with that in recent games, but when JP is feeling it, that's not going to be a wise decision for our opponents.  It took us a few possessions to figure out how to create for him, but once we did, he did not disappoint.  We can play with anybody in the country when JP is shooting well and taking care of the basketball.  He ended up with 18 points and only 2 turnovers. 

In general, we took better care of the basketball.  We ended up with 12 turnovers, but some of that was Collin trying to show out a little bit after we already had a huge lead. 

Donta Hall had another great game, running the floor and finding the open space close to the basket.  He ended up with 17 points and 6 rebounds.  Dazon quietly had a stat-line worthy of MVP consideration, with 16 points and 6 rebounds.  He had a few steals and did a good job of getting us into transition. 

I was shocked by how awesome the crowd was!  Despite the team's struggles in recent games, the students not being back on campus yet, it being the day before New Year's Eve, and a huge chunk of our fan base already in New Orleans for the football game tomorrow, there were 13,000+ in attendance.  The fans were into the game and loud throughout, and if the team can play like this consistently, Coleman Coliseum is going to be a very difficult venue for SEC teams to come in and get a win. 

Up next, speaking of difficult venues, we travel to Nashville to take on Vandy in a place where we've won only once in the last 30 years. I think we are the better team, but no doubt we'll get some bad calls and they'll shoot about a thousand 3s.   Tipoff is set for 6pm Tuesday night on the SEC Network.  Happy New Year, and Roll Tide!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Game Preview - Texas A&M

"It is a dark time for the Rebellion. Although the Death Star has been destroyed, Imperial troops have driven the Rebel forces from their hidden base and pursued them across the galaxy......"

Wait, wrong blog. This is the Bama Hoops blog. Basketball, not The Empire Strikes Back. Different topics. Well, maybe not so different. The Alabama fanbase is uncertain about the future, looking at perhaps a game of impossible odds on Saturday. A&M is Darth Vader: A top five team that looks like the best team in an improved SEC conference that may be unstoppable. Alabama is Luke Skywalker: Young, reckless, perhaps ready to lose their hand (metaphorically) on Saturday, and have it revealed that A&M is their daddy. No? That's just me? Okay, okay. We'll do a normal preview.

I hope everyone had a nice holiday. Conference play begins this Saturday when Alabama, fresh off a humbling loss to the Texas Longhorns, will host Texas A&M, currently ranked fifth in the newest AP poll. Alabama is 5-9 vs ranked teams during Avery's tenure (actually a really good record for a rebuilding program, particularly when you consider the lack of wins vs ranked opponents during Anthony Grant's six seasons - a dismal 3-28) The program has yet to play a team ranked in the top five during Avery's tenure (Kentucky has been ranked outside the top five when Avery's teams have faced them the past two seasons). Game time is 5 P.M. CT. Alabama will get another shot on national television on ESPN2. Click the links for team and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: A&M will be without two starters for this game. Admon Gilder is out with a knee injury, while D.J. Hogg, the team's leading scorer, will be serving the second of a three game suspension. Despite the absence of those two players, this Texas A&M team is a deep and talented one that is more than capable of coming in and adding to Alabama's recent misery. Frankly, this game isn't so much about A&M to me as it's about this Alabama team. They've lost four of their last seven games, and it could have been worse when you factor in how many close wins they've had. Even in those wins, the team has struggled to consistently defend or run competent offense for 40 minutes. They've been able to gut out eight wins, some of them against quality competition such as UT-Arlington, BYU, Rhode Island and Mercer (currently all ranked in KenPom's top 100), but they're winless so far in match-ups vs Power 5 opponents. It's not a postseason resume relegated to the dustbin, but it's not exactly going to light up the committee room if the tournament was selected today. If this team is going to meet its postseason goals, it must do some work in conference play. For a pleasant change, the league will offer many opportunities this season: all fourteen programs are currently ranked in KenPom's top 100, while eleven programs are currently ranked in the RPI top 100. 

We have been writing in recent weeks about the lack of a steady rotation and chemistry, and how that has hurt this team. In addition: poor shooting, a clear lack of floor leadership, and the uncertainty that comes with relying on so many young players (eight of the eleven available scholarship players are freshmen and sophomores) has also contributed to the struggles. What kind of competitive edge or leadership does this team have, or is capable of having? This game will go a long way towards answering that question. In many ways, this game represents a crossroads of sorts for this Bama team. Win or lose Saturday, the coaches have got to figure the roster out, put together a rotation, and hope that group of players can gel throughout the rigors of a conference schedule. There's a lot of basketball left to be played, but for the first time there is doubt among a growing number of fans and media about the long-term prospects of this team. Some faith needs to be restored. A win over a top five team would be a huge step in restoring some of that faith.

Players to Watch: Collin Sexton was in obvious pain down the stretch of the Texas game. Afterwards, Avery mentioned Collin was dealing with a groin injury, and cramps were also a problem for him late in that game. Collin did not have a great game vs Texas, but there's no questioning his talent or his competitive edge. This team needs him on the floor. The hope is a week off gives Collin the rest he needs to be close to 100% for this game.

I will also continue to mention Braxton Key in this space because his struggles since his return two games ago has been tough to watch. Did he come back too soon? Is it just rust? Should Avery bring him off the bench until he regains the form of his freshman season? I do agree that Braxton should play if he's been cleared to play. I also believe Avery should have brought him back slowly; starting him immediately was probably not the best thing for Braxton or the team. Not only due to Braxton's physical state, but he had virtually no game experience with the newcomers. It's also worth noting that Riley Norris has not looked 100% since he returned from his hip injury. It doesn't excuse all of the struggles of this team, but the fact that Braxton and Riley were injured before the season, and have struggled to return to form, is a major storyline of this season so far.

The bigs for Texas were a major part of the Longhorns demolition of Alabama last Friday. And the Aggies will also bring a dynamic duo of big men to Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Robert Williams (6'10, 241 lbs) was a possible lottery pick last season if he had declared for the NBA draft, but he decided to return to school. He's a player, like Mo Bamba, that can affect a game without scoring a bucket. He leads this Aggies team in rebounds (10.1) and blocks (2.6), despite missing four of the Aggies twelve games so far this season. Tyler Davis (6'10, 266 lbs) doesn't play above the rim like Williams can, but he's a load in the middle. His numbers so far are impressive: 13.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.5 bpg. Assuming the A&M coaches have watched film of the Texas game, expect a healthy dose of Davis and Williams early on Saturday.

Prediction: I have wrote the following numerous times over the years I have been contributing to this blog, but here I go again: I have no idea what to expect from this Alabama team going into their next game. Do they figure some things out, show up and compete on their home floor against a top five team, or do we continue to see a team that looks completely disorganized? If this Bama team ever figures it out, they have the talent to match up with most, if not all, teams it will face on the schedule, including a top five Texas A&M team. Unfortunately, until I see some kind of consistency from our guys, I can't pick them to beat a top five team. A&M - 81 - Bama - 76 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mess with the Bull, get the (long)Horns, Texas 66 Alabama 50.

This national embarrassment is 100% on Avery Johnson.  Shaka Smart coached circles around him, and Texas got a blow out win on the road despite playing without their leading scorer. 

Texas controlled the game from the tip.  We made a few runs, cut it to 7 at halftime and I kept expecting us to make a run to get back in the game, but every time we cut it to 5 or so the defense would fall asleep and give up a couple of wide open 3s. 

We knew it would be difficult to score in the paint with Mamba down there, and he lived up to the hype, finishing with a double-double 17 points and 11 rebounds.  Our shooting slump continued, as we only made 3 of 15 from beyond the arc, and 5 of 9 at the free throw line.  I thought we should have used the dribble drive to at least try to get their bigs into foul trouble.  Sexton was a little too unselfish in my opinion, he seemed to be looking to pass first.  I thought Donta did a decent job defensively on Mamba early, but he got into foul trouble and wasn't the same when he came back in the game.  Giddens played well, scoring 10 points in 21 minutes.  Petty scored 14 in his return to the arena where he won multiple state championships in high school. 

We mostly played a zone defense in the second half which allowed Texas to control the tempo.  We were never going to beat them in a half court game and I was disappointed we didn't try to run more. 

Ultimately, the main reason we lost this game in pathetic fashion was Avery's nonsensical substitution patterns.  I really don't even know where to start here.  I suppose he was rewarding Alex Reese for his performance in the Mercer game, but with his flat shot it's not reasonable to expect him to be a consistent zone buster.  We should never have Alex and Riley on the court at the same time, they more or less play the same role.  While I appreciate Riley's effort and hustle, he looks over matched against quality teams and as long as he's not shooting he's not going to be able to help us.  Furthermore, I don't ever want to see AJ and Collin in the game at the same time.  It leaves us too small in the back court.  It's fair to question whether AJ would be seeing as many minutes if his dad wasn't the coach.  I would have tried putting both of our bigs, Donta and Dan, in the game together to match up with the large Texas front court.  We should never have Sexton, Petty, and Dazon all sitting on the bench at the same time.    It's simply baffling what we are hoping to accomplish with some of these lineups and the never-ending haphazard substitutions. 

This team is way too talented (and let's not forget, that's to Avery's credit) to be having these results.  We have one year of the services of a lottery pick in Sexton, along with NBA caliber talent Petty, and at least 3 others with a legit chance of playing in the association (Dazon, Donta, Key).  I feel like we aren't getting the most out of this opportunity because we can't or won't figure out a regular playing rotation. 

There was a good crowd for the late Friday night tip.  The cavernous Legacy arena holds about 19,000, and I would estimate about 13,000 were there.  Texas had a respectable showing of a couple hundred scattered throughout.  The fans stayed behind the team and made some noise during our brief runs in the second half.  People didn't start to leave until the final couple of minutes when it became obvious the game was a lost cause.  We are now 0-3 in this Vulcan classic, and there are rumors we may be playing all of our home games here in the near future if plans to renovate Coleman Coliseum move forward.  At some point, we need to start winning some big games at or near home. 

My seats were on the front row right next to Bama's tunnel.  Avery gave me a dirty look when I yelled, "it's okay, just figure out a rotation and we'll be alright" as he walked off the court.  You could see the disappointment on our players' faces as they walked off.  I felt like they played hard, but the coaching staff did not put them in a position to succeed.  It's noteworthy that Collin took time to take a picture with a young fan who was sitting in the floor seats, and bumped fists with several fans on his way off.  He's super-competitive and you could tell he was down about the loss, but I think it speaks highly of his character that he would take the time to make that kid's day under those circumstances. 

I love Birmingham, but we need to figure some things out.  I knew from past experience that trying to go out in Uptown before the game would be futile, and friends told me that every place had a 2+ hour wait.  They only have one main entrance to the arena and require everyone to go through metal detectors, and there was no express lane for those of us without bags.  It was a very inefficient process, and I barely made it to my seats in time for tipoff despite arriving at the arena before 7:30.  I was pleasantly surprised that, unlike the last two years, they were selling alcohol.   Given that the tickets were included in our season ticket package, and our athletic department staffed the event, I'm pretty sure we were in violation of SEC rules.  Nevertheless, the overpriced crappy beers made this abomination slightly more watchable. 

Up next, another team from the state of Texas that's dealing with some injuries.  The top ten ranked Texas A&M Aggies will visit Tuscaloosa to start conference play next Saturday at 5 pm.  It will be televised on ESPN2.  In the meantime, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Game Preview - Texas [at Birmingham, AL]

Alabama will play its final game before conference play begins when they host the Texas Longhorns on Friday in the third annual Vulcan Classic at Legacy Arena in Birmingham. Alabama will be seeking its first win in the event. Game time is 8 P.M. CT. It will be televised on ESPN2. Click the links for team and KenPom stats.

My Two Cents: Both teams enter this game needing a quality non-conference win. Texas has good wins over Butler and VCU, but had near-misses to Duke, Gonzaga and Michigan. Alabama meanwhile has also challenged itself, with a good win over Rhode Island, and potentially good wins over BYU and UT-Arlington, assuming those teams do well in their respective conferences. Both teams enter 8-3, but both have looked shaky at times. Neither team has a win over a program considered a tournament lock, but both teams are expected to be in the tournament mix. This could be a game that looms large on Selection Sunday. Texas is not expected to have their top guard and lead scorer Andrew Jones on the floor Friday night; he's currently out with a wrist injury. His absence has been felt. Texas lost a home game to Michigan, and struggled to beat Tennessee State in their last game, prevailing 47-46. There's more than enough talent left on this Texas team to win on Friday, but our guys may be catching the Longhorns at the right time with Jones out.

Players to Watch: I'm going to stick with Braxton Key. His return on Tuesday night is not going to make his highlight reel, but it was good to see him back on the floor. He played 20 minutes, but did not score a point, and turned the ball over three times. He did have 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals, but he just never looked comfortable in the game. I think it was merely rust for Braxton, and I expect him to play much better on Friday night.

Five star freshman Mo Bamba has deservedly received plenty of attention. He's likely a lottery pick in June if he chooses to enter the NBA draft. But he's not the only big man on this Texas roster that is talented. 6'9, 245 lb forward Dylan Osetkowski is second on the team in points (15.2) and rebounds (7.5). Along with Bamba (10.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg, and an astounding 4.1 blocks per game), Texas has quite the formidable duo in the post. Second chance points and points in the paint could be at a premium for Bama with those two guys on the floor.

Prediction: It will be interesting to see how Avery and his staff attempt to match up with Texas down low. Will he go back to the two bigs line-up with Daniel and Donta, or will he see if he can create matchup problems with Braxton at the 4? Whatever he chooses, Alabama's guards will have to be efficient shooters in this one because, with Texas' potential size advantage, the perimeter might be the best bet for offense. But Texas has not looked as good on the offensive end with Andrew Jones out of the lineup. A game in the 50s or 60s favors the Longhorns. Alabama needs to look to get out in transition, score quickly, and prevent the Longhorn size from becoming a factor in a halfcourt game. If there was ever a game in which this team needs to score in the first 5-7 seconds of a possession, it's this one. This is a coin flip game on paper so I'll go with the good guys. Bama - 74 - Texas - 69

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Bears Give Tide a Scare, Alabama 80 Mercer 79

Alabama came out flat and struggled much of the game, but finally took control before nearly collapsing in epic fashion in the final minute of the game.

Braxton Key got the start in his season debut over Riley Norris, but he did not look ready.  He had a turnover and a foul within the first minute of the game, and finished with 3 turnovers and 4 rebounds without scoring in 20 minutes.  His turnovers were generally unforced, terrible passes.  It will be good to get the old Braxton Key back, but he's extremely rusty right now and I fear it may take a few games before he's able to contribute in a positive way.

Collin Sexton picked up a couple of cheap early fouls, one of which was 90 feet from the basket, forcing him to the bench and further complicating Coach Johnson's substitution rotations.  Once again, we risked putting him back on the floor in the first half, and it worked out as he was able to play smart and avoid picking up the third foul, but he needs to learn to avoid picking up the 2 quick fouls.

Coach spoke before the season about the importance of figuring out a rotation early, and I realize that foul trouble and players returning from injury have complicated that process, but it's frustrating to be near the end of December again and many roles are still undetermined.  I really think the hap-hazard substitutions and quirky lineups are a big part of our turnover and defense problems.

Mercer coach Bob Hoffman whined to the officials just as much as Rhode Island's coach did, and he was called for a technical in the first half after losing his cool on a play that resulted in a wide open dunk for Donta.  I did not see what he was so upset about on that play, unless I missed an off ball clear out on a screen or something, it looked just like a missed defensive assignment.  The ball did go off an official earlier in the possession possibly preventing a turnover, but that doesn't seem likely to have set him off in such a manner.  In any event, Hoffman complained about everything the entire game and was fortunate he was not ejected.
Bobby Lee Hurt, looking Dapper as always
After Petty made one of the two free throws we had a 6 point lead, but thanks to sloppy turnovers and poor shooting, Bama was 1 for 16 from 3 point range in the first half, Mercer had a 35-31 lead at halftime.

Petty had a nice game in front of his home crowd.  Despite a couple of costly turnovers and bad shot selection decisions, he found his range in the second half and scored 18 points.  He was a big part of the 13-0 run around the 8 minute mark that seemingly gave us control of the game.

The coaching adjustments were fun to watch in this game.  We appeared to find a mismatch with Giddens in the post, but Mercer countered by going right after him on the other end and quickly sending him to the bench with foul trouble.  Playing defense without fouling continues to be a struggle for Dan.   Donta picked up right where Giddens left off, but with better defense.  This prompted Hoffman to switch to a 3-2 zone, which prevented the entry passes and also stymied Sexton's ability to penetrate.  With Riley in a shooting slump, Coach turned to Alex Reese to come in as a stretch 4 to spread the zone. He made a couple of huge 3s from the corner, which forced Mercer to extend the zone allowing Sexton to create off the dribble.  We were able to get into the press a bit and speed up the game.  With an 8 point lead in the final minutes, it appeared that Alabama was finally in control.  Until we weren't.
Our very own Ron Steele was in the house!
Dazon made a pair of free throws to give Bama an 8 point lead with 26 seconds remaining.  Mercer scored to cut it to 6 with only 11 seconds left, and immediately called a timeout.  I even made a "Reggie Miller is not walking through that door" comment that nearly came back to bite me in the back side.  Collin Sexton was mauled on the in-bounds play and there was no call, but the ball was initially rewarded to the Tide pending replay.  Of course the call was overturned so Mercer got the ball back.

 Please allow me to go on a little rant about the college replay rules here.  Officials want to get the call right.  There is no good reason why, when reviewing a late game out-of-bounds or clock situation, they shouldn't be able to correct a clearly missed foul call.  We can change out-of-bounds, waste minutes and give free timeouts while adjusting for tenths of seconds, change blocks to charges or vice-versa depending on the restricted area, but for some reason a blatant foul which causes a turnover is not subject to scrutiny?  It makes no sense.  At the very least, officials should be given latitude to award the ball back to the offensive team in that situation.  It's not uncommon for officials to pass on a close foul call, but give the ball to the aggrieved team in a 50/50 out-of-bounds situation.  It's a reasonable solution to managing the game, but only allowing the out-of-bounds portion to be reviewed negates that in favor of the defensive team.

So, a mere 2 tenths of a second run off (which is literally impossible) before we are called for a foul, which is about the worst thing we could do in that situation.  Mercer makes them both, so lead is still a relatively comfortable 4.  For reasons I still cannot understand, JP, a good free throw shooter, with no defenders within 15 feet of him, decides to try to force a pass up the court, that's intercepted.  Mercer quickly drills a 3 with about 2 seconds left on the clock.  Rather than use our last timeout and set up an in-bound play and explain that if all else fails, chuck it into the backcourt, we let Petty (again, a freshman taking the ball out in this situation?) in-bound the ball.  While he had better options, and it wasn't a great pass, it was a decent pass to an open-enough Riley, who completely derped it and booted it out-of-bounds.  Mercer got the benefit of the free timeout as they reviewed the time and decided there should be a full second on the clock.  They got a good look at a 3, but thankfully it didn't fall, and we survived.

Players were slipping all over the court and it seemed like they spent the whole night wiping up condensation.  You see this from time to time on courts with hockey ice underneath, and my understanding is that it's more or less unpreventable when there is high humidity, as was the case in Huntsville last night.  I understand the safety concerns, but I hope our administration and the event organizers realize that was an anomaly, even for Alabama, to have that kind of humidity in December.  It would be a shame for that to be a hindrance to this event going forward.

The game was announced as a sell-out, and I would say about 6,200 of the VBC's 6,500 seats were occupied.  The crowd was not nearly as loud or enthusiastic as last year's version.  I think making this a double-header with UAH actually hurt the atmosphere of this game.  Presumably some of the UAH crowd did not stick around, and some who did were less invested in the outcome than the UA crowd.  Mercer also had a few dozens fans behind their bench and in the corner of the upper-level.  The rainy night and the late tip may have also kept a few folks away.  It was great to see former poster Hville, and I especially appreciate him taking the time to give my a car a jump after the game, so I was able to make it back to Birmingham, albeit after midnight.

Up next, the Texas Longhorns will meet us just down the street at Legacy Arena in Birmingham for an 8pm tipoff Friday night.  Texas is a hard team to figure out, they barely beat Tennessee State but gave Duke a solid game.  I think the key will be how we handle the ball against their press.  I'm looking forward to the convenience of walking the short block from my office to the game, and I hope we have a big crowd.  It will be televised on ESPN2 for those of you who can't make it.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Game Preview - Mercer [at Huntsville, AL]

After a long 10-day layoff for finals, the Alabama men's basketball team will return to the court Tuesday night, this time in Huntsville, Alabama for the 2nd annual Rocket City Classic. Alabama's opponent will be the Mercer Bears from the Southern Conference. The Rocket City Classic has expanded to a doubleheader this season; the hometown Alabama-Huntsville Chargers will play in the first game. Alabama will play at 8 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. The game is expected to be at the very least a near-sellout as the event had less than 100 available tickets going into the weekend. Click the links for team and Pomeroy stats.

My Two Cents: If this past weekend in college basketball has taught us anything, it's that the week heading into Christmas can produce some weird results. Six top 25 teams have lost to unranked opponents so far (may be more by the time this is posted). Alabama isn't ranked of course, but a loss to Mercer would still count as a big upset. That said, it's fair to wonder where this  Alabama team is at mentally, coming off a 10-day break that included taking finals. It would only be natural if our guys are flat when this game tips off. Mercer will be playing their second game in 48 hours after a Sunday night game at La Salle (a 95-85 loss). I think teams with a quick turnaround actually have a physical and mental advantage over their opponents, particularly if that opponent is coming off a 10-day break. 

Players to Watch: Unless there's a setback, this game should be the debut of Braxton Key for the 17-18 season. While having a healthy Braxton would have likely resulted in a better win/loss record for the team up to this point, his absence has allowed other players (Herb Jones, Galin Smith and Alex Reese) to play more minutes and gain much-needed experience than they may have if Braxton had been healthy to start the season. Not sure if he will start right away, but Braxton's return certainly gives this team more experience, leadership and skill on the floor. As he gets back to full strength, assuming everyone can remain healthy, I think we'll see this team begin to progress towards its ceiling for this season.

Another Bama guy to watch on Tuesday will be John Petty, returning to his hometown for this game. No doubt he'll have a vocal cheering section, and it will be interesting to see how John handles the pressure to perform well. I thought he overcame a shaky start in Tuscon to play his best game since the BYU game in Brooklyn.

Ria'n Holland (20.7 ppg, 57.3 FG%, 60% from 3, 91.4% FT, 3.2 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.5 spg) missed three games for Mercer due to an injury, but did return for their game vs Florida A&M and scored 24 points, knocking down 75% of his 3-point attempts. On Sunday night, he scorched La Salle with 33 points (6-9 from 3), 4 boards, 2 assists, and 2 steals.  Needless to say, he's a problem.

Prediction: I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman. He will have his team prepared to play, and with guys like Ria'n Holland, Mercer can win this game if Alabama comes out sluggish. And with the 10-day layoff, and the chemistry of the Alabama team perhaps being altered by the return of Braxton to the line-up, I'll be surprised if our guys aren't flat. But as good as I think Mercer can be (they're expected to be a contender in the Southern conference), Alabama simply can't afford to lose this game from a resume standpoint. Bama - 79 - Mercer - 68

Monday, December 11, 2017

Wildcats Get Fat on Tide; Arizona 88 Alabama 82

There are no moral victories, and Alabama let a great opportunity slip away in the final minutes against one of the nation's most talented teams in the desert.  Nevertheless, it was one of the better efforts of the year so far, and if they play with the same focus and effort on a consistent basis, it's going to be a fun year. 

Braxton Key warmed up but did not play, and is expected to return for the Mercer game.  I believe he could have made a difference in this one. 

Sexton got into some early foul trouble and had to head to the bench for part of the first half.  Arizona was able to open up an 11 point lead, and I was concerned we were about to get run out of the gym.  I was really proud of the way our young guys kept their composure and kept answering every time Arizona looked to be on the verge of pulling away. 

I was questioning Coach's decision to put Sexton back in the game trailing by 5 late in the first half with 2 fouls, but clearly I was wrong.  We finished the half on a 7-0 run, including a bank shot at the buzzer from Collin to give us a 40-38 lead going into the half. 

The second half started great as we increased the lead to 6, and it could have been more.  We had a couple of bad bounces in transition including a missed dunk and instead of potentially going up by double digits; Arizona was able to even things up. 

For whatever reason the officials started calling the game very tight in the last 8 minutes or so, and it turned into a free throw shooting contest.  Normally that would spell doom for us, but we actually shot very well from the charity stripe.  Collin Sexton made 15 of 16 accounting for half of his 30 points.  Donta Hall was 3 of 4 and Dazon was even 5 of 6 despite drawing a lot of iron.  We shot 85.7% as a team.  More of that, please. 

It was still a tie game with around 3 minutes left, but we just couldn't keep up with their scoring.  We had no answer for Arizona's big men.  They killed us on the boards on both ends.  Ayton scored 29 and Trier had 25.  I thought we panicked a bit when we fell down 4 with a little over a minute left and JP jacked up a terrible shot.  We had plenty of time to work for a better shot and go into the final minute of play in a one possession game.  Instead, we fell down by 6 and that was pretty much the game. 

At the end of the day we lost to a very good team playing at home because they killed us on the boards and we couldn't stop one of the best players in the country.  There were a lot of positives from this game that we can build on.  I'm encouraged that we improved on some areas that have been a problem all year.  I mentioned the free throw stats above, but we also did a better job of valuing the basketball, as evidenced by the 15 assists to 8 turnovers ratio.  Donta Hall had another double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds.  Petty was 4 of 10 from 3 point range and ended up with 13 points.  I thought he generally played a good game, but his bad shot selection at the end really killed us.  Dazon also scored in double digits with 10. 

Riley was simply over matched and give credit to Sean Miller for exploiting it.  He was able to get Ayton matched up with Riley who had no chance of stopping him in the post.  I do not understand why we didn't double team him at all in the first half.  Ayton is a beast, but I think Key could have at least slowed him down a little. Riley made a 3 early and a desperation one late, but he missed some wide open shots that we really needed.  Herb also looked over matched, as he fouled out in just 14 minutes.  This was the first time he struggled to lock his guy down on defense. 

There were some unusual circumstances in the second half.  There was a lengthy review after a block-charge call, but I was under the impression that was not reviewable until under 2 minutes left, and there was no explanation given at the arena but they did not adjust the clock or anything.  From my vantage point, it looked like Sexton may have gotten hit in the head at the other end, and I thought maybe they were reviewing to see if that should have been an intentional foul, but since they didn't even call a common foul, I'm not sure if that's the case either.  Also, we were called for a foul with exactly 8 minutes remaining in the half, and Arizona shot the first free throw, THEN a media timeout was called.  My understanding is that the rule is the first stoppage UNDER 8 minutes, but my guess is that the offical clock showed 7:59.X seconds and the scorer failed to inform the officials before the first shot.  If the TV broadcasters gave an explanation for either of those things, please post in the comments, because I would love to know what all that was about. 

The McKale Center is a nice arena.  Our seats were near the top, but we had a decent view with good sightlines, and it was easy to get in and out of.  The concourse walls are lined with pics of Arizona greats over the years.  It seats about 14,500, and was more or less packed, with just a handful of empty seats in the upper level behind the basket.  I would guess there were no more than 50 Bama fans, and we were all scattered about.  The atmosphere was not as intense as I was expecting.  They stood up and got loud at key points in the game, but overall it was much more quiet than one would think, especially for a crowd of that size in an intimate setting.  There was more of a sense of nervousness and relief that they survived than genuine excitement and enthusiasm from their fans. 

Compared to some other blue blood schools I have visited, they don't seem to have the same passion and dedication as schools like Kentucky.  We were able to get our tickets on the secondary market for a reasonable $30 or so each.  I don't think I've ever set foot in Rupp arena for less than 75.  Unlike when I went to UCLA a few years back, the Wildcat fans do actually show up and participate.  They are knowledgeable and supportive of their team.  For the most part, we were treated very well.  Several people asked us about Collin and were very complimentary of our team.  We also had several people wish us good luck against Clemson.  Tucson was a little bigger than I was expecting, but it's very spread out.  We had a good time going out downtown and on 4th street after the game, but there are some strange characters there.  We had a fun Uber ride in a Tesla Model S when the driver demonstrated the ludicrous mode, going from 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds, but it begs the question, why is somebody who can afford a $140,000 car driving for Uber?  Tucson also seems to have been badly impacted by the heroin epidemic. 

Up next, we have 9 days off for final exams before taking on a solid Mercer Bears squad up in Huntsville.  Hopefully the guys can get healthy and do well on their exams to stay eligible.  The Mercer game will tip off at 8pm Central time on Tuesday, December 19th.  It will be televised on SEC Network. 

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Game Preview - at Arizona

 The Alabama men's basketball team have traveled to Tuscon, Arizona for their first true road game of the season vs the Arizona Wildcats. The Wildcats were a preseason top five team, but early struggles forced them out of the top 25. Following a road win at UNLV and a semi-home court victory over Texas A&M, Arizona appears to be rebounding. More good news for the Wildcats: injured guard Rawle Alkins, who has yet to play this season, is expected to return in some capacity for this game. His return only adds to the overwhelming challenge facing Alabama as they prepare for a team that rarely loses at the McKale Center. Game time is 9 P.M. CT. It will be televised on ESPN2. Click the links for team and Pomeroy stats.

My Two Cents: It hasn't been easy, or  pretty to watch at times, but Alabama sits at 7-2 entering this game. They've been able to overcome lapses on defense, inconsistent rebounding, a lack of ball security and terrible free throw shooting to grind out most of their victories. In order to win this one though, the performances we've seen up to this point simply won't cut it. If Alabama turns the ball over 20+ times, or fails to convert their free throw opportunities, the likelihood of a competitive game, even against an Arizona team with its own share of issues, will be minimal.

Players to Watch: Braxton Key will be a game-time decision tonight, but I don't expect him to return until the Mercer game, based on comments made by Avery in his last press conference. Nevertheless, he did travel with the team so it will be something to watch.

Daniel Giddens played his best game in an Alabama uniform against Rhode Island. The sophomore big man finished with 12 points, 6 boards, 2 blocks, and most importantly, 2 fouls. Switching to a smaller line-up and bringing Daniel off the bench has helped him avoid early foul trouble, which has allowed him to have a greater impact on the game.

Arizona has one of the best 1-2 punches in college basketball in Alonzo Trier and DeAndre Ayton. Trier, a junior, is averaging 22.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.6 apg. He's already scored 25+ in five games so far this season. Ayton hasn't just been one of the best freshmen in college basketball this season, he's been one of the best players period. A potential top-3 draft pick in June if he decides to enter, Ayton is averaging 19.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 1.7 apg, and 1.3 bpg. The only knock against Ayton so far is he has a tendency to drift out to the 3-point line. He can make the shot, but his 26% mark from 3 suggests that he should spend more time dominating in the paint. For our guys to have any shot to win this game, they must limit Ayton and Trier, and live with someone else having to beat them.

Prediction: I don't have the schedules in front of me, but I feel confident this is the most prestigious non-conference program Alabama has faced since they met Duke in Madison Square Garden in the 2013-14 season. This is the first game of a home-and-home series so the Wildcats will come to Tuscaloosa next season. Both games will present Alabama with a great opportunity to elevate the status of its own program. As far as this game goes, I'm not convinced that Alabama is ready to make the statement that a road win at Arizona would make. The program is getting closer to what we all want it to be, and tonight's game will certainly serve as a  barometer, but I've got to go with the home team in this one. Arizona - 81 - Bama - 67

Friday, December 08, 2017

Sleeping with the Enemy, Arizona Wildcats

I reached out to Ryan Kelapire of Arizona Desert Swarm to get their perspective on tomorrow night's game, and he graciously shared the info below.  I also answered some questions about our team for their site, if you are interested.  If you visit Arizona Desert Swarm, please abide by their site's rules and be a good representative of our University.  


Arizona's biggest strength is that it has two of the top scorers in country in Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier. Both are averaging north of 20 points per game and they have carried Arizona's offense all season. Ayton can score from all over the floor, but is mostly a terror in the paint because of his size and athleticism. Trier is an incredible slasher, who's best at scoring off the dribble but has improved quite a bit as a shooter. Arizona has other players who are capable of scoring in double figures too (we'll get to one of them), but the main reason Arizona has had any type of success this year is because of these two guys.


Defense. Generally, Sean Miller-coached teams are excellent on defense, but this team isn't, ranking 212th in the country in defensive efficiency. Arizona doesn't have any lockdown perimeter defenders and aren't a fundamentally sound defensive team either (they don't communicate well or play with great effort). And while Arizona starts two 7-footers including the athletic Ayton, they aren't a great shot-blocking team. So opposing teams have been able to beat the Wildcats off the dribble and finish at the rim. However, Arizona has improved defensively as the season has worn on as evidenced by their win over Texas A&M.

Rebounding is another weakness, particularly on the defensive end. It seems odd that a team that starts two 7-footers would have trouble controlling the glass but one of those 7-footers (Dusan Ristic) just isn't a physical force in the paint. Add that to the fact Arizona's guards and wings aren't great rebounders and you get the struggles Arizona has had. Ayton is one of the top defensive rebounders in the country, and that's great because Arizona would be awful without him. That said, they are adding Rawle Alkins back to the mix and he is Arizona's best rebounding guard.

Players to watch for? 

I mentioned Ayton and Trier already, so I'll talk about two other guys. First, Rawle Alkins. Alkins is set to make his debut Saturday after missing the first nine games with a broken foot. While he is not the scorer that Trier is, he is good at basically everything. He will be an additional creator and shooter on the perimeter, and should help solve Arizona's defensive and rebounding woes as well.  He was Arizona's second-best defender last year and could be the go-to defender the team sorely needs this year. While Alkins won't have a full workload Saturday, he is arguably Arizona's second-best player, so he will surely be a difference maker in the minutes that he does play.

Also watch for Dusan Ristic. He is quite a different player than Ayton as Ristic relies completely on size, footwork and his touch around the basket to score. Ristic is fundamentally sound on the low block and has the best touch around the basket that I've seen for a college player. He also can step out and hit jumpers too. He is not good defensively because of a lack of athleticism, and he can get outmuscled on the boards, but if he catches the ball on the low block he is probably going to score. 


This Arizona team is trending upward and hardly ever loses at home, so I believe they'll win a tight one Saturday. Maybe something like 75-69.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Wham, Bam, Thank You Rams! Alabama 68 Rhode Island 64.

Alabama survived another close, hard fought battle against a solid team to improve to 7-2 on the season.

After the loss to UCF, Dazon called a players only meeting.  I was anxious to see how the team would respond to his veteran leadership. We looked focused and much improved defensively, especially in the first half.  We forced a few turnovers and got some easy baskets in transition to build a 10 point lead.

I lost some respect for Dan Hurley in this game.  He got a technical foul in the first half for arguing with the officials.  I do think he had a legitimate gripe on that play, as Sexton got away with carrying the ball, but he proceeded to whine and argue literally EVERY call, including some of the most obvious ones, that went against his team, all the while encouraging them to play very physical defense.   There were multiple incidents when he could and should have been called for a second and ejected.   I thought there were a lot of bad calls on both sides, but in fairness it was the type of game that is extremely difficult to officiate.  It was very sloppy, physical  Conversely, other than when Herb Jones was called for a travel after he got pushed in the first half, Coach Johnson really did not argue much with the officials.  I thought he was too far on the other spectrum, and at times would have liked to see him do more to try to protect his players.  It seemed Rhode Island got the benefit of a few calls in the second half because the refs were tired of listening to Hurley's whining.

Collin Sexton got poked in the eye with about 6 minutes remaining in the first half and finally returned late in the second half with stitches.  He only played 17 minutes but scored 11 points, including a huge 3 to regain momentum after Rhode Island had tied the game.  He had a few words for Hurley and the Rams' bench after said 3 as well, and he was in their heads.

With Collin out most of the game several players stepped up.  Dazon had to play 37 minutes and finished with a double-double, 10 points and 14 rebounds.  While he struggled with turnovers and free throws, he came through when we needed him the most, making 7 of 8 in the final 2 minutes.

Donta Hall continues to be the MVP of this team.  He led the team in points and rebounds with 13 and 14 respectively.  Petty's shooting slump continues as he was 1 of 5 from 3 point range, but he utilized some other parts of his game and managed to score 12 points.  He had a huge rebound and put back late in the game, but his defense and ball handling has a long way to go.  He tries to be too flashy at times and makes poor decisions, and like too many guys on this team, does not value the basketball.  At one point he appeared to re-injure his ankle but stayed in the game.  I don't think he's 100%, and hopefully the extended break after the Arizona game will get him back on track.

Give some credit to Rhode Island, as they are a good defensive team and were averaging 18 forced turnovers per game, but 24 turnovers is ridiculous.  I would go old school and make every guard carry a basketball around campus 24/7 and encourage students to try to steal it from them, and have them run stairs for each time they cough it up.  (I'm only half-joking here).

The defense was not as good in the second half.  Petty and Dazon were both guilty of not closing out on shooters or getting their hands up at times, and coupled with our turnover issues on the offensive end, the Rams were able to erase an 11 point deficit.  Sexton's immediate answer when they tied the game really set the tone for the remainder of the contest.

We had a balanced scoring attack with 5 guys in double digits, including 12 from Daniel Giddens off the bench.  He matches up very well against smaller forwards and centers that he can post up, and I expect we'll see a lot more of him in some games than others depending on the lineups.

Overall, it's always frustrating to watch a team turn the ball over 24 times and barely shoot 60% at the free throw line, but when you can do that and still beat a good team with your best player only playing 17 minutes that's an encouraging sign.  And to everyone still upset about the UCF lost, please note that Kansas lost to Washington last night, and a shout out to my Mom's alma mater, the Loyola University-Chicago Ramblers for upsetting Florida in Gainesville.  Even good teams lose games they shouldn't, especially this time of the year.

The crowd was decent but not as great as the last few games; I would estimate around 9,000 or so, and there was a nervousness atmosphere through much of the game, as it appeared we were on the verge of repeating the UCF collapse in the second half.  The last two games the seats around us have been occupied by a family with 4 or 5 (I honestly lose count because they are jumping and moving around so much) of the most undisciplined, obnoxious kids I've ever encountered.  The baby of the bunch who can barely walk, literally climbed over us multiple times per game going between parents.  They sneak in outside food and leave garbage all over the place.  One of the brats wiped avocado on my girlfriend's pants.  They constantly stand up on the seats and jump around while the game is going on.  They finally, mercifully, exited with about 8 minutes remaining, but not without the oldest, probably 8-10 yrs in age, throwing a full fledged tantrum and getting into a face to face screaming match with his father.  While I generally favor having more fans closer to the floor, I would prefer empty seats to this bunch, and if they come back and start that nonsense again I am going to ask the usher to start checking tickets, because I'm pretty sure they don't all have seats near us.

Up next, we travel to Tucson for our first true road game against the Arizona Wildcats, who are one of the most talented teams in the country.  They were ranked top 5 in the preseason, lost 3 games in their Thanksgiving tournament, but seem to have bounced back coming off a win over top 10 and previously unbeaten Texas A&M.  It will take our best effort to date to be competitive.  The game tips at 8pm local time, 9 Central, and will be televised on ESPN2.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Game Preview - Rhode Island

The Alabama men's basketball team won't have long to dwell on its second loss of the season as it will play host to the preseason A-10 favorite Rhode Island Rams on Wednesday night. Game time is 7:00 P.M. CT. It's disappointing that this game won't be on proper television, but you can watch it through SEC Network+, via the Watch ESPN app. Alabama fell out of the rankings following Sunday's loss to UCF, but both the Tide and Rams are receiving votes so a win by either team could get them into the next poll. Honestly, I'm surprised Rhode Island is not ranked as they have two good wins over Seton Hall and Providence, while their only two losses were to ranked Nevada and Virginia teams. Click the links for team and Pomeroy stats.

My Two Cents: Following the game on Sunday, I tweeted that if the Alabama program wants to be taken seriously it has to stop losing games like the one we saw on Sunday. We talk quite a bit here about the strength of fan turnout, and how important it is to growing the program. That is true. But it's also true that, in order to grow into an established program, you have to win your home games first and foremost. That's never more true than this season, as the program has more momentum and fan support than we've seen in years. And yet, with a good crowd on hand Sunday, the team did not perform well, and Alabama fans were sent home, once again, disappointed.

Home losses have been a consistent source of frustration for fans during the Avery Johnson tenure. And before you think I'm going after Avery, keep in mind that he's also focused on this issue in his press conferences as well. Following the loss to UCF on Sunday, Alabama now has lost 11 games in Coleman Coliseum in 35 home games during Avery's tenure. Don't trust my math (I wouldn't), but that's 31% of their home games up to this point. That's not good. If you want to count the semi-home games that Alabama has played in Birmingham the last two seasons, that's 13 games the team has lost in front of supportive crowds.

Alabama has posted some big wins so far in Avery's tenure (Wichita State, Notre Dame, at Florida for the first time since 1995 in year one; and the 4-OT win over a ranked South Carolina team last season), but these wins have all come on neutral or road courts. The best home court win the program has had up to this point is probably a 63-62 win over eventual SEC co-champ Texas A&M in Avery's first season; a win by the way that only happens if a 90% free throw shooter doesn't miss two from the line to preserve the win for Alabama.

Bottom line: scheduling in the manner that Avery has done is great - it's awesome to see great basketball teams come to Coleman - but you've got to win too. Fans have to do their part by showing up and supporting the team, but the team has to reward them with at least a handful of wins over those good teams to keep the excitement high. They will have another great opportunity to do just that on Wednesday night.

Players to Watch: Let's be honest, this season has been a bit shaky up to this point. There was the Kobe Baker situation, which resulted in Collin having to sit while his eligibility was reviewed; the injuries to Riley, Braxton and Ar'Mond; and the inconsistent play that we've seen from the team up to this point. That said, Donta Hall has been a silver lining as he's playing the best basketball of his Alabama career. Donta was the only one that played at a consistently high level on Saturday, and it's a shame that such an effort was in a loss. But his scoring is up, he leads the team in rebounds and blocks, and he's doing a far better job of staying out of foul trouble this season. He's no longer just a role player, but someone that Alabama can actually run plays through in the post.

Even with senior leader E.C. Matthews missing time with an injury, this Rhode Island team has been incredibly balanced. The fact they have nine juniors or seniors on the roster doesn't hurt, but in their previous game vs Providence, it was freshman Fatts Russell (love that name) that came off the bench and scored 20 points and added 5 rebounds. The Alabama coaches won't be able to focus on any one guy, which will make scouting this team difficult. The guy who stands out the most on paper is senior guard, Jared Terrell (17.9 ppg, 43% from 3, 82.4% FT, 2.8 apg and 1.8 spg).

Prediction: Another reason Sunday was so important for Alabama is that a win takes a little bit of pressure off the next two games against really good, well-coached, talented teams. I thought Rhode Island was the better team on paper going into the UCF game, and I certainly feel the same way now. But lo and behold, this has become a gut-check game for Alabama. The team is now in the meat of the non-conference schedule, and how they handle this stretch in December will go a long way in determining the conversation in March. Alabama is certainly more than capable of winning this game, they have the talent. But whereas Rhode Island is a veteran team with chemistry, this Alabama team appears to still be in the process of finding itself, and likely will even after Braxton returns from injury. Rhode Island is the better team, but I've still got some faith left. Show me something, guys! Bama - 78 - Rhode Island - 77  

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Bad Knight for Bama, UCF 65 Tide 62

Alabama drops to 6-2 on the season after a bad loss to a depleted UCF team.  Give credit to the Knights, they played great defense, made their open 3s, and found a way to get the win on the road over a top 25 team despite being short handed. 

It was a strange game.  If you told me before the game that one team would shoot nearly 50% from 3 point range and win, and the other would lose despite having a post player go for 20 points, I would have guessed our roles would be reversed. 

As frustrating as this loss was, there are a few positives to take away, but not many.  We actually played better in the first half for a change.  We had an 11 point lead at one point, but I thought we took the foot off the gas a bit at that point and got a little sloppy.  UCF was able to cut the lead to 6 by halftime. 

We did a good job on Tacko Fall. Donta and Giddens fronted the 7'6" center to deny him the ball, and we used our quickness to get several turnovers when they tried to lob the ball into the post.  We also attacked him on the other end with Donta and Sexton going right at him and managed to foul him out after only 14 minutes of playing time and 6 points. 

Donta Hall was a beast on both ends of the floor.  He finished with 20 points, several dunks,  and 4 blocks. Unfortunately, he did not have any help today. 

UCF controlled the tempo in the second half.  Avery tried to press to speed them up a bit, but with a few exceptions they did a nice job of breaking the press but not taking the bait of getting into a running game.  UCF was held in the 40s their last two outings, but already had that many by early in the second half.  They shot 50% from 3 point range, and it wasn't a matter of them making tough, contested shots.  We must get better in our man to man defense.  We continue to mis-communicate or simply not execute switches on screens, and both Sexton and Petty are susceptible to over-reacting to quick directional fakes.  At some point, we've got to get back to the fundamentals of moving your feet to stay in front of the dribbler and not trying to anticipate every move hoping to make a big play.  Herb Jones can't defend everyone on the court. 

Sexton had his worst game so far.  UCF's guards did a good job of being physical with him, and when he missed a few shots I think he started to get frustrated a bit.  I do give him credit for setting up Donta and our other bigs with some nice drives and dishes.  I assume he had some blood on his jersey because he wore #14 for the second half. 

Petty left the game briefly in the first half as it appeared he re-injured his ankle, but he came back in.  Personally, I wish we would have just sat him out until he's 100%.  He had a few nice looking 3s that went all the way in and came out.   In fact, Riley also had a couple of mid range jumpers do the same, and Ingram even missed some in the paint.  It was just one of those days.  Petty finished with 12 points, but also had some bad turnovers and was a liability on defense.  Dazon, Collin, Herb, and Petty all made some poor decisions with the basketball. 

Despite trailing by 6 or so for most of the second half, we had a chance to win the game at the end.  Sexton tied the game at the line, and then Herb Jones took a charge with 25 seconds left.  Unfortunately, the replay showed Herb had a foot in the restrictive circle and the call was changed to a block.  They made a free throw to take a one point lead, and Dazon turned it over at the other end trying to get the ball to Hall.  Given the great game Donta had, and the fact that Tacko was on the bench with 5 fouls, I did not have a problem with the decision to try to get the ball to Donta on the block in that situation, but the execution was not good.

 I do take issue with the last possession.  After UCF scored on a fast break to take a 3 point lead with a little over 12 seconds remaining, Sexton quickly got the ball into the front court.  I like that Avery seems to be giving these guys a lot of freedom, but I think he defers to Collin a bit too much at times.  Obviously I couldn't hear what was being said, but I think Avery wanted to call a timeout as soon as the ball crossed mid-court, but Collin seemed to say, "I got this," and proceeded to dribble into a triple team before calling a timeout with 2.8 seconds...a timeout that should have been called with about 6 seconds left.  Credit to coach Johnson for drawing up a play that actually got Petty a decent look to tie the game, but as was the story of the day, it wouldn't go down. 

A good team must be able to overcome poor shooting nights and win these types of games.  We showed our youth today.  If we don't dramatically improve our fundamentals, start valuing the basketball and start moving our feet and communicating on defense, we are going to be discussing a 3 game losing streak this time next week. 

The game took over 2 and a half hours due to several lengthy delays in the second half when the shot clock on the UCF end went out.  They turned them both off at that point and started announcing "20 seconds," "10 seconds," and "5 seconds," until it started working again 5 minutes or so later.  This is just another in a long list of embarrassing aspects of our facility that badly needs replacing and upgrading. 

The crowd was the best I've seen so far this year, and it's unfortunate we couldn't capitalize with a victory.  I would estimate close to 12,000 were in attendance on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and everyone was in a festive mood with the good news the football team received earlier this morning.  The crowd stayed till the end and remained positive and supportive throughout, but there were some quiet stretches with the slow pace of the game and all the interruptions. 

Up next, the Rhode Island Rams come to Tuscaloosa for a 7 pm tipoff Wednesday night.  Rhode Island is almost certainly an NCAA tournament team, and they already have impressive wins over Providence and Seton Hall on their resume.  The game will be broadcast on SEC Network +

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Game Preview - UCF

Alabama's homestand continues when UCF (a.k.a. the University of Central Florida) visits Tuscaloosa on Sunday afternoon. Game time is 1 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU. Alabama enters the game at 6-1, ranked 24th in the current AP poll. UCF enters at 4-3. The Knights are currently going through a 3-game losing streak. As always, click the links for team and Pomeroy stats.

My Two Cents: Expectations were high for UCF entering this season after they won 24 games last season and advanced to the NIT Final Four. One game into the season, their best player, B.J. Taylor fractured his foot, costing him 4-6 weeks of the season. Without Taylor, UCF has struggled, losing three straight games coming into this one. With the exception of a 38-point demolition at the hands of West Virginia, UCF have been competitive in their other two losses, both 3-point defeats to St. John's and Missouri. The biggest issue for UCF has been scoring. In their three losses, the Knights are only averaging 49 points per game. Taylor, who was an 18-point per game scorer a year ago, would certainly help in that area if he was available.

Turnovers have been a real struggle for this UCF team. They cough it up 17 times per game, and a turnover percentage of 24.3% every 100 possessions. For all of their struggles on offense, defense has been a strength for the Knights. They enter this game ranked in the top 20 at KenPom in defensive efficiency, and teams are only averaging 65.4 points per game. It's going to be a tempo game - UCF wants to keep the game in the 50s/60s, while Alabama would prefer to score in the 70s/80s. Transition offense was atrocious at times for Alabama vs Louisiana Tech. It must be better this game. Our guys  must make the Knights pay if they continue to turn the ball over at a high rate.

Players to Watch: The transition from high school to college for John Petty had been going pretty well until the Minnesota game, when he struggled in that game, and hurt his ankle as well. Despite starting the game vs Louisiana Tech, John's struggles continued. Whether it was because of the ankle injury or just having a bad night, Avery was forced to sit John in the second half as he managed the lineup in an effort to find a group of players that could get the team back into the game and ultimately get the win. John sat for all but three minutes of the second half, and the broadcast showed him visibly upset and disengaged from the game, choosing to remain seated on the bench during team timeouts. As the game progressed, John seemed to regain his cool and rejoined the team during timeouts. 

It wasn't a good look for John, but I'm sympathetic to his situation if it was merely a case of wanting to remain in the game and be competitive, and showing frustration when he wasn't given that chance. Honestly, I would prefer a guy be upset that he couldn't compete whether than placidly take his place on the bench. My hope is that it was a learning experience for him. Adversity happens to all of us in one form or another; there's nothing we can do to avoid it. The key is how one responds to adversity, and that will be the challenge for John on Sunday. My hope is that he bounces back.

Tacko Fall is likely the most unique player Alabama will confront this season. Tacko is 7'6, you see. But he isn't just a big body. Since Taylor's injury, Fall has become the most important player on this UCF team. He's leading the team in scoring at 11.0 ppg, making 71% of his shots. The fact that there are three players that have double (or more) the shot attempts that Tacko has (32) to this point in the season is a head-scratching stat to me, and likely plays a big part in the Knight's 4-3 start.

Interestingly, Fall does not lead the team in either rebounds (that would be A.J. Davis who averages a double-double of 10.7 ppg/10.9 rpg, and will also be a focal point of the scouting report) or blocks at the moment. But he's a guy that cuts off a large swath of the floor because of his presence in the paint. In my opinion, Alabama has to go at him early and often to make him defend, and hopefully get him into some early foul trouble.

Prediction: UCF is hurting without B.J. Taylor in the lineup, but they still have a roster capable of coming into Coleman and beating Alabama, particularly if the level of play is anything similar to what we saw for long stretches on Wednesday night. But the fact remains that this UCF team is struggling. Alabama needs to play well and take care of business in front of what is hopefully an enthusiastic home crowd on Sunday afternoon. Alabama - 73 - UCF - 63