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  

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