Monday, December 31, 2018

Hit the Road, Jacks, Alabama 79 Stephen F. Austin 69

Yes, this place is every bit as depressing at it looks

Alabama closed out the pre-conference portion of the schedule with its first true road win of the season by beating the SFA Lumberjacks by 10 at "the sawmill" in Nacogdoches, TX.  We'll take a solid 9-3 record into SEC play.

The first 5 minutes or so of the game were extremely ugly.  We coughed up the basketball on every other possession between jacking up bricks, but somehow got to the first media timeout in a 2-2 tie.  I thought we were settling for too many 3 point shots, getting into a 3 point shooting contest on their home court seemed like a recipe for disaster.  We finally got Donta involved and they couldn't stop him down low, and that opened up the perimeter as Riley Norris started bombing 3s.

After the slow start the game generally had a nice flow as we built a 7 point lead going into the half.  We stretched the lead to 10-12 at several different points in the second half, but give some credit to the Lumberjacks for refusing to go away.  We couldn't deliver the knockout punch and they kept going on runs to cut the lead to a couple of possessions.

While I was annoyed at our inability to finish the game, I did like the way we responded each time they got within striking distance and the crowd got involved.  Coach Avery did a good job of using his timeouts to stop the momentum, and I thought Donta showed good leadership in the huddle, keeping everyone positive while being a calming influence.

My only beef with Coach Johnson this game was leaving AJ in for too long, and going with a lineup of AJ, Dazon, Riley, JP, and Galin that allowed SFA to cut the lead to 4.  Kira and Donta came back into the game after a timeout and within 3 possessions our lead was back up to a comfortable 8 and the East Texas crowd was back in their seats.

Riley Norris was the MVP in my opinion.  He went 4 for 7 from three point range, and the last of those 3 pointers stretched a 2 point lead to 5 in the final minutes and silenced the crowd.  It was also the third shot of that possession, thanks in part to one of his offensive rebounds.  Riley's defense and 3-point shooting, along with our offensive rebounding down the stretch, were the keys to hanging on for the victory.

In addition to Riley's 14 points we had 3 others in double figures, Kira had a quiet 17 to go along with 8 assists, Donta had a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds, and T-Mack had a nice game with 12 points.  I really think Riley and Donta's experience and leadership were instrumental in keeping the team focused in a difficult environment.  Herb struggled most of the game, he shot an airball and uncharacteristically bought on some average side fakes defensively, but he did make some key free throws down the stretch.  We only made 14 of 20 from the line, but it was enough to hang on in the final minutes.

The gym was terrible.  I can think of at least three nicer high school arenas in the Birmingham area.  The scoreboard/video screen was nice and large, but it stuck out like a 75 inch QLED 4K TV in a single wide trailer.  It was dark, and you enter on the top row, the people at the top couldn't see all of the scoreboard due to the low ceiling.  They had 2 concession stands in the whole building, and the lines wrapped half-way around the court.  There were no separate stands selling only drinks, etc.  One of my seats didn't even exist, I had seats 7 and 8 in a row that the seats only went to 7.  I will be contacting their athletic department and seeking a refund for that ticket.

Nacogdoches is a quaint, small, very rural town.  If you like small, rural towns, you would probably enjoy a visit there, but personally I couldn't get back on the road fast enough.  It was a little over a 2 hour drive from Houston, which was absolutely miserable driving through all the small towns in the  rain.  All of that being said, the people there were mostly nice, and in fairness I was operating on about 2 hours sleep after an early flight from Miami where I  attended the football game the night before.  My flight arrived in HOU at 9:15 am, and since I had a ton of time to kill I decided to visit the space center before making the drive north.  I will post some pics below.

It ended up being close to a sell out with a large walk-up crowd.  I talked to a lot of people who weren't even huge SFA basketball fans but drove from hours away because it was such a big event for them.  They seem to be more of a football school as they were excited about the new coach who was announced at halftime.  He was complimentary of us for playing there, but said, "we're going to do so well that Nick Saban will bring his squad to Homer Bryce stadium in a few years."  Our players were coming back out to warm up by that point and even they were cracking up at that comment.

Their fans were enthusiastic and loud at times and it was a great atmosphere, even if they weren't the most knowledgeable.  There was one young recruit there for us, but I'm not sure who he was.  Kudos to the North Texas Alumni association for bringing about 30 fans over who were sitting across the aisle from me behind the Bama bench taking up a couple of rows.  There was probably close to 100 Tide fans there scattered throughout the 7,000 seat venue, which I thought was actually pretty good considering the ridiculously horrible location.  SFA did rip-off a couple of classless red-clad MLB teams that play in the NL Central with a timeout feature called "bandwagon cam," in which they focused on Bama fans in the stands and put captions such as "Has never been to Tuscaloosa," and "Doesn't know what Roll Tide means."   I get the Cardinals and Reds doing this to the Cubs, Chicago really DOES have bandwagon fans, and I know we do for football, but...I really don't think anybody is jumping on the bandwagon of our perennial mediocre basketball squad, much less going to bum-(insert word bobbyjack won't let me say here), Texas on a cold rainy day to watch them play against a forestry school.

Personally, no offense to SFA, but I don't think we should agree to go to places like this.  In a sense they earned this game with their play over the last several years, but they don't appear to be as good this year and this probably will not end up being enough of a high quality road win to justify the expense and inconvenience, not to mention the perception of us agreeing to play somewhere like this.

 Up next, we return home for the start of SEC play as Big Blue Nation will invade Tuscaloosa to watch the 13th ranked Kentucky Wildcats take on the Tide.  Tip-off is set for noon on ESPN, but unfortunately I will be on a flight to California for the football championship game at the time.  I booked this long before the basketball schedule was released, but I'm hoping I'll be able to catch most of it on the plane and perhaps one of my cohorts and will pick up my slack with a recap.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Game Preview: at Stephen F. Austin

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas. After a break for the holiday, the team will be back at it on Sunday when they travel to scenic Nacogdoches, Texas for a true road game at Stephen F. Austin (KenPom: 173; NET: 197). The Lumberjacks enter the game with a 7-4 record. Gametime is 5:00 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

My Two Cents: The Lumberjacks have been one of the better mid-majors in the last six years. In that span, the program has made the NCAA Tournament four times, advancing in two of those trips. This will be the first time an SEC school has traveled to Nacogdoches and the school has been hyping up this game since it was announced. The fact that the name "Alabama" has become rooted in the sports national consciousness as a result of the football success may also raise the excitement level for the locals. Assuming Lumberjack fans turn out, Alabama will be walking into a tough environment.

When this game was scheduled, I'm guessing the Alabama coaching staff assumed this would be, at the very least, a quad two opportunity for the team. Unfortunately, SFA's NET ranking entering this game means this is only currently a quad three opportunity. Not exactly a must-win situation for Alabama, but with two current quad three losses already on the resume (Northeastern and Georgia State) and conference play looming, getting out of Nacogdoches with a win would be big. SFA will be bringing some momentum into this game. They've won two straight, including a big win at Baylor on December 18. They're still the favorite at KenPom to win the Southland conference.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Pachyderms Pound Ped State, Alabama 73 Nittany Lions 64

Bama bounced back from a horrific start to secure a solid victory over the Big 10 foe and improved to 8-3 on the season.  Good teams are able to overcome adversity and find different ways to win games.  The fact that we won this game fairly convincingly after falling behind by 14 early despite our leading scorer being non-existent most of the game, is actually a really good sign. 

The Tide came out flat.  They appeared unprepared for Penn State's physical style of play.  We were being dominated on the boards, we were careless with the basketball, could not get a good look on offense, and allowed the Lions to build a 23-9 lead in the first 8 minutes of the game.  CAJ called a timeout, and it appeared that Coach Pettway was really lighting a fire under some guys in the huddle.  I'm not sure who said what to whom, but whatever the coaching staff did during that timeout, it worked.  Alabama answered with a methodical 24-0 run and took a 6 point lead into the half. 

We weren't able to put the game away and Penn State slowly chipped away to tie the game at 49 in the second half, but Donta answered with a couple of dunks and we quickly got the lead back up to 7 points where we more or less maintained it for the remainder of the game. 

The biggest positive from this game, in my opinion, was the play of Donta Hall.  It's one thing to dominate a much smaller Liberty team, but to lead the team in scoring with 17 points against arguably the best big man we've faced to date (I would argue the Arizona guy was probably better, but it's at least debatable), and to do so against a physical, defensive-minded team, was great to see.  If Donta can play like this consistently, we'll be a difficult out in conference play. 

Riley's play was a very pleasant surprise.  He played solid defense, got some key rebounds, hit a big 3, and I thought his physical play on both ends was a spark to the rest of the team.  I've been hard on him at times, but he's been though a ton during his career between injuries and health issues, and he's been resilient.  He definitely has a role on this team, and this game was a perfect example of the coaching staff using him in the right way and him fulfilling that role. 

We all thought Kira would struggle at some point, and against a more physical, mature defense he was held scoreless most of the night.  Still, he stepped up in the final minutes and pushed the tempo and made some key baskets and free throws in the final minutes to close out the game.  Most importantly, the team showed they can win without the 17 year old carrying the bulk of the load. 

JP scored 13 points and had 5 rebounds despite only going 1-3 from 3 point range.  It's great to see him contributing from the inside and out.  T-Mack was also in double figures with 11 points, and he had nice starts to both halves.  Herb scored 8 and played great defense as usual.  He was 3 of 7 from the field and 2 of 4 from the line, baby steps, but he's moving in the right direction.  We were only 13 of 21 from the line as a team, and that's why this game was closer than it needed to be. 

Penn State has played a difficult schedule and thus is a top 60 RPI team, but I don't think they have the offensive firepower to be a real threat to make the tournament.  Still, this was an encouraging win against a good defensive team, and I was pleased with our ability to make adjustments to the way the game was being called.  Alex only played five minutes but I'm okay with that as I think this was a bad matchup for him.  My only real gripe with the substitution patterns this game is that we had another scoring deficient lineup for a period in the second half, and I thought AJ's 7 minutes was a little too many.  Even though Kira was struggling, he still should have played 32 minutes at a minimum.   Overall, it was a solid win against a decent major conference team. 

There was a decent crowd considering there were no students on campus and it was the Friday night of Christmas weekend.  I would estimate a little over 5,000 were there, and only a few dozen Penn State fans were scattered throughout.  It was arguably the best home atmosphere we've had this year, the crowd was loud at key moments and positive throughout. 

Up next, we hit the road for our last game before conference play begins by travelling to Nacogdoches, TX to take on the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks Sunday at 5 p.m.  SFA has established themselves as legitimate mid-major power by making the tournament 4 of the last 5 years and winning a game in two of those years.  The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.  Incidentally, on the off-chance someone is reading this in East Texas and would like to go to the game, I've got an extra ticket, free for a Bama fan, let me know in the comments. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

Game Preview: Penn State

Following a short trip to Huntsville for the Rocket City Classic, Alabama will return to Coleman Coliseum on Friday night for its final game before Christmas. Awaiting them will be the Penn State Nittany Lions (KenPom: 42; NET: 68) from the Big Ten. Penn State enters this game 6-5 (0-2 in conference play). Game time is 8 P.M. CT. The SEC Network will handle the television duties. With a large portion of the students likely absent from this game due to break, I implore those of you in the area to get out to Coleman and support the team in this game.

My Two Cents: The first thing that stood out to me when I sat down to try and wrap my head around Penn State is that, despite a 6-5 record, the Nittany Lions are still a top 50 team at KenPom. Penn State has played a very difficult schedule. The Lions have a bad loss to Bradley on a neutral floor, but aside from that the other four losses were an overtime road game at DePaul (just outside KenPom's top 100 at 101), and three losses to teams in KenPom's top 26 (at Maryland, Indiana and a neutral floor loss to N.C. State). Mixed in with that is a home win over Virginia Tech, which is currently top 10 at KenPom. So yeah, Penn State is 6-5, which isn't great obviously, but their schedule and that big win over Virginia Tech suggest they're a much better team than their record would indicate.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Falwell's Flunkies Flounder and Fail, Alabama 84 Liberty 75

The Tide improved to 7-3 on the season with an 84-75 victory over the Liberty Flames in the third annual Rocket City Classic in Huntsville.  (Side note, can anybody explain to me why the Flames have an Eagle as their mascot and logo?)  This was one of the best game plans the coaching staff came up with all year.  We took advantage of our size and athleticism advantages by pushing the ball when possible and establishing the post by running the offense through Donta early in the game. 

Donta responded with a career high 21 points, 4 blocks, and made 9 of 11 from the charity stripe.   Unfortunately Liberty was able to stay in the game throughout the first half by making nearly 50% of their 3s.  I didn't think our defense was terrible, they had a few wide open looks when they made our bigs chase them around the perimeter, but for the most part we contested them fairly well.  We had 8 turnovers in the first half and went to the locker room with only a one point lead.

JP set the tone in the second half with two early 3 point baskets to stretch the lead to 7.  Other than a stretch around the 13 minute mark when we had an odd ball lineup of Dazon, AJ, Riley, Alex, and Herb that allowed Liberty to cut the lead to 1, we maintained control of the game and had an 8-12 point lead throughout.  The Flames made just enough 3s, and took advantage of some poor help-side defense inside to prevent us from putting the game away.

Donta had a posterizing dunk over a Liberty defender in the second half.  Kira Lewis was instrumental in keeping the uptempo pace to Bama's liking in the second half while valuing the basketball.  We only had 3 turnovers in the second half, and Lewis ended up with 17 points in his return to North Alabama.  JP scored 16 points including 3 of 7 from three point range in front of his hometown crowd.  It was also good to see Herb start to come out of his slump.  While he uncharacteristically bit on a few fakes on the defensive end leaving open shooters in the first half, he managed to make 3 of 4 from the field and scored 8 points.  Riley played 15 minutes and had 4 rebounds but still generally looks over-matched.  With the exception of that stretch in the second half when Liberty cut the lead to one, I thought our substitution patterns were improved.  While 15 and 12 minutes for Riley and AJ respectively are too many in my opinion, at least we didn't see the Donta and Galin dual center combination in this game.

The crowd was a bit disappointing, I would estimate only about 5,000 of the 6,500 seats were used.  Our seats were on the front row, but at such an angle so when the players on Liberty's bench stood up, it blocked our view of the entire court, as you can see from the pic above.  So, I watched most of our offensive possessions in the second half on the video screens.  Jim Farmer, Bobby Lee Hurt, and other Huntsville basketball legends and corporate sponsors were honored throughout the game, and they all met with Knight Eady officials in our corner before being recognized on the court.  Coach Jack Doss was especially courteous in going out of his way to confirm that he wasn't blocking our view.  I wish they would add a screen that shows player points, fouls, etc.  I will give them credit for removing the ice that caused so many issues with the floor last year.   

The atmosphere was generally dead and quiet most of the night.  I think the novelty of this event has worn off a bit, and it will not produce the packed crowds unless we're able to schedule a bigger name opponent, or at least a team with more regional interest.  I enjoy the games and setting there, but would like to see us rotate playing one neutral site game per year between there, Birmingham, and Mobile.  I suppose I could even stomach a once per decade or so trip to Montgomery thrown in there as well.

Up next, we return to campus for a matchup against the Penn State Nittany Lions Friday night.  Tip off is set for 8pm and it will be televised on the SEC Network.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Game Preview: Liberty [at Huntsville, AL]

After a nine-day layoff for finals, the Alabama men's basketball team travels to Huntsville on Tuesday for the Rocket City Classic at the Von Braun Center. Alabama will face the Liberty Flames (KenPom: 88; Net Ranking: 36) from the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Flames enter the game with a 9-2 record, which is their best start since 1991. Game time is 7 P.M. CT. The official site does not list a TV option, but I checked the upcoming games on the ESPN app and this game is listed as an SEC Network+ game so for those of you unable to make the game in person you will be able to stream the game.

My Two Cents: Tell me if you've heard this before: Alabama is preparing to play a mid-major team expected to contend for its conference title. Liberty is in its first season as a member of the A-Sun, but the Flames are currently projected, along with Lipscomb, to win the league title. They also have a 26-point win over the same Georgia State team that upset Alabama and Georgia. KenPom only projects Alabama as a 3-point favorite in this game. So yeah, the same thing applies here as it did vs Northeastern, Murray State, Georgia State, etc.: If Alabama doesn't show up locked in and ready to play, Liberty is more than capable of beating them.

Liberty does quite a few things well based on the advanced stats at KenPom. They are currently rated in the top 100 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Flames play at a slow pace (ranked 309 at KenPom in adjusted tempo). What is frightening if you're an Alabama fan is that Liberty plays at a slow pace, but they're really efficient on offense. Their effective field goal percentage is a fantastic 57.4%, which ranks them in the top 10 at KenPom. By comparison, their opponents effective field goal percentage is 48.1% (the national average is 50.5%). Liberty also doesn't turn the ball over much; their turnover percentage is only 16.6% (the national average is 19.1%). They make their opponents defend for long stretches, protect the ball, and score efficiently. They make 39.2% of their 3-point shots and 56.3% of their 2-point shots, which rank them in the top 50 at KenPom in both categories. They also shoot the ball well from the free throw line, making 74.8% as a team.

Trendon Watford Names His Final Four Schools

There was big recruiting news on Friday. Trendon Watford, a five-star forward in the class of 2019, narrowed his college choices to four schools. Those four are Alabama, Indiana, LSU and Memphis. Watford is a top 30 national prospect and the top prospect in the state of Alabama. He's been a primary target of the Alabama coaching staff for at least two years. If he commits to Alabama, the 2019 class will certainly be a top ten class for the program with three top 100 players (Juwan Gary, Jaylen Forbes and Jaden Shackelford) already signed. Watford is currently scheduled to make an official visit to Alabama the weekend of the Kentucky game (January 5).

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Sleeping with the Enemy- Liberty Flames

I reached out to Jon Manson at A Sea of Red to find out a little bit about the Liberty squad.  He kindly provided the response below.  If you visit A Sea of Red, please abide by their site rules and be a good representative of our University.

This may be the best Liberty basketball team we've ever had. It's still really early and only time will, but Coach Ritchie McKay has this thing rolling. He was our head coach for seasons about a decade ago before leaving to go to Virginia and be Tony Bennett's top assistant for 6 years. He returned in 2015 and brought the pack-line defense with him. You will see a lot of similarities between the Flames and Cavaliers, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

We've just moved from the Big South to the ASUN, this is our first season in our new league. Based on early season results, it should be an exciting two team race between Liberty and Lipscomb. We're currently leading the ASUN in scoring defense, steals, turnovers, FG%, FG% defense, 3pt FG made per game, 3pt FG%, and 3pt FG% defense. 

We have a very balanced team. Our big man Scottie James nearly averages a double-double. Lovell Cabbil is our senior leader and 1,000 point scorer. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz is our 3rd year starting point guard and calming influence. Darius McGhee is a 5'9" spark plug off the bench. He's been our best players at times, and at others he's looked like a freshman.

The team will be very confident going into this game. We blew out Georgia State just prior to Alabama's buzzer-beating loss to the Panthers. We're hopeful we can pull out the win. It would be a big resume boost for us if we're able to make the NCAA Tournament and could help us stay off the 16-seed line.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Alabama Assaults Arizona, Crimson Tide 76 Wildcats 73

Alabama built a huge lead, blew it again, but made some big plays down the stretch to improve to 6-3 on the season with a hard fought win over Arizona.  This game showed why many of us still believe this team has the potential to be at least as good as last year's version, while also featuring some of the things that has frustrated us all in this early season.

Alabama played about as well as possible in the first 15 minutes of the game.  Donta got off to a slow start but kept his head in the game and really picked it up, dominating the boards.  Alex Reese was a key part in building the lead with his play on both ends.  He was arguably better in defending the post than Donta was, and he was scoring from inside and out.  T-Mack had one of his better games.  In general, we did a great job of getting in transition after securing defensive rebounds, and made 4 of 9 from 3 point range in the first half.

Unfortunately, once again we made some bone-headed substitutions late in the first half.  This business of playing Donta and Galin at the same time is about to drive me crazy.  At one point I even screamed at the coaching staff "This lineup doesn't work!  PLEASE put either Tevin or Alex in for Donta or Galin!"  CAJ and staff ignored me, other fans gave me dirty looks, and that lineup, which also featured AJ Jr, proceeded to allow the lead the dwindle to 9 going into halftime.  We also used the two big combination for a couple of minutes in the second half, and saw the remainder of our small lead disappear when Arizona went up for the first time.  I just can't understand why CAJ keeps putting them on the floor together when it hasn't worked all year.

To the team's credit, unlike in the Georgia State game, we responded when challenged.  We gave up too many easy baskets in the second half, but we played better defense after surrendering the lead, and got some key rebounds late in the game that allowed us to re-establish control of the game.  Arizona is a solid team, and you knew they would make a run.  I'm disappointed we let them come all the way back, but proud of how our guys responded.

Kira Lewis led the way with 20 points including a huge step back 3 with 13 seconds remaining to increase the lead to 5 points.  He really should have been in the game at the end of the first half with only one foul.  Alex had 15 and as I said above had a great all around game.  Tevin and Donta were also in double-figures with 12 and 13 each.  Donta had 9 rebounds and Alex had 8.  Galin also played well when he was allowed to play the 5 position and not sharing the court with Donta.  I really like Galin's game, he scored 8 points, and continues to work hard and give positive contributions off the bench.

JP continues to struggle with his shot, but unlike last year he's still helping us when on the court.  He played above average defense, had 6 good rebounds and 4 assists.  It's only a matter of time before the shots start falling.  Herbert is playing hard and still playing great defense, but he's a huge liability on offense right now.  He can't score from the field or the free throw line, and while he's always been somewhat limited offensively, it's never been this bad.  I think he may have a case of the "yips."  It could be that he's over-thinking it, as he knows that's the part of his game that needs to develop to play at the next level.    It got to the point where Arizona did not even bother to cover him beyond 5 feet from the basket, essentially giving them an extra roaming defender to double team at will.   I would not have had him in the game at the end, but he did get a huge rebound, and wisely passed the ball quickly before he could be fouled, and that led to Kira's dagger 3.  Dazon Ingram did not return after halftime due to back spasms.

Speaking of halftime, we were treated to Red Panda pictured above.  I love her.  I've probably seen her perform close to a dozen times and it never gets old.  She is arguably the greatest athlete of our generation.  I think we should offer her a scholarship and let her kick extra points during the upcoming football playoffs.  If she can kick bowls onto her forehead, surely she can accurately kick a football through the uprights.  I would bet she's a better free throw shooter than most of our team, too.

Considering it was a noon tip-off on a cold, rainy Sunday, I thought the crowd of around 7,000 was pretty solid.  The fans were positive and loud throughout, it was certainly the best home atmosphere we've had yet this year.  Arizona brought a couple hundred or so fans who were all in the upper rows of the coliseum.  They were loud enough that the "U OF A" chants could be heard on the floor during their run.

There was also a delay, with around 4 minutes remaining that seemed to kill some of our momentum due to a clock malfunction.  I understand yesterday the women's game was delayed because the roof was leaking.  We have such a lovely arena; I'm glad the renovations are in phase 2, clearly there is no need to be in any hurry.

Up next, we make the trip to north Alabama for the Magic City Classic next Tuesday where we will face the Liberty Flames in Huntsville.  Tip off is set for 7pm (or 30 minutes after the UAH game) from the Von Braun Center, and there is no TV as far as I know.  Liberty beat Georgia State by 20+ points and played both Georgetown and Vandy close, so we will likely need to play better in this game than we have in recent years to get out with a win.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Game Preview: Arizona

The Alabama men's basketball team will attempt to halt a two-game losing streak on Sunday when the Arizona Wildcats (KenPom: 49) come to Coleman. Arizona (7-2) is arguably a top ten program in the sport over the last thirty years so hosting them in Tuscaloosa is a big deal. The hope is that Coleman will be full and loud on Sunday afternoon to greet them. Game time is 12:00 P.M. The game will be televised on ESPN.

My Two Cents: Let's be honest a moment. Those of us who have been following the program over the years have seen our fair share of basketball losses. A team is going to lose games in college basketball, it happens. But there are some kinds of losses that are so deflating that it can make a fanbase, if only temporarily, question the direction of the program under the current leadership. This is typically a direct result of the frustration that arises from the extreme highs and lows that are witnessed in such games. When the game ends on a low note, it's common for people to let the emotion of the result overwhelm them to the point of cursing and pointing fingers and assuming the worst is yet to come.

Maybe the worst is yet to come, or perhaps we'll look back a month from now at the Georgia State game and think, "yep, that one hurt, but it wasn't the end of the world for this team in hindsight." I'm all in when it comes to my Alabama basketball fandom, for better or for worse. I will sunshine pump when things are going well, and I will gnash my teeth when things are going poorly. And in rare instances, I will keep a cool head and try to take a sensible look at the state of things. That's my objective as I write this preview, ice pack attached firmly to my head.

Alabama hasn't exactly put itself behind the eight ball in terms of its postseason resume, but the margin for error has become very thin. Frankly, one could argue that these next four non-conference games prior to the beginning of conference play are of the must-win variety. Alabama's two best wins so far are Ball State and Wichita State on a neutral court. Both of those are currently quad two wins. The remaining four opponents will likely not rate higher than quad two wins by season's end, but wins in all four would stabilize Alabama's resume for the moment, while also giving this team momentum heading into its first two conference games vs Kentucky and at LSU, which will both be major tests. The short version of all that: Alabama needs a win on Sunday.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Bama Blows Big Lead, Georgia State 83 Crimson Tide 80

Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned off the seat belt sign.  You are now free to move around the cabin.

We had a 21 point lead at the half, led by 22 at one point and still had a 15 point advantage with only 9 minutes to play, only to flush it all down the toilet with terrible shooting and lazy defense.

In a move that should have been made at least three games ago, Tevin Mack finally started over Galin.  T-Mack had one of his better games.  He scored 12 points and played adequate defense for the most part.  The smaller lineup was able to get off to a fast start and build the aforementioned lead.

Once again, with a size advantage at nearly every position on the floor, our offensive game plan was to shoot 3s and try to beat them at their own game.  Somewhat surprisingly, it actually worked, at least for a half.  We made 8 from downtown in the first half. 

Unfortunately, that was unsustainable, and poor shooting combined with taking our foot off the gas on defense in the second half led to one of the most epic meltdowns you will see in a college basketball game. 

It was good to see Riley Norris return from his health issues.  He scored 4 points and switched with Alex for offense/defense substitutions in the final minutes.  Donta had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, so that was an improvement over his previous efforts, but his defense of the rim down the stretch left a lot to be desired.  Dazon played well with 17 points and 8 rebounds, but uncharacteristically choked at the line down the stretch.  Kira continues to be our best player and leading scorer, but he struggled when they started playing more physical in the second half.  Herbert is in a terrible slump offensively.  He was 0 for 6 from the field and 1 for 6 at the line.  As I mentioned above, we did an offense/defense substitution for Alex/Riley at the end of the game, why not do the same with Herb and maybe JP?  Herb was every bit the liability on offense that Alex was on defense.  He missed two free throws that would have maintained a two possession lead in the final 2 minutes.

We had a ten minute scoring drought that allowed the Panthers to chip away at the lead, primarily with Simonds attacking the basket on the dribble drive.  The body language from our guys and the defensive effort down the stretch was most disappointing.  The lack of leadership on this team was on full display.  We need an alpha dog that will get in somebody's grill and challenge others to pick up the intensity when things start going south.  We had that last year in young Bull.  It's obvious the coaches aren't going to do it, so we need someone to fill that role.  Everyone thought the game was over when we were up 20+, and when they got back to within shouting distance, we acted like we were more annoyed to still be in a game rather than motivated to meet a challenge. 

We have a lot of talent on this team.  I wrote earlier this year we have one of the longer and more experienced teams we've had in some time.  We need leadership, but I'm not sure anybody has the personality to step up.  Ideally it would be your best player, but it's not fair to expect that from a 17 year old who should be playing high school basketball. 

Give some credit to Georgia State.  They never gave up, fought their way back into the game, and took advantage of their opportunities.  We double teamed their star and they found the open man who made the game winner at the buzzer.

I understand the frustration, but please keep in mind we are only 8 games into the season.  As I said above, this team is not as bad as it's looked at times.  We will probably pull some upsets and probably lose some more like this when we are favored.  We've said repeatedly on here that the 2019 recruiting class will be key to the near term future success of this program.  Like it or not, Coach Johnson will not be involuntarily terminated at the end of this season, regardless of the results.  The best thing we can do for this program as fans is continue to support this coaching staff and team in a positive way.  Not only are the coveted prospects of the 2019 class watching, but should the rumors of CAJ's return to the NBA prove true, so will be potential head coaching replacements.  Let's all do our part to make Alabama basketball an attractive place to play and coach.  It's easy to be a fan when we're winning NCAA tournament games, but now is the time the guys need us to step up.

The crowd may have been the worst of the season.  I don't think there was more than 4,000 there, and it wasn't at all noisy until the very end.  Georgia State only brought 20 fans or so, and other than the one I knew sitting near me, I really didn't even notice them until the buzzer when they were rightfully excited and cheering.  My Tuscaloosa connections tell me that the marketing of the program seems to have dropped off from recent years.  There's been no stories of CAJ going to speak at fraternity or sorority houses, fewer if any radio and billboard ads, etc.  This, combined with the assistant coaches seemingly taking on a more prominent role in the actual coaching on the bench during games, makes me wonder if perhaps he is eyeing one of the two already open NBA positions.

Up next, the Arizona Wildcats will be visiting from the wild west for a high noon tip-off Sunday.  This isn't the same Arizona team featuring two lottery picks that we dealt with in Tucson last year, but even a relatively down Arizona squad will be a formidable foe.  The show down will be broadcast nationally on ESPN, but please, if it's humanly possible for you to get to Coleman, please do so.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Game Preview: Georgia State

Alabama will attempt to bounce back from its second loss of the season on Tuesday when it welcomes a tough Georgia State (KenPom: 114) team into Coleman Coliseum. The Panthers (5-3) have already beaten one SEC school (Georgia) by 24 points so Alabama will need to be locked in for this one. Game time is 7 P.M. CT. The game will be streamed via SEC Network+.

My Two Cents: There are no nights off for this team from a scheduling standpoint. Georgia State is yet another opponent that is expected to contend for their league title. As I mentioned, the Panthers have already dispatched Georgia by 24 points, and the program has reached the tournament twice in the last four years. In addition, Georgia State has finished first or second in the Sun Belt in four of coach Ron Hunter's five seasons. They're a good team, and quite capable of leaving Tuscaloosa with a win on Tuesday night.

It's worth noting that the Panthers play small, with no one on their starting lineup taller than 6'6. That's one more reason for Avery to scrap the lineup with two bigs and roll with a smaller lineup to start the game; be it Alex at the four, or even a guard-heavy lineup with Dazon or T-Mack. I dont doubt that Avery had good intentions when making the decision to go with the two-bigs lineup to start the season, but it hasn't worked particularly well. I'm a big fan of Galin and the improvement he's made from the beginning of last season to now, but he doesn't really give the team a dynamic scoring or defensive presence at this point. The team is better with him coming off the bench and going with a smaller, quicker lineup that features more scoring options.

Avery started the second half at UCF with Alex in place of Galin. In postgame comments Avery made to Chris Stewart about slow starts, he led me to believe that we will see a different starting lineup on Tuesday. 

Friday, November 30, 2018

U Can't Finish- indicative of the game

I'll amend this later on with pictures and stuff, but for now a bulletpoint review of the game:
- Tacko ate our lunch inside. We held him to 10 points and got him in foul trouble, but when he was on the floor the game changed. I believe all of his points were on dunks... and before every one of them when he grabbed the ball he'd smile then go back up and dunk.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Game Preview: at UCF

The Alabama basketball team will play its first true road game of the season on Thursday when it travels to Orlando to play the UCF Knights (KenPom: 42). You may remember that a short-handed UCF team came to Tuscaloosa last season and left with a 65-62 win. Game time is 6:00 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU. Our very own Bobbyjack will be at the game in person, and I'm sure will share all the sordid details after the game.

My Two Cents: Alabama has a 5-1 record after playing a solid, not great, schedule. With the exception of a poor performance against Northeastern, this team has done what it's needed to do against the level of competition it's faced. It's also addressed some questions it faced in the preseason at the point guard position, and it appears that Avery has settled on a rotation, though I remain convinced the starting lineup featuring two bigs is not the best lineup for this team most nights. The next six games prior to conference play will be much tougher, beginning with this game against the preseason favorite in the America Athletic Conference (AAC). 

For Alabama to navigate these next six games successfully, they need to clean up some things. For starters, they have to take better care of the ball. Alabama's turnover percentage is currently 20.3%, meaning 20% of Alabama's possessions end in a turnover. That's bad by the way. They are currently ranked 228th at KenPom in turnover percentage. Alabama's opponents have a turnover percentage of 21.3%, which is in the top 100 at KenPom. Unfortunately, that number doesn't mean much when Bama is turning it over themselves almost as often. UCF doesn't turn the ball over much (16.4%), but they also don't turn their opponents over either (18.1% - the D1 average is 19.2%) so I expect turnovers will be a key stat in this game. If Bama can limit their turnovers, they'll have a chance to steal one on the road.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tide gets in a hurry, beats Murray, Alabama 78 Murray State 72

This was a solid win against a team that has a very good chance of making the NCAA tournament with arguably the best point guard in the country.  We were sluggish early, came back to take a fairly comfortable halftime lead, blew that lead within a matter of minutes to start the second half, responded with another run, and then had to hold on for dear life during the final stretch.  There were a lot of ups and downs, so let's get the bad stuff out of the way first.

While the substitution patterns have improved, I will reiterate once again that this starting lineup is nonsense.  For all of Coach Johnson's talk about going to "position-less basketball" he continues to start both a power forward in Galin and a center in Hall.  They should not be in the game at the same time.  We are a better team on both ends of the floor when we use a stretch 4 at that position.  Alex should be starting over Galin, but Ingram or even T-Mack would be an improvement.  We fell behind to start the game, had a 10 point lead at halftime, put the same starting line up on the floor in the second half and it was a one possession game within 3 minutes. 

We've got to get more production from the bigs.  Donta Hall has seemingly regressed.  Murray State played a zone defense early, and seemed to emphasize keeping him off the boards.  He seems to get down on himself when things don't go his way early.  He made a great play in the second half on an offensive rebound off of a missed free throw, but was otherwise a non-factor.  

After doing much better the last couple of games, the turnover problem was back on full display.  I think a big contributing factor was that we were trying to play fast, but we had way too many unforced and careless turnovers.  Herb and Dazon combined for 11 of the teams 20 turnovers.  Herb plays great defense and has a ton of potential, but his offensive game is not quite at the level many of us were hoping.  Dazon is careless with the ball at times, but he can also defend multiple positions and his free throw shooting is on-point in clutch time.  I did not envy the decision Coach Johnson had to make in the final five minutes against the press with Dazon, with one of the more reliable free throw shooters also being a turnover machine.  In the end, Dazon went 7 of 8 from the line and that was a big reason we were able to hold on.

We benefited from a couple of questionable calls.  Their coach was assessed a technical foul after arguing a no-call on what should have been a foul on Herb.  AJ also got away with a blatant walk on a possession that resulted in an "and one" basket for us.  The officials spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about our bench and chirping with our staff, at one point turning their back to the play for several seconds during live ball action.

I thought we actually did a fairly good job on Ja Morant despite the fact that he scored 38 points.  We gave him many different looks with Herb, Dazon, and Kira all matching up with him, though we got caught in some bad switches at times and ended up with a big chasing him around.  Many of his baskets were very well contested.  While the 38 points was impressive, he also had only 5 assists to 10 turnovers.  Those numbers are more or less reversed from what he normally puts up.  We made him work for everything he got and took away his second options, forcing him to try to beat us by himself.  To his credit, he was nearly good enough to do so.

We keep expecting Kira Lewis to struggle at some point, but he's met every challenge with ease so far.  He ended up with 20 points, 3 assists, and only one turnover, and the team just plays on another level when he's in the game.  It's crazy to think he's only 17 years old and should be playing high school ball right now.  

JP had a great game, scoring 16 points despite not making a three.  It was nice to see him attacking the basket on the backdoor cuts and finishing around the rim.  He also had 7 rebounds, and appears to really be diversifying his game.  There will be nights when the 3 doesn't fall, and him being able to help us in other ways, like he did in this game, will be a big factor in our ability to win despite poor shooting.

It was a small crowd of less than 5,000, and Murray State had a significant portion of that, with a large group up in the corner and at least a few sprinkled throughout all the other sections.  I was impressed with the visiting Racers fans, they were loud and passionate in cheering on their team and seemed knowledgeable of the game.  Our fans responded in the second half with the game on the line.

Up next, we travel to Orlando, FL Thursday night to take on the UCF Golden Knights.  It's sure to be a tough atmosphere as they have been "wanting Bama" for quite some time now.  They beat us last year and are picked to win their conference this year.  Bobbyjack is making the trip, so he will have to give us a first hand account.  I'll be watching on ESPNU.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Game Preview: Murray State

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope everyone had a nice holiday (an Iron Bowl win always makes it better). The Alabama basketball team has enjoyed an eight day break following their trip to Charleston. The hope here is that the team is focused on basketball again because they have another challenge awaiting them in Murray State (KenPom: 112). The Racers enter this game with a 3-0 record. Game time is 7:00 P.M. CT. The game will be streamed on SEC Network+.

My Two Cents: This game scares me because of its placement on the schedule. An eight-day layoff, a Monday game following the Thanksgiving holiday when, presumably, most, if not all of the team went home for the holiday. If it's tough for you and I to go back to work on Friday after Thanksgiving, the weekend after Thanksgiving, or even the Monday after Thanksgiving, imagine how difficult it must be for a college athlete going home to visit their family, only to turn around and have to get back into basketball (and school) mode quickly, all while preparing to play a good team. Add in the fact that Murray State plays a game 48 hours prior to this game, allowing them the opportunity to work out the kinks of their own holiday layoff (an eight day layoff from Nov. 16-24), and you may begin to understand why this game scares me. Not to mention that Murray State is expected to be a very good team this season; the Racers are once again favorites in the Ohio Valley Conference. I understand the philosophy behind the scheduling we've seen the last two seasons, but in a spot like this, if I was the coach, I would have scheduled more of a cupcake game to help the team ease back into things after the long layoff.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Charleston Classic wrap up... 2-1, but not the way most envisioned.

I won't go into the games themselves as DJC did a stellar job of reviewing that so I'm going to take a 50,000 foot view of the weekend.

We ended up 2-1... which is probably what most realistic fans expected, but not exactly how it was planned. I suspect most of us expected either a semi-finals or a finals loss not an opening round thrashing. Still, the team recovered to play (mostly) its best basketball of the season in the last 2 games. Reminds me of the debacle in Maui years back when Oregon thrashed us (and went on to go 0-16 or 18 in conference play) only to come back and win the final 2 (St Joe's and Chaminade). In the end we'll remember the bad loss and not the final 2 games. I was at the Oregon game, but decided the beaches of Maui were more important than the other 2 games.

Still, it's a good recovery as we could've tanked (Paradise Jam 2010) and have our NCAAT dreams dashed early (I still believe that was Anthony Grant's best team at Bama).

- Kira has amazed us all so far and I think I speak for all Bama fans in saying I can't wait to see what he is come January.
- Worried (again) about Donta as he gets disinterested if the ball doesn't flow through him.
- Mack... lots more energy the last 2 games. Hopefully with a set rotation he finds his groove and meshes.
- 34% from 3 so far... not sure if that # ticks up much during the year despite the 9-19 day against Wichita State.. IMO that is an anomaly and not what we should expect.  We were 32.6 last year so I guess that is improvement, but not really. While I know the game is now played from the outside in, we have to at least make a real attempt to establish the post. We have the players (bodies) to do so.
- As others said... last 2 games there seemed to be a better rotation flow.

I'd like to be 7-1 heading to the Arizona game, but with UCF winning the Myrtle Beach Classic and it being a true road game (which I will be in attendance for) I'm not going to go homer yet. Arizona is about to run through the Maui Invitational with 3 ranked teams so they'll be battle tested by the time they come to Tuscaloosa 12/9.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Tide takes fifth place in Charleston, Alabama 90 Wichita State 86

Yes, we've played these guys so much in recent years that even I have grown tired sophomoric "Shocker" jokes and puns.   Regardless, in never gets old giving it to Gregg.

The Tide played well for the first 30 minutes, but blew a sizable lead and had to hang on for dear life in the final minute.  The energy level was great in the first half.  We beat them to a number of rebounds despite them having better position.  We had some success with the press, we moved the ball and made open jump shots.  We had several possessions with a 12 point lead but were not able to put the game away. 

It was an entertaining, up tempo game that generally had good flow.  WSU got back into the game by limiting their turnovers and attacking the rim in the second half.  There was a stretch when they converted several second chance opportunities in the paint.  Though he was a non-factor today, I thought we should have put Donta Hall in to defend the rim during that time.  Galin just doesn't have the vertical to be that back-line defender. 

That being said, Donta has disappeared now in two of the last three games when he should have had advantageous match-ups.  I don't know what's going on with him, but it's concerning. 

The re-emergence of T-Mack is encouraging.  Even though he only had 5 points, he seems to be playing with confidence and understanding his role on both ends.  It was great to see JP make 3 of 6 from downtown away from Coleman.  He appears to be taking on a leadership role that this team obviously needs.   Kira continues to play way better than any of us could have realistically hoped for at this point.  I'm sure he will struggle at some point, but it's exciting to watch him right now.  Alex scored 19 after barely playing in the last game.  While I still don't always agree with the lineups, the substitution patterns have been much better the last 2 games.  He is at least letting guys stay on the court together for long enough to get into a rhythm and develop some chemistry.  We only played 9 guys, and had mostly an 8 man rotation with AJ getting 8 minutes at point. 

The story of the game was free throw shooting.  We made 31 of 33 and that was the difference in the game.  Maybe that's a good sign of things to come, but I'm not going to get my hopes up. 

Kudos to the Bama fans at the game.  I wasn't able to make it to this tournament, but I could hear you guys on TV.  I know we were outnumbered, but from all reports those of you who were there represented us well. 

Fifth place isn't what we had in mind, and I fear the Northeastern loss will haunt us, primarily because it robbed us of a chance to play Virginia Tech and/or Purdue, but at least we are 4-1 and coming home on a positive note.

Up next, the Murray State Racers come to Tuscaloosa next Monday night for a 7pm tip off.  That game will be broadcast on SEC Network + (WatchESPN app).  Until then, I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving week. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Game Preview: Wichita State [Charleston Classic]

After a disappointing day one in Charleston, the Alabama men's basketball team bounced back with a 79-61 win over Ball State. It was by far the best performance of the young season for the team. The hope is we will see more of that Alabama team on Sunday, following a day off. Alabama will play their final game in Charleston against a familiar opponent: Wichita State (KenPom: 84). It will be the sixth time in nine seasons that the two programs have met. The Shockers hold a 3-2 advantage in the previous games during that span. Game time on Sunday is 12:30 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Busting Balls, Alabama 79 Ball State 61

I'm going to do this recap a little differently.  In honor of Ball State's most famous alum, Former Late Show host David Letterman, I present to you:

The Top Ten Reasons Alabama Beat Ball State

10. They started 2 white guys.  We were a much more athletic team and were able to take advantage of that. 

9.  John Pelphrey was back on the bench to tell Avery how to coach a college game.  I actually think this is a much bigger factor than people realize.  As I noted yesterday, he's been a more vocal in-game coach this season, and it's probably not a coincidence our bigs completely disappeared while he was gone.

8. Donta Hall decided to show up  Nice double-dozen (12 pts 12 rebounds) from the big man after one of the worst games of his career yesterday.  He also had 3 blocks and was a force in defending the basket

7. Herb Jones taking charges  Yeah, he fouled out, but he took about 3 charges, played great defense, scored 13 points, and had 3 assists with no turnovers.  After the whole team struggled defensively yesterday, it was good to see him back to playing lock down defense.

6. Someone took the lid off the basket After shooting 3 of 19 from downtown yesterday, we were a much more respectable 7 of 19 today.  Despite common perception, there's a lot more that goes into shooting percentages than just blind luck such as...

5. Movement and spacing- We generally did a much better job of cutting with purpose, setting screens, and moving away from the ball.  This got us more open shots that we were able to knock down.

4. We didn't play 120 guys.  You know how I feel about the starting lineup, and I still didn't care for the rotations so much, but at least we chilled a bit on the nonstop, hap-hazard substitutions.  I thought the team played with better chemistry.  Generally, I would like to see Alex get more minutes, but this wasn't the best match-up for him and it wouldn't make sense to take any minutes from Tevin the way he was playing today.

3. Dazon had his best game of the year.  This was the best he's looked guarding the perimeter defensively and off the dribble with the ball in a while.  Hopefully that nagging ankle injury is finally behind him and he can produce at levels similar to his freshman year going forward.  

2. T-Mack is Back!  I've noted in several of these recaps that I consider Tevin Mack to be a very important key to the success of our season.  We finally saw what he is capable of today.  20 points, 50% from the field, including 5 of 9 from three point range.  We'll overlook the two air-balls for now.  He had a great game, and if we can get consistent production like this from him, this team will be difficult to handle.  

1. We scored more points than they did.   That will result in a W every time.

It was nice bounce-back win to avoid what could have turned into a completely disastrous trip.  

Up next, we'll play the winner of the Wichita State v. Appalachian State Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on ESPNU for fifth place.  As of this writing, those teams are tied with about 10 minutes remaining.  The Shockers seem to be a bit down this year, but I'm rooting for them because 1) I still think they will end up with a higher NET than App State, 2) We've already beat App State and 3) I relish the opportunity to kick Gregg Marshall's butt.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Game Preview: Ball State [Charleston Classic]
This isn't the game we were hoping for, but it's the game we've got. And it looms large in Alabama's season, even in early November. Watching the game today, I was reminded of a line of dialogue from the 1995 comedy film, Friday. In the scene, Chris Tucker's character "Smokey" witnesses a one-sided fight and says to the loser at the conclusion, "You got knocked the f**k out, man!". That, more or less, captures what happened to Alabama today.

It was not an encouraging performance by Alabama on day one in Charleston against a veteran Northeastern team. The Huskies carved through Alabama's defense efficiently and without mercy. I can't even say Northeastern appeared to enjoy it as everything seemed to come so easy for them. It was one of the more disappointing defensive performances that I've seen from an Alabama team in quite a while. The gameplan, the effort, the inability to make adjustments in the game, it all played a part in Alabama's first loss of the season. For a more in-depth look at what went wrong, check out DJC's recap below.

The tournament moves on. Alabama will next play Ball State (KenPom: 99) from the Mid-American Conference. The Cardinals enter this game 1-2, but their two losses were to ranked opponents at Purdue in a non-bracketed game, and today vs Virginia Tech. Game time is 12:30 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

Huskies Hush the Tide, Northeastern 68 Alabama 52

First and foremost, condolences to Coach Pelphrey and his family as he was unable to make today's game due to his mother-in-law's passing.  I think we missed Coach Pelphrey today more than most people realize.  I've noticed he's been more vocal in-game coaching from the bench in the first two games than he generally was last season.

Regardless, this was a pathetic effort all the way around.  It reminded me a lot of the Georgia game from last year.  Northeastern was in control from the tip, and we never really showed any fight.

The Huskies started the game with an alley-oop out of their half-court set, and promptly took an 8-0 lead before we called a timeout.  I don't recall us ever getting any closer than a 5 point deficit, and Northeastern led by 11 at the break.  Petty made a couple of 3s early in the second half, but Northeastern answered and led by  10-12 for most of the game before finally stretching it out to 17 at one point. 

I was very disappointed in our defensive effort.  We had poor communication and way too many blown assignments.  On at least 3 different occasions they ran a simple pick and roll at the top of the key with their forwards clearing out to the corners to open the lane to the basket, and both of our defenders stayed with the ball and the help-side rotation never came down low, resulting in wide-open layups. 

I don't want to take anything away from Northeastern.  They are picked to win their conference, and are obviously a well coached, fundamentally sound team.  They had great ball movement which led to wide open 3s, where they made 9 of 17.  They made good decisions with the basketball and were not bothered by our press.

Meanwhile, we kept jacking up contested 3s that were not going in.  We were 3 of 19 from downtown, and two of those were the aforementioned from JP.  We should have made an effort to attack the basket.  I thought JP played a decent game, he ended up with 17 points and 5 rebounds, and did at least make some effort to drive to the hoop.  In what should have been a good matchup for Donta Hall, he was a complete non-factor, in part due to the game plan, but frankly the whole team looked disinterested for most of the game.

This is not necessarily a season breaking loss as Northeastern should at least finish in the top 100 NET if not better, but it's a big loss in that it deprives us of some real resume building opportunities on a neutral court.  For me, the bigger concern is that we continue to have a few games per year where we have this type of effort.  Even the best teams will have bad nights shooting the ball, but good teams don't give up and throw in the towel on defense.  The lack of adjustments is also concerning, at some point you have to stop jacking 3s when they aren't falling.

Up next, we play Ball State tomorrow on the same court at either 12 or 12:30 Central time.  The game will be televised on either ESPN2 or ESPNU. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Game Preview: Northeastern [Charleston Classic]

Who's ready for daytime basketball! I'll let you behind the curtain, just a little bit. With the exception of March basketball, my favorite part of the college basketball season is in November when all of the holiday tournaments take place. Chief reason for this is daytime basketball. I think my love for it stems from when I was a kid and my father would let me take a day or two off from school prior to Thanksgiving to watch the Maui Invitational or one of the other tournaments. As an adult, it's taking a long lunch or taking a full day off from work to enjoy a day of hoops, surrounded by an assortment of finger foods and cold beverages. Come to think of it, that's probably what I love most about March basketball too. Anyway, daytime basketball is great regardless of the month.

Alabama will travel to Charleston for the aptly named Charleston Classic. Including Alabama, the tournament features five teams that made the NCAA tournament last season, Bama's previous opponent (Appalachian State), and two teams - Northeastern and Ball State - that are expected to contend for their league titles.

The first opponent for Alabama will be Northeastern (KenPom: 79). The Huskies are the preseason favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). They enter this game 1-1. Game time is 1 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on ESPNU. This will be a big weekend for our guys from a resume standpoint. To insure they put themselves in the best possible spot for resume opportunities, they need to win this game. And this game itself won't be a slouch from a resume standpoint. If Northeastern goes on to have the season many expect them to, a win on Thursday could rate as high as a quad 2 win come March.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Tears for the Mountaineers: Alabama 81 Appalachian State 73

After struggling for much of the game, Alabama pulled ahead late to improve to 2-0 in the young season. 

Kira Lewis is way ahead of schedule at this point.  The youngest player in college basketball got off to a hot start by making some early 3s, and he's been very efficient running the point in the first two games.  He ended up with 21 points and only one turnover while shooting 50% from the field in 31 minutes of play.  He's already locked down the starting point guard position and he will only get better. 

I still do not like the substitution patterns, at all.  In general, I felt like we subbed too frequently and did not allow any unit on the floor to build any cohesiveness.  Beyond that, some of that combinations we use are completely inexplicable.  At one point we had AJ, Dazon, Alex, T-Mack and Galin in the game.  AJ had a terrible game, firing up a couple of air-balls and only playing for 6 minutes.  T-Mack has yet to show he can be an effective scorer this year.  Dazon was obviously still not 100% coming off of his injury.  Alex is most effective with another scorer on the floor who can open up the defense so he can exploit a bad match-up.  I'm not sure where we expect to get rebounding or defense, much less scoring, out of this group.  I'm not criticizing any of those players, they all bring positive skills to the floor, but they don't compliment each other in a way that makes sense to play them as a group.  This lineup blew the early lead and allowed App State to gain some confidence from beyond the arc, which would keep them in the game well into the second half. 

Tevin Mack was called for a technical foul for hanging onto the rim after a dunk, and was taken out of the game and did not return.  If the benching was due to the technical, I strongly disagree with that decision as I thought it was a bad call.  In fact, Donta appeared to hang on the rim longer after an earlier dunk and no technical was called. 

The team did show some maturity in how they handled the adversity of a 6 point deficit in the second half.  Herb really stepped up on defense and forced a few turnovers, and generally shut down the perimeter game that had been keeping the Mountaineers afloat.  Herb's offense is a bit of a concern, he still doesn't seem to have much of a jump shot and he had a difficult time finishing around the basket.  At one point he was only 1 of 6 from the free throw line, and he ended up 6 of 16.  Nevertheless, you have to love his hustle, and the fact that he does not let a bad shooting game impact the rest of his game.  We do not win that game without Herb Jones' defense.

We were able to come back and take a 10 point lead, primarily by doing what we should have been doing the whole game, and that's attacking the basket and crashing the offensive glass.  We were a much bigger and stronger team, but I felt like we did not assert ourselves physically until the final ten minutes of the game.  I know that analytics generally suggests that perimeter-oriented teams will be more successful, and while we have a few guys who are capable of knocking down the three, I still think the identity of this team should be centered on our size and depth inside. 

We ended up with 4 guys in double-figures.  In addition to Kira's 21, JP added 13, Hall 12, and Herb managed to get 10.  We were 26 of 43 from the line, but JP and Dazon both converted when we needed them in the final minutes to keep the game in hand.  We were fortunate that App State was somehow even worse than us from the free throw line, they went 14 of 25. 

After 2 games, there's a lot to be excited about, and still a lot of room for improvement.  In my opinion the two biggest keys to the season will be getting some production out of T-Mack and the coaching staff figuring out a logical playing rotation.  They also need to do a better job with the overall game plan than we had in these first two games.

There was a decent crowd on hand considering the strange 6 p.m. on Sunday night tip-off time.  I would estimate close to 5,000 in attendance.  I showed up an hour early hoping to snag one of the promotional Veteran's Day hats they were giving away, but they were already out, despite there being well less than 1,000 people there at that point.  I only saw 3 or 4 people with them, and I had friends who arrived as early as 4:45 and did not get them.  Anyway, there was a nervous, quiet energy throughout the crowd for most of the game, but the technical foul on Mack's dunk seemed to wake the crowd, and it was a nice atmosphere for the final run.  Up next, the Tide will play away from the friendly confines of Coleman for the first time this season as they travel to Charleston, SC and will face the Northeastern Huskies in the first round of the Charleston Classic at 1 p.m. CST Thursday.  The game will be televised on ESPNU, and I'm sure many of us will be taking a long, late lunch.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Game Preview: Appalachian State

Following a sloppy but successful opening night, Alabama will look to improve as a team while also improving its record to 2-0. Next up is a home game with Appalachian State (KenPom Rank: 182) on Sunday. Game time is 6 P.M. CT. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. The Mountaineers are a member of the Sun Belt conference. They enter this game 1-0 after a 125-62 demolition of D2 school, Mars Hill.

Daniel Giddens returned to the lineup for the Southern game. Dazon Ingram missed the game with an ankle injury, but it doesn't appear to be serious so I expect he will play on Sunday. No word yet if freshman Javian Davis-Fleming will make his debut after missing the first two games with a minor knee injury. As most of you have heard by now, Riley is listed as "week-to-week" after undergoing a medical procedure to address a heart condition. According to Avery, Riley had the procedure because his heart was beating at an accelerated rate. Riley is expected to make a full recovery, but who knows if he plays another game in an Alabama jersey. Honestly, I wouldn't blame Riley if he doesn't play again. Heart conditions are a scary deal and he's got his whole life ahead of him. 

My Two Cents: While a 20-point victory is always welcomed, I thought the opener was a mixed bag for Alabama from a performance standpoint. DJC went over some of the issues in his recap regarding the high number of turnovers, the officiating, etc. As always, if you haven't read DJC's recap, do that asap because he always does a great job of breaking down the game, the officiating, the crowd, etc.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Short-Handed, Sloppy Win over Southern 82-62

The University of Alabama's athletic dominance over schools from Baton Rouge, LA continued last night with a 20 point victory to defeat Southern on the hardwood.  With Dazon out with an ankle injury, we started Kira, Petty, Herb, Galin, and Hall.  Alabama had a significant size advantage at every position over Southern.

The Jaguars are not a very good or organized team.  Early in the game, they had two players go to the locker room due to a uniform violation as they were wearing white T-shirts under their yellow jerseys.  Later, they were accessed an administrative technical foul for putting a player into the game who was not recorded in the official score book.  These types of mistakes are inexcusable above the Junior Varsity High School level, much less for a division 1 college team.

In any event, this was a good game to get Kira some experience in the starting lineup, and he did not disappoint.  He's going to have his ups and downs against better competition, but he's playing better than I expected.  He generally makes good decisions with the basketball, and finished with 6 points, 7 assists, and 3 turnovers. 

I still do not like starting Galin and Hall.  That's 40% of our unit who cannot score outside of the lane.  I much prefer Alex starting over Galin.  That being said, Galin had a solid game against the smaller Jags, scoring 10 points and pulling down 4 rebounds. 

Dan Giddens returned but was the only big man who really struggled in this one.  Though he did get 6 rebounds, he also had 4 fouls and 3 turnovers in just 7 minutes.  In fairness to Dan, it was a poorly officiated game all the way around.  Hopefully the refs were just a little rusty, and this isn't indicative of the way games will be called this year.  I thought it was called way too tight, over 50 fouls making the game drag on well beyond the 2 hour mark.  On one of Dan's fouls, the Southern guard literally fell into him while he was standing still and set on a dribble drive.  AJ was later called for a flagrant foul on a blatant flop, but thankfully that was reversed on review. 

We had good scoring balance with 4 guys in double figures.  Hall led the way with 20, Petty had 17 making 5 of 8 from 3 point range, while Galin and Mack had 10 each.  Mack was only 3 of 12 from the field and 1 of 7 from downtown, hopefully he's just knocking off some rust and his shooting will improve. 

The team played great defense again, but turnovers continue to be a major issue.   Twenty turnovers against a team like Southern is more than a little concerning.  Tevin Mack had 5 of those, but it seems to be an issue up and down the lineup.  I'm hoping this will improve if and when the substitution patterns and playing rotations are set.

There wasn't much of a crowd there on election night.  I ended up giving away 3 tickets, and I would estimate no more than 4,000 were in attendance.  The student section was at least reasonably full up to the portals, and they probably made up close to half of the total crowd.  Traffic was once again horrendous in both directions to and from Birmingham.

Up next, Appalachian State comes to Coleman for the first game of the Charleston Classic Sunday evening.  Tip-off is set for 6pm on the SEC Network. 

Monday, November 05, 2018

Game Preview: Southern

The season officially tips off when Avery Johnson's alma mater comes to town. Coach was a star player at Southern - his name is on the basketball court - so I'm sure he's looking forward to this game. Alabama looked good in their lone exhibition game, a win over Montevallo, despite four players (Riley Norris, Daniel Giddens, Javian Davis-Fleming and Diante Wood) sitting out. Diante is likely out for the season, but there is no word yet (at the time of writing this post) on the status of the other guys. My guess is that Riley will give it a go assuming he's over the illness that kept him out last week, while Daniel and Javian will sit out as they nurse leg injuries. Game time is 7 P.M. CT. The game will be streamed on SEC Network+.

My Two Cents: It's great to have college basketball back. The sport is going through some adversity in light of the FBI investigation and the corruption trials, but I'm guessing most sports fans won't be thinking about that when they settle in to watch the Champions Classic on Tuesday night. Obviously I'll catch up with those games after checking out Alabama. Hopefully our guys will have a good crowd on hand in Coleman for the opener.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Tide not shallow against Montevallo, Alabama 82 Falcons 40

Following a very concerning stat line in a lopsided scrimmage loss to Jacksonville State, Alabama responded with a dominating win in the exhibition game against in-state division II foe Montevallo.

Riley Norris was out with a medical issue and will probably miss the next week or two.  Javian Davis Flemming missed the game with a sprained knee, and Dan Giddens was also out with a sprained ankle and was in a boot on the sideline. 

It's hard to tell much from a game like this, while Montevallo is traditionally a very competitive division 2 program, as MSmilie noted in his preview they are a bit of an unknown quantity this year, and frankly I think they probably aren't as good as they've been in the recent past.  Nevertheless, this was exactly the type of game Bama needed to restore some confidence with many fans who may have been overly concerned with the secret scrimmage results. 

The starting lineup was 1. Dazon, 2. Petty, 3. Herb, 4. Smith, 5. Hall.  We struggled a bit with turnovers and sloppy play the first few minutes of the game, allowing the Falcons to stay competitive into the first media timeout.  Petty made a couple of 3s early, but contributed in other ways for the remainder of the contest.  The real spark came about midway through the first half when Alex Reese and Kira Lewis entered the game.  Reese was a nightmare match-up for the Falcons forwards, and he made a couple of 3s, had some nice assists, and was able to convert some rebounds.  He's running the floor well and is looking to be a very well rounded stretch 4.  Kira is obviously still young and inexperienced, but is no question the most talented point guard on the roster.  He needs to add some muscle, as I could see more elite guards posting him up and pushing him around a bit, but his quickness allows him to play great defense on the perimeter and force some turnovers. 

In general, we took much better care of the basketball after the initial 5 to 10 minutes.  I really liked the scoring balance, as different guys stepped up at different points in the game.  This will be a key this season without a go-to lottery pick to rely on like Collin Sexton.  Kira, Herb, Galin, Alex, and JP were all in double digits between 10 to 12 each.

Free throw shooting was atrocious in the first half, but much better in the second.  I was very pleased with the defense.  We stayed in a man to man for most of the game, with some press in the first half.  Montevallo had a couple of long scoring droughts.  I know part of that was the talent disparity, but given the size and athleticism of this team, I think they can be very good defensively.  We've got to get better at finishing around the basket though.  Tevin Mack was 2 of 8 from the field, and at least half of those misses were decent looks within 5 feet.  Mack looks the part, but he's going to have to show he can play to his potential to earn a spot in the starting rotation.  I don't mean to just pick on Mack though, the whole team struggled to convert what should have been easy baskets, and those can turn some Ws into Ls against better competition.

It will be interesting to see how the starting lineup and rotation plays out.  Here's my 2 cents, I did not like the starting lineup last night.  I think having both Galin and Hall in makes us a bit too slow and too light on shooters.  I also don't like Dazon at the point.  I think he's much more valuable as a slasher and defender from the 2 or 3 positions.  He turns it over too much at the point, but he does a lot of things well.  He's great at drawing contact, but needs to improve his free throw shooting.  I expect Kira will be the starting PG by SEC play at the latest, but until then, I would have him backing up AJ.  AJ takes care of the basketball and the offense seems to have a better flow right now when he's running it.  Personally, based on what I've seen thus far, my starting lineup would be 1. AJ 2. JP 3. Herb 4. Alex, and 5. Hall.  Kira, Dazon/Mack, and Galin first off the bench depending on matchups.  Riley can back up Alex when he gets healthy, and Giddens and Flemming can work in with Hall and Galin depending on who's healthy, who has the hot hand and who's not in foul trouble.

There wasn't much of a crowd, probably less than 2,000.  I feel like this game and the other preseason events have not been marketed as aggressively as they were the previous years.  I missed the first couple of minutes and then did not get home until after 10:30 p.m., thanks to the fine folks at ALDOT closing 2 of the 3 lanes on I-59 for a 15 mile or so stretch for construction, despite the actual work only taking place in a small one-tenth of a mile area.  I can only imagine what a nightmare this is going to be for an 8pm tip-off against a bigger name SEC opponent.   If anybody at ALDOT is reading this, please go shove one of those big orange and white barrels up your arse.

Up next, we'll be playing for keeps Tuesday night against Coach Johnson's alma mater when the Southern Jaguars from Baton Rouge come calling for a 7pm tip-off at Coleman Coliseum.  The game will be broadcast on SEC Network Plus.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Game Preview: Montevallo (Exhibition)

Wow. A game preview. That means we're preparing to watch an Alabama basketball game. That hasn't always been a pleasant experience over the years, but it's what college basketball diehards like me look forward to. Following what appears to have been a poor performance vs Jacksonville State in a scrimmage, I'm interested to see what the team looks like in this exhibition game. The game time is 7 P.M. CT. The game can be streamed via SEC Network+. Alabama enters the season unranked in the two major polls, and is currently ranked 51st in KenPom's preseason ratings.

My Two Cents: It's an exhibition game so you should expect the Alabama coaching staff to juggle player lineups and experiment on both ends of the court. You expect them to win of course, but it's not an indictment on the upcoming season if they lose. Auburn lost an exhibition game last season, and went on to win a share of the SEC title.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

2018-19 Schedule Preview: February/March

Saturday, February 2 - 7 P.M. CT - at Auburn (TV: TBD) - Recent trips to Auburn have not been pleasant for the Bama program. In the three trips to Auburn during Avery's tenure, Alabama has lost all three games by an average of fifteen points. Unfortunately, this trip won't be any easier. Auburn finished the 17-18 season with a record of 26-8 (13-5), and a final KenPom ranking of 23. After winning a share of the (gag) SEC regular season title last season, Auburn returns three of their top five scorers from that team; plus they return Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy after they were forced to miss last season due to a connection in the FBI corruption investigation (I'd make a joke, but let's face it - every school could be affected by this mess before it's all said and done). If Mustapha Heron had returned to Auburn instead of transferring it's probable that the Tigers would have been the preseason favorite in the league. Love him or hate him (I'll take the latter), as long as Bruce Pearl is in Auburn they're going to be a problem.

Wednesday, February 6 - 8 P.M. CT - Georgia (TV: SEC Network) - Georgia said goodbye to Mark Fox, and said hello to former Marquette and Indiana head coach Tom Crean. It's a further sign of how the league has committed itself to improving in basketball. Crean may not have returned Indiana to its elite roots, but he did win a couple of Big Ten titles, and also took Marquette to a Final Four. Assuming he can recruit, he should win his fair share of games in Athens. Georgia finished the 17-18 season with a record of 18-15 (7-11), and a final KenPom ranking of 65. Expectations are low for Georgia this season because no one knows how this team will form without Yante Maten on the roster. He was arguably the top player in the league last season, and the Bulldogs still finished 12th in the standings. Is there enough talent on this roster to compete in what looks like an incredibly strong year for the conference?