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.

The reason SFA have lost four games by an average of 18.75 ppg is easy to understand when you look at the stats. The Lumberjacks have struggled on both ends of the floor (Ranked 240 in offensive efficiency; 122 in defensive efficiency), turn the ball over way too much (24.5% in turnover percentage, which ranks 346 at KenPom), rebound the ball well but also allow their opponents to rebound 30% of their misses (currently 230 at KenPom), struggle to get to the free throw line, and only knock down 66.7% of their shots when they do.

One area of concern for Alabama is at the three point line. SFA has not been an overall great offensive team, but they are a solid 3-point shooting team (36.1%). Alabama has not defended the three well this season (opponents are making 35.4% of their attempts). In what could be a hostile environment, if the Lumberjacks come out and start knocking down shots, Alabama's going to have a deep hole to climb out of so our guys must be focused defending the three in this game. Rebounding will once again be a stat to watch. The Lumberjacks give up their fair share of offensive boards, but they also grab 31.1% of their misses (98 at KenPom). The team that wins the offensive rebounding stat could be your winner on Sunday night.

Players to Watch: I didn't go back and look at every game, but I still think you could make the argument that Donta Hall has played some of his best basketball in an Alabama uniform in the last two games. I also think some of the concerns about Donta that have been raised this season, including some by me, have been unfounded. Yes, he had two poor games in Charleston, and at home against Murray State. But aside from those games, Donta has been good to great in the other games. Every player is going to have a share of bad games during the course of a season. In the other eight games, Donta has looked like an All-Conference type of player. He also appears to be growing into more of a leader on the floor as the season progresses. If this team can achieve its goals, Donta's performance and his leadership will play a huge part.

There are several SFA players I could focus on here, but I'll take the easy way out and focus on leading scorer Shannon Bogues. He also leads the team in assists and steals. His averages for the season: 17.1 ppg (42.5% from 3), 4.8 apg, 3.5 rpg and 1.5 spg. Needless to say, he'll be a tough defensive matchup. If the Lumberjacks do win this game, it's a safe bet that Bogues has a big game. Alabama has to limit him.

Prediction: In my opinion, there is no sport in which the home team has more advantage than in college basketball. The SFA players and coaches are looking forward to this game. And if the fans show up, which I believe they will, Alabama will be walking into a hostile environment. With the team just coming out of the Christmas break, with New Years and the beginning of conference play looming, traveling to play a game in rural East Texas seems like a recipe for a flat performance. We've seen this Alabama team show resiliency and toughness in the face of adversity already this season, but it was unfocused performances that contributed to that adversity in the first place. Which Alabama team do we see on Sunday?

If Alabama is focused and ready to go, I see no reason why they can't get a win here. While KenPom projects SFA to win their league, his own stats show this Lumberjack team has some deficiencies. It's a favorable matchup for Alabama. If you want to play in the NCAA Tournament, you have win a few games on the road. Alabama let one slip away at UCF so they could really use this one. Like most road games, it's going to be tough, but I think Alabama gets it done.

Alabama - 77 - Stephen F. Austin - 72 

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