Monday, December 30, 2019

Tide Exterminates Spiders, Alabama 90 Richmond 78

Alabama extended the winning streak to 3 games and 5 of the last 6 with a twelve point victory over the Richmond Spiders.  The Tide will take a 7-5 record into conference play.

We got off to a slow start, missing several open jumpers and allowing the Spiders to grind out a 10-5 lead going into the first media timeout.  Shack came off the bench and made back to back 3s to ignite an 11-0 run, and we never trailed again. 

That's not to say there were not some stressful moments.  A technical foul on Coach Oats when we had a 7 point lead in the first half allowed them to close the gap before halftime.  I don't know what Wimp's record is for techs in a season, but Coach Oats seems determined to give it a run.  Unlike the previous ones that were seemingly used to spark the team, I don't think he intended to draw this one.  He explained in remarks after the game that he thought an out-of-bounds pass was tipped and asked the official, "Can you help us on the tip?  You didn't have any problem helping your partners when you went out of your area to make foul calls."  Personally, I would not have called a technical foul if that's really all he said.  He was not out of his coach's box, but different officials have different levels of tolerance for that sort of thing.  I heard the official tell him in a subsequent conversation, "I don't dis-respect you and you're not going to dis-respect me."

It was a physical, fast-paced game that would be difficult to officiate, but I thought the crew of Doug Shows, "TV" Ted Valentine, and Ron Groover were inconsistent.  There were 37 fouls called, but only two were called in the first 8 minutes of the second half.  This game was a perfect example of why I'm an advocate of moving to the quarter system.  Nobody wants to watch 43 free throws in a 40 minute game.  Thankfully, we made 16 of our 21, and so far this has been a huge area of improvement this year.

Alabama managed to hold on to a 43-39 lead going into the half, and had another nice run in the second half to push the lead to 16.  Give some credit to Richmond for continuing to fight on the road, as they were able to make it a 5 point game with about 7 minutes to play, but once again Alabama answered with some nice drives and solid free throw shooting to stretch the lead back to 15 and put it away for good.  It wasn't a perfect game, but we made shots and got stops when we really need to maintain control of the game.

Davis got in early foul trouble and only played 12 minutes.  Alex had a difficult time defending their big, Grant Golden, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.  Herb answered with a double-double of his own with 11 points and 10 rebounds.  He also had some great defensive stops as usual, and seems to be improving as he gets healthy.  Kira had 17 points, largely on the dribble drive, and had 4 assists to only one turnover.  JP had another outstanding game with 17 points and 6 rebounds, but he did cough up the basketball 7 times.  As a team we ended up with 15 turnovers, which is still a bit too many but an improvement over some of the disasters earlier in the season.  Shack dropped a career best 28 on 6 of 13 shooting and also had 8 rebounds.  He also played solid defense for the most part.  Beetle suffered a hip pointer on the last play of the first half but was able to return in the second.

There's a lot of buzz, and rightfully so, about the pace and the 3-point shooting, but I've also been impressed with this team's improvement in the half-court offense.  The reason we've scored 90 pts+ for 3 games in a row, is because we can still score even when our opponents are able to set up their defense.  Kira, especially, is taking care of the basketball and making good decisions.  If we have a mismatch on the floor, we have guys that can go ISO.  If they put a smaller guard on Petty, he can post them up.  If they go zone, we get good spacing and ball movement to free up space. When they over-play the passing lanes we are cutting back-door.  Sure, we're going to struggle against dominant post-players, we don't have a rim protector, and we don't have much depth.  There will be nights when the perimeter shots aren't falling and that will be difficult to overcome, but when a couple of guys get hot, if we take care of the basketball we can hang with anyone.

I thought the crowd was really good considering it was a Sunday night in the holiday season with no students on campus and was played under a tornado watch.  There were about 6,500 in attendance, and the fans really seem to appreciate this entertaining brand of basketball. 

Up next, we tip-off the SEC schedule with a road trip to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators.  Florida has had a bit of an up and down season so far but they were a preseason pick to contend for the SEC and will no doubt be tough on their home court.  The first game of 2020 will start at 6pm Eastern Time, 5 Central, and will be televised on either ESPNU or ESPN2.

Roll Tide and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Game Preview: Richmond

I hope you had a wonderful holiday. It's certainly easier as a basketball fan to prepare for the holiday when the team has won four of its last five games. Following a week off, Alabama (6-5; KenPom: 63; NET: 78) will return to Coleman Coliseum on Sunday to face the Richmond Spiders (10-2; KenPom: 85; NET: 55) from the Atlantic 10. Game time is 5:30 P.M. CT, and will be televised on the SEC Network. I know folks in Alabama like their Sunday night church service, but this team has been playing some good basketball lately. It would be nice if they had a large, supportive crowd awaiting them on Sunday night, don't you agree? Get a dose of worshiping in the morning, and bring any leftover prayers and fervor to Coleman in the early evening. Amen!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Bama Buries Belmont Bruins, Alabama 92 Belmont 72

Alabama traveled to Huntsville and made 14 three pointers in a neutral site win over Belmont to improve to 5-4 on the season.

I thought this was the best team effort of the season to date for the players and coaching staff.  It was back and forth in the early going, and we were having some issues on the defensive end.   Muszynski was a matchup problem, we rotated Alex, JD, and Herb on him to varying degrees of success.  Belmont took a 6 point lead with about 5 minutes remaining in the first half, and Coach Oats called a timeout to make some adjustments.  We started double-teaming #33 when he got the ball in the low post and fronted him to prevent him from receiving passes.  It seemed to frustrate the Bruins, and we closed the half on a nice run to take a 46-38 lead into the locker room.

The hot shooting continued early in the second half, and Alabama quickly built a 20 point lead to put the game away.  Belmont made a couple of runs to cut it to 12, but the Tide always had an answer.  We only had 13 turnovers in this one, which was a big improvement.  I was shocked that Belmont did not attempt to press at any point.

It was a very balanced attack.  Making the early jump shots opened up the floor and provided everyone with plenty of scoring opportunities.  We had 6 guys in double-digits including all of the starters.  Davis gave us 12 off the bench.  Shack led the way with 16, Herb and Kira each had 15, and JP had 14 on 4 of 7 three point shooting in front of his home crowd.  Alex finished with 13.

When this team shoots over 40% from 3-point range and limits the turnovers to a reasonable amount, they will be difficult to beat.

I wrote last year after a lackluster performance against Liberty that the Rocket City Classic seemed to be getting a bit stale, but the organizers did a great job this year of bringing in a more intriguing matchup.  Unfortunately, with the game being on a weekend so close to the holidays and the weather outside being less than optimal, the crowd was a bit disappointing.  I would say only 4,500 of the 6,800 seats were occupied.  Our seats were directly the behind the basket, so between the goal support and the camera guys we couldn't see anything, but we were able to move down a few seats and get a better angle.  Belmont only brought a couple of hundred fans, so it definitely felt like a home game as the crowd was very supportive.  The Von Braun center is a little dated.  The 100 level is not well labeled or easily accessible, and there's very little statistical information available.  On the positive side, they have an excellent beer selection at reasonable prices.

Up next, the Richmond Spiders come to Tuscaloosa next Sunday night for a 5:30 pm tip-off on the SEC Network.  Richmond's only loss is to a top 25 team, so we will have our work cut out for us in the final game of the pre-conference schedule.  We are just one shot away from being on a five game winning streak right now, so hopefully the squad will be welcomed home with a big crowd and we can keep the momentum rolling.

Meanwhile, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Game Preview: Belmont [Huntsville, AL]

Winners of three of their last four, Alabama (5-5; KenPom: 74; NET: 94) will look to keep the good vibes flowing on Saturday when they travel to Huntsville to face the Belmont Bruins (8-3; KenPom: 77; NET: 89) from the Ohio Valley Conference in the fourth annual Rocket City Classic. Game time is 2:30 P.M. CT, and will be televised on the SEC Network.

My Two Cents: As Samford chipped away at a deficit that had once been 25 points in Alabama's favor, I began to have flashbacks of last season's loss to Georgia State. Fortunately, the team was able to score enough baskets to keep the Samford run in check. They certainly didn't get many defensive stops, that's for sure. For a moment, it felt like watching the football team (ouch). I have to believe the team relaxed a bit because their defense in the first half, as it has been in the last couple of games, was good. Adding to the anxiety in the second half was the inescapable conclusion that this team hasn't practiced the press break much this season. How else to explain how lost the team looked once Samford started pressing. Hopefully that is something that will be addressed in practice moving forward because, as DJC pointed out in his recap, future opponents would be foolish not to press Alabama based on the game film from Wednesday alone.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Pressing Issues: Alabama 105 Samford 87

Alabama improved to 5-5 with a 105-87 "road" victory over Samford in downtown Birmingham.

The Tide started red hot with JP making 6 straight threes to open up an early 22-2 lead.  Alabama was unstoppable the first half, maintaining that 20 point margin to take a 57-37 lead into the half.  We only had 5 turnovers in the first half, and we quickly stretched the lead to 25 to start the second half.  Just when I thought we could relax, the team seemed to take their foot off the gas a bit and Samford started pressing.

 Frankly, our press break was one of the worst I have ever seen.  I distinctly remember one possession where Galin in-bounded the ball to Herb, and all 3 of their teammates were already in the front-court and nobody came back to help.  We better be working on that in practice, because I suspect we will be seeing a lot of full court pressure after our future opponents watch the film from this game.

A flurry of turnovers and terrible defense leading to wide open layups and 3s allowed Samford to cut the lead to single digits.  Padgett did us a favor by finally calling a timeout despite the fact that his team had all of the momentum.  They cut the lead down to 6, but we were able to answer and almost immediately pushed it back to 10.  Thankfully, Samford simply did not have the horses to maintain the press for the entire half.  The score was 100-87 with just under four minutes remaining, and we switched to a 2-3 zone and shut them out the rest of the way. 

JP had an unbelievable game with 39 points and 10 rebounds.  I wish we would have got him the ball more in the final minutes to give him a shot at 40.  He missed one three that would have put him over the 40 mark.  He had a double-double with 10 rebounds.  Alex was 4 of 8 from downtown and finished with 16 points.  Shack was a perfect 8 of 8 from the free throw line and ended up with 13 points.  Kira was also in double-digits with 11 points.  Herbert finished with 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists with only one turnover.  I thought he played well, but he should have been in double figures but failed to finish several bunnies at the rim.  As a team, we finished with 20 assists, but 16 turnovers.

Samford is not very good.  Sharkey was impressive at point guard with 18 points and 15 assists, and it's good to see our old friend Brandon Austin playing well, as he led them in scoring with 21 points.  At least this counts as a road victory.

There wasn't much of a crowd and the atmosphere was rather quiet for most of the game.  I would estimate about 4,000 or so were there, and the upper level of the arena was closed off.  At least 85% of the crowd was supporting Bama. 

Up next, we make our annual trip to Huntsville for a neutral site game against a very good Belmont team.  Belmont beat Samford by 30+ and already has a road win at Boston College, for whatever that's worth.  The Von Braun center is actually closer to their campus than ours, and I suspect they will bring a strong following.  Hopefully our North Alabama friends will turn out and give the guys some support.  Tip off is set for 2:30 pm Saturday afternoon on the SEC Network.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Game Preview: at Samford

We should be used to gut-wrenching losses by this point, but that didn't make the 2-point loss to Penn State this past Saturday any easier to swallow. For the better part of the game our guys outplayed the Nittany Lions on both ends of the court. Unfortunately, the games are forty minutes. And it was in the final eight minutes that our guys went into a funk on the offensive end, only scoring eight points during that span. Alabama (4-5; KenPom: 81) must rebound quickly as the team will be on the court again on Wednesday night when they travel to Birmingham to play the Samford Bulldogs (6-6; KenPom: 194) from the Southern Conference. Game time is 6:30 P.M. CT, and will be streamed via the ESPN+ app. This game is being counted as a road game on the schedule, but it's being played at Legacy Arena. And let's be honest: there will probably be more fans there cheering for Alabama than Samford. So it goes.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Tide keeps Trying, but can't outlast Lions, Penn State 73 Alabama 71

Alabama led most of the way as a ten point underdog on the road, but injuries and foul trouble were just too much to overcome as the Tide ran out of gas in the final 8 minutes of the game.

This was arguably our best defensive effort of the season.  We actually played a little zone in the first half and forced Penn State to settle for long jump shots.  Over half of the Lions shots in the first half were from 3 point range where they went an abysmal 4 of 17.  Coming into the game, it appeared we would be at a disadvantage in the front court, but Davis, Galin, and Herb all did more than hold their own.  We ended up with 36 points in the paint to their 22, and kept the rebounding battle close to even, only losing it 50-47.  We even cut the turnovers down to just 10.   Unfortunately, we just didn't shoot well enough, going 9 of 34 from 3 point range and only 8 of 14 from the charity stripe. 

An inability to finish around the rim was perhaps an even bigger contributing factor in the loss than our poor perimeter shooting.  Herb missed at least 3 bunnies, and Kira missed quite a few from point blank range as well. 

Beetle had a great game with 15 points, and Alex added 12 with four 3-pointers.  JP fouled out in only 19 minutes and Davis only played 12 minutes due to foul trouble.  The game turned in the Lions favor when both of those guys picked up their fourth fouls early in the second half.  With Herbert Jones trying to play through an elbow injury, we were severely short-handed the final 12 minutes of the game. 

After surrendering the lead, the team kept scrapping and clawed back within 2.  Penn State missed some crucial free throws late that gave us a chance to win, but give credit to the Lions for playing great defense on our final 2 possessions.  The last play was designed to go to Kira, but they fronted him and denied him the ball.  We didn't have any timeouts left, and a hot Alex Reese in the corner was not a bad "plan B," but he tried to drive in and was denied by the PSU defender.  I would have preferred he try to shoot over him from the corner and go for the win in that situation, but it would have been a tough shot regardless.

At 4-5, the reality is it's likely going to take an improbable run in SEC play or a miracle run through Nashville to make the NCAA tournament.  While none of our losses are "bad," we've failed to collect any really "good" wins.  I'm more concerned with seeing the team continue to give great effort every night and improve.  Despite the loss and the issues noted above, I feel like they are doing that.

Up next, a home game for me but technically a road game for the team, as they travel next door to the BJCC Legacy Arena here in Birmingham for the Chick-Fil-A classic against Samford.  Tip-off is set for 6:30 pm Wednesday night, and will be streamed on ESPN+.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Game Preview: at Penn State

Alabama (4-4; KenPom: 82) will play its second true road game of the season when it travels to Big Ten country to play the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2; KenPom: 23) on Saturday. Game time is 1:00 P.M. CT, and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

My Two Cents: We talk a lot about Alabama's schedule, but Penn State scoffs in response and asks you to hold their beer. In ten games, the Nittany Lions have already played seven teams in the KenPom top 100 (four teams in the top 50). Barring a total collapse in conference play (the Big Ten has been the best conference in the country so that's not implausible), Penn State should be in the NCAA Tournament come March. On Saturday, the Nittany Lions are hoping to pad their resume with another win over a top 100 team, while Alabama desperately needs a quality non-conference win on the resume (their best win so far is over Furman, ranked 73 at KenPom).

Sunday, December 08, 2019

We Want Duke, Alabama 78 Stephen F. Austin 68

Alabama got its first 2 game winning streak of the season by beating the team that beat Duke to get back to a .500 record at 4-4.  Beetle was not able to play due to his wrist injury, so we were left with an 8 man rotation.  As MSmilie pointed out in his preview, SFA runs an unconventional system.  They play fast and physical, forcing a lot of turnovers while fouling a lot and getting most of their shots from down low.  I thought Coach Oats did a fantastic job of managing this game and making the proper adjustments.  He slowed it down just enough and we proved we could score and defend in the half-court when need be. This was, by far, our best defensive effort of the season.

We got off to a slow start with SFA building an early 11-5 lead.  The first few minutes looked as anticipated, a fast sloppy game from both teams.  After making a couple of 3s to draw even, the game went back and forth through the rest of the first half, with the Tide taking a one point lead into the the locker room.  JP started off hot from 3 point range to start the second half, which led us to a 10 point lead that we more or less maintained the rest of the way.

It was a great team effort as everyone contributed.  Kira played the whole game and ended up with 15 points.  He was also Alabama's leading rebound-er with 6.  Alex played 29 minutes with his bad hip and foot and also scored 15, including going 4 of 8 from three point range, despite not practicing since the Bahamas tournament.  JP had 14 points shooting 4 of 10 from 3 point range.  Davis added 11 points in the post while Shack led the scoring with 17 points.  Herb's stat line was not pretty, 2 points and 5 turnovers while fouling out in 16 minutes, but he contributed with his great defense.  He was largely responsible for limiting their best player, Kevon Harris, to only 3 of 16 shooting from the field.  For all of the talk about Herb's jump shot, if he could just improve on finishing around the rim that would improve his offensive game tremendously. 

We still had way too many turnovers with 20, and were out-rebounded 38-33, but I felt like we did a much better job of boxing out and getting rebounds in the second half.  At this point, it's hard to judge the quality of this win.  Despite the upset win at Duke, KenPom still had SFA ranked in the 200's, but their RPI was in the top 35.  It will be interesting to see their NET ranking when that comes out, but regardless, it's good to have this one in the win column. 

The crowd was decent with a solid student turnout on a Friday night, and for the first time this season there wasn't a significant number of empty seats around us.  I would estimate close to 7,000 were there, and the fans were generally supportive and appreciative of the grit and effort displayed on the court. 

Up next, it's finals week, followed by a road trip to State College, PA to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions  Saturday afternoon.  Tip off is set for 1pm CST on the Big Ten Network.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Game Preview: Stephen F. Austin

Okay, the vacation's over. The sun, sand and basketball were all fun and games, but it's back to the reality known as Tuscaloosa for this basketball team. From a basketball perspective, Alabama was outgunned for the most part at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Fortunately, they were able to salvage a win on the last day of the tournament. Unfortunately, the schedule doesn't let up. Alabama (3-4; KenPom: 79) will hope for back-to-back wins for the first time this season when it hosts the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (6-1; KenPom: 201) from the Southland Conference on Friday night. Game time is 7:00 P.M. CT, and will be streamed via SEC Network+.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Bad Bama Basketball at Bad Boys Battle for Atlantis in the Bahamas.

The Tide salvaged the last game against a bad Southern Miss team to take 7th place in the tournament after losing the first two games to North Carolina and Iowa State respectively.  I apologize for not posting updates from the island, but I could not access the blog from my wifi, and I didn't want to burn through my international data.  I'm not going to do a detailed re-cap analysis of each game, but instead will just hit the high notes and summarize the tournament as a whole.
My view for the UNC game

Friday, November 29, 2019

Game Preview: Southern Miss [Battle 4 Atlantis]

Alabama (2-4; KenPom: 81) was hoping to avoid the dreaded 7th place game, but ran into a buzzsaw on Thursday in the form of Iowa State. The Cyclones shot a blistering 52% from the field (51% from 3) and finished with 104 points. It was the first team to score 100 or more points against Alabama since Ole Miss did it way back in 2001. Nate Oats summed up the performance succinctly in the post-game by saying the team's defense "sucked".

Now Alabama finds itself badly needing a win today to salvage something basketball-related from this trip. They will face the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (2-5; KenPom: 238) from Conference USA. Game time is 8:30 P.M. CT, and will be televised by ESPNU. This will be the final game of the tournament.

My Two Cents: Honestly, Alabama has been more bad than good through six games. They've struggled to adapt to the new pace, and that has led to high turnover rates, rushed shots, and defensive breakdowns. Opponents are currently averaging 81 points per game. Maybe this team will figure things out by January or February, but will they have dug themselves too big of a hole by that point?

And it's not all on the players; the in-game coaching has been, quite frankly, not great. Let's take the last game for example. Iowa State put together an 18-2 run in the first half that allowed them to take control of the game. In the second half, after Alabama closed the gap to six points, Iowa State went on a 14-0 run in the span of two minutes. In both instances, Nate Oats did not call a timeout to stall the run and make adjustments. There was a similar circumstance in the game at Rhode Island. Furthermore, he seems to be unwilling to switch to a zone defense at any time in order to slow the game down and give the opposing team a different look. I'm all for giving the guy time to figure things out, but I gotta say I haven't been overly impressed with his game management so far.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Game Preview: Iowa State [Battle 4 Atlantis]

First things first: Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. I hope your holiday is peaceful. I'm going to do my best to keep this post short due to the holiday and the time I'm writing this (hint: it's late) in order to get it posted in advance of the game. Alabama (2-3; KenPom: 78) battled and did some good things on Wednesday, but ultimately couldn't overcome a poor shooting performance (38.2% from the field; 44.4% from the foul line) and UNC's interior size, falling 76-67. The Tarheels didn't play their best game either, turning it over twenty times, and making only 40% of their shot attempts. 

Our guys will need to bounce back quickly because another tough opponent awaits in the Iowa State Cyclones (3-2; KenPom: 43) from the Big 12. And yes, Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm is an Alabama alum. I'm telling you this because I'm sure the ESPN broadcast will not mention this.....Game time is 5:30 P.M. CT, and will be televised by ESPN2.

My Two Cents: Whoever put this Alabama schedule together is a real jerk. Alabama could potentially play three power conference teams in the Bahamas this week. They will then return home and host Stephen F. Austin, who just went to Duke and knocked off the number one ranked Blue Devils. Alabama is battling injuries, trying to adjust to a new style and coaching staff, and having to do it against the toughest non-conference schedule so far of any SEC school. I know some fans are upset with the slow start, but I think it's far too early for hot takes (and I say that as someone who does occasionally let my emotions override my brain when it comes to basketball).

Monday, November 25, 2019

Game Preview: North Carolina [Battle 4 Atlantis]

'Tis the season for daytime basketball. Alabama (2-2; Kenpom: 78) will take part in arguably the best in-season college basketball tournament when it travels to the Bahamas this week for the Battle 4 Atlantis. They will open the tournament with a bang as they face off against one of the blue bloods of the sport in the North Carolina Tarheels (4-0; AP: 5; Kenpom: 9) from the ACC. Game time is 1:30 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN. The injury situation remains the same. After missing the Furman game with a hand injury, Beetle Bolden will once again be a game-time decision for this one. Alex is still nursing a hip injury, which may explain why he only played 11 minutes in the last game. Galin left the Furman game briefly and returned, but he doesn't appear to be 100% either. Based on his play in the last two games, Herb appears to have progressed well after injuring his elbow in the Penn game.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

FU, Alabama 81 Furman 73

The short-handed Tide got back to the .500 mark with a gutsy win over a solid Paladins team.  Things started sloppy as neither team could control the basketball, much less gain control of the game.  Alabama turned the ball over 11 times in the first 8 minutes of the game.  At this point we slowed the pace down a bit and "only" had 10 more turnovers for the rest of the game.  Perhaps it would be more efficient to take a gradual approach to working up to the pace that Coach Oats wants to run.  It does no good to be in the top 5 in the country in possessions per game if we turn it over on 25% of those possessions.  I would be perfectly happy with a top 40ish pace and less than 15 turnovers per game.

The multiple injuries are another reason to let off the gas just a bit for the time being.  Beetle missed this game with a hand injury sustained in the Rhode Island game and was in a cast on the sideline.  Alex only played 11 minutes with a bad hip,  and Galin only played twelve with a thumb injury.  The starting lineup was Kira, JP, Herb, Alex, and Davis.  The defensive effort was much better overall in this game, and despite the early turnovers we never fell too far behind, and led by 3 going into the half.  Shack coming off the bench and making some 3s in the first half was huge, and the Tide held a three point lead at halftime.

Furman jumped out to an early 6 point lead in the second half, but Alabama quickly answered to go back on top.  Coach Oats picked up a technical foul after being warned with Furman seemingly building momentum in a tie game with approximately 9 minutes left.  The team responded and went on a run to build a 10 point lead, and made their free throws and got just enough stops down the stretch to hold on.  While the team has responded to both of Oats' technical fouls to go on runs, that is a tactic that can only be used so many times.  I understand that he is showing his team he will fight for them, and trying to establish respect in a new league, but I fear the officials are going to just tune him out if he keeps going nuts on every questionable call.

Shack had a great game with 25 points, and JP bounced back with 16 points, 5 rebounds, and only one turnover.  Kira had a nice second half after being largely shut down in the first.  The Paladins did a nice job defensively on him, forcing an uncharacteristic 7 turnovers.  Kira still finished with 19 points and 7 rebounds. Davis was also in double-figures with 10 points and 5 rebounds.  Herbert turned the ball over more than we would like with 4, but he scored 8 points, grabbed 6 boards, and had a huge blocked shot of Jordan Lyons in the final minutes of the game to help secure the victory.  The team made 20 of 27 from the free throw line, including 6 of 6 from Kira and 8 of 10 from Shack.  Jordan Lyons was fun to watch, he reminded me a bit of Nate Robinson, just a bulldog of a guard who plays with swagger, can get to the line (where he doesn't miss) and can shoot from anywhere on the floor.  He scored 33 points and almost single-handedly brought them back, thankfully he didn't have much help around him.

Once again, Alabama out-rebounded their opponent 43-34.  What was a big question mark going into the season has been a strength thus far, and is an indication of the effort and hustle these guys are playing with as a team.  If we could get down to around 12 turnovers per game, and get the 3 point shooting percentage up above 35%, this team would be very difficult to beat.

The crowd was a little disappointing.  I would estimate only about 3,500 or so were in attendance, but those who were there were supportive throughout.  The two losses and missing out on the two 5-star recruits in the last week seems to have taken the air out of the fanbase a bit.  A big win or two on the island next week would be great to restore some momentum.

Up next, we travel to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis on Paradise Island, where we open with 5th ranked North Carolina next Wednesday at 1:30 CST, 2:30 EST.  I may not fully re-cap each game, but I'll pry myself away from the beach and casino long enough to get something up at some point.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Game Preview: Furman

First things first: The staff landed the first commitment of the 2020 class. Keon Ambrose-Hylton, a 6'8, 200 lb forward from Toronto, Ontario, committed on Sunday. He's a four star prospect at 247, ranking 79th in the class of 2020. Coming at the tail end of what was a mostly forgettable weekend for Alabama fans, the news was much-needed. Even more so in the wake of two five star recruits (Nimari Burnett and Isaiah Jackson) that the staff had prioritized electing to commit elsewhere in the early period.

Following a disappointing road trip to Rhode Island, Alabama (1-2; KenPom: 74) returns home to face the Furman Paladins (4-0; KenPom: 70) of the Southern Conference. The game is a campus site contest for the Battle 4 Atlantis event. Game time is 7:00 P.M. CT, and can be streamed on ESPN+. Injuries continue to be an issue for Alabama. Beetle, coming off a rough individual performance, will be a game-time decision for this one. Herb played well in the last game, but is still nursing an elbow injury. I don't remember seeing anything officially mentioned, but Galin appeared to have a wrist injury of some kind coming into the Rhode Island game, and it looked like he may have aggravated it during the game. Finally, Alex is still nursing a hip injury.  

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Rhode Kill, Rhode Island 93 Alabama 79

Alabama drops to 1-2 with a 93-79 loss to Rhode Island on the road.  The game started out well as the Tide jumped out to an early lead, but Rhode Island answered with a huge run over the next 7 minutes or so building a 20 point lead, and that was the difference in the game.  Twelve first half turnovers, and honestly it seemed like more than that, contributed to that big run.  This team is going to have to start valuing the basketball at some point or it’s going to be a long season.  It’s time to start Shack over JP in my opinion.  I officiated three middle school games Thursday night and I’m pretty sure those teams combined for less travelling violations than we had in the first half of this game.  Those unforced errors are the result of playing completely out of control.

In addition to routinely coughing the ball up, we didn’t make a single three point shot in the first half.  That’s a recipe for disaster.  The last 15 minutes or so of the first half may have been the worst I have ever seen from a college basketball team.  I thought we waited about 3 possessions too long to finally call a timeout.  I know Coach Oats is philosophically opposed to playing zone defense, and I generally agree with him, but we have one player who is above average defensively (Herb).  Our help-side defense is non-existent, and our other guards aren’t capable of consistently staying in front of their man.  We fall for every cross-over or ball fake.  At some point, we need to mix in some zone to keep teams from getting to the rim at will.  All of that said, Rhode Island settled for a lot of mid-range low percentage 2 point shots, but they seemingly made every one of them.  It was just that type of night.

To the team’s credit, they kept pounding the stone and made a run in the second half.  We only had 5 turnovers in the second half and finally started making a few 3s.  We cut the lead to 6 a couple of times and got some big stops but just couldn’t finish closing the gap.  I feel it was a classic case of using everything you have to get back into the game but not having enough in the tank to get over the hump.  A key possession that sticks out in my mind was when we were down 5 or 6 and got a stop, had great spacing leading to a wide open Beetle 3 from the corner, but he air-balled it short.  Beetle struggled in this one, which is disappointing as he’s a senior who has played in some big games on the road before.

On the positive side, Kira and Herb had outstanding games. Kira finished with 21 points and Herb had 17.  We out-rebounded them 40-31.  This team always plays hard, but not necessarily good.

The Ryan Center is a reasonably nice facility with the fans close to the court and good sight lines, but they could improve quite a few things.  The video/scoreboard is nice, but they had some connections issues and the stats did not update beyond about halfway through the first half.  The lighting is somewhat dark, and the LED ribbon board on the façade of the upper level drastically changes the color and lighting throughout the arena whenever the advertisements change.  The campus is in the middle of nowhere, I nearly hit two deer crossing the road less than a quarter of a mile from the arena.  It was dark, but from what little I saw their campus was unremarkable.  They have wifi in the arena, but it doesn’t work, and we were unable to get any data service. 

The arena holds about 8,000 and it wasn’t a sellout, but there was probably 7,000 in attendance, including about 100 Alabama fans.  Their student section was packed and it was a good atmosphere, their fans were supportive of their team and loud, chanting “URI” nearly the whole game.  Their alumni were generally nice to us, but their students were classless, with multiple “F^&# You Bama” and “Bama sucks” chants.  I’m not offended by profanity, but at least try to be a little bit creative.  I met some  URI athletic staff members at a brewery after the game through some common friends I have that work in athletics at other colleges in the area, and they were extremely welcoming.  They bought us several rounds of drinks and were very complimentary of our team and our athletic department as a whole.

I toured the Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s  home in Newport Saturday morning, so I’m including a few pics from there.  As a Chicago Cubs fan, I'm a sucker for old ballparks so I had to stop at Cardines Field and take a few pics, but unfortunately I was not able to get inside.    Newport is a really cool town, and I also had a good time later in Providence watching the football game with some friends there.

Up next, we return to home to Tuscaloosa to take on the Paladins from Furman Tuesday night.  Tip off is set for 7pm. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Game Preview: at Rhode Island

Alabama (KenPom: 69) will hit the road for the first time this season on Friday when they travel to Kingston, Rhode Island to play the University of Rhode Island (KenPom: 89) from the A-10. This is the back-end of a home-and-home series that began two seasons ago. Game time is 6:30 P.M.CT and will be televised on the NBC Sports Network. Both teams enter 1-1 on the season. Rhode Island is coming off an 18-point setback at Maryland. Jahvon Quinerly's appeal failed to sway the NCAA to grant him a waiver so he will sit out the remainder of the season and have three years of eligibility remaining next season. Herb Jones will once again be a game-time decision on Friday night. Galin, Alex and Beetle are nursing injuries, but are expected to play.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tide Grounds the Owls, Alabama 78 FAU 59

The day started with some bad news as the NCAA denied JQ's appeal and he will have to sit out the season before becoming eligible next year. 

The Tide bounced back from its disappointing season opening loss with a comfortable win over Florida Atlantic.  Injuries continue to leave the team short-handed as they only had a 7 man playing rotation for most of this game.  Herb dressed and was a game time decision but did not play.  He probably would have played some late game defensive possessions if we needed a stop in a close game, but thankfully it did not come to that. 

Coach Oats mentioned in his pre-game comments that improving the defense was an emphasis following the Penn lost.  He said the starting five are the guys who played the best defense in practice over the last week.  That starting five was Kira, Beetle, JP, Forbes, and Davis.  Davis took advantage of his starting opportunity and led all scorers with 19 points and 9 rebounds.  I think he's earned another start as he showed good hands, good movement without the ball, and an ability to finish around the rim.  He may not be the rim defender we are lacking on defense, and FAU wasn't particularly strong in the post, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against better competition, but that was certainly encouraging production from the five spot. 

Despite some sloppy play and turnovers early, Alabama slowly built a 10 point lead before FAU was able to slow the game down a bit and start chipping away.  They cut it to 3 following a technical foul on Coach Oats.  The team and staff had already been warned about standing up on the sideline during the play, and Coach addressed the situation, but following a questionable foul call and an FAU layup, the official blew the whistle to issue an official coach's box warning.  Coach Oats continued to argue the call and was promptly hit with the technical foul.  I should note, the entire FAU bench came on to the floor thinking the original whistle for the coach's box warning was a timeout, so that should have been a technical on them as well.  In fairness, it was a reasonable assumption on FAU's part as they were on a bit of a run and a timeout probably would have made sense there.  In any event, the technical seemed to re-focus the squad and they finished the half on a 20-2 run that put the game out of reach.

FAU did cut the lead to 13 about midway through the second half, but within minutes Alabama responded and pushed it back over 20 and the game never really felt in doubt.  Galin and Beetle are both still battling wrist injuries and both fouled out in only 11 minutes of play.  Coach seems more willing to roll the dice with guys playing with four fouls than conventional wisdom would suggest.  With the already short bench, Tyler Barnes got into the game with around 8 minutes remaining and a 20 point lead.  He grabbed a few rebounds and gave us four minutes.

Kira had 16 points and 6 rebounds with 8 assists and only two turnovers in 37 minutes of playing time.  Shack scored 17 off the bench and made 4 of 7 from three point range. Alex had 12 points with 8 rebounds. The biggest negative from my perspective was JP's six turnovers.  He appeared to injure his wrist in the first half, so maybe that was the issue, but he still seems to have a high dribble and struggles to secure the ball at times.  On a positive note he is playing hard and contributing in other ways with 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 9 points. 

Rebounding was a major concern for me entering the season, but we've won the battle of the boards in our first two games.  It may be a different story when we run up against a bigger team, but I've been impressed with the effort of our smaller quicker guys going in and contributing on the glass.

They say a team reflects the personality of their head coach, and that's starting to become apparent with this group.  Nate Oats is intense and passionate, and that's how the guys play.  Coach Oats is constantly working the refs and aggressively coaching his guys.  Shack missed an assignment on defense in the second half and Oats lit into him for an entire media timeout.  When guys make a mental error, he's quick to pull them and explain things and put them back in at the next dead ball.  The guys are playing with a lot of emotion.  Coming off the floor during a timeout in the first half Davis flexed and yelled "Let's Go!" so loud I think people in Northport heard him.  It was great to see Hawkins leading the team and crowd in "De-Fense" chants at big moments, despite him apparently not making the playing rotation.  At one point Shack turned around to the crowd and yelled "Get the F*&$! UP"  when we were starting one of our runs.  Beetle is probably the most passionate of them all, he was sitting on the risers on the baseline with his wrist in an ice cast coaching and cheering non-stop after fouling out.

The defensive effort was better, but it also helped that FAU was horrible shooting the ball.  They had at least 5 air-balls, went 5 of 28 from three point range, and a laughable 6 of 17 at the free throw line.  On the other hand, we made 17 of 22 from the charity stripe.  At the end of the day, it's always good to get that first win and we took care of business against a mediocre team at home.

The crowd was decent for a rainy Monday night against a C-USA team.  It was a big drop-off from the Penn game, but still probably close to 6,000 or so and they were loud and supportive throughout.  The student section has started doing a thing where they go crazy when our score hits exactly "69."  It's stupid and immature, but somehow hilarious all at the same time. 

Up next, the first true road game In Kingston, RI against the Rhode Island Rams on Friday at 7:30 EST, 6:30 Central.  The game will be televised on NBCSN.  If you watch hockey, you are familiar with that network, otherwise you will probably have to do a little searching to find it.    I'll post a first hand report later that weekend.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Game Preview: Florida Atlantic

After a season-opening loss at home to Penn, Alabama  (KenPom: 73) will seek its first win of the season on Monday night when the Florida Atlantic Owls (KenPom: 179) from Conference USA come to town. Game time is 7:00 PM, and can be streamed via SEC Network+. The Owls enter this game with a record of 1-1.

Herb Jones left the Penn game with a hyperextended elbow. Nate Oats said that Herb will be a game-time decision for this game. I thought the trajectory of the Penn game changed when Herb exited so I really hope he's healthy and back in the lineup for this game. Jahvon Quinerly's appeal for a waiver is expected to have a ruling before the game tips on Monday. If cleared he likely plays in this game.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Penn Pounds Post, Punishes Pachyderms, Quakers 81 Tide 80

Note: This ended up being a lot longer than I originally anticipated.  I've included a "TLDR" version at the bottom for those of you who have better things to do than read my rambling musings.

The Nate Oats era officially got off to an inauspicious start with a one point loss to Penn at home.  Steve Donahue's Ivy League squad ruined the Alabama coach's debut.  If you feel like you've read that somewhere before, you are correct.  It was Steve Donahue's Cornell team that beat Alabama in Anthony Grant's debut back in  2009.   In case you're feeling masochistic, here is what we said about it at the time.   The team played hard and fast, but in the end could not overcome the injuries and a lack of interior defense.  There's a lot to unpack here, so let's get started:

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Game Preview: Penn

After spending this summer asking "Is it basketball season yet?" over and over until I alienated myself from friends and family, the season is finally here. With it comes the beginning of the Nate Oats era in Tuscaloosa. Anticipation was already high before the charity exhibition vs Georgia Tech, but following a 93-65 Bama win, in which our guys knocked down seventeen three-pointers, the chatter about basketball is much louder than we're accustomed to in November. Alabama's first opponent will be the Penn Quakers from the Ivy League. Alabama enters the game ranked 70 at KenPom, while Penn enters as team 112 in KenPom's preseason rankings. Game time is 7:00 P.M. CT. The game will be streamed on SEC Network+ so you'll need the WatchESPN app.

Alabama will be without newcomers James Rojas and Juwan Gary, both out for the season with injuries. Jahvon Quinerly's status is unclear for this game. His initial request for a waiver to play this season was denied by the NCAA, but the school is appealing on his behalf. My guess is he won't play in this game. 

Saturday, November 02, 2019

2019-20 Schedule Preview: February/March

Saturday, February 1 - Arkansas - 5:00 P.M. CT - TV: SEC Network: Arkansas bid farewell to Mike Anderson and hired Eric Musselman from Nevada. Musselman's teams averaged 27.5 wins in his four seasons at Nevada, playing in three NCAA Tournaments. He inherits some talent in Fayetteville, notably Isaiah Joe (13.9 pts, 2.8 rebs, 1.7 asts, 1.5 stls, 41.4% from 3) and Mason Jones (13.6 pts, 3.9 rebs, 2.8 asts, 36.5% from 3) along with experienced returners in Jalen Harris, Desi Sills and Adrio Bailey. Musselman also added a pair of graduate transfers in Jimmy Whitt (SMU), who started his college career at Arkansas, and Jeantal Cylla (UNC-Wilmington). It's an intriguing roster. If Musselman can fit it all together, Arkansas should finish higher than the 11th place prediction in the preseason poll. Alabama has lost five straight to the Razorbacks.

Tuesday, February 4 - Tennessee - 6:00 P.M. CT - TV: TBD: The Vols lost a quartet of players (Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander) that averaged a combined 56.1 points last season and were instrumental in putting the program back on the map. Replacing them will be a challenge, and expectations from Vol fans should be tempered as a result. However, with Jordan Bowden (10.6 pts, 3.5 rebs, 1.9 asts, 37.8% from 3) and Lamonte Turner (11 pts, 3.8 asts, 2.8 rebs, 1.3 stls) returning for their senior seasons, the Vols will have a solid base to build around. Beyond those two, it will be up to returning role players to expand their production and an incoming class that is the sixth-ranked class in the league per 247. Most importantly, Rick Barnes is back for his fifth season despite reports that he strongly considered taking the UCLA job this past summer. Assuming Turner and Bowden get consistent help from their teammates, Tennessee should once again be in the mix for the NCAA Tournament.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

2019-20 Schedule Preview: January

January means the beginning of conference play (at least until the league expands to a 20-game schedule). In recent years the conference has done a great job in repairing the perception of the conference. The depth of coaches in the league is unmatched in my opinion, and that strength in the coaching ranks has led to increased recruiting success. In 18-19 the league had seven teams selected for the NCAA Tournament. Five of those seven teams won at least a game, while four of the seven teams advanced to the second weekend. While I don't predict the league to be as top-heavy as it was last season (UK, UT and LSU lost a combined eight games), I do think the middle and, more importantly, the bottom of the league will be improved.

Saturday, January 4 - at Florida - 5:00 P.M. CT - TV: TBD: Alabama will start its conference schedule with a bang as it travels to Gainesville to face a Florida team that was picked to finish second in the league preseason poll. The Gators return three starters (Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson, all sophomores), add the second-ranked recruiting class in the league (and eighth in the country), and add the top transfer in the country, Kerry Blackshear Jr. (14.9 pts, 7.5 rebs) from Virginia Tech. The Gators are good enough on paper to not only win the league, but advance deep in March. To do that, they will have to be a better offensive team this season (61st in offensive efficiency, 344 in tempo, and 291 in possession length). For what it's worth, Alabama has won in its last two trips to Gainesville.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Bama Beats the Heck out of Georgia Tech, Crimson Tide 93 Jackets 65

Alabama cruised to an easy victory over Georgia Tech in a charity exhibition game benefiting Hurricane Dorian victims.  Georgia Tech had a significant size advantage, but the fast pace of play prevented them from being able to take advantage of it.

The starting lineup was Kira, Petty, Herbert, Alex, and Galin.  Our bench outscored them 40-22, in large part due to Jaden Shackelford dropping 21 as the sixth man on 6 of 10 three point shooting.  He is the real deal, has a very quick release and is not shy about pulling up even from a couple of feet behind the three point line.  

The playing rotation actually made a lot of sense.  Galin and Javian Davis rotated at the five spot.  Interior defense is clearly our weakness, and Georgia Tech was able to exploit it somewhat early in the game.  If they got to the basket we couldn't stop them.  Fortunately, we forced them into 24 turnovers.  Frankly, I'm not sure what Georgia Tech was hoping to accomplish on offense, they have some decent individual players but they generally looked disorganized.  I'm not a big fan of Josh Pastner.  

Galin picked up 3 fouls in the first half and played much of the game in foul trouble.  He ended up with 17 minutes to Javian's 12.  We stretched the lead to an insurmountable margin when we went small in the second half with Alex at the 5.

Speaking of Alex, he went to the locker room in the first half with a hip injury, but returned in the second half and ended up with 9 points in 16 minutes.  He was not 100% and I expect he will get more minutes when fully healthy.

Kira was the star we were expecting him to be.  He scored 20 points with 8 assists and 7 rebounds in 31 minutes of playing time.  He mostly ran the point, but moved off ball for a bit when Beetle came into the game.  Beetle still isn't 100%, but I thought he played well.  He had 3 assists and only one turnover in 18 minutes of playing time.  Jaylen Forbes played 23 minutes and scored 6 points with 3 rebounds.  He was one of the better defenders on the floor, in my opinion.

JP got hot in the second half once he found his spot in the corner, making three 3s and finishing with 15 points.  He also had 3 assists to one turnover and even ran the point for a couple of possessions.  Having Kira, Beetle, and to a lesser extent JP and Herb all capable of handling the ball gives us a lot of versatility.  

Herb made his only three point attempt, so that was encouraging, and played his usual lock-down defense.

Raymond Hawkins and the four walk-ons closed out the final couple of minutes of the game.  

Overall, the team looked exactly as advertised.  They push the ball up as quickly as possible and generally take the first decent look they get.  They shoot a lot of 3s, and if the defense extends they drive to the basket.  There really is no mid-range or post game, and I don't recall us running a single high-ball screen.  Defensively, we occasionally pick up at half court or three-quarters court, but it was strictly man to man.  I thought we communicated fairly well on screens in the half-court, and we didn't seem to switch as much as we did last year.

  The guys are still adjusting to the system and looked a bit out of control at times, especially in the first half.  We had too many turnovers and forced a few bad shots,  but with a 28 point win over an ACC team there's more reason for optimism than concern.

The turn out was a little disappointing, but it being noon on a Sunday in Tuscaloosa a lot of the regulars were probably at church.  I would estimate only about 1,000 or so were there, but those who did show up were supportive.  There were several standing ovations for the team's hustle, guys were not shy about diving for balls out-of-bounds or getting on the floor to secure a steal.  The team played hard and seemed to be having fun, interacting with the crowd after big plays, etc.  Coach Oats was intense, standing and coaching until the very end, even with a comfortable lead.  

Up next, the Penn Quakers come to Tuscaloosa for a game that actually counts.  The season officially gets underway on Tuesday, November 5th at 7pm.  I will see you there.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Game Preview: Georgia Tech (Exhibition)

Here we go again, folks. Pack your hopes and dreams for another college basketball season. Alabama welcomes in a new coaching staff promising a more exciting, uptempo brand of basketball just like the other coaches before them. However, I think this staff really means it. Our first chance to see this team in action comes this Sunday at noon CT when the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets visit Coleman for a charity exhibition game. No TV for this one according to the official site so if you want to see it you'll need to purchase a ticket. Neither team is ranked in the polls entering the season (although Alabama did receive two votes in the AP poll). Georgia Tech is ranked 66th in KenPom's preseason rankings, while Alabama checks in at 70th.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Alabama Defeats Jacksonville State In Closed Scrimmage

The Alabama men's basketball team saw its first game action of the Nate Oats era on Sunday as it hosted Jacksonville State for a closed scrimmage. Alabama won the scrimmage by a final score of 90-81. Being a scrimmage, you take the stats with a grain of salt. Perhaps the most glaring stat to me was both teams combined for 79 combined free throw attempts. Good thing the scrimmage was closed because a game with that many free throw attempts is darn near unwatchable for me. Alabama forced 19 turnovers and limited Jacksonville State to 41.3% shooting (33.3% from 3). Unfortunately, Alabama's shooting numbers weren't great either: 39.2% (25% from 3). The difference in the final score was Alabama got to the free throw line more and made a few more, though neither team made free throws at a high rate (67.4% for Bama; 69.4% for Jax State). It's going to be a process, folks.

Jahvon and Beetle did not play in the scrimmage. Kira played 39 minutes and finished with 21 pts, 7 rebs, 4 asts and 1 stl. Other notable stat lines included Herb (17 pts, 4 rebs, 3 stls, 1 ast and 1 blk), JP (17 pts, 3 rebs, 3 stls) and Javian Davis (8 pts, 10 rebs and a stl).

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Alabama Picked Sixth In SEC Preseason Media Poll

SEC Media Day for men's basketball was held on Wednesday. Nate Oats, Kira Lewis Jr. and Herb Jones made the short trip to Birmingham for the event. The preseason media poll was also released. Alabama was picked to finish sixth. Kira was named to the All-SEC second team. The full predicted order of finish:

1. Kentucky
2. Florida
3. LSU
4. Auburn
5. Tennessee
6. Alabama
7. Mississippi State
8. Ole Miss
9. Georgia
10. South Carolina
11. Arkansas
12. Texas A&M
13. Missouri
14. Vanderbilt

Monday, October 14, 2019

2019-20 Schedule Preview: December

After a challenging slate of games in November, the December schedule, at least on paper, appears to ease up a little. The team will only play one game outside the state of Alabama in December.

Friday, December 6 - Stephen F. Austin - 7:00 P.M. CT - TV: SECN+: This is the return game in a home-and-home series. The Lumberjacks will be trying to bounce back from an uncharacteristically poor season in 18-19 when they finished 14-16 overall and 7-11 in conference play. That might be easier said than done after losing three of their top five scorers last season and welcoming in nine newcomers. One thing in their favor is the return of Kevon Harris (17.8 pts, 6.5 rebs, 2 asts, 1 stl, 52.1 FG%, 37.9% from 3), expected to be one of the top players in the Southland Conference.

Saturday, December 14 - at Penn State - 1:00 P.M. CT - TV: Big Ten Network: Yet another return game in a home-and-home series. Penn State is one of the toughest jobs in the country, which may explain why head coach Pat Chambers is entering year nine at the school despite no NCAA Tournament appearances. If Chambers and his team are going to get over the hump, this year might be their best chance. The biggest reason for optimism is that Lamar Stevens (19.9 pts, 7.7 rebs, 2.1 asts), a first-team All-Big Ten selection, returned for his senior season. Stevens will need some help; returning players such as Myles Dread (8.3 pts, 2.8 rebs, 1.3 asts, 35.6%  from 3) and Mike Watkins (7.8 pts, 7.4 rebs, 1.5 blks) will need to step up their production as well. While the Lions finished the 18-19 season with a 14-18 record, they did win seven of their final ten games and finished top 50 at KenPom. Will that momentum carry over into this season?

Thursday, October 10, 2019

2019-20 Schedule Preview: November

We are now four weeks from the start of the college basketball season and the first season of the Nate Oats era. Alabama returns an intriguing mix of experience and talent, but it's also a program that has failed to live up to the talent on its rosters in recent seasons. As a result, preseason predictions for this team have been all over the place. I've seen some pick Alabama to finish top four in the league, while others pick them closer to the bottom. If the truth is usually found in the middle, the most realistic expectation for year one of the Oats era is that this is a middle-of-the-pack team.

Once again, the SEC will be a challenge to navigate. You really have to hand it to the league and the schools for the work they've put forth to improve basketball in the conference. In addition, the Bama non-conference schedule is once again expected to be one of the tougher schedules among SEC teams. With this Alabama team breaking in a new style of play under a new coaching staff against a tough schedule, it won't be a shock to see this team go through some growing pains. However, if Oats and his staff are the right guys for the job, and the players can adapt to his style of play and avoid further injuries, the team is talented enough to maybe - just maybe - return to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons.

Sunday, October 27 - Georgia Tech (Exhibition) - 12:00 P.M. CT - TV: None: Alabama will also have a closed scrimmage against Jacksonville State for the second straight season, but I'm just going to preview what's listed on the schedule. I'm happy that this is the exhibition game for Alabama this season. First and foremost, the proceeds go to charity so that's obviously a good thing. Secondly, Nate Oats is going to learn far more about his team facing an ACC team than he could if the opponent was a D2, 3, or an NAIA team. If Georgia Tech wasn't in the ACC, their preseason expectations would likely be higher. Their top three scorers (Jose Alvarado, James Banks III and Michael Devoe) return, and they added transfers in Jordan Usher (USC) and Bubba Parham (VMI). Parham could be an impact newcomer; in his final season at VMI, he led the Southern Conference in scoring at 21.4 per game (39.7% from 3). The Jackets will also be one of the oldest teams in the ACC with nine juniors and seniors on the roster. What's difficult to predict is how motivated will this team be now that the NCAA has banned them from the NCAA Tournament due to rules violations.

Friday, October 04, 2019

2019-20 Roster Preview: Forwards/Centers

With Donta Hall wrapping up his college career, Alabama lost last season's leading rebounder, shot blocker and second-leading scorer. Nate Oats prefers a quicker, perimeter-oriented type of basketball that spreads the floor, but all teams still require some size in the middle. But who will fill that role with Donta gone? Whoever fills it will need to be more than just a big body; he'll need to be able to run the floor, rebound and show some diversity on the offensive end.

While the team has a lot of talent at the guard and wing positions, there are question marks in the post. Rebounding was one of the primary weaknesses for Alabama the last two seasons, and it would appear to be a concern at first glance this season. With the depth at the guard position, none of the guys listed here have to be stars, just dependable role players. If someone emerges as a star, all the better to win basketball games, my dear. Let's take a quick look at those players. Once again, the heights/weights are those listed at the official site.

James Rojas - 6'8 - 215 lbs - Junior: It wouldn't be an Alabama basketball offseason without some bad news, and unfortunately that bad news (so far) was that Rojas - an incoming juco recruit - suffered a knee injury and will not play this season. The team has time to adjust to his absence, but losing a guy that was a juco All-American is less than ideal. For a team that's light on big bodies, losing a 6'8 inside/out player that seemed tailor-made for the type of basketball Nate Oats wants to play may come back to haunt the team as the season unfolds.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Alabama Hosting Georgia Tech In Charity Exhibition

This has been rumored for a few weeks, but the university made it official on Wednesday; Alabama will host Georgia Tech in a charity exhibition game at Coleman Coliseum. The game will take place on Sunday, October 27 at noon (CT). The proceeds will go to the American Red Cross Hurricane Dorian relief fund. The women's team will play an exhibition game vs Auburn University-Montgomery afterwards. Tickets will be $5.00. If you're in the area and want an early look at the teams, get out to Coleman because there will be no radio or television for this event.

The program will also continue the Tide Tipoff event for the fifth straight season. That will take place on Friday, October 18th. The event begins at 7, but doors will open at 6 for an autograph session with both teams.

We're close, folks. Roll Tide!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

2019-20 Roster Preview: Guards

Well, here we are again; another college basketball season is looming. The university made a coaching change at the conclusion of last season, wrapping up Avery Johnson's tenure after four rather frustrating seasons. An efficient coaching search by AD Greg Byrne led to the hire of Nate Oats, formerly the head coach at Buffalo. Oats will be the third head coach hired by Alabama in the last ten years.

Nate Oats will be 45 years old when the season tips off. He began his coaching career in 1997 when he joined the staff at his alma mater, D-3 Maranatha Baptist in Wisconsin. In 2000 he joined the staff at D-3 Wisconsin-Whitewater. Following two seasons there, Oats landed his first head coaching gig at Romulus High School in Detroit. In eleven seasons he compiled an impressive 222-52 record, leading the team to the 2013 state championship. This success led to Bobby Hurley hiring him as an assistant at Buffalo. Following Hurley's decision to accept the Arizona State job two years later, Oats was promoted to head coach.

In his four seasons as head coach, he elevated the Buffalo program. He compiled a 96-43 record, two MAC regular season titles (2018, 2019) and three MAC tournament titles, which resulted in NCAA Tournament bids in three of his four seasons at the helm. Not too shabby. And not only did the program make the tournament, but it won round one games in both the 2018 and 19 tournaments. In addition, Oats was named the MAC Coach of the Year in 2018 and 2019. The program also finished higher in the final KenPom rankings each season of his tenure (138 in 2016; 122 in 2017; 67 in 2018; 22 in 2019).

Monday, September 16, 2019

Predicting the season- game by game

Penn- We can't lose at home to a bunch of nerds! W
FAU- Lane Kiffin isn't walking through that door! W
@ Rhode Island- you don't travel to nowhere RI and expect to come out the victor! L

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

SEC Schedule Released

The conference released its basketball schedule on Tuesday. The league office didn't do our guys any favors. In the first four games of league play, Alabama will travel to Florida and Kentucky as well as host Mississippi State and Auburn. All four teams are likely projected NCAA Tournament teams this season. Kentucky and Florida are expected to be favorites to win the league when the preseason polls are released. Click here for the full schedule. The season opener is 56 days away.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

James Rojas Out For Season With Knee Injury

It wouldn't be an Alabama basketball offseason without some bad news, and this one is a doozy. Juco All-American James Rojas, who just got to campus in August, has suffered a torn ACL and will miss the 19-20 season. Rojas was likely going to be a rotation player this season, and maybe more than that as he brought a high ceiling with him to Tuscaloosa. With the season sixty days away, I believe the team can adjust to this loss, but it sucks for James. He will have two seasons of eligibility when he returns next season.

While Nate Oats wants to play at a quick pace with much of the focus on the perimeter and scoring easy points in transition the loss of Rojas still hurts the interior depth for the team, which was already a question mark entering the season. Rebounding is a particular concern; an area where Rojas likely would have helped. Not to mention he's a guy that could run the floor and shoot. It's a tough loss. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Non-Conference schedule released

Most of these we already knew

Nov. 5 vs. Penn
Nov. 11 vs. Florida Atlantic
Nov. 15 @Rhode Island
Nov. 19 vs. Furman
Nov. 27 vs North Carolina (Battle for Atlantis)
Nov. 28 vs. Michigan/Iowa State (Battle for Atlantis)
Nov. 29 vs TBA (Gonzaga, Southern Miss, Seton Hall, or Oregon) (Battle for Atlantis)
Dec. 6 vs. Stephen F. Austin
December 14 @ Penn State
December 18 @ Samford (BJCC in Birmingham)
December 21 vs. Belmont (Huntsville, AL)
December 29 vs. Richmond
January 25 vs. Kansas State

A few thoughts:  It's a good thing we have the excitement of a new coach to bring in the fans, because that home schedule is atrocious.  It's interesting that Samford is listed as an "away" game.  In previous years the Birmingham game has been a home game.  I assume this means that it will count as a road game for NET purposes, but it will not be included in the season ticket package. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Schedule News: Alabama vs Samford in Birmingham

I want to start this post by encouraging you to check out a new website devoted to Alabama basketball, Crimson Crossover. In recent years, I've seen a growing presence on social media in fan support for Alabama basketball and I try to show support for those fans at this website and beyond. With that in mind, add Crimson Crossover to your favorites; and, if you're into social media, you can follow them on Twitter or Facebook. They even have a Youtube site where they will post game highlights. Their website, which just launched yesterday, will include articles and a forum for fans to discuss hoops. And there's likely more features they will debut in the weeks and months ahead. So go check them out asap.

In fact, it was Crimson Crossover that broke this bit of schedule news yesterday. Alabama will play Samford in Legacy Arena in Birmingham this season. It's not the marquee game that we've seen Alabama play in Legacy in recent years, but I've never been shy about stating my opinion that Alabama should play more in-state programs (yes, including UAB). What I would really like to see is an event similar to the Crossroads Classic in Indiana where four teams from the state (Alabama and Auburn obviously vs two others) play each other in back-to-back games. While the Alabama version wouldn't match Indiana, Notre Dame, Purdue and Butler squaring off, I do think it would be a fun event for hoops fans in the state. I'll have more to say about Samford when I do the schedule preview, but if you can't wait for that, head over to Crimson Crossover for an early preview.
At this point, your guess is as good as mine when the non-conference schedule will be released. With the Samford news, we now know eleven of the (presumably) thirteen non-conference games.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Schedule News: SEC/Big 12 Matchups Set

It's not official, but several media outlets reported on Tuesday that the matchups for the 2019 SEC/Big 12 Challenge are set. The event will take place on January 26. Assuming these reports are true, Alabama will host the Kansas State Wildcats. The Wildcats finished the 18-19 season with a 25-9 record and were top 20 in KenPom's final ratings. K-State head coach Bruce Weber coached Kira Lewis this summer in the FIBA U19 World Cup.

The other games in the event:

Kentucky at Texas Tech

Tennessee at Kansas

Baylor at Florida

Mississippi State at Oklahoma

Missouri at West Virginia

Oklahoma State at Texas A&M

LSU at Texas

Iowa State at Auburn

TCU at Arkansas

Friday, July 12, 2019

More Schedule News: Battle 4 Atlantis Bracket Released; Richmond Added To Schedule

DJC has already mentioned this in the comments section of the previous post but, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to write a bit more about this news. After all, schedule news is almost as fun to me as the games themselves.

The bracket for the Battle 4 Atlantis was released on Thursday. Along with the Maui Invitational, this has become the premier early-season event in college basketball. That Alabama will participate in both events in the next two seasons is great for the program.

Alabama's first opponent in The Bahamas will be a little basketball school by the name of North Carolina. Perhaps you've heard of them. Alabama will play the Tar Heels on Wednesday, November 27 at 1:30 PM CT. Win or lose, this is a great opportunity for our guys. If you're good enough to play D1 basketball, these are the kind of games you want to play. The trip to The Bahamas is a cherry on top. The entire event will be played November 27-29 so free up your Thanksgiving calendar now. The other matchup on this side of the bracket is Michigan/Iowa State. The matchups in the bottom half of the bracket are Gonzaga/Southern Miss and Seton Hall/Oregon.

CBS Sports Jon Rothstein also tweeted on Thursday that Alabama will host the Richmond Spiders from the Atlantic-10 conference this season. The previous meeting between the schools was in 2017 in Tuscaloosa in the first round of the NIT. If you remember, the Spiders thoroughly outplayed Alabama in that game, winning 71-64. One of three first round NIT losses during Avery Johnson's tenure, but I digress. Unfortunately for Richmond, the two seasons since have been rough as the program has only won a total of 25 games in that span.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Schedule News: Alabama Adds Penn to Non-Conference Schedule

Following CBS' Jon Rothstein on Twitter can be a chore at times (those of you who follow his account know what I'm talking about), but I have to give the guy credit for being a constant source of college basketball news during the summer. Today, he reported that, via a source, Alabama will open the 2019-20 season hosting the Penn Quakers from the Ivy League. And yes, the Quaker Oats jokes came fast and furious.
The Quakers finished the 18-19 season with a 19-12 record, but no postseason. The program is preparing to enter its fifth season under Head Coach Steve Donahue, whom you may remember built Cornell into a strong mid-major (three straight NCAA Tournaments, including a Sweet 16 appearance). He guided the Quakers to an NCAA appearance in 17-18; and while they didn't make the postseason in 18-19, they did have quality wins over the likes of Miami, Villanova and Temple. I haven't studied their roster for the upcoming season so I have no idea how good they're expected to be. But given Penn's historical success in the Ivy League, combined with Donahue's leadership, I'm guessing they'll be picked to finish high in that league.

Without pulling up the schedules, I'm pretty sure this will be the first meeting between the two schools since they met in the 1995 NCAA Tournament. That was a great game, Alabama won 91-85. Antonio McDyess led the team with a 39 pt, 19 reb effort.

Here's what we know about the non-conference schedule so far:

Penn (season opener)
Battle 4 Atlantis (Gonzaga, North Carolina, Michigan, Iowa State, Oregon, Seton Hall and Southern Miss)
at Rhode Island
at Penn State
Stephen F. Austin
Belmont (Huntsville)

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Let's Go Crazy, Let's Get Nuts: SEC Picks in June

Hello again. Sure, the college basketball season is five months away (I promise not to weep). But now that NBA Draft and (most) transfer decisions have been made, I thought it would be fun to post my way-too-early SEC picks. I encourage anyone who reads this post to do the same in the comments section.

In recent years we've seen the SEC make improvements in basketball. That continued last season when the league sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament. Five of the seven teams won their first round games, and four of the seven made it to the second weekend. I'm sad to report that Auburn made the Final Four, the first in the school's history. If one measures success on NCAA Tournament results (and most fans do), the SEC had a very successful 2018-19 campaign. And yet the league still finished a distant fourth - behind the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC - in Ken Pomeroy's conference rankings.

With so much talent leaving the league for the NBA Draft, it will be difficult for the SEC to move into Pomeroy's top three rankings this season. The league likely won't be as top-heavy as it was last season (LSU, Kentucky and Tennessee finished a combined 46-8 in league play), but the league expectation of seven or eight teams in the tournament should remain. Let's get to the picks:

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Bama v. Belmont in 2019 Rocket City Classic

It was announced today that the Tide will take on the Belmont Bruins in Huntsville on December 21.  Attendance has been a bit down at the Huntsville games the past couple of years, but with this being a mid-major program that's had a lot of recent success, located just a little over an hour away in Nashville, and the game being on a Saturday, I expect there will be some renewed interest in the game this season.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Annual Season Re-cap and Off Season State of the Program Manifesto

I apologize for posting this much later than I normally do, but the day job has been taking up most of my time, and I wanted to wait and see how the roster moves would shake out.

Before we get into basketball, I want to Congratulate our Softball team on an amazing season!  They were a lot of fun to watch, and fought hard to the end before finally being eliminated in the semi-finals of the WCWS last night.  They were under-rated all year and badly under seeded in the tournament, but I expect they will be a national championship contender again next year.  Now, on to hoops.

2018-19 Season Re-Cap

It was another up and down season that ended with a first round NIT loss and the dismissal of Coach Avery Johnson.  There were some terrible losses including a blow out to Northeastern, and blowing huge leads at home to Georgia State and Texas A&M.  There was some hope after we upset Kentucky and played Tennessee to the wire on the road.  Unfortunately, another poor stretch in February left us on the wrong side of the bubble.  Mercifully, the season came to an end with a loss to 16 point underdog Norfolk State in the NIT.

Avery Johnson left the program in much better shape than he found it.  He recruited well and promoted the program, restoring a lot of fan interest.  In the end, he just couldn't adapt his coaching style to the college game. 

The Search and Nate Oats

Greg Byrne ran a very efficient and professional coaching search, unlike the unmitigated crap show Bill Battle put us through the last time we went through this process.  It is rumored that he wanted to hire Rick Pitino, but could not get approval from the Board of Trustees.  Byrne made it very clear in his first press conference that we would not be taking a chance on anybody with NCAA baggage.  He also warned us that agents will sometimes float names to try to generate interests for their clients.  I think we saw a bit of this with the Andy Kennedy, Kelvin Sampson, and even John Pelphrey rumors that were circulating.  I am very curious as to what happened with Thad Matta, as several fairly well respected writers were reporting he was going to be the man right up until the point that Coach Oats was officially announced.  Many have speculated that Matta doesn't really want to get back into coaching but needs to search for employment to maintain his buy out from Ohio State, but I'm not really buying that.  If anything, it seems to me Ohio State would have a stronger case for ceasing his payments if they can prove he is turning down opportunities like Bama and UGA.  I have a theory that we may have leaked that info to put some pressure on Coach Oats to make a quicker decision.  In any event, it doesn't really matter how we got here, the Nate Oats era has begun!

Coach Oats promises to bring an up tempo style with a focus on defense and three point shooting.  His four out offense led to back to back NCAA tournament appearances, including an upset of Arizona, and a top 25 ranking in Buffalo.  Originally from Michigan, where he was a successful high school coach, he has ties to both the Midwest and North East. 

As is the case with all up and coming coaches from mid-majors, the big questions will be: 1) Can he recruit at the level necessary to win in the SEC and 2) Can he adjust to the higher level of competition.  It's obviously way too early to make a determination, but the early returns have been mostly good. 

He convinced Kira and Petty stay, and also signed Coach Johnson's previous commits of Gary, Forbes, and Shackleford.  He's signed a couple of  PG transfers in James Bolden from West Virginia and former McDonald's All American Jahvon Quinerly from Villanova.  Unfortunately, we lost Trendon Watford to LSU, but signed a Juco small forward in James Rojas instead.  Coach Oats is also bringing his former Buffalo commit Raymond Hawkins, a 3 star center from NV.

Looking Ahead- Next year

One thing I like about Coach Oats is that he seems very forthcoming in his interviews.  There's not a lot of coach-speak or attempts to manage expectations.  He seems genuinely, pleasantly surprised with the talent already on the roster, and has openly stated that he expects to make the NCAA tournament in year one.  Any time there is a change in coaches and systems there will be an adjustment period, but if everyone buys in and the team can develop some chemistry, I think it could be an exciting year.  As I stated above, Coach Oats is inheriting a pretty talented roster that was only one spot out of the tournament last year.  A good first season would go along way toward legitimizing Coach Oats in the eyes of local prospects.  We will know fairly early in the season how good we can be, as a November trip to the Bahamas could see us matched up with the likes of Gonzaga, North Carolina, or Michigan.

Overall State of the Program

I'm going to be brutal here.  We've been mostly irrelevant for the better part of three decades now.  Anthony Grant, Avery Johnson, and the other failed coaches before them are not the problem.  They are a symptom of the problem.  We just hired a coach who was coaching high school basketball five years ago.  We may or may not eventually get around to renovating our antiquated arena.  Meanwhile other schools like Ole Miss and auburn (who just went to a final four, by the way) are playing in brand new facilities, and the rest of the conference has landed established, proven coaches.  If we are honestly ranking the SEC coaches based on what they've accomplished in the college game to date, we would probably be next to last (thank God for Vandy).  The reality is that mid-major coaches are much more likely to turn out like Stan Heath than Billy Donovan.  Regardless, even if he is successful, unless something changes at the top and our administration makes a commitment to the sport, the best case scenario is he that he does so well we lose him to a blue-blood and are back in the same position.

Meanwhile there is still a lot of uncertainty in the college basketball world with the FBI trials wrapping up.  The fact of the matter is that unless the NCAA decides they want to cook their golden goose, not much is going to happen to the likes of Bruce Pearl and Will Wade.  As long as Pearl is at auburn, Wade at LSU, Howland at $tate, and Penny in Memphis, it's going to be very difficult for us to recruit at the level necessary to compete. 

All of that said, there is still reason for hope and optimism.  Ronald Steele pointed out on this very blog a couple of years ago that our teams had a couple of major problems.  I'm paraphrasing because I'm too lazy to go back and find the exact quote, but basically he said 1. We don't have an identity.  Successful teams have a system and implement it well, and 2. Our players don't have the freedom to make plays.  Coach Oats teams certainly have an identity, always ranking near the top in tempo, defensive efficiency, and three point attempts.  His comments seem to indicate that he doesn't want anybody to be afraid to shoot.  I think this team is going to be fun to watch, and will have a chance to be successful.

The roster is set and we should have scheduling news soon.  Otherwise, enjoy the off-season.  November will be here soon enough.