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!