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.  

My Two Cents: My gut feeling about Bama's winning chances at Rhode Island turned into nausea by halftime of the game. It was as bad a first half as you can imagine. Alabama turned the ball over at will (thirteen turnovers in the first half; twenty-two for the game), shot poorly (38.8%; 0-10 from three; 55.5% from the foul line) and was atrocious on defense as DJC wrote about in detail in his recap (read it if you haven't already). Rhode Island scored 33 points off turnovers for the game, 38 points in the paint, and in the first half alone shot 56% from the field and 45% from three. For the game, Rhode Island went to the foul line twenty-six times, making twenty-one (80.8%). The Rams were faster, quicker, tougher and more energetic than our guys (if I had a nickel for every time I wrote that...). As I wrote in the last preview, Nate Oats has injected some toughness and enthusiasm into the program, but Friday night was a sobering reminder of the work left to do in changing the culture of this beleaguered program.

Furman enters this game 4-0. While the competition in those four games is questionable (Gardner Webb, Loyola Chicago, Charleston Southern and Southern Wesleyan), the Paladins average margin of victory has been 24 points. They have four guys averaging double-figures, and a fifth currently at 9.5 pts per game. They've also been efficient on both ends of the floor, currently ranked in the top 100 at KenPom in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The average possession length of their opponents has been 18.3 seconds, which our guys will obviously want to challenge. They're in the top 25 in effective field goal pct (59.1%), top 50 in turnover pct (15.6%), second in the country in 2-pt% (64.7%) and top 50 in free throw pct (77.4%).

On the defensive end, the Paladins currently rank 22 in opponent turnover pct (uh oh), 51 in steal pct (12.2%) and 39 in non-steal turnover pct (again, uh on). These numbers should be distressing for Alabama fans as our guys are currently turning it over 22.9% per 100 possessions, which ranks them 278 at KenPom. Turnovers will be the key stat. Also key for Alabama is limiting points in the paint. In both losses, Bama's opponents scored a combined 80 points in the paint. 53.2% of Furman's point distribution entering this game is 2-point shots, and they're only making 34.2% from three. Both of their starting forwards (at 6'7 and 6'8, they don't have a true center) are leading the team in scoring so it's obvious they want to get shots in the paint. If Alabama continues to struggle defending the rim and guarding the ball on the perimeter, it's going to be another long night. DJC mentioned in his recap that Nate Oats should consider mixing in some zone to help the team on the defensive end, and I agree. Nate Oats doesn't like playing zone, but I've seen no indication that this group of players will consistently keep the ball-handler in front of them. With the shooting not exactly scorching right now, you've got to make some adjustments on defense to give yourself a chance.

Players to Watch: I try to focus on a different player each time I write this portion of the preview, but let's take a moment to appreciate Kira Lewis. He's been awesome so far. He's averaging 22.3 pts (51% FG; 38.9% from 3; 76.9% FT), 6.3 rebs, 5.6 asts and 2 stls per game. If he continues to play at this level it will be difficult to keep him off one of the All-SEC teams, regardless of how the season turns out for Alabama.

Furman doesn't have much size, but that hasn't prevented them from running offense through their front line of Clay Mounce (6'7, 205), Noah Gurley (6'8, 210) and Jalen Slawson (6'7, 210). The three combined are averaging 40.5 pts, 18.1 rebs, 5.3 asts, 4.9 stls, and 2.9 blks. The Paladins will be quite content to slow the tempo (ranked 256 in adjusted tempo) and force Alabama to guard these three successfully in the paint. And the Furman starting backcourt is pretty good as well. This is a legit team in the Southern Conference this season that is certainly good enough to come into Tuscaloosa and win.

Prediction: It's too early in the season to consider any game a must-win, but a tough schedule has produced some tough results through three games. The last thing Alabama wants is to be 1-3 heading into a matchup with North Carolina in the Bahamas. I hope we see a sense of urgency in this team in the same manner they showed in the FAU game. I haven't been able to wrap my head around this team so far, which has made predictions tough. There are a lot of issues with this Alabama team right now, but I do think the mindset to play hard, get better, buy in to the coaching staff and the philosophy is there so I believe (hope) they'll get better as the season progresses. I don't have a strong feeling anyway about this game so I'll stick with the good guys.

Bama - 84  Furman - 78   

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