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.

My Two Cents: It's a cliche, but these are the types of games you want to be a part of if you're a college basketball player. Win or lose, the opportunity to play against the best programs in the country is something to be embraced. While the game went the way we thought it would, the chance for Alabama to play Duke in Madison Square Garden back in 2013 was exciting. Even more so I'd bet for the fans that attended that game. While having the Tarheels in Coleman would be even better, having a chance to play them on any floor is something to look forward to.

That said, Alabama's going to have to play a heck of a lot better if they're going to keep this one close. Despite the team putting forth a great defensive effort in their last game (Furman shot 30.9% from the field, only had 16 points in the paint, and only 2 fast break points), and shooting the ball well from the field (50.9%) and foul line (74.1%), turnovers were still a major issue. Alabama finished with 21 turnovers for the game, 13 of those in the first half. Fortunately for our guys, Furman only converted those turnovers into 14 points. Do that against Carolina and this game will get ugly quick.

Alabama's turnover percentage on both ends has been fugly to say the least. They currently rank 306 in offensive turnover pct, and 324 in defensive turnover pct. That simply has to improve if this team wants to have any chance of competing in March. North Carolina's defensive turnover pct is ranked 341 so if our guys can play with some measure of control as they did in the final thirty minutes of the Furman game, they should be able to keep the turnover numbers low and give themselves a chance.

As you would expect of a top ten team, the Tarheels have been efficient on both ends of the floor, currently ranking 11th in offensive efficiency and 13th in defensive efficiency. The key stat in this one could prove to be the rebounding numbers. Despite a lack of size, our guys have been an effective rebounding team so far, currently ranked 88 in offensive rebounding pct and 50 in defensive rebounding pct. North Carolina's rebounding efficiency numbers are considerably higher (15th offensively; 2nd defensively). Alabama doesn't have to win the rebounding stat, but they must be competitive. Do that, limit the turnovers, get some fast break opportunities, and play more controlled half court offense, and our guys will have a chance. That's all......

Players to Watch: Herb Jones was limited early by an elbow injury, but has played well in the last two games. Like the rest of the team, Herb needs to limit his turnovers (3.7 per game), but he remains a high-level defender. He also appears much more confident on the offensive end and has certainly been better at the foul line so far (currently shooting 75%). Nate Oats mentioned that Kira (currently averaging 38 minutes) needs more breaks, particularly since the team will be playing three games in three days in this tournament. This means Herb will likely be tasked with running the team for stretches. In that role, the team will need a strong performance from him on both ends if they want to notch the upset.

Cole Anthony is good. I mean, he's really, really good. Most likely a top ten pick in the NBA Draft come June, Anthony is making the most of his one season in college. He's averaging 22.8 pts, 8 rebs, 4.5 asts, 1.8 stls and 0.8 blks. Obviously, UNC has no shortage of good players, but it does seem that if you're going to beat them, limiting Anthony's impact on the game is essential.

Prediction: I'll keep this short: I don't think Alabama is going to win this game. My hope is they are healthier, have cleaned up some of the issues we've discussed, and play hard and focused basketball for forty minutes, win or lose. What Alabama accomplishes on day two and three may ultimately prove to be more important to their season than what happens on day one.

UNC - 83  Bama - 68

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