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. 

My Two Cents: Alabama won't host a cupcake to open the season. In fact, there are few, if any, cupcakes on the non-conference schedule. The website, Blogging the Bracket, ranked the league members non-conference schedules and Alabama was ranked first. Playing quality mid-majors like Penn is a big reason why.

Penn enters the season as a contender for the Ivy League title. Head Coach Steve Donahue has done a great job of building this roster. The team returns two all-league players from last season, plus their leading scorer from two seasons ago that missed last season with a knee injury. While the team did miss the postseason a year ago (despite 19 wins), they did have some big wins against the likes of Miami, Villanova and Temple. They are an experienced, well-coached team that will travel to Tuscaloosa expecting to win. Penn was 217 at KenPom last season in adjusted tempo so, assuming they play at a similar tempo this season, the pace of this game will be something to monitor. 

Players to Watch: Jaden Shackelford had quite the debut vs Georgia Tech. The freshman guard was 6-10 from three en route to a 21-point outing. In order for this offense to click, Alabama is going to have to be a better shooting team than what we've seen in recent years. If Shackelford (among others) can consistently give this team a perimeter threat, watch out.

Senior AJ Brodeur enters the season as arguably the top returning player in the Ivy League. Last season he finished with averages of  17.6 pts, 8.3 rebs, 3.6 asts, 1.3 blks and 1 stl. 6'10 sophomore Michael Wang (8.5 pts, 3.6 rebs, 1.1 ast) may also be one to watch. These guys prefer to do most of their damage inside the three-point line, but they're quite comfortable stepping out and shooting from the perimeter. A big key to this game will be can the Penn bigs consistently defend Alabama's quicker lineup, particularly when they have to guard outside the paint? On the flip side, due to a glaring lack of size, can Alabama compete on the boards? Offensive rebounds will be key for Penn in controlling tempo because Alabama's goal is to get up and down the floor quickly when they rebound Penn's misses. If Penn can't make shots or rebound their misses efficiently, Alabama's speed and athleticism will be difficult to contain.

Prediction: Again, tempo will be key in this game. Penn would love nothing more than to make Alabama score in the half court for long stretches. Not that Alabama can't do that if necessary, but the style that Oats wants to play is dependant on scoring quickly before the opposing defense can be set, while also rebounding efficiently and forcing turnovers to create transition opportunities. As Nate Oats mentioned in his media session last week, making seventeen threes will cover up a lot of mistakes. If Penn is able to limit their mistakes, control tempo, and force Alabama to shoot over their defense, we as fans are likely going to be sweating this one out. However, I like what I've seen and heard from this team so far. Everyone seems to have brought in to the staff, and there seems to be a genuine excitement among the players to get started. For that reason, I don't expect them to come out flat on Tuesday night. Penn, being an experienced, well-coached team, will keep the pace in check enough to make the game competitive. Unfortunately for the Quakers, I think Alabama will be able to get out and run just enough to keep Penn at arms length.

Bama - 75 - Penn - 63

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