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