Bama returns for holiday hoops

Following a short break for the holidays, the Crimson Tide basketball team will return to action tonight at Coleman Coliseum for a game against the Pepperdine Waves of the West Coast Conference. The game will tip off at 8:00 C.T. and will be televised regionally by CSS and streamed live worldwide by ESPN3.

With just two non-conference games left, Bama is 6-6 on the season: undefeated at home but winless outside of Tuscaloosa. With the combination of our non-conference resume and the weakness of our upcoming SEC schedule, the Tide has no realistic hope of getting an invite to the Dance. However, closing the non-conference slate strong with wins at home over Pepperdine and Toledo could give our young rebuilding team some confidence and momentum heading into an SEC schedule that will present plenty of winnable games.

Pepperdine enters this game 3-9 against Division I competition. Their best result was a road win at Pacific, but their most recent game was probably their worst loss, at home to Cal Poly. The most interesting storyline for this game is the return of Waves head coach Tom Asbury to the Capstone, where he served as an assistant coach under Mark Gottfried from the 2004-2007 seasons. Asbury was an integral part of the staff that led Bama to the Elite Eight in 2004, the top of the SEC West in 2005, and the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2006. He is now in the third year of his tenure at Pepperdine, though he had a very successful six-year stint there in the early 90's.

Pepperdine's marquee player is junior guard Keion Bell, who averages 21.8 points and 3.9 assists per game. He is far and away the Waves' biggest threat, though he is known as a player who often tries to force things too much. He averages over four turnovers per game, but he also manages to draw heaps of fouls, averaging 9.8 free throw attempts each game.

The Waves' only other double-digit scorer is senior wing Mychel Thompson, who averages 13.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Like Bell, he is a very capable 3-point shooter. Both Bell and Thompson average two made treys per games, though both only shoot a shade over 30% from the arc. Another guard, junior Lorne Jackson, averages 9.7 points. No other player averages more than seven points.

The Waves offense relies heavily on Bell's creativity to spark things. He'll probably find ways to score and draw fouls, but as long as we key in on Thompson, Jackson and the other perimeter players we should be fine. Pepperdine is smack in the middle nationally in offensive efficiency, but Bama is 20th in the nation in defensive efficiency. The biggest key may be keeping our top players out of foul trouble, given Bell's ability to draw fouls.

Pepperdine's defense is their biggest weakness. They are in the bottom third of the nation in FG% defense and in committing fouls, and they are at the very bottom nationally in forcing turnovers. Without a tremendous amount of pressure and a penchant for fouling, the Waves defense should be susceptible to the Tide's athleticism if we attack the rim.

Pepperdine's strength is their rebounding. They don't have a player averaging more than 5.7 per contest, but they are in the top third nationally in rebounding efficiency. Don't expect this to be too much of a problem though with Green back and playing well and Mitchell and Hines both rebounding well lately.

The bottom line is that this is a game Bama should win. It's not an automatic win, mind you, as the Waves are a stronger team than some we have seen thus far at home and they have a player in Bell capable of blowing up offensively, but they are nevertheless a team we should be able to beat at home. Essentially, if we focus on defense and rebounding attack the rim on offense we should prevail, even with an off shooting night. Here's to that, and to us continuing to improve as we move closer to the start of SEC play.

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