Alabama will be returning home today for the start of a three-game homestand that will conclude the Tide's non-conference schedule. The game against Mercer will tip off at 1:00pm CT, with the game being televised regionally on CSS and streamed elsewhere on ESPN3.
Alabama, at 7-3, has accumulated a solid but not spectacular record through its first ten games, but none of those seven wins came against NCAA Tournament-level opponents and only two came against top-100 teams. Further, a home loss to a Dayton team that is probably NIT-caliber at best and an SEC schedule that will bring only three guaranteed games against NCAA Tournament locks means that Alabama can ill-afford a slip-up in any of its three upcoming home non-conference games.
While Mercer is no juggernaut, they are also no pushover. Already this season they have gone into Tallahassee and upset Florida State, and they have been quite competitive in their other two games against major-conference opposition, losing by single digits to both Wake Forest and Georgia. However they also lost to both Illinois-Chicago and Denver by double-digits, and aside from the Florida State upset, none of their other five wins have come against teams ranked higher than 300th in the Pomeroy ratings. In other words, Mercer has done enough to prove they can play with the big boys and pull off a big upset against a big team, but they aren't a threat to do so consistently. Alabama will have to be wary of an upset, but will also be a healthy favorite.
Like their season results thus far, Mercer's statistical profile ranges from the good to the bad. On the good side, their defense has proven quite stingy. They held both Florida State and Georgia to under 60 points, and they rank 77th nationally in defensive efficiency according to the Pomeroy ratings. Their biggest strength on defense has been in creating turnovers, something that was a big issue for Alabama's offense in its last two games against VCU and Texas Tech. Don't be surprised at all if Alabama's offense struggles against the Mercer defense, especially if the Tide can't protect the ball better than it did its last two games.
Mercer hasn't been nearly as good on the other end of the floor, though. They average less than 60 points per game and rank 259th nationally in offensive efficiency according to the Pomeroy ratings. They haven't been very good at much of anything offensively, though they are shooting a high percentage from the free throw line. With the strength of each team's defense, the year-long offensive struggles of Mercer, and the recent offensive struggles for Alabama, don't be surprised if this game is very low-scoring and at times ugly from an offensive perspective.
From an individual standpoint, the most interesting aspect for Mercer is that they lack a single player who averages double-digits in scoring, as their leading scorer, senior guard Travis Smith, averages just 9.9 points per game. The Bears also don't have a single player who averages more than four rebounds per game, making them one of the most balanced teams you'll ever see. Part of that balance comes from their depth, as they have twelve players who play each game with none playing more than 27 minutes per contest.
As will be the case in each of the three upcoming home non-conference games, Alabama will be facing an opponent that it should beat, but one with just enough firepower to pull off an upset if the Tide turns in another terrible performance, as was the case in both the Dayton and VCU games, as well as the latter stages of the Texas Tech game. It bears repeating: Alabama can actually put itself on decent footing after its non-conference schedule wraps up if this homestand goes well, but the Tide's resume and schedule this year leave very little room for error, and so it is imperative that Bama take care of business at home against weaker teams like Mercer. Hope for the best.