Alabama sports has really taken a tough turn recently, and that slide continued last Saturday when Anthony Grant's squad took a hit in the form of a loss to the USF Bulls. We did some good things on both sides of the ball, and there were a few positives to take away from the game. But at some point Alabama has to quit losing these games. There is just nothing else to say. I understand playing on the road against a solid team is never an easy game, but something has to change within our team's mindset. USF bullied us for the majority of the game. Retin Obasohan and Trevor Releford continued to shine (though they both had too many turnovers), but the rest of our team was just beat at the point of attack way too many times. Chris Perry looked like the savvy veteran on the court that night, not Nick Jacobs.
Moving forward, Alabama is set to host Charleston Southern (3-4) Saturday night. The Buccaneers aren't a fantastic basketball team, but like USF, they certainly aren't someone to take lightly. They average 82 PPG, good enough for 40th in the country, though they do average that mostly because of their large amount of shots per game. They are very good at shooting three pointers, which inflates their points per possession. However, this team is also terrible on defense. Their Defensive Rating (according to sports-reference.com) is 290th in the country. They are not very athletic, they don't force many turnovers, and teams generally just do whatever they please against them. But this is a team that almost beat #14 Baylor on their own court. They don't turn the ball over, and they take (and make) a bunch of three pointers.
The Buccaneers have a very experienced team, and they generally run 9 deep. They are led by their small Junior PG Saah Nimley (15.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.2 SPG), who despite being only 5'8, makes up for it with his raw basketball ability and his tenacity. Nimley shoots 40% from the 3 point line, and almost 89% from the free throw line. Alongside him in the backcourt is a trio of upperclassmen. Junior G Arlon Harper (12.3 PPG, 4.5, RPG, 2.3 APG, 2 SPG) is the best at generating turnovers with his length, and he also has a really good free throw percentage (87%). Senior G Matt Kennedy (12 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.7 APG) is a pure scorer for Charleston Southern. Kennedy shoots 51%, including a 47.1% 3 point percentage. He can really stretch the floor with his long range, but he isn't afraid to drive to the basket either. Finally, Senior G Sheldon Strickland (11.2 PPG, 1.7 RPG, and 1.7 APG) provides the Bucs with their best threat from long range. Strickland's role is strictly to stretch the defense and knock down three pointers, as he shoots 53% from beyond the arc, a very impressive stat. As I said earlier, these guys love to knock down threes.
In the frontcourt, Charleston Southern rotates five guys in pretty frequently. Junior F Will Saunders (11.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG) is the best of the group. At 6'7, Saunders really causes a pain because of (surprise!) his ability to shoot from long range. He shoots 47% from three, and he seems to play more away from the basket. 6'5 Junior F Cedric Bowen (7.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.8 PG), despite his size, is more of a traditional post player. He is very athletic, and provides the Bucs with their best defensive option. His limited size prevents him from making much of an impact scoring wise, but he gets his points. Junior F Paul Gombwer (5.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG) provides a solid role on the team, as he gets plenty of minutes, but he isn't one of their best players. Senior C Allie Fullah (5.2 PPG, 4 RPG, 0.8 BPG) stands at 6'8, so he isn't extremely overpowering in his size. Finally, Sophomore F Malcolm Bernard (1.8 PPG, 3 RPG) gets about 10 minutes per game, and is really just a role player off of the bench. He isn't much of a factor on the offensive side.
What to Watch For
1. Shannon Hale. Hale is a very exciting prospect for Alabama. Despite only getting a minute of play against USF, Hale hit a key 3 pointer that put Alabama within striking distance of USF with only seconds left, and then almost hit the game winning buzzer beater. He also grabbed a pair of rebounds in that minute of time. At 6'8, Hale gives Alabama the rare combination of size and shooting that can drive defenses nuts. He hasn't seen a ton of time early in the season, he is still developing, but he has the potential to help Alabama stretch the floor offensively, and we sure could use it. He has made three of his last four 3 pointers, and here's hoping that he will continue to get adjusted to Anthony Grant's schemes, as that seems to be the only thing deterring him from more playing time. He's averaged 15 minutes in our last two home games, so maybe he will get more opportunities in the comfort of the home court.
2. Rodney Cooper. Usually this space is used to highlight an individual player's positives, but this is not the case here. Coop, where have you gone bud? Cooper has been struggling to put the ball in the basket all season (a disappointing 29.6% from the floor), but he hasn't been producing in other areas recently either. I don't know if that is a product of his frustration with his shooting performance, but he is a good basketball player, and we need him to shake that off.
3. Diminishing Ugly Loss Opportunities. While the USF loss wasn't ideal, it isn't the type of resume killing loss like we have had in recent years. With the strong non conference schedule that Anthony Grant put together this year, Alabama has only two more possible resume killing losses before conference play, tonight against Charleston Southern and January 4th against Robert Morris. Bama just needs to take care of business in these two games, steal one of Wichita State, Xavier, and UCLA, and I think that the Tide is sitting in decent position headed into conference play.
3 Keys to Victory
1. Shutting Down the 3 Pointer. Charleston Southern can shoot the lights out from downtown, it is the main reason why they average 82 PPG. The Buccaneers shoot 41.6% from beyond the arc, 19th best in the country. Alabama has done a tremendous job (as always) at shutting down the three pointer. The Crimson Tide limit their opponents to just 27.4% from three, 27th in the country. If Charleston Southern is going to win this game, they will have to be successful from the 3 point line, hopefully Alabama can continue to have success in this area.
2. Win the Turnover Battle. Charleston Southern is kind of the antithesis of Alabama when it comes to turnovers. Alabama has had trouble taking care of the basketball this year, but generally makes up for it because of our ability to create turnovers on the defensive side. The Buccaneers are very careful with the basketball (10th best in the country), but they don't generate any turnovers at all (326th in the country). Win the turnover battle, and I'm not concerned (provided the Bucs aren't lighting it up from beyond the arc).
3. Keep T Relly out of Foul Trouble. Trevor Releford is way too important to our team for him to keep dealing with foul trouble. Releford has had 4 or 5 fouls in 3 of Alabama's 4 losses. The Tide got three different looks at the end of the USF game to either tie or take the lead, and Releford wasn't able to take any of them because he fouled out. We need him on the court as much as possible, plain and simple.
Alabama just needs to take care of business in this one. Tip-off is set at 7:30 pm CST, but the game won't be televised. You can watch it live stream online at www.rolltide.com or you can tune in on the radio. Or you can go to the game, specifically if you are in town for graduation already.