Following the tough loss to Duke, the Crimson Tide will play the Drexel Dragons (3-2) in the third place game of the Preseason NIT. The Dragons are coming off of a similar loss to #4 Arizona, as both teams just missed a big opportunity to pull off the upset in New York.
First, I just wanted to post a view thoughts about the game Wednesday night. Obviously, missing out on a big opportunity is disappointing, but we can take some serious positives out of that game. Despite the Crimson Tide not playing its best, Alabama still hung around with one of the best teams in the country at a neutral site. That's impressive in its own right. Here are a few other impressions:
-If there was any doubt about Alabama's ability to defend under the new officiating enforcement, there isn't anymore. Despite the fact that plenty of Crimson Tide players picked up fouls (and yes, there were many questionable calls), your Crimson Tide just held one of the best offensive teams in the country to 74 points, almost 20 points under their usual output. Round of applause to Anthony Grant for putting together an aggressive defense that never really allowed Duke to pull away.
-Nick Jacobs really asserted himself against Duke, and man was that nice to watch. For the first time since JaMychal Green was wearing the Crimson and White, Alabama had a strong offensive post presence. Jacobs missed a few that he probably should have laid in easy, but overall he looked great. He moved well around the basket, showed some nice explosion on his first moves, and the lefty hook was looking sharp. Jacobs finished with 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks, all team highs.
-I'm really excited about our team as a whole. Every one of our players did something well for us Wednesday night, but there is still a lot to work on. Algie Key played very well for the most part, but he needs to limit those turnovers. That should improve as he continues to adjust to playing this level of competition. Retin Obasohan really struggled putting the ball in the basket, but he continued to play well in every other phase of the game. Off shooting nights are going to happen, I'm glad to see that he didn't let that affect other areas of his game. Trevor Releford also had an off night shooting from the field (although he went a perfect 7/7 from the free throw line), but I liked that Grant moved him off ball late in the game, that seemed to open the offense up a little bit with Releford and Obasohan struggling.
On to today's match up:
Drexel is another very good basketball team. The Dragons' two losses came against Top 25 competition, as they couple their 66-62 loss to #4 Arizona with a 72-67 road loss at #19 UCLA. The Dragons also upset Rutgers at their place in order to advance to Madison Square Garden, so this is a team that is very well tested early in the year. Drexel is nearly identical in both rebounding and assists to Alabama, so this should be a battle of similarly good teams. They are drastically different from Duke, as the Dragons offense shoots only 41.5%, but they do play very good defense.
Only seven players have played in all five games this season for Drexel, so this isn't a very deep team. They have six players who average over 20 minutes a game, and only two more average more than 10. The Dragons also have only five guys who do most of their scoring. In the backcourt, Drexel runs three guards, led by Senior Chris Fouch (19.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.8 APG), who is their main scorer. Fouch is shooting 40.5% from the field, and 84.6% from the free throw line. Another Senior G, Frank Massenat (13.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.8 APG) is their second leading scorer, but he only shoots 39% from the field, and an atrocious 50% from the free throw line. Two more veteran guards Damion Lee (13 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and 2.2 APG) and Tavon Allen (11.8 PPG) are both solid players; Allen does his damage off of the bench.
In the frontcourt, the Dragons have a pair of forwards that play the majority of the game, although Allen does play in the post some as well. Junior F Kazembe Abif (7 PPG, 8.8 RPG) and Senior F Dartaye Ruffin (3.2 PPG, 8 RPG) are two good, solid post players, who take on a large chunk of the team's rebounds. Ruffin doesn't seem to play much of a role on the offense; despite playing for nearly 30 minutes a game, Ruffin only averages 2 field goal attempts a game.
Other than the six players I just mentioned, the Dragons have a trio of freshmen who have combined for about 30 minutes a game as well. Forwards Mohamed Bah (2.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG) and Rodney Williams (1.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG) can both play good defense, and they provide some nice minutes off of the bench. Guard Major Canady doesn't play much, and doesn't really factor into the game plan right now.
What to Watch For
1. The Quick Turnaround. Alabama had a huge game with Duke that lasted until about 11:00 pm CST Wednesday night, and with only Thanksgiving Day in between, now has a game at 2:30 pm CST today. That means the team has to regain focus after a short holiday, and the lack of time in between means that the amount of preparation for Drexel will be limited. Alabama needs to get over that tough loss to Duke quickly, or else face the possibility of coming away from New York with a pair of losses.
2. Nick Jacobs. Jacobs had arguably his best performance in a Crimson Tide uniform on Wednesday, hopefully Jacobs will use that performance to emerge as that go to post player that we have so desperately needed. Jacobs has a solid match up with the few guys that Drexel will throw at him, so we will find out if he can sustain that success.
3. Damion Lee's Injury. I mentioned Lee earlier in the writing, but he suffered a leg injury during the game Wednesday against Arizona, and he will miss this game. That's a tough blow to Drexel, as they are already a pretty thin team. Expect to see more of the freshmen guards, as well as a lot more of Tavon Allen.
Three Keys to Victory
1. Win the Turnover Battle. Both of these teams play very good defense, but Alabama does create turnovers at a much larger rate than Drexel. However, Alabama has also had some problems this year turning over the ball themselves, and that really haunted the Tide versus Duke. If Alabama can win the turnover battle, I feel pretty confident that this game will go in our favor.
2. Win the Foul Battle. Alabama has had some issues with foul trouble this year, which was really to be expected given the new officiating. Releford has been severely limited in both of the Crimson Tide's losses. That needs to change. Our team is going to pick up fouls, that's just the nature of our defense. But they need to become more conscious about when they are approaching foul trouble. Because Drexel is so short on depth, getting their players in foul trouble themselves will give Alabama a huge advantage. However, considering how bad Massenat, Allen, Abif, and Ruffin are at the free throw line, it might actually be in Alabama's favor to send these guys to the line, as opposed to giving them open looks from the field.
3. Look for Good Shots. Drexel's main strength this year has been forcing their opponents to take bad shots. Alabama needs to be patient and only take high percentage shots. If the Tide is efficient with their scoring opportunities, I'm really not too concerned about this game.
Drexel looks to be a good, solid mid-major opponent, who might actually be good enough to make the NCAA Tournament in March given thier early season performances. But with that being said, Alabama is the better, more athletic, deeper team. As long as the Tide can take care of the basketball and make their shots count, I'm not overly worried about this game. A win here would put Alabama at 4-2 with a trio of solid wins, and a pair of losses to one of the country's best, as well as another likely tournament team. Not a bad start for Anthony Grant's squad. The game tips off at 2:30 pm CST and will be televised by ESPN2.