With the blow-out win over Towson now in the rear view mirror, the Crimson Tide (1-0) look to capitalize off some early season momentum with a match-up with the Western Carolina Catamounts (0-1). Yes, that's right, Alabama will face Western Carolina in both football and basketball this week, because there is clearly some sort of connection between the two athletic departments. Neither version of the Catamounts should give Alabama too much trouble, but the basketball team is definitely a tougher test than their football team. In the only action of the year for Western Carolina, the Cats hung with Mississippi State for a large majority of the game before Gavin Ware put the Bulldogs on his back and led them to victory.
For this game, I have had to combine the Opponent Preview with the Breakdown because of a mix of circumstances. Real life, the quick turn-around time between games, and the fact that I was out of town (in Tuscaloosa) all weekend created a tough combination for me, so apologies for my brevity in this post.
- PG Mike Brown (11.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.0 APG)
- SG Rhett Harrelson (14.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.0 SPG)
- SF James Sinclair (20.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 2.0 SPG)
- PF Torrion Brummitt (6.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.0 APG)
- C Tucker Thompson (0.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 2.0 APG)
The Cats heavily depended on their three starters in the backcourt against Mississippi State, especially on the offensive end. Sinclair was huge in that game, going 7/14 from the field, including 3/6 from three-point land. He is their go-to from the wing offensively. Brown and Harrelson both had pretty big games themselves scoring-wise, as they both went for double digits. This team clearly didn't rebound well, as the starters combined for just eleven rebounds, four of which came from the point guard Brown. Thompson, in fact, only logged eleven minutes of play, depsite not being in much foul trouble.
- F Justin Browning (5.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.0 BPG)
- F Kenny Hall (0.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG)
- G Devin Peterson (No stats from the game)
- F Charlendez Brooks (Had one assist)
- F Ashley Williams (No stats)
Western Carolina is clearly not a deep basketball team, either. Only ten scholarship players are listed, and three of them (Peterson, Brooks, and Williams) barely logged any playing time in the game against the Bulldogs. Browning and Hall are clearly pretty solid options off of the bench, as they were tied for the lead in rebounds for the Cats, and both came away with quite a few plays defensively. However, whenever your bench combines for five total points in a game, you are in trouble.
What To Watch For
- Kessens' Injury. Ricky Tarrant and Retin Obasohan both played in the home-opener, though it was pretty clear that both are still working their way up to game-speed. Michael Kessens, on the other hand, did not play. As of right now, he is still listed as "questionable" for tonight's game. The Tide will have a new look when Kessens returns to the post, so hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.
- Norris and Coleman's Emergence. True freshmen Riley Norris and Justin Coleman both played very well in their collegiate debuts on Friday night. Norris went for 10 points and 5 rebounds, and Coleman was all over the place: 9 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals. Coleman is electrifying, which he almost has to be, considering his size. Norris looks like he could really blossom into a special offensive player, but I was almost as impressed with his defensive ability, which I thought might be a liability of his.
- Levi and Coop. Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper both looked the part of senior leaders against Towson. The duo combined for 30 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists, 6 steals and 2 blocks in the opener. If these two guys continue to play at a level close to what they did against Towson, look out.
Three Keys to Victory
- Take it to the Lane. Western Carolina has a small team, in both size and numbers. Alabama has a very athletic team with multiple guys who can take it to the hoop. Make a move, get to the basket, draw fouls. That's a very simple, yet effective game-plan against this kind of team. At best, Alabama can take advantage of the smaller frames of the Catamount players. At worst, the Tide will get to the free throw line and put Western Carolina in a tough position, foul-wise.
- Free Throws and Turnovers. I mentioned this in the last preview, but early season tilts seem to favor the teams that knock down free throws and win the turnover margin even more than they would normally. This is because teams are still getting used to playing together and playing full-speed basketball.
- Make it Hale. Shannon Hale is a mismatch against a lot of different opponents. His 6'8 size combined with his offensive ability is a tough match-up for anyone. This is especially so when the other team has little height and athleticism. Western Carolina has no one who can match-up with Hale. Let's get the guy going with plenty of looks.
After a blow-out win against Towson where the Crimson Tide dominated every phase of the game, Anthony Grant later stated that, "this is a different team," and he really might be on to something. If that is the case, Alabama should win this game comfortably. At the very least, it will be a good barometer for the Tide because this Western Carolina team gave Mississippi State a decent battle on Friday night.
The game tips-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised by the SEC Network, and not that terrible SEC Network+ channel, but the actual SEC Network.