With three home wins under the belt, the Alabama Crimson Tide (3-0) will take their undefeated record to Kansas City this week as they participate in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. The team Alabama will face in the semifinals is the #14 Iowa State Cyclones (2-0). The Cyclones are coming off of one of the most successful seasons in their history, as Fred Hoiberg's bunch won 28 games and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, before getting knocked out by the eventual National Champions. Hoiberg has built a winning program, as the Cyclones have made the NCAA Tournament each of the last three seasons, and they have no plans of ending that streak this year.
However, Iowa State played an extremely short bench last year, and they lost their best two players in DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim. With another short bench again this year (and with impact post player Jameel McKay not eligible until December), Alabama is in a position to pull off an early season upset in the Midwest. Southern Miss gave Alabama a great warm-up for the Cyclones, as the make-up of the two teams is very similar, with Iowa State obviously holding a large edge in overall ability.
- PG Monte Morris (16.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 6.0 APG)
- SG Naz Long (13.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- 3G Bryce Dejean-Jones (17.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.0 BPG)
- SF Georges Niang (20.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- PF Dustin Hogue (15.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.0 APG)
Here is the thing about Iowa State: they have one of the best starting five's in the country. Dejean-Jones and Niang are both going to contend for All-Big 12 spots, and Niang could end up being Player of the Year in the conference. Niang is a stud. 20 PPG and 10 RPG is a ridiculous stat, regardless of how early it is in the season. If he has one weakness, it's that he isn't a great long range shooter (28.6% 3P%). He is a great free throw shooter however (87.5%), and he plays mostly inside of the arc anyway. Dejean-Jones transferred from UNLV and has picked up right where he left off, as a playmaker. 17.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG, and 5.5 APG is an unreal stat line as well. The guy just makes plays offensively. As a defense, you kind of just have to assume that these two are going to get theirs.
Another thing about the Cyclones: it isn't all Niang and Dejean-Jones. Every single starter averages double-digit scoring, with Long only scoring 13.5 PPG to bring up the rear. Morris is an all-around point guard, capable of dishing it or taking it himself (64.7% FG%, 66.7% 3P%). Hogue has to play the big-man in the post role, despite only being 6'6, but he does a good job of banging in the post. Hoiberg's system doesn't bother with all that traditional post-play nonsense anyway.
- F Daniel Edozie (2.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 1.0 APG)
- G Sherron Dorsey-Walker (2.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG)
- G Clayton Custer (Has 1 steal this year)
- G Kourtlin Jackson (Missed a shot once)
- C Georgios Tsalmpouris (Has 1 rebound this year)
This is why Alabama has a chance against the Cyclones. None of the above information is incorrect. Iowa State has two guys who play a significant amount off of the bench, and even that is putting it generously. Tsalmpouris is a 7-footer, so maybe he will make an impact at some point, but this is one of the most shallow benches I have ever seen from a ranked basketball team. At a certain point you do have to wonder if the starters' stats are a bit inflated. Alabama will find out one way or another Monday night.
What to Watch For
- Points! Another game, another 80+ point showing for Alabama against Southern Miss. This year's team is clearly not your normal Anthony Grant-coached Alabama basketball team. On the opposite end, Iowa State has had one of the best offenses in the country over the years, ranking 6th in Ken Pomeroy's offensive efficiency rankings each of the last two seasons. That won't change much this year. Hoiberg has a system, one that emphasizes up-tempo movement and making plays in space by spreading out the defense. It has been a well-oiled machine for him in his career, especially with guys like Dejean-Jones and Niang running it.
- Who Steps Up? With the opening three homes game in the rear-view mirror, Alabama will be going into its first true test of the season when the team hits the court Monday night. Grant has mixed-and-matched a lot of different players in a lot of different roles. This will be the game for him to see who really is going to step it up this season. Can Levi Randolph continue his outstanding play when going up against a quality opponent? Will Ricky Tarrant continue to emerge? Can Shannon Hale provide an offensive burst consistently for a team that needs a strong inside-out player? It's time to figure all of that out.
- Road Woes. Alabama has looked like a completely different team thus far this season. However, the Tide has yet to play a game away from home, and if you remember last season, you know that Alabama failed to win a single game away from Coleman Coliseum. If Alabama has truly changed for the better, they will have to play much better on the road.
Three Keys to Victory
- Wear Them Down. As mentioned earlier, Iowa State has an incredibly shallow bench. However, they run an extremely up-tempo type of basketball. Therefore, getting into a track meet with the Cyclones might be a good idea. Normally, playing to the other team's preference is a bad plan of action, but Alabama has the ability this year to run with Iowa State. The key difference is that Alabama goes ten deep with guys who can play. Randolph, Tarrant, Justin Coleman, Retin Obasohan, Riley Norris, Rodney Cooper, and Shannon Hale are all great transition basketball players. That's a lot more depth than the Cyclones can throw at the Tide. Either the five guys they refuse to sub out will get tired, or the bench players will be forced into significant action.
- Draw Fouls. Another way to attack a team short on depth: draw contact. Draw contact over and over again. The Tide has quite a few players who have shown a strong ability to drive to the lane and score. Alabama needs to get Iowa State in foul trouble. It won't matter how talented or how much stamina the Cyclones' starters have if they are sitting on the bench watching guys like Custer or Jackson thrown into action.
- Defensive Positioning. Iowa State's offense is predicated on creating space and making good passes. If Alabama is going to try and tire them out by running with them offensively, as I think they should, they won't be able to drop back into a halfcourt defense much. The Cyclones will come right back down the court. Therefore, the Tide needs to be in position, which the team has struggled with a decent amount so far this year. The team needs to be committed to immediately dropping back to the defensive side of the court and getting their hands up. Iowa State loves to play against lazy defenses that allow open passing lanes, so Alabama needs to be very active with their hands.
This will be Alabama's first big game of the season, as well as their first game away from Tuscaloosa. It is an incredible opportunity to get a big time win that will look good on the tournament resume and also put the rest of the SEC on notice. Last year's team would have folded under the circumstances. Monday night is Alabama's opportunity to show that last season is truly in the past.
The game tips-off at 8:30 PM CST and will televised on ESPN2.