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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Arizona State

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After a tough loss to #13 Iowa State, Alabama looks to leave Kansas City with a win

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide (3-1) played valiantly but fell just short of pullling off the upset against the #13 Iowa State Cyclones (3-0) last night. Now, the team must quickly turn around and play another quality opponent in the Arizona State Sun Devils (3-1), who lost to Maryland 78-73 in their semifinal match-up. The Sun Devils are another team that made it to the NCAA Tournament last season, so this is yet another opportunity for Alabama to get a big win away from Tuscaloosa. It would be an immense gain for this team's resume and confidence.

Arizona State has looked to a few new faces this year to try and make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Sun Devils have been a lot more stagnant offensively this season, but the defense has played very well in their first four games. It will be interesting to see how Alabama approaches this game fresh off of an up-tempo shootout with Iowa State.

Starting Five

  • PG Tra Holder (3.0 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 2.3 APG)
  • SG Gerry Blakes (5.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.7 APG)
  • SF Shaquielle McKissic (10.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • PF Jonathan Gilling (9.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.7 APG)
  • C Eric Jacobsen (9.3 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 3.0 BPG)

As a caveat, I should mention that the per game stats have not been updated through last night's game with Maryland. Much of the stats from that game look similar, with the exception of Gilling going nuts from three (7/10) for 21 points and back-up G Bo Barnes going 5/7 from three as well. Much of the Sun Devils' struggles have come from the growing pains of starting true freshman Holder at the point. He just hasn't been able to get much going (36.4% FG%, 50.0% FT%), and he has been a turnover machine (3.0 TOPG). Blakes, a Juco transfer, has been solid off-guard, but he hasn't made a huge impact offensively either (33.3% FG%, 22.2% 3P%). McKissic has been a very efficient offensive option from the field (55.6% FG%, 45.5% 3P%), but has struggled to knock down his free throws when he draws contact (60.0%). Despite his efficiency, he hasn't been very assertive as a player. He averages only six shots a game and his mediocre rebounding numbers hint that he doesn't crash the boards with much authority.

The Sun Devils have gotten the most out of their team in the post, with Gilling and Jacobsen leading the way. The aforementioned Gilling is the one sharp-shooter in the starting lineup. Before yesterday's game, Gilling was shooting 58.8% from the field, 53.8% from three, and was perfect from the free throw line on the year. Yesterday's performance only emphasizes that this is the one guy Alabama can't let get into a rhythm. His 6'7 size makes that match-up tough, as he is a strong inside-out player. Jacobsen is a true post player, letting his 6'10 frame do the damage. Averaging nearly a double-double a game and swatting three shots a game is some fine post play.

The Bench

  • G Bo Barnes (6.3 PPG, 1.7 APG)
  • F Willie Atwood (5.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • G Chance Murray (6.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.7 APG)
  • G Roosevelt Scott (6.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 2.0 SPG)
  • G Kodi Justice (4.0 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 0.7 APG)

The Sun Devils like to go to their bench to spread minutes around and keep their guys fresh. It's one of the reasons why they have played strong defense all year. However, much like the starters, there isn't much offensive firepower here. Barnes is definitely a scorer off of the bench (46.7% FG%, 50.0% 3P%), but he doesn't do much else besides that role. Atwood, Murray, and Jones have all been relied on pretty heavily to come in and help relieve the starters. Atwood uses his 6'8 frame to bang in the post for rebounds and play solid defense. Murray is a solid guard with decent skills, and Scott has been dynamite as a defender for the Sun Devils (2.0 SPG, 55.4 defensive rating). Justice has played well in the little amount of time that they have gone to him.

What To Watch For

  • Composure. It's tough to turn around after a close loss to a really good team and play at a high level again. It's just part of human nature. Alabama had a late tussle with Iowa State last night, and now must play another quality team tonight. To make matters tougher, the Sun Devils are a completely different style of team. Flash back a year ago this week. Alabama played Duke in a bit of a shootout in New York and hung tough most of the night. The next day, Alabama played a dud of a game against Drexel. Hopefully, this Tide team can move on from yesterday's loss better than last year's team.
  • Who's Up Next? Rodney Cooper was the man last night for Alabama, dropping 27 points on 10/17 shooting. Alabama has seen a revolving door of different players taking over offensively at different times, which is a promising development. However, will the door continue to keep revolving? Or will someone start playing at a consistently great level?

Three Keys To Victory

  1. Free Throws. The most predictable of all keys, right? Arizona State came into last night's game shooting a poor 63.2% from the line, and went 9/14 (64.3%) against Maryland. They also foul a lot too, as they have committed 77 fouls in only four games, one of the worst marks in the country. Alabama has been really good at knocking down their free throws thus far this season (79.3%), led by Levi Randolph's still perfect mark of 25/25. The Tide has also fouled quite a bit this year, as the team has been slow to react defensively. There could be a lot of free throws in this one, let's hope the season-long trends prevail.
  2. Get Aggressive. Being aggressive does not mean foul a whole bunch. Instead, it means that Alabama needs to take advantage of this Arizona State offense and get after them. The Sun Devils have had all kinds of issues holding on to the basketball this year. Part of that is the true freshman Holder's 3.0 TOPG, but the rest of the team hasn't done much better. Going into the game last night, Arizona State ranked 316th in the country in turnovers, turning the ball over on more than a quarter(!!!) of their possessions. This could be a huge advantage in favor of the Tide.
  3. Post Play. Gilling and Jacobsen are the keys to this Sun Devil team. Shannon Hale, Riley Norris, and Cooper better be all over Gilling, as he is the one guy who can really create serious problems for opposing teams. Also, Jimmie Taylor will have met his match in Jacobsen, and how well Taylor plays will be a decisive factor. He's moved around off-ball so much better than he did a year ago, and that could be huge tonight. With Jacobsen swatting as many shots as he does, Taylor needs to either a) draw Jacobsen away from the lane or b) cut behind him for the easy look. Furthermore, Arizona State doesn't rebound well, so Alabama could really take advantage of that.

Tonight is a crucial bounce-back game for Alabama. Anthony Grant's team definitely doesn't want to come away from Kansas City empty-handed like they did a year ago in Madison Square Garden. The Crimson Tide need quality wins away from home, and with the SEC really struggling again, there might not be many opportunities for Alabama in the future.

The game will tip at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.