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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Tennessee Tech

A week after the loss on the road to Xavier, the Crimson Tide welcome in their next opponent to Coleman Coliseum

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

With the semester ending this week, and with the students all focusing on final exams, the Crimson Tide (5-2) basketball team took the week off from games for more academic matters. However, while the rest of the students get to head home for Christmas break, the hoops players get ready to crank the season back up. There ain't no rest for the wicked. Anyway, the Tide have a chance to get that loss to Xavier out of their minds with a game against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (5-3). Tennessee Tech's only other game against a power conference opponent ended with a 70-58 loss to USC. Obviously, this team isn't a world-beater, and this shouldn't be any more than a game for Alabama to get their legs back under them after a tough loss and a week off. However, these kinds of games are the ones that haunt teams like Alabama, as the Tide has fallen victim to vastly inferior competition in the past, and those losses have prevented Alabama from making the NCAA Tournament. With a battle at #11 Wichita State looming next week, it would be easy to look past this capable Tennessee Tech team.

Starting Five

  • PG Shirmane Thomas (5.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.3 SPG)
  • SG Torrance Rowe (9.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.0 APG)
  • SF Javon McKay (4.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.5 APG)
  • PF Dwan Caldwell (13.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • C Charles Jackson (14.0 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 1.4 BPG)

Tennessee Tech's success begins and ends with Jackson. The big, 6'10 center is a load in the post, as his double-double average would suggest. He is shooting 60.0% on the year while averaging about nine shots per game. Jackson is also a very good defender, with an awesome defensive rating of 84.8 (a reminder: defensive rating is an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions). The whole team is pretty salty defensively, really. Caldwell is Jackson's right-hand man in the frontcourt. At 6'8, Caldwell isn't the most dominant force around the rim, but his scoring is what separates him (50.6% FG%, 60.0% 3P%, 76.0% FT%). Now, his numbers are a bit misleading, he isn't a sharpshooter from three, it's more so that he has just hit a couple on the season in his few attempts. But his FG% is low for a post player, only because he plays away from the basket as well. He can score the ball from anywhere inside the arc with consistency. The Eagles start three solid players in the frontcourt, though none of them are really standouts by any stretch. Offensively, these guys struggle. Thomas shoots 36.4% from the floor, 73.3% from the line, and has yet to hit a three-pointer all year, and not by lack of trying. Rowe shoots an even worse 34.4% from the floor, is 23.8% from beyond the arc, but is a very good free throw shooter at 82.6%. McKay shoots 46.2%, but he doesn't really assert himself in any way.

The Bench

  • G Josiah Moore (9.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.9 SPG)
  • G Aleksa Jugovic (5.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.3 SPG)
  • F Mason Ramsay (4.3 PPG, 3.1 RPG)
  • G Jordan Johnson (4.1 PPG, 0.7 RPG)
  • F Anthony Morse (2.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG)
  • G DeOndre Haynes (2.1 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 1.4 APG)

Tennesse Tech plays a lot of guys, but I wouldn't consider them deep. A deep team is one that can depend on a bunch of different guys to come in and play quality minutes, but it's tough to say that about the Golden Eagles. Moore and Jugovic are good players off of the bench, and may even be two of their better scoring options, but that isn't really setting the bar very high (Moore: 38.8% FG%, 28.6% 3P%, 72.0% FT%; Jugovic: 44.7% FG%, 30.8% 3P%, 71.4% FT%). At 6'9, Morse provides some size off of the bench to spell the two big guys and put up a fight defensively and on the boards. The rest of the guys are not really players Alabama should concern themselves much with. It should be noted that every one of these guys has bought into Coach Steve Payne's defensive philosophy though, as they play pretty good team defense no matter who is in.

What To Watch For

  • Defense. As referred to just above, this is the one thing that Tennessee Tech brings to the table that can give many teams problems. Every single player on the roster has a defensive rating below 100.0, meaning that every player on this team is at least above average defending. Jackson is a force in the middle, and everyone else just filters in right in behind him. There is no question what this team's identity is.
  • Defense? Speaking of which, what in the world happened to Anthony Grant's identity? Alabama has been bad defensively all year. The offensive firepower has been enough for most Tide fans to forgive the players, but last week's game against Xavier got ugly. Can Alabama turn it around on defense? If not, strangely enough, that could be the side of the court that ruins the Tide's season.
Three Keys to Victory
  1. Ricky Tarrant. After a slow start to the season where the junior was hobbled a bit by injury, the former Tulane transfer has really started to flourish as the Tide's point guard. Most of the attention this season has been placed (rightly so) on Levi Randolph, but Tarrant is having a fine year himself. He also has been on the other side of this kind of match-up before, where the inferior team walks into a SEC venue and hands an eventual bubble team a devastating loss. This time though, Tarrant will have to help Alabama avoid that awful resume-killing type of loss.
  2. Transition Points. Tennessee Tech is the type of team that wants to slow this game down, make is a halfcourt game, and drag Alabama down to their level. The way you combat that is by saying, "screw that noise," and slamming the pedal through the bottom of the car. Alabama has superior talent, skills, and athleticism, and by a large margin. The Eagles will turn the ball over and miss a bunch of shots, Alabama needs to quickly turn those into points and bury Tennessee Tech by over-matching them with the Tide's much more talented roster. Also, Grant isn't going to want to show much in this game offensively, so it would be nice if Alabama can score a bunch without having to run an offense.
  3. Free Throws. Here's a fun little did-you-know: Alabama is #1 in the country at 80.3% from the free throw line. That will win you a ton of basketball games. Here's hoping that doesn't end against Tennessee Tech.
Alabama needs a nice tune-up before the big showdown at Wichita State, but what the team doesn't need is a confidence-killing loss. Hopefully, Alabama will show up, show out, and cruise to an easy win over an overwhelmed opponent. The Tide's ability to score this season should give fans plenty of confidence that this will happen, as teams that have plenty of scorers hardly ever lose these types of match-ups. However, the way the defense has been playing lately could leave Alabama susceptible if the shots aren't falling and Charles Jackson is dominating the glass.

The game will tip at 8:00 PM CST and will only be streamed/televised on SEC Network+, but will be available on the radio as well.