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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Kennesaw State

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The Avery Johnson Era tips-off

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide men's basketball team is about to begin an exciting new era under the infectiously charismatic Avery Johnson, as the Kennesaw State Owls come to Tuscaloosa. While all of the excitement in the building will be focused on the new man representing the Tide, the Owls will be debuting their own brand new coach, Al Skinner, who comes in with an exciting resume of his own. Skinner, the former National Coach on the Year in 2001, coached at Boston College from 1997-2010. He's the winningest coach in Boston College's program history, in fact, having guided the Eagles to seven NCAA Tournament appearances. Skinner was fired after a disappointing 2009-10 season, and the program has struggles ever since.

Obviously, there will be a lot of good coaching going on in Coleman Coliseum on Friday night, and it should make for some fun basketball. Unfortunately for Kennesaw State fans, they are probably going to have to be patient with Skinner, as he inherits a team that went 10-22 (4-10 in the Atlantic Sun) last season. There are a couple of good players on this Owls team, but they are going to have to get a ton out of them if they want to make a big turnaround this season, as this team lacks depth in a lot of ways. Also, the Owls were terrible defensively last season. They gave up 73.8 PPG (330th in the country) and had a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 110.5 (340th). There's no way to sugarcoat this: Kennesaw State was one of the worst teams in college basketball last season.

The Roster

Starting Five

  • PG Yonel Brown (15.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.2 SPG)
  • SG Nick Masterson (3.6 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 0.6 APG)
  • SF Nigel Pruitt (12.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • PF Bernard Morena (5.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.7 BPG)
  • PF Jordan Jones (1.7 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.5 BPG)
Despite only losing one graduating senior, the Owls return only six scholarship players from last season. Having three different coaches in as many years leads to a lot of turnover and instability in the program. The good news for Kennesaw State fans in that their best two players by far return, point guard Yonel Brown and wing forward Nigel Pruitt. At only 5'9, Brown is a diminutive dynamo. He's the best scorer on the team in nearly every facet (41.1% FG%, 38.2% 3P%, 90.0% FT%). His size is obviously his biggest deterrent, and he can be pushed around pretty easily when he's on defense. At 6'7 Pruitt does not have that concern. The second leading scorer last season, Pruitt can score from inside or outside (48.3% 2P%, 37.0% 3P%), and he is probably the best defender on the team.

Masterson, Morena, and Jones will all be counted on to help take the load off of Brown and Pruitt. All three were back-ups last season, so one of the key factors for the Owls this season will be how well they can develop these three veterans. Morena and Jones both stand at 6'8 in the post, so while neither of them is huge they combine for decent size. Both rebounded pretty well in their reserve duties, though Jones will need to polish his offensive skills in a major way after shooting only 39.1% from the floor last season. That's dreadful for a post player. Morena led the team in FG% at 48.4%, so look for the Owls to feed him in the low block. Masterson is a spot-up shooter who shot 37.5% from the floor, 35.5% from beyond the arc, and 83.3% from the line as a freshman last season.

The Bench
  • G Cameron Neysmith (0.3 PPG, 0.5 RPG)
  • G Kendrick Ray (2.9 PPG, 1.2 APG at Quinnipiac in 2013-14)
  • G Kyle Clark (First Career Game)
  • G Josh Burnett (First Career Game)
  • F Aubrey Williams (0.6 PPG at Toledo last season)
  • F Tracy Hector (First Career Game)
  • F Kosta Jankovic (First Career Game)
The Owls are really, really thin. This cannot be stressed enough. This is one of the most inexperienced teams in college basketball this season. Ray is the only player on the bench who has made any kind of relevant contribution at the collegiate level, and even his impact was minimal at Quinnipiac. There's really not a whole lot else to say about the depth (or lack thereof) of this team.

What To Watch For

  • Avery Johnson's Debut. The biggest storyline for this game will be, without question, Avery Johnson's opening game, not only as the head coach of the Crimson Tide, but as a college coach in general. It will be very interesting to seen Johnson's up-tempo offense and attacking defense in person. Make no mistake, Johnson wants this team to fly up and down the court. They will run a quick-paced motion offense that will make Grantsketball look like a baseball strategy.
  • A Packed House. As of Thursday afternoon, Avery Johnson Jr. tweeted out that there were only about 2,000 tickets left for the opener against the Owls. Coleman Coliseum has not come close to selling out a home opener in a very long time. Coach Johnson spent a large portion of the week making trips to different organizations on campus to try and get them fired up for the season. This guy is a promoter of the highest degree, and he has immediately changed the atmosphere of this program.
  • Development. How well individual players have progressed is always an exciting thing to keep an eye on early in the season, but this is especially true for Alabama this year. First, with the Tide's top three scorers from last season gone, Alabama is really going to need multiple guys to emerge if they hope to contend for anything this season. Secondly, it will be interesting to see how these guys all fit into the new system. Also, Anthony Grant did some good things for Alabama while he was here, developing players offensively was not one of them.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Winning the Battle at the Point. As mentioned, Yonel Brown is the best player for Kennesaw State. In order for them to have a chance at pulling off the upset, Brown is going to have to have a big game. He has the potential to do just that. For one of the few times this season, Justin Coleman won't be facing a disparate mismatch in size, so he's got a great opportunity to make a statement. This may also open the door for the 6'5 freshman Dazon Ingram to display his physical presence as well though, as his size could really frustrate Brown.
  2. Turnovers. Kennesaw State was one of the worst teams in the country last season in turnover margin. With so much inexperience littered throughout the roster, turnovers will likely be a big problem for the Owls again this season. If Alabama's new defense is what promises to be, the Tide should win the turnover margin by a significant amount. If they can, it's hard to see Kennesaw State hanging around for too long.
  3. Feeding the Post. Not only do the Owls lack depth, they lack size and true post players down low. One of Alabama's strengths this year should be the experience and size the team has in the post. 6'9 Michael Kessens and 6'10 Jimmie Taylor need to assert themselves around the basket. This will be a splendid opportunity for them to get some easier live-action looks at the basket. They need to take advantage of it.
There is a serious buzz around the Alabama basketball program right now, and there should be quite the turnout at Coleman Friday night. With a trip to Dayton to take on one of the best mid-majors in college basketball up next, Alabama doesn't have much time to ease into things this year. This is an important first step towards a successful season, as Johnson's group should be able to dispose Kennesaw State without much difficulty. Grant's teams would often let programs like this hang around for far too long. Can the Avery Johnson Era begin with an easy, confidence-boosting win?

The game tips-off at 7:30 PM CST, though it will only be available on the radio or on SEC Network+. There may be a few tickets still available. If you are in the area come on down to Coleman and become a part of a new reign of Alabama basketball.