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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Louisiana Lafayette

Alabama returns to Tuscaloosa after the beatdown in Dayton

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide (1-1) made the trip to Dayton, Ohio looking to see where exactly they stood as a program at the beginning of the Avery Johnson era. The revelation wasn't pretty.

After the 80-48 curb-stomping from the Flyers, Johnson now fully realizes what all must be done in order to return Alabama to its place of prominence in the SEC hierarchy.

That rebuild starts Friday night in Tuscaloosa, as the Tide will look to bounce back after a few days of licking their wounds. Don't let the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns (1-1) fool you, these guys can play. This will be a strong test from a veteran team who fields a couple of guys with NCAA Tournament experience. Bob Marlin is in his sixth season as head coach of the Cajuns, where he has built a consistent winner in Lafayette.

The Roster

The Starters

  • PG Jay Wright (10.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • SG Hayward Register (5.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG)
  • 3G Johnathan Stove (7.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.5 SPG)
  • WF Bryce Washington (8.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.5 BPG)
  • C Shawn Long (17.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 2.0 BPG)
When discussing the Ragin' Cajuns, one would be remiss if he didn't begin with the 6'9" centerpiece in the middle, Long. The big man has averaged a double-double each of the previous two seasons, and he doesn't seem to be slowing up much in that regard so far this year. He has been an instrumental part of UL-Lafayette's success over the last few years, even dropping 15 points to go along with 7 boards and 2 blocks in the 2014 NCAA Tournament against the Creighton Jays. Washington is more of a wing forward, but his 6'6 frame and tenacity around the rim is incredibly important for the Cajuns, who otherwise lack much height.

In the backcourt, Wright leads the way as the composer of the offense. His 5.0-1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio is one of the better stat-lines the Tide will see this season. He's not a great shooter (33.3% 3P%, 62.5% FT%), but he can create space and get good shots off, as his overall field goal percentage is up at 53.8%, which is pretty good for a 6'1 point guard. Register is the only other player on either team to have played in a NCAA Tournament game, and he brings that experience as a solid two-guard. He isn't flashy by any means, and he has yet to even record an assist on the year, but his intangibles are what Coach Marlin likes about him. Even though he's listed as a starter, he's only averaging 13.5 MPG. Stove is another solid guard who has a nice all-around game. He's very efficient, currently leading the backcourt with a 71.4% FG%.

The Bench
  • G Kasey Shepherd (14.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 2.5 SPG)
  • F Devonta Walker (14.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 0.5 BPG)
  • F Jay Hedgemen (5.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.5 BPG)
  • G Tyrone Wooten (3.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • G Tiremone Williams (3.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG)
  • G Steven Wronkoski (3.5 PPG, 1.0 RPG)
  • F Scott Plaisance (4.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG)
The Ragin' Cajuns are one of the rare teams that starts two of their best players on the bench. Shepherd and Walker are easily two of the five best guys in a Cajuns uniform, but Marlin prefers to have them provide a spark after the opening tip. Shepherd is the high-volume scorer of the team, as he gets his 14.0 PPG on 9.5 FGAs per game, shooting 47.4% from the field and 87.5% from the line. He's also got an impressive number of steals thus far, but it may be a bit early to read too much into that. Walker is a true power forward, averaging nearly a double-double despite only averaging 15.5 MPG this season. With an 84.6% FG%, it's pretty baffling that this guy isn't getting more minutes, because he is tearing it up on the low block.

The rest of the back-ups range from unspectacular-to-solid players. Hedgeman and Plaisance are the only other post players on the roster, though Plasiance hasn't played much this season. Hedgeman is one of the better defenders on the team with a 100.9 DRtg (which is about average, this team hasn't been the greatest defensively). The wily "W" trio of Wooten, Williams, and Wronkoski provide plenty of solid depth in the backcourt.

What To Watch For

  • The Bounce-back. After suffering the worst loss in almost fifteen years, how will this year's group respond? It's very early in the season, so there is plenty of basketball to be played. However, this is a relatively quick turn-around against an underrated team. The character of this team is about to be forged, and it will be interesting to see how it shakes out.
  • Can a Shooter Please Stand Up? Grantsketball was loathed by many Alabama fans because it relied too heavily on isolation and pick-and-rolls. In other words, players had to make something happen with their offensive skills alone, as there wasn't much designed offense based on sets, motion, or off-ball movement. When Trevor Releford was here, he was the go-to guy who made things happen. Heck, he basically carried the offense in 2014. Levi Randolph's emergence was huge for Alabama last season for this reason, as he became that guy for the Crimson Tide. Combined with Rodney Cooper's ability to heat up every so often, the Tide was able to generate enough points to make a postseason appearance in March. However, this year's team has yet to reveal a consistent jump-shot threat. Dazon Ingram and Retin Obasohan have been the best scorers this year, but neither of them have yet shown that they can knock down shots when needed. Someone needs to emerge in this area, or it could be a really long year in Tuscaloosa.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Settle Down on Offense. Avery Johnson has installed a new uptempo, fast-paced attack that leads to a lot of baskets in transition. The downfall to that is if you are careless with the basketball and take poor shots, you are going to get embarrassed. That's exactly what happened to Alabama on Tuesday, especially in the second half. The team seemed to give up hope after the first few minutes of the second period, and it got really ugly from that point. Johnson wants this team to play fast, but not reckless. Reckless basketball, like the kind the Tide played in Dayton, will get this team slaughtered.
  2. Get Back and Pack In. The other part of the new fast-paced attack is that the Tide likes to run up-and-down the court a bunch. But if they don't get back in on defense, the opposing offense is going to have their way with Alabama. Lafayette has had issues themselves with consistently knocking down jump-shots, and they have been atrocious from behind the arc at 20.0%. They are currently 6th in the country at 70.1% from two-point land though. The reason why is because they play really well around the rim. Long and Walker are both very skilled offensive players in the post, and the rest of the team does a good job of getting to the basket themselves. Alabama needs to prevent easy transition points, swarm the ball in the paint, and force the Cajuns to hit shots from outside.
  3. Frustrate Long. Shawn Long is a legitimate NBA prospect for Lafayette; the guy can ball. However, there are three areas of his game that need serious work: free throws, turnovers, and fouls. He is currently averaging 3.0 TOPG, has fouled four times in each of their games, and is shooting a lowly 45.5% from the free throw line. Jimmie Taylor, Michael Kessens, and to an extent, Shannon Hale and Donta' Hall, need to do a good job of swarming and stifling Long. Make him earn his points. Low post traps would be an extremely good idea whenever Long gets the ball. Get in his head, force a few turnovers, let him get chippy, and make him earn his points from the line.
The Crimson Tide were run off the Flyers' court in a way that hadn't been seen since the beginning of the Mark Gottfried era. Avery Johnson now knows where his program stands. The only thing to do from here is to step up and work to become better. It's very early in the year, and there are plenty of more opportunities still to come. This team needs some serious improvement in a number of areas, but they have the ability to make it happen.

The issue is that there isn't much time to get these areas addressed. Louisiana Lafayette is a good, underrated team. Alabama cannot afford to take the Ragin' Cajuns lightly. If they do, the team could be looking at a 1-2 start headed into a high-profile holiday tournament with a number of good teams involved.

The game tips-off from Coleman Coliseum Friday night at 7:00 PM CST, and can be found on the SEC Network+ and Watch ESPN.