As the month of November draws closer to its end, the familiar sights and sounds of the holidays become obvious everywhere. Thanksgiving Day will be one full of family and food, the former of which will quickly become either united or divided based upon which side of the rivalry each member belongs to for the upcoming football game on Saturday. During these times of gratitude, the college basketball world will also be giving thanks for an exciting group of non-conference tournaments that are ripe with high quality basketball. The Alabama Crimson Tide will once again be a part of this endeavor, as Avery Johnson and the team head to Disney's Wide World of Sports to participate in the loaded AdvoCare Invitational (formerly known as the Old Spice Classic).
Awaiting the Tide in sunny Florida will be a host of high-quality teams that will truly test this young group. It all starts on Thursday at 11:00 AM CST on ESPN2 when Alabama plays the increasingly familiar 23rd-ranked Xavier Musketeers (4-0). Clearly, this is not going to be a small task. Win or lose, Alabama will play three games in four days (Thursday, Friday, and Sunday), which will give Johnson quite the look at where this team is headed into the month of December.
On Thanksgiving Day, Alabama will tip off the action with the opening game of the tournament against the aforementioned Musketeers. The Crimson Tide have gotten quite used to playing the Muskies over the last few years, though the previous few match-ups haven't gone well for Alabama.
- PG Edmond Sumner (13.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- OG Myles Davis (10.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- 3G Remy Abell (9.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- WF Trevon Bluiett (14.3 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- C Jaylen Reynolds (10.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 BPG)
- G J.P. Macura (10.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- F James Farr (10.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.8 BPG)
- G Larry Austin (2.0 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.8 SPG)
Xavier legitimately only goes eight-deep, but the top seven are all very good players. All seven of them average at least 9.0 PPG and about a steal per game as well. Bluiett, if you recall from last season, is an absolute stud. He will be in the running for Big East Player of the Year. Reynolds and Farr are the only true big men on the team, but they both play extremely well around the basket, and Farr is even averaging a double-double a game off of the bench. Sumner has been a huge boost as an impact freshman at the point, and Davis and Abell provide solid play in the backcourt. Xavier made a Sweet Sixteen run last season, and even without Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis they should be a contender to make a similar run in 2016.
Keys to Victory
If Alabama wants to have a chance at the upset on Turkey Day they better win the foul battle. The Musketeers have only had eight guys play in all four of their games (which includes wins over Missouri and Michigan, by the way), so getting a couple of their better players in foul trouble could dramatically increase Alabama's chances. On the flip side, the Muskies are currently 8th in the country in FT% at 80.5%. Guys like Jimmie Taylor, Michael Kessens, and Arthur Edwards cannot continue to foul at the rate that they do or it will be a long first game for 'Bama.
After the game with Xavier on Thursday, Alabama will either advance into the winner's bracket or fall back into the loser's bracket. Either way, the Tide will once again play in the early session on Friday. At that point they will play either the #20 Wichita State Shockers (2-1) and head coach Gregg Marshall (remember him?), or the USC Trojans (4-0). Either way, it will be another tough test for the Tide. Chances are that Alabama will play USC in the loser's bracket, but stranger things have happened.
- PG Jordan McLaughlin (20.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.3 SPG)
- OG Elijah Stewart (15.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 BPG)
- 3G Julian Jacobs (12.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 5.5 APG, 0.5 SPG)
- PF Bennie Boatwright (10.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.3 APG)
- C Nikola Jovanovic (10.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.0 BPG)
- G Katin Reinhardt (10.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.5 BPG)
- G Darion Clark (2.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.0 APG)
- F Chimezie Metu (4.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 3.8 BPG)
Keys to Victory
USC has better scorers and play-makers than Alabama does, but the Crimson Tide have greater depth and, thus far, have been much more efficient with the basketball. The Crimson Tide need to be quick, yet efficient. Andy Enfield's Trojan teams have been known to play an AAU style of basketball, whereas Avery Johnson is trying to incorporate a complex, nuanced NBA-like offense. If the Crimson Tide can use their high tempo to tire out the thin Trojans, who will be playing at a designed fast pace for a second straight day, they could wear out the more-talented USC roster and force them into mistakes, which they are known to do.
#20 Wichita State Shockers
- PG Landry Shamet (8.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.7 SPG)
- OG Ron Baker (20.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG)
- SF Evan Wessel (3.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 2.0 APG)
- WF Rashard Kelly (5.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- PF Anton Grady (11.3 PPG 5.7 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.7 BPG)
- G Ty Taylor II (6.3 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.7 APG)
- F Eric Hamilton (5.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG)
- C Bush Wamukota (2.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG)
Keys to Victory
If Alabama can upset Xavier (or if USC can stun the Shockers), the Tide will have a real shot at picking up a big-time win over a ranked opponent on Friday, all while getting an awesome victory over the Tide's original top target back in April when the coaching search first fired up. The biggest reason why this is possible is because star point guard and potential All-American Fred VanVleet is out for the tournament with a hamstring injury. The Shockers were picked to be legitimate contenders this season because of the star power in the backcourt, but with VanVleet out, Baker has to really shoulder the load of the team. The key for Alabama in a potential match-up against the Shockers would be to swarm to Baker and force the rest of the team to step up.
After taking the day off on Saturday (likely so that they can watch the Alabama football team wrap up the SEC West!), the final day of action will take place on Sunday. At this point, Alabama could play any of the remaining four teams in the bracket, though it's likely to be either Iowa in a potential 5th place game or Monmouth in the 7th place game.
- PG Demetrius Jackson (20.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- OG Steve Vasturia (11.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- SF V.J. Beachum (10.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- WF Bonzie Colson (8.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG)
- C Zach Auguste (17.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.7 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG)
- G Matt Farrell (2.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.3 APG)
- F Matt Ryan (6.7 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.0 APG)
- F Austin Burgett (3.0 PPG, 1.3 RPG)
Keys to Victory
Alabama is highly unlikely to match-up with the Fighting Irish this weekend, but if they do, well, they better bring their best game of the season. Notre Dame is loaded, as they are led by one of the country's best point guard-center pairs in Jackson and Auguste. The Irish took Kentucky to the wire in last season's Elite Eight for a reason, and the Crimson Tide would have to pull off a Thanksgiving miracle to beat a team this good.
- PG Mike Gesell (6.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 8.3 APG, 3.0 SPG)
- OG Anthony Clemmons (8.7 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- SF Peter Jok (14.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- PF Jarrod Uthoff (16.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 2.0 BPG)
- C Adam Woodbury (7.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 0.7 APG)
- G Brady Ellingson (9.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.7 SPG)
- F Dom Uhl (11.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- F Dale Jones (8.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.7 APG)
- F Ahmad Wagner (4.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG)
Keys to Victory
Iowa is probably the deepest, most experienced team in the field this year, and they are a dark horse to win the whole thing. Beating Dayton and Notre Dame would be a tough task, but the Hawkeyes return a ton of experience from their NCAA Tournament squad from a year ago. Head coach Fran McCaffery always fields one of the most disciplined defenses and effective offenses in college basketball. One area they have struggled this year is from the free throw line, sitting at 201st in the country at a 67.3% clip. Alabama would really have to make Iowa work for their shots, because there is no reason to let the Hawkeyes get open looks when they struggle from the line like they do. They are also not a great rebounding team, despite the amount of size they have, so Taylor, Kessens, Shannon Hale, and Donta Hall would have to really get after it to give Alabama an edge in one key area.
- PG Justin Robinson (24.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, 4.3 SPG)
- OG Je'lon Hornbeak (8.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.0 APG)
- 3G Micah Seaborn (12.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- PF Deon Jones (10.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 0.7 APG, 1.3 BPG)
- C Chris Brady (6.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 1.5 BPG)
- G Josh James (2.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.7 APG)
- F Collin Stewart (12.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 BPG)
- F Diago Quinn (4.0 PPG, 1.3 RPG)
Keys to Victory
How loaded is this tournament? Even the perceived lowly Hawks have a win over UCLA this season. Monmouth is averaging 85.3 PPG, which is good enough for 51st in the country, but the advanced stats aren't as high on their offensive output, as their ORtg is only 108.5 (135th in the country). The reason why is because this team plays at a reckless pace, which can drive poorly coached teams like UCLA nuts. But they also give up a ton of points defensively for this same reason. Monmouth also allows 85.3 PPG, 332nd in the country. Sure, they can force turnovers, but they aren't much good beside that on the defensive end of the floor. If Alabama can limit their turnovers and win the battle for transition baskets, they should be able to hold off this live underdog.
RBR Projected Order of Finish
- Notre Dame
- Wichita State
The 2015 AdvoCare Invitational features a loaded field of mid-major stalwarts, a couple of major conference contenders, and two explosively-reckless squads in USC and Monmouth. Alabama will be tested in a major way this upcoming week. The question is, how will the Tide respond? Avery Johnson's team performed a complete 180 from the road trip to Dayton to the home shootout win over an underrated Louisiana Lafayette team. With a young group learning a completely new system, there's no telling how this squad will play when the ball goes up this weekend.
If Alabama can continue to execute the offense at a fast pace like they did in their last outing, this team is capable of pulling off an upset. However, the inability to execute the flow of the offense will doom this team, as there just aren't enough shooters to make up for stalled possessions. If the Tide can grab at least one solid victory this weekend, they will enter the month of December at 3-3 overall with a beefed up SOS and RPI. That seems like a very attainable goal for this group. Anything else would be whipped cream on the pie (nobody should be eating cake this weekend, this is America) after a little Thanksgiving leftovers.