After the tough loss to the Oregon Ducks last Monday, the Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team took a few days off for some much-needed rest for the holidays. While the football team will draw the overwhelming majority of the attention this week, the basketball team will look to position itself for a legitimate run at the NCAA Tournament in 2016 by rounding out non-conference play with a pair of wins. The Tide will host both the Jacksonville State Gamecocks (4-10) and the Norfolk State Spartans (5-8) in Tuscaloosa this week. Obviously, both of these opponents should be over-matched by the superior Crimson Tide, but as Alabama fans have learned the hard way, these games are far from guaranteed, especially around this time of the year.
The Gamecocks are currently rated 325th in Ken Pomeroy's latest rankings, and Norfolk State slots in at 225. Clearly, Alabama should be heavy favorites at home in both games. The Spartans should present a bit more of a challenge, particularly on the offensive end of the court, but Alabama's biggest task this week will be maintaining their focus and avoiding what could be a season-damaging loss.
Jacksonville State Starting Lineup
- PG 6'3 JaQuail Townser (8.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.2 SPG)
- OG 6'3 Malcolm Drumwright (16.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.9 SPG)
- 3G 6'2 Greg Tucker (5.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.6 APG)
- SF 6'4 Jared Hamilton (8.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.5 SPG)
- PF 6'7 Jeremy Watson (8.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG)
- 5'9 G DelFincko Bogan (2.9 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.6 SPG)
- 6'6 F Christian Cunningham (6.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.9 BPG)
- 6'6 F Andre Statum (2.7 PPG, 1.6 RPG)
- PG 5'11 Zaynah Robinson (6.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.4 SPG)
- OG 6'3 Charles Oliver (12.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.5 SPG)
- 3G 6'4 Jeffrey Short ( 17.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.5 SPG)
- SF 6'5 D'Shon Taylor (12.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- PF 6'6 Jordan Butler (5.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 0.8 APG, 2.1 BPG)
- G 6'4 Jonathan Wade (5.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.5 SPG)
- G 5'10 Brian Kelley (1.5 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 1.1 APG)
- F 6'6 Preston Bungei (6.1 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 0.8 BPG)
- F 6'8 Alex Long (3.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 0.6 BPG)
What to Watch For
- Alabama's Focus. As referenced earlier in the article, the major thing to keep an eye on is how focused the Crimson Tide come out for these two games against seemingly overwhelmed opponents. Alabama still isn't really in a place where they can come out flat against anybody really, as revealed in the Southern Miss game earlier this month. The last time Alabama played, they lost a tough, hard fought battle in a showcase game, in front of a large crowd in Birmingham, against a really good team. And then they took a few days off. How will this young team respond?
- Injuries. The status of a few players will make a major difference this week, especially in the Jacksonville State game. If Durham and Biedscheid can play that obviously gives the Gamecocks a much better chance of pulling off the upset on Tuesday. But more importantly for Tide fans, the possible return of Shannon Hale is something to look out for. As of this writing, Hale's status for this week is still up in the air. If Hale can play, Alabama's margin for error in these two games increases a decent amount, as Hale is the kind of guy who can get hot and help bury an over-matched opponent.
Three Keys to Victory
- Knock Down Shots. The best way to prevent an inferior opponent from pulling off the upset is by making sure to shoot the basketball at least decently well. Poor shooting is the number one way to let an underdog grab momentum. If a team isn't shooting well, it could be playing well in every other facet of the game and still be clinging to a close lead. If you let a team hang around, they will soon get confidence. Meanwhile, your own team will only become increasingly frustrated. Alabama needs to make their shots count this week, because the Tide simply doesn't have a huge margin for error.
- Big Boy Them. Both the Gamecocks and the Spartans are really small teams. The disparity in size between their rosters and Alabama's is quite large. The Crimson Tide need to use this to their advantage. There is simply no reason the Tide shouldn't win the rebounding margin in both games by comfortable margins. They can also take away high percentage shots around the basket by forcing the opposing offenses to rely on contested jump shots.
- Preventing Open Shots. This last key has more to do with Norfolk, whose starting group of guards are some of the most potent shooters in college basketball. The Spartans don't do a ton well, but Short, Taylor, Oliver, and Robinson can knock down shots. Norfolk State is 32nd in the country in 3P% (39.3%) and 6th in the country from the charity stripe (78.4%). Alabama has to deny open looks from the perimeter, force the ball inside, and prevent from bailing the Spartans out with fouls.