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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Southern Miss

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Alabama returns to the court after an excellent showing in Orlando

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Johnson already had Alabama fans excited before the Crimson Tide (4-2) took home fifth place in last week's loaded AdvoCare Invitational. Now, after back-to-back wins over ranked opponents, something that never happened under the previous regime, 'Bama fans are nothing short of ecstatic. However, with this being a young team learning a new system, the Crimson Tide faithful shouldn't expect this team to start consistently beating really good teams or breaking into the top 25 any time soon. They can, however, expect this team to be highly competitive and, well, fun to watch for the first time in a while. Still, Alabama had lost it's last 21 games against ranked opponents going into last weekend. Avery not only broke that streak, he then doubled down on it two days later. Special things are happening in Tuscaloosa.

Next up is just a bit of a step down in competition, as the Tide heads to Hattiesburg to take on the winless Southern Miss Golden Eagles (0-5). Doc Sadler has been saddled (boo) with the unenviable task of picking up the pieces after former coach Donnie Tyndall completely ruined the program off of the court. This can't be overstated: Southern Miss is a terrible team. Not only are they without a win in five tries this season, they have double-digit losses to Jackson State and Morehead State, as well as a loss to some school named William Carey (who, as well as RBR can tell, is not just a single person). Ken Pomeroy has the Golden Eagles ranked 332nd out of 351 Division-I programs.

The Roster

The Starters

  • PG Khari Price (9.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • OG Kourtlin Jackson (7.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.3 APG)
  • 3G Michael Ramey (7.8 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.6 SPG)
  • WF Keljin Blevins (7.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.6 SPG)
  • PF Eddie Davis (6.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.6 SPG)
The first thing that stands out about Southern Miss is their astounding lack of size. Price, easily the best player on the team, stands at a generously listed 5'9, 170 lbs. Jackson, Ramey, and Blevins are all 6'4 guards, though Blevins tries to play wing forward as well as he can. Davis is the "big man", standing in at 6'7. This has led to some serious disadvantages in most areas of the game, but it has really affected their offense, as they have been forced to make more low-percentage shots than teams that have average or better height. The lack of an inside presence has made the Golden Eagles a jump-shooting team, and they aren't very good at that (FG%: Price, 35.9%; Jackson, 24.1%; Ramey, 42.4%; Blevins, 42.4%; Davis, 42.9%). Also, Price is the only decent passer in the group, as Ramey, Blevins, and Davis don't even average a full assist per game. Thus, their ORtg of 87.2 ranks as 340th in the country. Seriously, this is as bad of an offense as Alabama will play all season. Ramey is hitting 42.9% of his attempted three-pointers, so the Tide will want to make sure to locate and close out on him.

The Bench
  • G Quinton Campbell (5.8 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.6 APG)
  • G Robert Thomas (5.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 1.0 APG)
  • G Cortez Edwards (3.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.6 SPG)
  • F Raheem Watts (5.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG)
  • F Michael O'Donnell (3.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.2 APG)
  • C Tim Rowe (1.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.6 BPG)
The Golden Eagles bench comprises mostly of unspectacular depth from upperclassmen and freshmen with the potential to help Sadler get this program back up on its feet. The senior wing forward O'Donnell is a calming presence for this team, and he gets a lot of play off of the bench. Edwards, one of those aforementioned true freshmen, has the potential to be a very good guard for Southern Miss in the future. He rebounds and drops assists at a solid rate, but his shooting needs some serious work (16.7% FG%, 10.0% 3P%). Rowe is a 6'11 center who is another true freshmen. He has been forced into playing earlier than he would at most places due to the team's relative lack of height.

What To Watch For

  • The Encore Act. Alabama is coming off of one the more impressive performances in the last few years, having bested a very good Notre Dame team in Orlando on Sunday night. With this game being in front of maybe a few hundred people in Hattiesburg against a winless team, how will Alabama show up? The Tide have made some serious strides in a ton of areas, but this team is still not good enough to go through the motions against anybody. Hopefully the intensity from the AdvoCare Invitational will carry over to Friday night.
  • An Emerging Identity. Avery Johnson's first Alabama team has been a mash-up of players from all kinds of backgrounds and capabilities. They have been very out-of-sync at times because of that, and because they are still learning a new system. However, these guys are getting really good in transition. If there is one thing the Crimson Tide does well, it's how to effectively score while getting up and down the court.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Get Shannon Hale Going. When Shannon Hale has been knocking down shots from the perimeter, this team has actually played at a pretty high level offensively, even in the halfcourt. In the Tide's wins over Notre Dame, Wichita State, and UL-Lafayette, Hale has shot a combined 19/36 (57.8%) from the floor and 10/16 (62.5%) from beyond the arc. When Hale is on, Alabama is a different offense in the halfcourt.
  2. Take Advantage of the Size Disparity. Alabama's weakest area thus far this season has been hitting the glass with any kind of consistency. The good news is that Southern Miss is even worse than 'Bama is in this regard, partly because of how small they are. Everybody on the team needs to do a better job of collecting rebounds. Avery Johnson has harped on playing uptempo and getting up and down the court, but that doesn't mean players shouldn't be crashing the boards some.
  3. Defend the Rim. As mentioned earlier, Southern Miss is a terrible jump-shooting team, even though their size pretty much forces them to be one. This is simple: in order for Alabama to make sure that this isn't a competitive game late, they need to ensure that the Golden Eagles keep settling for those jumpers. Jimmie Taylor and Dont'a Hall have been beasts around the basket defensively (combined 3.8 BPG between the two), they need to keep that up in this one.
The Golden Eagles may just be the worst team Alabama plays all season, a far cry from where the Southern Miss program was just a few years ago. The Crimson Tide need to remain focused and take care of business in this game. Alabama doesn't have the ability to put games like this on cruise control right now, so they need to be ready. A loss to Southern Miss would take months to get the stench off.

The game will tip at 7:00 PM CST and will be televised by Fox Sports One.