After losing a hard fought noon battle with a likely NCAA Tournament team in the Dayton Flyers, the Alabama Crimson Tide’s new-look group will attempt to get back in the win column against the Ball State Cardinals (1-1) on Friday night. Give Alabama credit, they played really well for a young team with six newcomers who are all being relied on for significant time. Dayton didn’t come into Tuscaloosa and waltz out with a win, the Flyers had to dig deep to escape Coleman Coliseum with their perfect record intact. Now comes the next challenge: addressing weaknesses and developing strengths against a lesser opponent.
Ball State’s certainly not a bad team, as James Whitford has totally remade what used to be one of college basketball’s worst programs. The Cardinals were a pretty strong team defensively last season, and they return three starters from that group. They opened up this season with a blowout win over Saint Louis before dropping their last game in overtime to Indiana State.
- PG 6’3 Tayler Persons (23.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- OG 6’6 Sean Sellers (6.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.5 APG)
- WF 6’6 Franko House (22.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.0 APG)
- PF 6’8 Tahjai Teague (7.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 2.0 SPG, 2.0 BPG)
- C 6’9 Trey Moses (5.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.5 BPG)
All conversations regarding Ball State this season must begin with House out on the wing. He’s a stat-sheet stuffer, as he was named 2nd Team All-MAC last season. He was also named 1st Team All-Defense in the MAC as well, so he brings it on both ends of the floor. It’s obviously still early in the season, but his 59.3% FG% and 71.4% 3P% are some of the best numbers in the country for a forward that plays both inside and out. House is a proven commodity and he has to be focus point #1 for Alabama’s defense.
However, House is not the current leading scorer for the Cardinals, as Northern Kentucky transfer Persons has made a massive impact for Ball State in the back-court. He is shooting 62.5% from beyond the arc and 55.2% overall. Again, this is an incredibly small sample size, but based on how much of a scorer he was at Northern Kentucky, it’s safe to say that he will command Alabama’s attention. Sellers is a large guard, which will help the Cardinals negate Alabama’s typical size advantage in the back-court, but he hasn’t done much in the way of scoring this season.
In the front-court, Teague and Moses provide plenty of experience for Whitford’s bunch. Teague has been all over the place on both ends of the court thus far this season, which may force Bola Olaniyan to play more minutes than he has been asked to so far by Avery Johnson. The numbers don’t look great for Moses, but he has been a solid presence for Ball State in the post for a while now. His 6’9 frame puts him at a bit of a disadvantage against Jimmie Taylor and Donta Hall on the low block, but there is plenty of confidence among the coaching staff that he will hold his own.
- G 6’3 Francis Kiapway (5.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 1.5 APG)
- G 6’6 Ryan Weber (5.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- F 6’7 Kyle Mallers (4.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG)
- C 6’10 DouDou Gueye (1.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG)
Ball State isn’t a deep team in terms of quantity, but they make up for it in quality. Kiapway and Weber are basically starters (they have both started a game this season already), and they both bring solid play across the board. Weber’s been grabbing boards at a strong level for a guard, and he’s both scoring and assisting at a decent rate. Kiapway has struggled early this season (14.3% FG%, 16.7% 3P%, a team-worst 7.5% AST%), but there should be some progression to the mean soon.
Also, if Moussa Gueye seemed like a unique name, how about DouDou? The nearly seven foot center from Senegal may see an increased role in Friday night’s game with Alabama in order to help bang in the post with the aforementioned duo of Taylor and Hall.
What To Watch For
- Chemistry. This will be a talking point for the first couple of months of the season. Avery Johnson is still undoubtedly trying to decide which players work best in terms of where they are on the floor, who is out there with them, and in what situations they may face. Johnson went with Dazon Ingram, Corban Collins, Riley Norris, Braxton Key, and Taylor in the final minutes of the game against Dayton, and the five of them seemed to work well with the exception of a few blown opportunities.
- Who Can Create? Dazon Ingram has a rare blend of size and athleticism at the point, and there is little doubt that he can create his own looks, but the jury is still out on many of the Tide’s other newcomers. Collins nearly put the team on his back in the final minutes of the game the other day, and Key has shown some serious flashes as a scorer as well. These three guys seem like the most likely to be the go-to shot creators this season for Alabama, but with such a small sample size it’s still too early to know for sure.
Three Keys to Victory
- Get to the Rim. The Crimson Tide settled for far too many deep jumpers in the game against Dayton. This is not a jump-shooting team. Alabama’s strength offensively is their ability to drive and get the ball to the rim for high-percentage looks. There are a few guys on the team who can get hot and start knocking down three-balls (Collins, Ar’Mond Davis, Norris, Key, Shannon Hale) with authority, but it seems like it’s a different player every game. If you aren’t on, don’t force it.
- Free Throws. Of course one of the main reason to take the ball to the rim is to try to get to the line. Unfortunately, the Crimson Tide have been one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country for years now, and it has badly hurt the already-stagnant offense the team has played. Early indications are not good for this year’s group in this area either, though Collins and Davis have knocked down almost all of their attempts. ‘Bama can’t afford to shoot around 67.0% from the line again this year if they want to make the NCAA Tournament.
- Contain House and Persons. Both of these guys have been hot to start the season, and they both have track records that indicate that they won’t slow up much. However, the Cardinals have been extremely reliant on these two guys. They have combined for 91 of the team’s 159 total points on the year. That’s an astounding 57.23% of Ball State’s points. If Ingram can utilize his length to shut down Persons and the Tide’s bevy of long, athletic wings can harass House all night, it will be tough for the Cardinals to put up many points.
Ball State should be one of the better teams in the MAC this season, but Alabama simply outclasses them in pretty much every facet of the game. If Avery Johnson has a sound game-plan to help limit House and Persons, it will be very difficult for the Cardinals to come into Tuscaloosa and pull off the upset.
Alabama has a number of question marks still to figure out, but the potential answers are very exciting. The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network. With a big non-conference tournament coming up next week, it would be nice for Alabama to work out some kinks and find some answers for their weaknesses before heading out to Las Vegas.