Poor shooting, costly missed free throws, mediocre rebounding, and ill-timed fouls once again got the best of the Alabama Crimson Tide (2-2) on Monday night, and the result was an ugly 68-60 loss to the Valparaiso Crusaders (4-1). Now the Tide will prepare for the consolation game of the four-team tournament against the Saint Louis Billikens (2-2), who’ve had their own fair share of struggles so far this season.
The Billikens are led by new coach Travis Ford, who was let go from Oklahoma State this past off-season after a successful, yet underwhelming career in Stillwater. Ford knew he was walking into quite the rebuilding job in St. Louis, as the long-time respectable mid-major program comes into this season off of the heels of back-to-back 11-21 campaigns, but it may have been a bit worse than he had feared. The Billikins opened up the season by getting trounced by the Ball State Cardinals 85-64. Yes, the same Cardinals that Alabama dominated last Friday night. Saint Louis also lost their semifinal match-up with BYU by 30 points Monday night.
Simply put, this is not a good basketball team, and Alabama can not allow themselves to get beat by Valpo twice by putting forth a lackluster effort on Wednesday.
- PG 6’1 Jermaine Bishop (13.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG)
- SG 6’4 Davell Roby (13.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.8 APG)
- OG 6’4 Mike Crawford (6.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- PF 6’7 Reggie Agbeko (13.5 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 1.0 BPG)
- C 6’9 Elliot Welmer (9.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.5 BPG)
The Billikens have a pretty traditional starting five, which has become increasingly rare in today’s game. Bishop is the engine that makes this offense hum, as he is by far the best ball handler on the team (5.0 APG to 3.3 TOPG). His long-range shooting is quite potent (44.4% 3P%), but his small size makes it nearly impossible for him to take the ball to the basket (32.5% 2P%), and, though he is averaging 2.0 defensive impact plays a game, his defense is limited by his frame as well (108.6 DRtg). Roby is the best pure scorer on the team (44.4% FG%, 45.5% 3P%) and is really the only consistent contributor from the free throw line (71.4%).
Crawford rounds out the starting back-court, and though he is a solid enough player, he really just doesn’t affect the game-flow of this team at all. He’s not a scorer (23.3% FG%, 15.4% 3P%, 64.3% FT%) and his defense isn’t much better than anyone else (this is a bad defensive team). He has been the second best rebounding option this year, though that’s more of an indictment of how poor this team is on the glass, as his RB% is only 9.9%.
Agbeko and Welmer are true post players. Agbeko’s double-double average has been huge for Saint Louis, as he’s both a decent threat in the post (65.6% FG%) and a heck of a rebounder (19.1%), which the Billikens have desperately needed. The reason why is that Welmer just hasn’t been a great player in his own right. A 6’9 center should never have a RB% of 7.5% or a FG% of 44.8%. He does play the best defense on the team, though his defensive rating is still below average at 103.6.
- G 6’6 Zeke Moore (5.3 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 2.0 SPG)
- G 6’0 Aaron Hines (3.3 PPG)
- F 6’7 Jalen Johnson (5.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG)
- C 6’10 Austin Gillmann (0.5 PPG, 0.8 RPG)
- C 6’11 Matt Neufeld (1.3 PPG, 0.8 RPG)
There isn’t much to write home about with the Billikens’ bench, but they have seen some flashes that should give Ford some hope for the future from Moore and Johnson, both of whom are true freshmen. They are the first two guys off of the bench and will likely continue to see their roles grow as the season progresses. Johnson, in particular, looks like he will be a pretty good ball player. He is currently shooting 41.2% from the field, including 40.0% from outside, and his 9.2% RB% makes him one of the best on the team at cleaning up the glass. Gillmann and Neufeld both add some good size, but they are averaging a combined 13.8 MPG right now.
What To Watch For
- Improvement. In a game where the Tide should be a substantial favorite, the main focus should be on individual and team-wide improvement. Every player on this team needs to work on improving as a scorer, whether that be better shot selection, more consistent jumpers, polishing up on finishing at the rim, or knocking down free throws. Valparaiso ran a match-up zone pretty much the whole game the other night, and Alabama never really attacked it properly. Rebounding continues to be an area where the Tide underwhelm. A team with this much length and athleticism shouldn’t have as much trouble as Alabama does on the glass. There is a lot of work to be done for this young group.
Three Keys to Victory
- Attack the Rim. This is starting to sound repetitive, but Alabama really is at their best when the team is aggressive offensively. Dazon Ingram, Corban Collins, and Braxton Key are all very good off of the dribble, and Donta Hall does a great job of leveraging his length to finish around the rim. The Tide had a number of great moves to open up good looks against Valpo, but they weren’t able to finish on a number of them. Saint Louis has been awful on the defensive end of the court, mostly because they can’t keep their men in front of them.
- Shot Selection. However, Alabama seems determined to live and die by the three-pointer. If they are going to insist on that approach, they need to at least get better looks. Too often this season guys are settling for low-percentage shots. Ar’Mond Davis can be a great shooter, but if he’s off, he needs to accept it and look for higher percentage shots. Davis shot 0/7 (0/5 from three) against the Crusaders. Shannon Hale and Nick King have combined for four made three-pointers on eighteen attempts this season, yet both have continued to pull up from long distance with a defender in front of them.
- Energy. Avery Johnson’s group seemed a bit unenthusiastic the other night, which could have been because of the long-distance travel and the late tip-off. Regardless of the cause, they don’t need that level of energy to repeat itself against St. Louis. Let’s call a spade a spade: the Billikens are a bad basketball team right now. The Tide should take care of business with relative ease in this game, but they need to treat this game as an opportunity to grow and develop as a team.
It’s disappointing that Alabama won’t be playing in the championship game of a very winnable non-conference tournament, but that may actually make this game even more important. As ugly as the loss to Valparaiso was, they are a respectable program that has had some real success over the last few years. A loss to Saint Louis would be toxic for the Crimson Tide. Avery Johnson will need to keep his guys focused if he hopes to salvage anything from this trip to Nevada.
The game will tip-off at 8:30 PM CST and will once again only be available to watch on the live stream on Youtube.