Well, last week’s MGM Grand Main Event certainly could have gone better for the Alabama Crimson Tide (3-2). Avery Johnson’s squad looked, for lack of a better term, terrible. Losing to Valparaiso in the manner that Alabama did was bad enough, but it would have been nothing compared to the toxin that would have seeped all over Alabama’s resume had Saint Louis held on for the upset win in the consolation game. There is no way to sugar-coat it: Alabama looks like a bad basketball team right now.
Of course, it’s only been a few weeks, and there is still plenty of time for a group that includes six new-comers to gel and get this thing turned around. In fact, both Braxton Key and Nick King showed some some good signs in Vegas. Key took over for Alabama late in the game against the Billikens, refusing to allow the Tide to obtain a season-killing loss before Thanksgiving, and King showed glimpses of what he can bring to the table in limited action of both games.
The Tide will now return home to the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum to take on the Charleston Southern Buccaneers (3-2). The Bucs could be just the opponent that Alabama needs right now, as they are pretty similar in quality to Saint Louis. Avery Johnson’s group needs to show that they are much better than the team that took the court in Las Vegas, and taking care of business against a poor opponent would be a nice first step.
- PG 6’2 Cortez Mitchell (8.0 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.8 SPG)
- OG 6’1 Armel Potter (12.8 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- SG 6’3 Christian Keeling (16.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- PF 6’7 Ugo Mmonu (4.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 0.6 APG, 1.4 BPG)
- PF 6’8 Javis Howard (10.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.0 BPG)
Charleston Southern really isn’t a difficult team to figure out. Mitchell is a true point guard, and is way better dishing the ball out (2.3 A/TO ratio) than he is scoring (31.7% FG%, 36.4% 3P%). He also is very good at forcing opponents into turnovers and plays solid defense (92.0 DRtg). The two guys he is constantly looking to pass to are Potter (48.0% FG%, 37.5% 3P%) and Keeling (57.1% FG%, 41.7% 3P%). Both Potter and Keeling have more turnovers than assists this season, but they are both natural scorers, and Keeling has been very good on the glass (12.5% RB%) for a 6’3 freshman guard.
Mmonu, the lone senior starter, is a shorter version of Jimmie Taylor for the Bucs. He can’t score (35.0% FG%) and he’s not a great rebounder (11.3% RB%), but he protects the paint on the defensive end of the court (92.7 DRtg, 1.4 BPG). Howard is the best overall player on the team. He shoots 61.1% from the field and can really work the inside well. His rebounding and defensive play are also solid.
- G 6’1 Patrick Wallace (6.2 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 1.2 APG)
- G 6’3 Jamal Thomas (3.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG)
- G 6’3 Raemond Robinson (4.8 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 1.6 APG)
- F 6’5 Jamar Martin (7.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 0.6 APG, 1.6 SPG)
There isn't much to discuss with Charleston Southern’s bench depth. Martin is the sixth man, and he’s actually one of the more efficient players on the team. A 43.3% shooter, Martin uses his length well to get to the rim, both as a scorer and a rebounder (14.9% RB%). He is also the only player that comes off the bench that has recorded a single block or steal.
The biggest thing that jumps out when looking over this roster is the obvious lack of size, especially with the lack of depth in the front-court. If Mmonu or Howard get into foul trouble, the Buccaneers will be forced to go with a small line-up.
What To Watch For
- Key’s Emergence. The true freshman has been the most efficient scorer for Alabama all season (58.1% FG%, 66.7% 3P%, 117.6 ORtg), but he hadn’t really asserted himself until the end of the Saint Louis game. Despite the Billkens shooting themselves in the foot, Alabama doesn’t avoid that upset without Key’s big time shots that he hit late. Has this team finally found a go-to scorer? Or was Key’s latest performance just another in a long line of outliers for Alabama?
- Focus. An ugly week of performances like the one Alabama just went through can have lasting effects on a team’s mental make-up. Keep an eye out on how well focused the Tide are in this game. Returning home after a few days off for the holidays should provide a nice boost for a team that needs it right now.
Three Keys to Victory
- Shot Selection. The Crimson Tide are taking terrible shots, and it has allowed teams to hang around for far longer than they should. Against Saint Louis, 21 of the Tide’s 68 attempts from the field came from beyond the arc (many of which were just “alright, it’s my turn” shots), which is simply not a winning formula for this team, as evidenced by them hitting on only 7 of them. If Alabama continues to struggle from the field it is going to be another long season.
- Rebounding. The Crimson Tide were out-rebounded by a smaller opponent yet again last Wednesday, as Saint Louis won that area by a 28-24 count. Taylor, in particular, needs to pick it up. The 6’10 forward didn’t grab a single rebound in the game against the Billikens. Not a single one. That is unacceptable. If the Tide can actually take advantage of the size and depth difference in the post, this game shouldn’t be competitive.
- Free Throws. This is the one area where the Crimson Tide actually showed some progress last week. In fact, the 15 points on 78.9% shooting from the line may have won the game for Alabama on Wednesday. Charleston Southern doesn’t get to the line very often, and when they do, they only convert 57.7% of the time. Even if the Tide continue to take poor shots and struggle (somehow) to beat the Bucs on the glass, a 20% difference in free throw shooting alone could yet again save this team from defeat.
Last week was a rough one for ‘Bama hoops fans. All of the off-the-court momentum doesn’t mean a thing for the on-court product, and this team has a lot of areas that they need to improve on. It’s certainly not time to panic, but Alabama needs an easy bounce-back win in this game to build a little bit of confidence before they head to Austin on Friday night to play Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns.
The game will tip-off at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.