Second half collapses are easily one of the worst ways to lose a basketball game, but the Crimson Tide (4-3) will have an opportunity to make up for a pair of them on Sunday night as they make the journey to Eugene, Oregon for a meeting with the 24th-ranked Oregon Ducks (7-2). The Tide, fresh off of a loss at Texas where they led by twelve at halftime, blew a double-digit lead at the break in Birmingham against the Ducks a year ago (In fact, ‘Bama led 38-26 in both games). That Oregon team would go on to grab a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and make an appearance in the Elite Eight.
Unfortunately for Alabama, Dana Altman’s group returns most of the same faces that powered the come-from-behind win last season, so the Tide will have to correct a number of issues in order to avoid a similar fate this year. This will be a massive test for this flawed, but talented group.
- PG 6’2 Payton Pritchard (7.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- OG 6’2 Dylan Ennis (10.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.9 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- 3G 6’4 Tyler Dorsey (13.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.0 APG)
- PF 6’7 Jordan Bell (9.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 2.7 BPG)
- C 6’10 Chris Boucher (13.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.6 SPG, 3.0 BPG)
As Alabama fans may well remember, the Ducks have an incredibly talented and experienced roster. Pritchard is the lone player in the starting group without much time logged on the court, as the true freshman has come on strong to take the starting role at the point. He has nearly a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and has played sound defense (92.9 DRtg), but his 32.8% FG% shows that he’s still got a bit of a learning curve to overcome before he can become a consistent scorer.
Ennis and Dorsey have no such issues, as they are both averaging double-digit points per game. Ennis, the former Villanova Wildcat, has struggled from beyond the arc (21.9%), but he’s shooting 80.6% from the charity stripe and is scoring at a 51.6% clip when he gets inside of the three-point line. In other words, ‘Bama would do well to force him outside. Dorsey is the main focus of this offense right now. He is shooting 48.4% overall and 42.2% from three-point land; he can score from anywhere.
Bell and Boucher lead the way down in the low post. They are combining for an outrageous 1.8 SPG and 5.7 BPG. Clearly, they are a force to be reckoned with. Bell has been a do-it-all player again this year for Oregon (52.5% FG%, 16.4% RB%, 80.1 DRtg), and has really become the glue guy for this team. Boucher is a lengthy individual with an 83.7 DRtg and a 13.4% block percentage, but he can also show off some serious skills as a scorer (58.8% FG%, 39.3% 3P%). These two can both get up and down the court, and they are a handful to score on.
- G 6’3 Casey Benson (4.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 2.4 APG)
- F 6’5 Dillon Brooks (13.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.7 BPG)
- F 6’7 Keith Smith (2.9 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.5 BPG)
- C 6’10 Roman Sorkin (7.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.2 BPG)
- C 6’11 Kavell Bigby-Williams (4.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 0.9 BPG)
If some of these names look familiar to anyone, it’s because Benson and Brooks both started last season. Benson finished last season 2nd in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio. Despite that, Pritchard’s emergence has relegated the junior to a back-up role, though that’s certainly not a terrible thing for Oregon. Benson still plays at a high level and logs 22.0 MPG. The Ducks have three legitimate point guards (including Ennis), and they use each effectively.
Brooks is an electrifying scorer (47.4% FG%, 40.0% 3P%, 80.0% FT%) who is still recovering from an off-season foot injury. The AP Preseason All-American has continued to see an increase in his playing time recently, and he may be in for his best performance yet coming off a full week of rest. Once Brooks really starts going, this team should begin to look like the Final Four contender many thought they would be this year.
The rest of the bench brings great size in the front-court. Smith, Sorkin, and Bigby-Williams really help Oregon dominate around the glass, as they all rebound at a greater-than-10% clip (Bigby-Williams’ RB% is an astounding 19.0%, which means he grabs about one out of every five rebounds when he is on the floor) and have a significant amount of blocks for their respective minutes played. Sorkin is an offensive threat in the post as well (63.6% FG%).
What To Watch For
- Nick King’s Health. Avery Johnson revealed on Thursday that wing forward Nick King, who had been showing some nice signs of growth on the court, will not make the trip to Eugene this weekend. Apparently, the Memphis transfer has lost 10+ pounds in the past two weeks and hasn’t been able to eat or sleep. We won’t speculate or make any assumptions, but please keep this young man in your thoughts, because this sounds like a scary situation.
- How Does Alabama Handle Pressure? This was one of Alabama’s biggest question marks going into the Texas game as well. The results were not pleasant. Coach Johnson made it a point of emphasis to teach his team how to properly attack the 2-3 zone after the Tide’s loss to Valparaiso in Las Vegas, and the team has shown rapid improvement in that area since. Hopefully, Alabama will show similar results against the full-court press on Sunday.
Three Keys to Victory
- Three Point Efficiency. Oregon doesn’t really have any glaring weaknesses, but if there is an area where the Tide can take advantage of it will be from behind the three-point line. The Ducks are shooting just 31.5% from beyond the arc this season, and that’s despite Brooks, Dorsey, and Boucher all having good years knocking down shots from outside. Alabama will need to deny Brooks and Dorsey the ball around the perimeter (heck, they need to deny them the ball in general) and force Oregon’s other guards to shoot jumpers. Alabama’s improved shot selection (outside of the second half last Friday), coupled with the growing confidence of Braxton Key, has moved the Tide up to a very respectable 36.4% clip from the outside. If ‘Bama wants to spring an upset on the road against a better team, the three-point line is definitely the area they will need to exploit to their benefit. Oregon’s front-line won’t be letting in any easy baskets around the rim.
- Defend the Rim. Speaking of protecting the paint, Alabama should probably get back to doing that after taking the second half of the Texas game off. The Longhorns got to the rim at will in the 2nd half of last Friday’s game, an issue the Tide don’t usually have to deal with. Defense travels, and Alabama’s defense will need to show better resilience on the road in Matthew Knight Arena, where the Ducks have won a school-record 30 straight games.
- Chaos. Honest take: this Oregon team as currently assembled will be the best combination of talent and experience that Alabama will face all season. It’s going to take some sort of mayhem to pull off this upset. Justin Coleman nearly willed Alabama to a victory in his hometown last year in this match-up, and it will take a similar performance from someone on this year’s roster to knock off the Ducks in Eugene. Or the whole team can flip the script from last week and be the aggressive bunch that can throw Oregon off of their game. But something random needs to spark the Tide in order to ignite a sizable upset Sunday night.
Oregon is coming into their own at the wrong time for Alabama, as this Ducks team is starting to look like the Final Four contender they were thought to be coming into the season. The Tide have a number of issues to address themselves, and the loss of King won’t help that situation. Thankfully, Avery Johnson actually bothers to recruit enough people to have a full roster, so the Tide has options.
Strangely, Alabama is in a more desperate situation heading into the Oregon game this year than last, despite the influx of talent added to the roster this off-season. An upset win Sunday night would make up for the early season struggles, but it will take an effort that Alabama has not yet displayed this season.
The game will tip-off at 5:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.