With the 2015-16 regular season now in the books, the fortunate few who have earned the right to continue playing into the post-season get ready to take center stage in March. The attention of the nation will undoubtedly and deservedly be fixed on the NCAA Tournament, but there are a number of quality teams who will be duking it out in the NIT as well. Alabama, obviously, is one of those teams. Avery Johnson's first season has been a successful one, and it will be very beneficial for this program and this group of guys to get some post-season experience and some extra practices.
The Crimson Tide's opening opponent will be a familiar one, as Alabama will head up to Omaha, Nebraska to take on the Creighton Jays (18-14, 9-9 Big East), who the Tide also happened to match-up with the last time they made it into the NCAA Tournament in 2012. The Jays defeated the Tide in a heart-breaker that March, so there is a little bit of history between these two programs. Retin Obasohan was in his redshirt year that season.
Greg McDermott's team had a major bounce-back season this year after completely falling apart during the 2014-15 season. With that said, the Jays will be excited about this game. The NIT Selection Committee didn't do Alabama any favors by sending the Tide to Omaha, because Creighton has a proud fan base that will likely turn out in strong numbers to support their improving team. The Jays have been very solid this season; Ken Pomeroy even has them ranked as the 48th best team in the country, which is good enough for 5th in the NIT field.
- PG 5'10 Maurice Watson Jr. (14.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 6.5 APG, 0.9 SPG)
- OG 6'2 Isaiah Zierden (10.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.4 SPG)
- 3G 6'2 James Miliken (9.8 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.7 APG)
- PF 6'8 Cole Huff (11.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 0.7 SPG)
- C 7'0 Geoffrey Groselle (10.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.3 BPG)
- G 6'3 Khyri Thomas (5.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.9 SPG)
- G 6'1 Malik Albert (2.8 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 1.1 APG)
- F 6'7 Ronnie Harrell (2.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.9 APG)
- F 6'9 Zach Hanson (6.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.8 SPG)
- F 6'10 Toby Hegner (5.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.6 APG)
Three Keys to Victory
- Contest Shots. Creighton doesn't have a large number of explosive play-makers on their roster, but their offense is extremely efficient. The Jays are shooting 46.8% from the field this season (42nd in the country), and 54.3% from two-point range (20th). They are mostly a half-court offense, which suits Alabama's 48th-ranked Adjusted Defense just fine. It will be a true battle of strength-on-strength when the Jays bring the ball up into the half-court against the Tide defense, and it's a battle Alabama will need to win more often than not.
- Defensive Rebounding. One glaring weakness the Jays have that sticks out (and there really aren't many weaknesses) is their inability to crash the boards after one of their own missed shots. The Jays rebound at a decent rate all-around, but a closer look indicates that they do most of their damage on the boards defensively. Creighton's offensive rebounding leaves a bit to be desired. Alabama has survived a few games this season despite getting crushed on the defensive glass (the Florida game in particular comes to mind), but that trend will not continue against a team as good offensively as Creighton is. Alabama needs to clean up the glass on defense and keep the Jays at a disadvantage in this area.
- Find Offensive Help for Retin. Alabama's offense was at its absolute best against Ole Miss last week in Nashville, and that's because other guys stepped up in the absence of Obasohan during most of the first half of that game. Whether it's Arthur Edwards and/or Riley Norris knocking down spot-up threes, Justin Coleman driving-and-dishing with his incredibly quick first-step, Hale showing some assertiveness with the ball, or Hall finding space and flushing home easy baskets around the rim, Alabama has to find some help for Retin. Whenever Alabama establishes a second or third option in a given game, the Tide is really tough to beat.