One week into the 2017-18 basketball season and it's clear that this Alabama basketball team is simply different than any that we've seen in quite some time. Avery Johnson finally has the team he pictured when he first arrived in Tuscaloosa two and a half years ago. This team is fast, skilled, smart, and athletic as hell. The Crimson Tide's 86-64 victory over a decent Lipscomb squad wasn't without its flaws, but honestly, the whole game felt like a highlight reel.
Collin Sexton's game is a work of art. From his step-back jumper, to the fluidity of his drives, to his incredible court vision, he is everything he was advertised. Dazon Ingram and Donta Hall are thriving with the new guys all in the fold. Not having to be the primary ball-handler has allowed Ingram the opportunity to use his size and athleticism to get good looks at the basket in a variety of ways: the corner three-ball, cutting under bigger, clumsier wings, posting up on smaller guards in isolation, etc. Hall is playing around the rim like he was born to do it. His length and athleticism are some of the best in the college game, and it seems like he spends half his time on the court just flying around. He's also developed some good court vision himself, passing to open guards on the perimeter from the post for easy looks.
John Petty is a special player in his own right, though he needs to reel it in a bit at times. He's still a true freshman, so better shot selection and discipline on defense should come with time. Herbert Jones looks like he may be a lock-down defender with his incredible length/agility combination. Alex Reese's ability to stretch the floor will be tough for opponents to match-up with, and the best part is he's still crashing the glass like a true post player should be doing, averaging 8.0 RPG through the first two games in limited action.
Avery Jr. is perfect as a second point guard. Galin Smith looked much better in his second game. Daniel Giddens isn't too far off from being a beast in the post. And we still have yet to see what Braxton Key, Riley Norris, and Ar'mond Davis will bring to the table with this new group.
Until then though, the Tide should continue to progress while playing an exciting brand of basketball. Their opponents for Friday night, however, might not exactly be able to say the same thing. The winless Alabama A&M Bulldogs are coming off of their worst season in school history: a horrific 2-27 season that brought about the end of the Willie Harris era in Normal, Alabama. Donnie Marsh was brought in to turn things around, but he's got quite the rebuild in store for himself. A&M opened up the season with a 61-53 loss to Ohio, and then turned around and got smacked by Samford 87-68 in Homewood, Alabama on Monday night.
Clearly this game will be more about individual growth and developing team chemistry for the Crimson Tide, as the Bulldogs simply don't compare to Alabama in terms of pure skill and raw talent.
- POINT 5'10 De'Edrick Petty (13.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 2.0 SPG)
- GUARD 6'2 Arthur Johnson (17.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
- WING 6'6 Evan Wiley (6.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.0 APG)
- WING 6'7 Andre Kennedy (9.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG)
- POST 6'8 Mohamed Sharif (9.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG)
Now it's still early, but A&M currently ranks 341st out of 349 in Offensive Rating this season, mostly because of their woeful 37.2% FG%. They are undersized, and nearly all of their scoring comes from the five guys who take the court at tip-off. They also haven't been playing good team basketball on the offensive end; just take a look at the assist numbers. Johnson is shooting a strong 48.1% from the floor and 50.0% from three, but outside of him, no one on this team shoots the ball well. Petty can drive to the basket but his size limits his effectiveness quite a bit. Defensively, they don't offer much resistance either. They played solid defense in the opener against Ohio, but Samford, who is a sneaky good team led by former Crimson Tide guard Justin Coleman, pretty much had their way with the Bulldog defense.
- GUARD 6'1 Marcus Merriweather (1.0 PPG, 1.5 APG, 0.5 RPG)
- GUARD 5'11 Amari Goulbourne (0.0 PPG, 0.5 APG, 1.5 RPG)
- GUARD 6'1 Ariston Johnson (0.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.5 APG)
- WING 6'5 Tracy Burnett (0.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG)
- WING 6'5 Jalen Reeder (5.0 PPG, 1.0 APG, 2.0 RPG)
Three guards and two wings, mostly undersized, and three of them haven't made a basket in two games. There just isn't much to glean from this group.
What to Watch For
- Chemistry. As alluded to above, this game is clearly about Alabama improving as a team more than it is about getting a win. They may not have looked the part on Tuesday, but this is still a group of guys who haven't logged a lot of minutes with each other. Developing chemistry on both ends of the court is crucial for this team's success moving forward.
- Free Throws. The one area Avery Johnson has not been able to rid this team of #Grantsketball is at the charity stripe. The Tide shot an abhorrent 12/32 from the free throw line against Lipscomb. That is ghastly. Your esteemed writing team here could probably make 12/32 from the free throw line on an open court at the rec center. It didn't matter in the end against Lipscomb, but free throw shooting will cost Alabama a game or more if they don't improve in this area, plain and simple.
I'm not going to mince words: Alabama A&M is probably going to be the worst team on the schedule this season. The Tide should beat this team by 30. Whether they do or not remains to be seen, but it honestly doesn't matter provided they come away with a win. This game is all about a young, incredibly talented team getting another full game together. Expect to see more fireworks, but hopefully Avery will use this game to address some areas of concern that have developed early on in the year: free throw shooting, rebounding, and attention to detail on defense. As has been heard around these parts for quite some time now, it's all about the process.
The game will tip-off at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network+.