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Bama Basketball Breakdown: UT-Arlington

The Crimson Tide encounter their first real test at home

NCAA Basketball: Texas-Arlington at St. Mary's Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off of Alabama’s dominant 104-67 pasting of in-state doormat Alabama A&M, the Crimson Tide look to remain undefeated as they get ready for their trip to Brooklyn for the Barclay’s Center Classic this upcoming weekend. The newly ranked (at least according to the AP Poll) Tide have been rolling early on this season, but things are about to get really interesting over the Thanksgiving holidays. And that begins, not on Friday when the Tide tipoff in Brooklyn, but on Tuesday night when the Mavericks of UT-Arlington (2-0) come to town.

That aforementioned AP Poll? Yeah, UT-Arlington got a couple of votes in that this week as well. The Mavericks are an extremely experienced bunch that won 27 games last season, already beat Alabama’s opponent on Friday (BYU), and are led by one of the better small-conference coaches in the country, Scott Cross. Cross is in his 12th season as the Mavericks’ coach, and he has had a lot of success over the course of the last decade, successfully guiding UT-Arlington from the Southland Conference to the Sun Belt. The Mavs came up just short of appearing in the NCAA Tournament last season, but they would have been a tough match-up for any top seed last March.

And now the whole team is back, essentially. These guys can play, and Alabama better not take them lightly.

The Roster

Starting Five

  • POINT 5’11 Erick Neal (17.5 PPG, 10.5 APG, 2.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG)
  • GUARD 6’2 Kaelon Wilson (11.5 PPG, 1.5 APG, 3.0 RPG)
  • GUARD 6’5 Nathan Hawkins (6.5 PPG, 1.5 APG, 1.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG)
  • WING 6’7 Kevin Hervey (25.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.0 SPG)
  • POST 7’0 Johnny Hamilton (11.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.5 BPG)

This is a damn fine starting five. Easily the best ‘Bama has faced thus far. Neal vs. Sexton should be an epic battle between superstar freshman and veteran, stud senior (of which he is one of five starting). Neal is a scoring machine (45.8% FG%, 46.7% 3P%, 85.7% FT%) and currently boasts a ridiculous 55.6% AST%, meaning he assists on over half of the shots made when he’s on the floor. Joining him in the back-court are a pair of solid vets in Wilson and Hawkins. Both of them have started off the year hot from downtown as well (Wilson: 50.0% 3P%, Hawkins: 60.0% 3P%).

In the front-court, the Mavs feature a seven-footer in the post and an all-around star on the wing. Hervey is a fantastic basketball player. He’s currently shooting 50.0%/40.0%/87.5% with a 132.0 ORtg, 27.7% AST%, and 17.5% RB%, which is Player of the Year type numbers. Hamilton isn’t a great rebounder (11.0% RB%), but at 7’0 he’s a match-up problem every time out on the court.

The Bench

  • GUARD 5’11 DJ Bryant (0.0 PPG, 2.0 APG, 1.5 RPG)
  • GUARD 6’5 Mairega Clarke (3.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.5 BPG)
  • WING 6’9 Davion Turner (5.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.5 APG)
  • POST 7’1 Link Kabadyundi (4.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG)

Like most smaller schools, the Mavericks don’t have the luxury of a lot of quality depth, but they’ve got a couple of solid role players that know what they are doing and can provide quality minutes when the starters need rest. Turner and Clarke are both currently shooting 66.7% from the field, with Turner hitting half of his three-point attempts so far this season. Kabadyundi lacks polish, but being able to sub out one seven-footer for another is quite the luxury for Arlington.

What To Watch For

  • Riley Norris’ Status. Alabama’s senior wing is currently a game-time decision for tonight’s match-up. With the Tide at such a serious disadvantage in experience, it would be nice to have a veteran like Norris out on the court tonight. Plus, Norris’ versatility would be huge for chasing shooters like Arlington has.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Lock Down the Arc. UT-Arlington likes to get shots up. A lot. They utilize a fast-paced tempo, spread out the floor, and unleash a barrage of jump-shots. Alabama isn’t going to try to slow the pace down themselves, as this Tide team plays well fast and will want to use their superior depth to their advantage tonight, so it is imperative that Alabama run the Mavs off of the three-point line. They buried BYU and Loyola-Marymount by shooting 51% from beyond the arc.
  2. Sexton v. Neal. Neal is the architect to this explosive offense. Sexton has seen plenty of talented players before, but never in a setting like this. Alabama needs Sexton to be able to slow Neal down and be ready to trade baskets with him on the other end.
  3. Free Throws. The only people that might slow this game down are the guys wearing stripes. College basketball refs love to slow games down and turn them into free throw shooting contests for some reason. In a game where there will be a lot of points scored (oh, how things change, am I right?), Alabama will struggle to keep up if they continue to throw up bricks from the charity stripe.

Don’t sleep on this UT-Arlington team. They won 27 games a year ago and should eclipse that number this year. This is a legitimately good basketball team, and they’ve got some ballers. The 25th-ranked Tide will need to bring their A-game tonight if they want to remain undefeated before they make the trip up to Brooklyn.

Tonight’s game can be seen on the SEC Network at 8:00pm CT.