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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Barclays Center Classic

Alabama heads to Brooklyn looking to remain undefeated against a pair of tough opponents

NCAA Basketball: Texas-Arlington at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

How about that game on Tuesday night? The near-capacity crowd that showed up for a 8:00 PM tip got their money’s worth, as they were treated to a hard fought, well-played game of basketball the likes Coleman Coliseum unfortunately hasn’t seen much of in recent years. Most importantly, the 25th-ranked Crimson Tide survived the offensive onslaught of the UT-Arlington Mavericks and kept their undefeated record intact. Quick shout-out to the Mavs, they are a really good basketball team. Hopefully, they don’t get upset in their conference tournament this year because that team deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament. Erick Neal and Kevin Hervey are the real deal.

Now, on to the next challenge. Alabama will spend its Thanksgiving in Brooklyn this weekend, as the “main event” of the Barclays Center Classic takes center stage. The Barclays Center Classic is technically a non-conference tournament, much like so many other college basketball tournaments being held this week. However, it’s got quite a strange format.

Technically, Alabama has already been participating in it. Alabama A&M and UT-Arlington were both on the schedule as part of this event. Instead of having a traditional 8-team tournament, the Barclays Center Classic is more of a pseudo-round robin involving Alabama, Minnesota, BYU, UMass, UT-Arlington, Western Carolina, Alabama A&M, and Niagara. Except, instead of everybody playing each team once, the Classic divides them into two groups of four: Alabama, Minnesota, UMass, and BYU as the main event participants, and the rest as the under-card participants (nobody tell UT-Arlington that). The under-card participants will compete in a legitimate four team tournament this weekend, while the main event participants will play two of the three other teams in the group. It’s a strange format.

Oh, yeah, and the Brooklyn Nets play at home on Friday, so Friday’s games will be played instead at LIU-Brooklyn’s home court. And if that isn’t enough, the games won’t even be on television! No, you will have to use Facebook in order to watch the Tide play this weekend. Who organized this again?

Regardless, the important thing to note is that Alabama will put their top-25 ranking to the test, as the Tide will take on the BYU Cougars (3-1) Friday afternoon at 1:30 PM CST, and the 14th-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-0) at 4:00 PM CST on Saturday. Yes, that means Alabama will face their toughest test to date during the middle of the Iron Bowl. Again, the logistics of this tournament are a disaster and heads should roll within the group responsible for putting this tournament together.

BYU Cougars

The Roster

Starting Five

  • POINT 6’4 TJ Haws (13.2 PPG, 5.0 APG, 4.2 RPG)
  • GUARD 6’4 Elijah Bryant (21.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG)
  • WING 6’7 Zac Seljaas (8.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.5 APG)
  • STRETCH 6’8 Yoeli Childs (13.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.8 SPG, 2.8 BPG)
  • POST 6’10 Luke Worthington (6.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG)

The Bench

  • GUARD 5’11 Jashire Hardnett (4.2 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.5 APG)
  • GUARD 6’4 Kajon Brown (0.8 PPG)
  • WING 6’7 Dalton Nixon (8.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • POST 6’10 Payton Dastrup (3.8 PPG, 1.0 RPG)

Yes, this team was blitzed by UT-Arlington 89-75 last weekend and probably should’ve been demoted to the “under-card” tournament, but they can still play, and Alabama will need to be at its best if they want to remain undefeated. Head Coach Dave Rose is trying to get the Cougars back to the NCAA Tournament after missing out on it the previous two seasons. The last time BYU failed to make the Tournament three consecutive years, Mike Dubose was still roaming the sidelines in Tuscaloosa on fall Saturdays.

The Cougars have a pretty tight rotation, as they play seven guys over 20.0 MPG and barely play anybody else. Haws and Bryant are the main conduits on the offensive side of the court. Haws is shooting 43.8%/44.4%/89.5% and has a 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He only turns the ball over twice a game despite heavy usage on-ball. Bryant is the pure scorer on the court (50.0%/44.0%/88.6%) with an ORtg of 142.7, which is even higher than Hervey’s is. Alabama must keep these two under wraps.

Fouls and free throws will loom large in this game. Again, BYU is short on depth, so if they get into foul trouble it will be tough for them to hang with Alabama’s athletes. However, if ‘Bama sends BYU to the line often the Cougars have a chance, as they are shooting 78.7% as a team from the line. Worthington is the only bad free throw shooter in the regular rotation.

The Tide will want to run the floor though. The Mavericks shot BYU out of the gym by getting up-and-down the court and running that tight rotation into the ground. Something tells me Collin Sexton, Dazon Ingram, Donta Hall, among others, won’t have an issue with this.

#14 Minnesota Golden Gophers

The Roster

Starting Five

  • POINT 6’1 Nate Mason (13.6 PPG, 4.0 APG, 5.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG)
  • GUARD 6’4 Dupree McBrayer (10.0 PPG, 3.0 APG, 1.6 RPG)
  • WING 6’8 Amir Coffey (13.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.0 APG, 0.8 SPG)
  • WING 6’6 Jordan Murphy (23.8 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.2 BPG)
  • POST 6’10 Reggie Lynch (12.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.8 APG, 5.2 BPG)

The Bench

  • GUARD 6’1 Isaiah Washington (7.2 PPG, 3.4 APG, 1.8 RPG)
  • GUARD 6’2 Jamir Harris (5.8 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 1.0 APG)
  • WING 6’7 Davonte Fitzgerald (4.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.8 APG)
  • WING 6’7 Michael Hurt (3.2 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 0.8 APG)

It’s incredibly frustrating that this game was scheduled during the middle of the Iron Bowl (and on Facebook). Minnesota will be one of the best teams Alabama plays all year; this is a big-time match-up. The Gophers are coming off of their first NCAA Tournament appearance under Richard Pitino (yes, Rick’s son, yes, the same one Alabama considered going after when Anthony Grant was let go), where they got screwed with horrible seeding and were “upset” by Middle Tennessee in a 12-5 match-up. They returned all 5 starters from that group, and they’ve wasted no time trying to get back to the tournament, trouncing everyone that they have played so far.

All five starters are averaging double-digit scoring, and that’s the biggest problem when facing this team. They are all very good basketball players. Murphy and Lynch are absolute monsters in the front-court. Murphy is currently boasting a 65.7% FG% and a 143.1 ORtg (again, higher than Hervey’s) to go along with his 19.4% RB%. Lynch is scoring at a 68.4% clip with a 18.1% RB% and a ridiculous 21.4% B%. In other words, he is blocking over a fifth of all two-point attempts opposing teams are taking when he is on the floor. For comparison, Alabama’s shot-swatting stud, Donta Hall, has a 12.8% B%.

Minnesota is a really well coached team. They share the ball as well as anyone in the country. Alabama will have to bring their ‘A’ game if the Tide hopes to topple this team; they are legitimate Big Ten contenders. The Tide will also have to adjust to Minnesota’s style, as the Gophers play at a grinding, physical pace, which is much different than anyone else ‘Bama has played this year.

All-in-all, this is going to be a great test for Alabama this weekend. Avery Johnson’s club showed amazing poise and determination in defeating a very good UT-Arlington team on Tuesday, but they will have to play even better than that if they hope to remain undefeated and ranked.

Can Sexton and company continue to put up points in bunches and grab a pair of strong wins this weekend? If they are able to, this team will have had one of the best weeks of basketball Alabama has seen in a very long time, and conversations about how high the ceiling for this team is will begin to really spike.

Friday, Nov 24, 1:30 p.m. CT vs BYU

Saturday, Nov 25, 4 p.m. CT vs Minnesota