Stop me if you've heard this before: the Alabama Crimson Tide (6-2) will welcome a very good mid-major team to Coleman Coliseum tonight. With battles against Memphis, Lipscomb, UT-Arlington, Louisiana Tech, and UCF now under the Tide's belt, Alabama now turns its attention to arguably the best of the mid-major bunch on the Tide's schedule: the Rhode Island Rams (5-2). The Rams, who return a large chunk of production from last season's NCAA Tournament team, have played quite the schedule themselves early on, losing only to #22 Nevada and #15 Virginia, both of whom grabbed their first losses of the season last night. They've also defeated a pair of quality Big East opponents in Seton Hall and Providence.
In other words, Rhode Island is a strong basketball team, as they are currently receiving more votes in the AP Poll than Alabama is after the Tide's disappointing loss to UCF on Sunday. Honestly, that loss may not have been the worst possible outcome the other day, as the team's execution has slipped a bit recently. Sure, the Tide has played a strong schedule thus far, but things won't get any easier with Arizona, Texas, and Texas A&M all on the schedule before the calendar flips to 2018. Talent alone isn't going to get the job done on most nights for the Crimson Tide. Hopefully the loss this past weekend will help sharpen the team's focus moving forward, because this team's ceiling is quite high and they have the chance to be a special group. The team did have a players-only meeting afterward, so hopefully they were able to work some things out.
- POINT 6'3 Jeff Dowtin (8.4 PPG, 4.4 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.3 SPG)
- GUARD 6'0 Jarvis Garrett (8.1 PPG, 2.6 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.1 SPG)
- GUARD 6'3 Jared Terrell (17.9 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.9 SPG)
- WING 6’4 Stanford Robinson (9.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.7 APG, 3.0 SPG)
- POST 6’8 Andre Berry (10.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 0.6 APG)
Head Coach Dan Hurley has done a great job in Rhode Island since arriving there in 2012, but this year’s team could, and probably should, be his best yet. Star guard and All-Atlantic 10 selection E.C. Matthews fractured his wrist in that loss to Nevada early on in the season and is doubtful to play in Tuscaloosa tonight. His loss has been a significant one for the Rams, as he averaged 14.9 PPG/4.3 RPG/1.4 APG last season. In his absence, Terrell has done his best to carry the team as a pure scorer, shooting 46.7%/43.3%/82.4% and boasting an ORtg of 118.7. He will be a handful for the Tide.
Joining Terrell in the back-court is sophomore point Dowtin and fellow senior Garrett. Garrett is quite the scorer himself (51.2%/50.0%/87.5%), but it’s partly because he is such a patient and efficient shooter. He’s not a high-volume guy, but he can play. Dowtin isn’t much of a shooter (41.8%/20.0%/68.8%), so the Tide should be aware that he’s looking to dish more often than not. Every one of these guys can defend. They each average over a steal per game and they don’t let opposing players get many shots off.
Robinson plays on the wing because of his relative size and rebounding ability (11.4% REB%), but the guy is basically another guard. Another effective scorer (55.1%/50.0%), Robinson’s only issue offensively thus far this year has been from the line (57.1% FT%), so the Tide will need to stretch the defense out when he’s on the court and force him to earn his points. In the post, Berry has been grinding things out for a team that usually plays small and forces him to make up a lot of ground in the paint. His REB% of 13.3% isn’t great for a big, but it’s tough to grab boards when you are the one body on the court the opposing team absolutely has to find on box-outs.
- GUARD 5’10 Fatts Russell (9.3 PPG, 2.0 APG, 2.3 RPG)
- WING 6’7 Nicola Akele (4.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG)
- POST 6’7 Ryan Preston (2.1 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 0.9 BPG)
- POST 6’8 Cyril Langevine (3.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.0 BPG)
The Rams are a team of guards, and most of them get the lion’s share of minutes. However, the bench is made up mostly of bigger bodies. The lone contributing guard off of the bench is the diminutive, yet explosive, Fatts Russell. He’s another strong scorer (44.9%/44.0%/83.3%) with a knack for making things happen. Akele offers something that the Rams otherwise lack, a true wing who can stretch the floor (50.0% 3P%) and bang on the boards (13.5% REB%). Preston is mostly another grinder that’s main purpose is to crash the glass (19.8% REB%). Langevine had been starting prior to getting injured himself, but Rhode Island played him off of the bench in the two games since his return. Both Preston and Langevine block about 1/10th of every two-point attempt taken by opposing offenses when they are on the court.
Three Keys to Victory
- Offensive Flow. Avery Johnson typically likes to allow his team to create their own rhythm on offense, but that can back-fire with a young group. The Tide had been showing signs of decreasing offensive efficiency in recent games, but it came to a head on Sunday, where Alabama shot 36% from the field in the 2nd half and 3/13 from downtown for the game. Collin Sexton and John Petty struggled to get anything going, and it really hurt the team. Sexton went scoreless from the floor, snagging all 7 of his season-low points from the line while posting an 0/4 mark from the field. Sexton can’t disappear like that. This team needs him to be aggressive. What this team doesn’t need is Petty continuing to chunk up bricks from outside though. The occasional heat check is fine, but 4/12 from the field and 2/9 from the perimeter really hurt Alabama more than it helped. UCF slowed down the game and forced Alabama to beat them in the half-court. Well, that’s Rhode Island’s M.O. Expect the Rams to do the same thing. The Tide can’t settle for a bunch of isolations and pick and rolls alone.
- Rebounds. The Crimson Tide were out-rebounded again on Sunday, this time to the tune of 37-28. After last year’s renaissance on the glass, the inability to control the boards this year has been quite the disappointment. Rhode Island is a very small team. Alabama has to take advantage of this area of the game. There is no reason why the Tide shouldn’t yield a significant advantage in second chance points tonight, and it might be the difference in the game.
- Defensive IQ. The Rams are an incredibly patient, efficient team. They are 283rd in the country in field goal attempts, but 41st in FG% at 49.2%. They are 346th in three-point attempts, but 34th in 3P% at 40.4%. This is the mark of an experienced (and boy are they experienced, with five seniors in their regular rotation) and well-coached team. They will slow the game down and pick at the Alabama defense until they can find a weakness. They will move the ball and ensure that they are getting the best look possible. Really, it should be a great test for the young Tide squad. Alabama must be wary at all times on the defensive end. This team has shown a tendency to fall asleep on defense occasionally. That kind of effort will get them killed tonight.
Alabama’s faced a barrage of tough mid-major opponents this season, but none of them are looking to make it back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament like Rhode Island is. This team is very, very good, even without Matthews. Alabama will need to play a lot better than they did against UCF on Sunday to avoid heading to Arizona on a losing streak.
For some reason this game isn’t being televised. No big deal, it’s not like there are two top 35 teams playing each other. It should be the last time this is a concern though, at least. The game can be streamed on SEC Network+. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM CST.