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Bama Basketball Breakdown and Open Thread: Ball State

The Crimson Tide will try to bounce back from a pathetic outing in the opener of the Charleston Classic

NCAA Basketball: SEC Basketball Tipoff Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that wasn’t exactly an inspiring performance. Northeastern (2-1) is a legitimately solid team. They are a veteran group that will likely win their conference, led by the conference’s preseason player of the year. The Huskies are well coached and play the type of efficient game that drives more athletic, isolation teams like Alabama (2-1) crazy.

But, goodness, that was an abysmal performance by the Crimson Tide.

The shooting issues are one thing. Alabama clearly doesn’t have any consistent go-to scorers on the roster, and the free throw shooting is as bad as it has ever been. Those are not good things, but poor shooting alone can at least somewhat be excused. However, the team has to be able to adjust. Settling for 3/19 from the three point line while only getting a single field goal attempt from Donta Hall, in a game where the Tide had a massive size advantage in the post, is inexcusable. Not being able to defend simple pick-and-rolls is inexcusable. Giving up baskets every time the opposition makes three passes in a possession is inexcusable.

The Tide had a few stinkers like this last season as well, and Avery Johnson’s group was able to overcome most of them. But, yesterday’s effort seemed like a particularly pathetic one. Northeastern didn’t just beat the Tide. The Huskies embarrassed Alabama.

Making matters worse, what was supposed to be a boost to the Tide’s strength of schedule is now going to be a rather large drag on it. Instead of playing the likes of Virginia Tech or Purdue, Alabama will now be relegated to the loser’s bracket, where a struggling Wichita State team, Appalachian State (yes, them again), and Friday’s opponent, Ball State, currently reside.

The Crimson Tide can’t afford another loss in Charleston, or this could end up being a nightmare of a trip east. Unlike Northeastern, the Cardinals (1-2) aren’t really considered a top-tier team in their conference. This team won’t be dancing in March. But, they aren’t a bunch of scrubs either. Another performance like the egg Alabama laid yesterday will get this team beat.

The Roster

Starting Five

  • POINT 6’3 Tayler Persons (15.0 PPG, 4.3 APG, 3.3 RPG, 0.8 SPG)
  • GUARD 6’3 K.J. Walton (14.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.0 APG)**
  • WING 6’7 Kyle Mallers (9.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.3 APG)
  • WING 6’7 Brachen Hazen (10.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.0 APG)**
  • POST 6’8 Tahjai Teague (12.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG)

The Bench

  • GUARD 6’1 Ishmael El-Amin (4.9 PPG, 1.5 APG, 2.0 RPG)
  • GUARD 6’3 Austin Nehls (4.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG)
  • WING 6’6 Zach Gunn (5.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG)
  • POST 6’9 Trey Moses (11.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.8 BPG)

*Stats from last season

**Stats from this season

The Cardinals will look much more like what Alabama is used to seeing in conference play: athletic and long. In fact, Walton and Hazen transferred in from Missouri and Arkansas, respectively. Senior point guard Tayler Persons leads this group. He’s a solid scorer (46.1%/37.3%/67.0%), but he’s certainly not as deadly as Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica. Teague is the anchor in the front-court. The best defender (96.4 DRtg) and rebounder (17.1% REB%) on the team, Teague gives the Cardinals some much needed toughness in the post.

El-Amin provides the spark off of the bench for Ball State as both a scorer (50.0%/44.4%/72.5%) and a distributor (14.2% AST%), but Moses is the most intriguing player on the Cardinals’ bench. A regular starter last season, Moses scored at a 57.0% clip, had the second best defensive rating on the team (100.6), and sported a strong rebounding percentage of 16.1%. Expect him to contribute quite a bit in relief for Teague.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Get the Ball in the Paint. Shooting 3/19 from the three-point line is abysmal in a variety of ways. Not only is it a terrible percentage, but it might as well be a turnover for this team. Alabama is at it’s best when the team is penetrating the paint and getting the ball around the rim. Hall didn’t score a single point in the game against Northeastern yesterday. That’s unacceptable. The Tide won’t win any games this season if Hall puts up a doughnut on the scoreboard. Drive, draw, and dish, Alabama. That’s your game.
  2. Show Some Effective Offensive Looks. Look, it’s early on in the season. Avery Johnson wants to switch up and experiment with different groups of five on the court. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is spending long stretches at a time with only one scorer on the court. John Petty was one of the few guys on offense creating yesterday. But he’s really a spot up shooter that needs to play off of the ball. Surrounding him with Avery Johnson Jr., Dazon Ingram, Galin Smith, and Daniel Giddens isn’t going to get anything done.
  3. Herb Jones and Tevin Mack. I said before the season that these two guys would determine how far this team would end up going. Well, early indications aren’t good. Neither guy has been able to get anything going offensively. Herb clearly hasn’t taken the step on offense that many were hoping he would. However, Mack was Texas’s leading scorer as a freshman two years ago. The guy can play, but he’s getting less than 20 MPG. He needs to get involved a bit more in the game-plan. He had a nice take that he finished with a smooth eurostep during one of Alabama’s only runs yesterday, and then he was pulled shortly after. Again, the rotations need some work, and Mack needs to get more time with guys who he can play off of like Kira Lewis.

There is no way to sugar-coat this: Alabama has to get up off of the mat and turn this thing around immediately. If the Tide don’t pull a 180 today, this trip to Charleston could end up being a quick death to Alabama’s tournament hopes. It’s early still, but Avery Johnson’s team can’t afford to follow-up a loss to Northeastern with a loss to Ball State.

The game will tip-off at 12:30 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.