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Bama Basketball Breakdown and Game Thread: Murray State

The Crimson Tide return to Coleman Coliseum for another match-up with a quality small conference program

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After a long lay-off for the Thanksgiving holiday, the Crimson Tide (4-1) return to the court Monday night for a tilt with the Murray State Racers (3-0). Alabama will look to build upon a strong finish in the Charleston Classic as they try to remain undefeated at home during the early stages of the 2018-19 season. Once again, the Tide will be tested in this one, as Murray State is a defending conference champion that was tabbed as the favorite in the Ohio Valley Conference yet again this season. The Racers have a long tradition of being a strong small conference program, as last season’s trip to the NCAA Tournament was their sixteenth trip to the Big Dance, which is only a few short of Alabama’s all-time appearances (20).

Murray State is a good basketball team, and Alabama won’t be the only one with its eyes on the Racers tonight; over 30 NBA scouts will be in attendance in Coleman to watch projected lottery pick Temetrius “Ja” Morant take on the Tide. Alabama has a few players with NBA potential on the roster themselves, but make no mistake about it, Morant will be the best player on the court.

The Roster

Starting Five

POINT 6’3 Ja Morant (24.3 PPG, 10.3 APG, 7.0 RPG, 2.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG)

GUARD 6’3 Leroy Buchanan (10.2 PPG, 2.3 APG, 2.3 RPG, 1.0 SPG)

GUARD 6’5 Tevin Brown (9.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.7 SPG)

WING 6’7 Anthony Smith (8.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 BPG)

POST 6’8 Brion Sanchious (1.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.0 BPG)

The Bench

GUARD 6’4 Brion Whitley (5.3 PPG, 0.8 APG)

GUARD 6’2 Jaiveon Eaves (5.0 PPg, 1.3 APG, 1.0 RPG)

WING 6’7 Darnell Cowart (6.3 PPG 3.3 RPG, 1.0 APG)

WING 6’7 Mike Davis (4.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG)

POST 6’7 Devin Gilmore (14.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG)

Again, this team goes as Morant goes. Sure, three games against over-matched opponents isn’t the best sample size, but the numbers he is putting up are eye-popping (59.1%/42.1%/86.7%, 129.5 ORtg, 65.1%! AST%, 13.5% REB%). He’s a projected first-rounder for a reason. He finished 15th in the nation as a true freshman a year ago with 6.2 APG, and trailed only Oklahoma sensation Trae Young in that regard among the rookie class.

As with most small conference teams, the Racers are guard driven and lack size on the inside. They get up and down the court and typically live-and-die by the jump-shot. Brown (38.1%), Whitley (57.1%), Davis (42.9%), and Eaves (50.0%) can all knock down three-pointers, and the Racers force a decent amount of turnovers per game. Gilmore provides an interesting angle to this match-up. He put up a double-double in the only game he’s played in this season, so he could be an x-factor for Murray State. However, it’s uncertain as to whether or not he will go tonight.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Limit Morant. Obviously, the key to defeating Murray State is to stifle their super-star point guard and force others to create on the offensive end. With Kira Lewis only 5 games into his collegiate career, it will likely be a joint effort to contain Morant. This is where Herbert Jones could come up huge. Herb’s got the eyes of NBA scouts himself, mostly due to his frame and his ability to defend every position on the court. If he can shut-down Morant tonight, he could make himself some serious cash.
  2. Keep the Rotation Tight. The final two games in Charleston where the Tide showed so well after the disaster against Northeastern featured a much tighter rotation from Avery Johnson. Daniel Giddens never saw the court, and Avery Jr. played very few minutes. Alex Reese got more involved, and Avery did a much better job of getting creators and shooters together on the court. The results were certainly positive, as the Tide shot as well as they have all season from the field and followed up a dominant win over Ball State with a big win over Wichita State in the fifth place game. One of the criticisms Avery Johnson has received during his time in Tuscaloosa is how liberally he distributes out minutes. It’s understandable to want to get a bunch of different looks early on in the season, but when you are playing a strong schedule where nearly every opponent can beat you, there isn’t much time for feeling things out. The Crimson Tide need to keep to the rotation they developed in the consolation bracket of the Charleston Classic from here on out.
  3. FREE THROWS. As well as the Tide played in their previous game against the Shockers, Alabama still would have lost had they shot free throws like they are known to do. Instead, Lewis, Reese, and Dazon Ingram led the Tide to an incredible 31/33 day from the charity stripe, and the Tide kept the point margin out of reach as they shut the door on Wichita. If those three guys can continue to excel at the foul line, Alabama could be tough to beat once they’ve gotten a solid lead. Hopefully that continues tonight.

It should be a fun one in Coleman Coliseum tonight. As mentioned, there are going to be a ton of NBA scouts in attendance, so Tide fans need to show up and provide a nice atmosphere for our guests. Morant will be as exciting of an opposing player as anybody that comes through Tuscaloosa this season, and the Crimson Tide will have their hands full trying to get the victory over his team tonight.

The game tips at 7:00 PM CST and will only be televised on the SEC Network Alternate channel or the ESPN App. So, even more reason to get out to Coleman for this one.