It’s finally that time of the year again, as Tip-off Tuesday ushers in another exciting season of college basketball across the country. This week, 68 of the finest teams from a year ago will be looking to make it back to the NCAA Tournament again this upcoming March, and for the first time since the 2012-13 season, the Alabama Crimson Tide are included in that group. Even without the electrifying Collin Sexton around anymore, the Tide still open up the season with pretty high expectations, as the majority of last season’s young group has returned to again don the Crimson and White for the 2018-19 campaign.
Make no mistake about it: this team should be dancing again come March. However, there is a long way to go between now and then. The Tide need to focus on the task at hand: beating head coach Avery Johnson’s alma mater, the Southern Jaguars.
The Jags are coming off of a 15-18 (10-8, 5th in the SWAC) season in which they threatened to make the NCAA Tournament themselves, coming up short in the semifinals of the SWAC Tournament. Despite the solid finish to the year, the Jags decided to move on from interim head coach Morris Scott, and instead went out and hired former Kentucky Wildcat, Sean Woods, to be the head man this season.
- POINT 6’1 Eddie Reese (11.1 PPG, 3.4 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.1 SPG)
- GUARD 5’8 Torrey Mayo (2.0 PPG, 1.5 APG, 1.2 RPG)
- GUARD 6’3 Aaron Ray (5.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG)
- GUARD 6’4 LaQuentin Collins (3.0 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 0.8 APG)
- POST 6’8 Sidney Umude (8.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG)
*Stats from the 2017-18 season*
I’m not even going to pretend like I know a ton about Southern’s roster, but I know enough to know that this team was hit pretty hard with attrition since last season. Three of the top five players in MPG from last year graduated, and a fourth, third-leading scorer, Jamar Sandifer, left the team. That essentially left Reese, Umude, and a whole lot of unknowns for the Jaguars coming into their first year under Woods.
Reese will quite clearly be the focal point for this team. The senior point guard shot a solid 40.2%/36.3%/70.1% (as a reminder, the format for shooting percentages goes FG%/3P%/FT%) and dished out 3 assists for every 2 turnovers a season ago. He’ll be joined by a plethora of guards with varying degrees of experience, though it’s hard to determine how significant the sample sizes are for each. Mayo averaged 15.7 MPG and played in all 33 games last season, but his 5’8 frame will more than likely prevent him from making much of an impact against a team as long as Alabama.
Umude is the one true post with experience. A top back-up a year ago, Umude scored at just a 47.3% clip, which leaves quite a bit to be desired for a post player. His 13.5% REB% was solid though.
- GUARD 6’4 Richard Lee (3.5 PPG, 0.8 RPG)
- GUARD 6’4 DeRias Johnson (1.6 PPG, 0.9 RPG)
- POST 7’0 Mubashar Ali (2.6 PPG, 1.8 RPG)
What to Watch For
- New Faces. The Crimson Tide will have a few players making their Alabama debuts in this game. Most notably will be Texas transfer, Tevin Mack, and 17 year old true freshman Kira Lewis Jr. These two guys in particular will be critical in moving on from the Collin Sexton era in Tuscaloosa. Lewis is the point guard of the future, and the Tide may need him to become a primary ball-handler as soon as possible. Mack was the leading scorer for the Longhorns as a true freshman, so his ability to create on the offensive end will be key to this team having success this season.
- Injuries. The season hasn’t even started yet and the Tide are already dealing with their fair share of injuries. True freshman guard, Diante Wood, broke an ankle this off-season and will have to redshirt this year. Another true freshman, big man Javian Davis-Fleming, will also have to delay his debut as he’s dealing with a knee issue. Riley Norris is currently listed as week-to-week after undergoing a heart procedure recently (as an aside: he’s expected to make a full recovery). And finally, both Dazon Ingram and Daniel Giddens are considered questionable in advance of tonight’s game. Alabama likely doesn’t need superior depth in order to get a win in Coleman Coliseum tonight, but foul trouble could certainly loom large with this many players likely out for the Tide.
- Herbert Jones and John Petty. If the Crimson Tide want to not only repeat last season’s successes, but actually build upon the foundation that was laid and end up competing for an SEC crown, Jones and Petty will have to lead the way. Herb has all of the tools to be a legitimate superstar. There is a reason why NBA scouts consider him a potential 1st round pick in next June’s draft. If he has developed as a creator on offense, whether that be as a scorer or a ball-handler, the Tide could really be in for a fun year. Especially if Petty has developed some consistency in his game. Ball games were won and lost last season based almost entirely on whether or not Petty was hot. If he can become a consistent threat from beyond the arc, and Jones can become a slashing distributor with that frame of his, this team could be special.
Regardless of how things end up playing out, this should be another fun season for Tide Hoops. A repeat trip to the NCAA Tournament is absolutely the expectation for this team though, and with another really tough schedule littered with quality opponents of all kinds, Alabama certainly wants to make sure it takes care of teams like Southern.
There has been much said about the surprisingly much-publicized “secret scrimmage” loss to Jacksonville State a few weeks back, but the Crimson Tide bounced back last week with a trouncing of Montevallo in an actual exhibition game. For Tide fans everywhere, let’s hope the latter is more indicative of what this team can achieve this season.
The game tips-off at 7:00 PM CST and can be found on the ESPN app and SEC Network+. Or you could show up and support the guys in person for opening night.