Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Alabama (5-2) out-played their opponent pretty much across the board in all phases, but couldn’t make a shot, and ended up losing a game it should have won. That was once again the tale last Thursday night in a 70-64 road loss to a good UCF team. The Tide once again dominated on the glass, played tough, hard defense, made some big plays off of turnovers, and still came away with an ‘L’ thanks to an inability to consistently be able to make jump-shots. It’s become a plague for this program for the better part of a decade now, and it’s time to curb this habit.
The good news is that the Crimson Tide return home to lick their wounds in the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum, where Avery Johnson’s team remains undefeated on the season. The bad news is that the Tide can’t rest of its laurels, as yet another quality opponent is up next on the schedule: the Georgia State Panthers (5-3). Yet another 2018 NCAA Tournament team, the Panthers have already defeated an SEC team this season, when they smacked Georgia around 91-67 the day before Thanksgiving. They’ve been inconsistent to be sure (they got beat handily by Liberty this past weekend, another team Alabama plays later on this month), but this is a talented group with a coach who has taken them to the NCAA Tournament twice. Alabama can’t miss a hundred open shots against this team.
POINT 6’3 Kane Williams (10.4 PPG, 3.3 APG, 2.0 RPG, 1.8 SPG)
GUARD 6’3 D’Marcus Simonds (21.6 PPG, 3.5 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.5 SPG)
GUARD 6’5 Damon Wilson (7.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.4 SPG)
WING 6’5 Malik Benlevi (12.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 0.8 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.5 BPG)
POST 6’5 Jeff Thomas (11.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.1 BPG)
Georgia State is easily the smallest team Alabama will play all season, and they like to play up-tempo and shoot the basketball. The main source of offense comes from the Preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year, Simonds. He’s a scorer in every sense of the term. He’s going to fill it up (45.5%/35.3%/64.7%), so Alabama has to find this guy on every possession. What he lacks in efficiency he makes up for in volume. He’s not a bad distributor of the ball either, sporting a team-high 22.7% AST%. Joining him in the back-court is Williams, another great distributor (18.5% AST%) and an efficient scorer (43.1%/66.7%/60.5%), and Wilson, a strong shooter in his own right (51.2%/44.4%/46.2%).
In the “front-court”, and I use that term loosely, as Georgia State only has one because they have to, Benlevi and Thomas offer intriguing match-up issues. Neither are very big, and they certainly struggle on the glass because of it (9.9% and 7.5% REB%, respectively). However, they can both stretch the defense with their shooting abilities (Benlevi: 45.6%/41.7%/50.0%; Thomas: 35.3%/34.7%/92.9%).
GUARD 6’4 Devin Mitchell
GUARD 6’4 Nelson Phillips (4.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG)
POST 6’9 Josh Linder (2.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG)
POST 6’10 Jordan Tyson (2.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG)
The Panthers have a pretty thin bench, but they do have two true post players that will likely see increased time tonight against the Tide. The most interesting note to take-away from this segment though is that former Alabama player Devin Mitchell will be returning to Tuscaloosa in blue-and-white tonight. A former four-star recruit that came to Tuscaloosa alongside Riley Norris and Justin Coleman (who, coincidentally, we are also hosting this week) in the 2014 class, Mitchell left Alabama after Avery Johnson was hired. Johnson essentially told Mitchell he wasn’t going to fit in his back-court long-term, and that it would be best to look elsewhere. So, expect Mitchell, who made his season debut this past Saturday after missing the first part of the season, to come out fired up for this game.
Three Keys to Victory
- Get to the Rim and Dominate the Glass. Georgia State simply doesn’t have the players or the size to hang with Alabama in the front-court. There is no excuse for settling for jump-shots in this game unless Avery just wants the team to work on them in a live setting. Donta Hall should have a massive game swatting shots and grabbing rebounds.
- Be Smart About Line-ups. With all of that being said, Alabama doesn’t need to start two bigs in order to bully the Panthers. Roger’s been calling for an end to our current starting five since the first game, essentially, and there is good reason why. Galin Smith doesn’t need to be on the court with another post player unless it is Alex Reese (who will be a game-time decision after spraining his ankle in practice this weekend), who is almost more of a wing. Herbert Jones’ #1 quality as a player is that he can defend every position 1-4. He’s long as hell. Avery needs to utilize that more and get more scorers out on the court. The starting five should be Kira Lewis, John Petty, Tevin Mack, Jones, and Hall, with Reese and Dazon Ingram the first two off of the bench for length and scoring purposes.
- Make Georgia State Earn their Baskets. The Panthers want to run the floor and find open guys on the perimeter for jumpers. For a team as effective as they are from the floor, they are pretty bad from the free throw line. There is simply no reason to let these guys jack up shots. Contest, force them to drive inside, and make them earn it.
Alabama really can’t afford to fall to 5-3 in advance of the big show-down with PAC-12 elite Arizona on Sunday. This is a big bounce-back game for the Tide. Again, Avery Johnson’s squad didn’t show poorly in any area aside from shooting last week against UCF, so if they can keep that up, and get the shots to fall, this should be an easy home victory. But an upset over Alabama wouldn’t be Georgia State’s first win over an SEC team this season.
The game tips at 7:00 PM CST and will be televised by the SEC Network.