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Bama Basketball Breakdown and Game Thread: Arizona

Avery Johnson needs a major bounce-back as one of the PAC-12’s elite come to Tuscaloosa

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Roll ‘Bama Roll’s hoops previews have taken on the title, ‘Bama Basketball Breakdown’ since I started covering the basketball team five years ago. Breakdown, in this instance, meaning a breakdown of the coming match-up with whoever the opponent happens to be. But we may be searching for another name, because Alabama (5-3) had a complete breakdown, meaning collapse, in their last outing against Georgia State.

There is no other way to put it: Tuesday night’s meltdown against the Panthers was the worst loss of the Avery Johnson era. And that’s not to discredit Georgia State, they are a legitimately strong team that has as good of a chance as anyone in their conference of making it back to the NCAA Tournament come March. They blew out Georgia earlier this year. However, there is just no excuse whatsoever for blowing a 22-point lead with 14 minutes to play at home against a Sun Belt team.

The murmurs are starting to become rumblings now. Four years into Avery Johnson’s tenure, we pretty much know what to expect from this program with him at the helm. We understand the pros and cons that Avery Johnson brings to the table. Well, just about every weakness Avery has was on display the other night. Playing too many guys, not making adjustments of any kind, refusing to run (or maybe just incapable of running) any sets or plays to get the most out of our team on the offensive end, etc. It all came to a head Tuesday night. People aren’t happy. Contrary to popular opinion (at least nationally), Alabama basketball isn’t some sort of downtrodden program that can only hope to achieve decent results every once in a while. This is one of the most successful basketball programs in SEC history, and these continued displays of what has been oh so affectionally dubbed around here as “Grantsketball”, simply won’t cut it.

The Tide now welcome in one of the most successful basketball programs on the Western side of the United States, as the Arizona Wildcats (7-2) come to town. This year’s squad isn’t as talented as Sean Miller’s teams typically are, but this is still a really good team that will be dancing in March. Alabama better turn things around quickly.

The Roster

Starting Five

POINT 5’10 Justin Coleman (11.8 PPG, 3.0 APG, 1.6 RPG, 1.0 SPG)

GUARD 6’2 Brandon Williams (12.4 PPG, 4.1 APG, 2.9 RPG, 0.9 SPG)

WING 6’6 Brandon Randolph (17.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.7 SPG)

POST 6’9 Ryan Luther (7.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.1 SPG)

POST 6’10 Chase Jeter (11.7 PPG 7.7 RPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.9 BPG)

As I mentioned in the Georgia State preview, this is a week of homecoming for a pair of former Tide guards: Devin Mitchell for the Panthers, and now Justin Coleman for the Wildcats. Unlike Mitchell though, Coleman was a major contributor in his time here at the Capstone, and he’s having a heck of a year for Arizona now. He’s shot the ball way more consistently than he ever did here (49.3%/44.4%/87.0%), and his assist numbers are up as well (20.1% AST%). He’s also known to ball-out in homecoming games. After all, he dropped 24 and 6 against a highly-ranked Oregon team a few years back when Alabama played in his hometown of Birmingham. He’s going to be ready to play.

Joining him in the back-court will be probably the best pair of Brandons in the country. Williams is a true freshmen that has been a fantastic distributor of the basketball (over 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, 25.2% AST%), but he’s had issues scoring the ball (35.2%/25.6%/86.0%). Randolph is the leader of the team. With a shooting clip of 48.6%/34.1%/92.3%, the guy is a tremendous creator of offense, and if he’s on from the perimeter, he’s incredibly difficult to contain. Avery needs to give him a healthy dose of Herbert Jones, because the Tide can’t afford to let him get loose.

In the front-court, Luther and Jeter provide a strong one-two combo. Jeter transferred in from Duke, so he’s certainly talented, scoring at a 66.7% clip with an 18.0% REB% and a team-leading 87.7 DRtg. He’s a really good post player, and Alabama will need to know where he is on both ends of the court. Luther is a solid player in his own right, as he sports a 12.7% REB% and the second highest DRtg on the team (91.1).

The Bench

GUARD 6’2 Alex Barcello (3.3 PPG, 0.7 APG, 0.7 RPG)

WING 6’5 Dylan Smith (5.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 0.9 APG)

WING 6’7 Emmanuel Akot (3.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.0 APG)

POST 6’7 Ira Lee (4.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG)

The Wildcats biggest issue this season has been getting offensive production from their bench. Barcello sports decent scoring numbers (41.7%/33.3%/100%), but he only plays about 9 MPG and only attempts about two shots a game. Coleman will get most of the press regarding his return to Tuscaloosa but Smith, the Hoover High graduate, will be experiencing a bit of a homecoming as well. He’s been a major key for Arizona this season. If he’s knocking down shots (31.4%/32.4%/52.9%), Sean Miller suddenly has a nice scoring option off of the bench, but his consistency has been an issue.

Akot is a former five-star point forward that has been extremely disappointing in his two seasons in Tucson. However, he still gets plenty of attention from the NBA due to his ceiling alone. A 6’7 wing who can handle the basketball is an NBA scout’s dream, hence why Herbert continues to see his name in first round NBA Draft mocks for this upcoming summer. Despite his struggles, Akot shouldn’t be taken lightly.

This is a major opportunity for Alabama to turn its season around and get back on track. None of the Tide’s three losses are exactly resume killers, but the quantity of, “well, that team is actually pretty good” losses is starting to stack up. Combine that with an SEC that hasn’t been nearly as strong as many thought it would be, and the margin for error is shrinking quickly if the Tide hope to return to the NCAA Tournament. And that’s exactly what this team should be achieving. Even without Collin Sexton, there is no reason Alabama shouldn’t be dancing again come March.

Get it done, Avery.

The game tips at noon CST on ESPN.