Three games into the 2020 campaign, the Alabama Crimson Tide (1-2) certainly find themselves in an interesting position. For one, it’s clear now that it’s going to take some time for Nate Oats to get this team playing his brand of ball effectively. The Tide do play with the kind of frenetic pace that Oats employs, but with very mixed results. Alabama has struggled to take care of the basketball and get back on defense. John Petty, in particular, has had a tough time transitioning to Oats’ pace. I’ve seen some mention that Alabama is top-5 in the SEC in both assists and three-pointers made, which sounds nice, except that when you have more possessions and take more threes than anybody else, that’s to be expected. Alabama has a negative assist-to-turnover ratio and is 290th in the country in 3P% at a measly 28.1%.
So, yeah, it’s been a rough transition. With that being said, there have been some positives. Javian Davis has been a pleasant surprise in the post, averaging 10.7 PPG and 6.0 RPG despite not playing much in the opener against Penn. He’s brought a much-needed presence in the paint, on both ends of the court. He’s got potential, but he needs some help in the post. Herbert Jones and Alex Reese can only do so much to spell the big guy. Kira Lewis is easily on pace to end up on the 1st-Team All SEC squad, as he’s been absolutely killing it (22.3 PPG, 5.7 APG, 6.3 RPG on 51.0%/38.9%/76.9% shooting). Free throw shooting has shown tremendous growth, as Alabama is shooting 73.3% as a team, after years of wasted trips to the line.
All-in-all, Alabama looks like a rebuilding team with a lot of promise. Many (myself included) thought that with the talent and experience the Tide had coming back, Alabama could hit the ground running relatively well in Oats’ first year. But that clearly isn’t the case. The team has struggled to play his style effectively at a consistent level. It hasn’t helped that ‘Bama’s playing a murderer’s row of a schedule. It’s not like Utah Valley or Alabama A&M are coming to Tuscaloosa and beating the Tide.
No, instead it’s teams like undefeated Furman (4-0). The Paladins are one of the top contenders to win a secretly-strong SOCON and make a trip to the NCAA Tournament, a year after winning 25 games and being ranked at one point. They’ve certainly lived up to expectations thus far, with an average margin of victory of 24.3 PPG. Head coach Bob Richey has done a fantastic job with this squad, and in Year 3, he’s looking to really make some noise.
POINT 5’11 Alex Hunter (8.3 PPG, 3.0 APG, 1.3 RPG, 1.0 SPG)
GUARD 5’11 Jordan Lyons (13.8 PPG, 2.8 APG, 2.5 RPG, 1.3 SPG)
WING 6’7 Clay Mounce (15.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.8 APG, 2.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG)
WING 6’7 Noah Gurley (15.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.3 BPG)
POST 6’8 Jalen Slawson (10.0 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG)
The Paladins return four starters from last season, so this is a team that knows how to go on the road and beat Power 5 programs. Just ask Villanova, who Furman beat last season in OT, the Wildcats’ second loss since winning the National Championship that April. As you can see by their SPG and BPG, every player in this starting group causes havoc on defense. And defense travels in basketball. Their guards are very active with their hands in the back-court, and their trio of stretch-forwards can defend both out on the wing and down in the paint.
Offensively, Mounce is the main-man, and he’s off to a raging-hot start in 2019-20 (62.9%/52.6%/66.7%, 131.2 ORtg). Lyons and Hunter have had somewhat stagnant starts shooting the ball (Lyons: 42.2%/22.2%/84.6%; Hunter: 37.9%/27.8%/100%), but they are making their trips to the line count and have been the lead catalysts to Furman’s fantastic passing, making up a combined 29.1% of their 16.0 APG. Gurley and Slawson both provide the ability to score well both inside and out (Gurley: 67.6%/33.3%/81.3%; Slawson: 69.9%/42.9%/83.3%), so ‘Bama’s front-court will be busy tonight.
GUARD 6’0 Jaylen Pugh (3.5 PPG, 1.0 RPG)
GUARD 6’1 Colin Kenney (1.3 PPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 RPG)
GUARD 6’3 Mike Bothwell (9.5 PPG, 2.0 APG, 2.8 RPG)
GUARD 6’5 Tre Clark (4.8 PPG, 2.0 APG, 3.3 RPG)
Furman’s bench is short and shallow. This is an area Alabama needs to exploit tonight. The Paladins really only go about seven-deep, as, despite the large MOV they have enjoyed this season, only Bothwell and Clark have logged more than 7.5 MPG off of the bench. Both are quasi-starter in their own right, and Bothwell has shot the ball really well as the sixth man this year (48.3%/46.7%/60.0%).
Three Keys to Victory
- Limit Turnovers. Goodness gracious, the turnovers are killing the Tide. It was expected that Alabama would see a spike in turnovers early on this season as they adjusted to Oatsball, but damn. 56 turnovers in three games is incredibly bad. Oats refuses to let the guys slow the pace, so they are just going to have to make smarter decisions with the ball. The good thing about playing at a fast pace is that, often times, there aren’t many tough decisions to make with the ball. Kira and Herb are made for this type of attack, they just need to tighten it up a little bit. Get down the court quickly, get by the on-his-heels defender, and then take it to the rim, quick it out to the corner, or toss it up to Davis.
- Take Advantage on the Glass. Despite Alabama’s lack of depth at the post position, they’ve utilized their overall team size and athleticism to dominate the boards this season, winning the rebounding battle by 8.6 RPG. Furman has only thee true front-court players, two who prefer to play out on the wing. With the Tide being as careless as they’ve been with the ball, rebounding has helped limit the opponent’s advantage in possessions. That needs to continue tonight.
- Make Some Shots. Ultimately, Oats’ system doesn’t work if you can’t knock down open shots in the corner. One area where Alabama has effectively adapted to Oatsball is getting good looks from beyond the perimeter, they just haven’t been able to cash in on them. Petty, Lewis, Jaden Shackelford, Jaylen Forbes, and Beetle Bolden are all more than capable of shooting the ball well. The looks have been there, it’s time for them to start falling. I think getting Petty and Shack off of the ball and in spot-up positions more would benefit ‘Bama. Less turnovers and better legs for these perimeter shots.
Another game, another really good opponent. It’s trial by fire for Alabama in Year 1 under Nate Oats, and with #5 North Carolina up next in the Bahamas, sink-or-swim time has come early for the Tide.
The fun thing about playing a schedule like this is that each game provides another opportunity to improve and get a good win. Furman is going to be in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament this season, maybe even as an at-large in the peaking Southern Conference. A win tonight would be a nice accomplishment for this rebuilding team.
The game will tip-off at 7:00 PM CST and can be streamed on the ESPN App or SEC Network+ (how we can’t get on TV with these games is beyond me, what the hell is the SEC Network even good for, football hot take shows?).