It’s Thanksgiving week finally, which means that college basketball’s Feast Week is upon us. Teams from all across the country are participating in non-conference tournaments to help boost their resumes and really break their new teams in for the 2019-20 season. This year, the Alabama Crimson Tide (2-2) are competing in the beautiful islands of the Bahamas in one of the most prestigious of all the non-conference tournaments, the Battle 4 Atlantis. As is to be expected playing in a tournament like this, the Tide are going to face some stiff competition. Iowa State, Michigan, #8 Gonzaga, #11 Oregon, #13 Seton Hall, and Southern Miss are all in Nassau this week, but Alabama may be going up against the best of the bunch from the jump, as they go head-to-head with Roy Williams’ sixth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels (4-0, 1-0 ACC).
This will actually be the Tide’s first meeting with North Carolina since Wimp Sanderson’s final game coaching in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, so Alabama will be looking to get some revenge for the ole ball coach with a bunch of kids who were years away from being born the last time these two met. The winner of today’s game will move into the winner’s bracket of the tournament to meet the winner of the first game of the day, Iowa State-Michigan. The two losers of those games will match-up tomorrow in the loser’s bracket. Either way, expect to have some Tide Hoops with your turkey.
POINT 6’3 Cole Anthony (22.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.8 SPG)
GUARD 6’4 Christian Keeling (6.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.8 APG)
WING 6’7 Rechon Black (5.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 0.8 SPG)
POST 6’9 Garrison Brooks (12.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.8 BPG)
POST 6’10 Armando Bacot (10.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.3 BPG)
The first thing that obviously jumps out about the Tar Heels is their size. This is a big, physical group that plays best around the basket and dominates the glass, as they are currently first in the country in rebounding margin. One-and-done star point Cole Anthony leads the way for them offensively. He will more than likely be a top 5 pick in next year’s draft, and it is easy to see why. He’s a natural scorer (38.0%/38.2%/66.7%) with a knack for making plays and setting up his teammates (27.5% AST%). He is a super high volume player, averaging nearly 20 shots and 8.5 three-point attempts per game.
In the front-court. fellow true freshman, Bacot, and Auburn High product Garrison Brooks anchor the post. The second and third leading scorers on the team, Brooks and Bacot really do all of their damage around the glass, as neither has even attempted a three-point shot this season. They are traditional bigs, and their strengths are in defending the paint area (Brooks: 86.0 DRtg, 2.4% BLK%; Bacot: 77.7 Drtg, 7.3% BLK%), and getting rebounds (Brooks: 11.8% REB%; Bacot: 21.8% REB%).
GUARD 6’3 Andrew Platek (6.8 PPG, 2.5 APG, 2.5 RPG)
GUARD 6’5 Brandon Robinson (3.4 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.4 APG)*
WING 6’7 Justin Pierce (9.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.3 APG)
UNC has not been deep at all this season, as only 7 guys have averaged more than 3.5 MPG. They have been missing senior guard Brandon Robinson thus far though, and he’s expected to play this week. He’ll join Platek coming off of the bench in the back-court. He’s not really known as being a scorer though, which the Heels have sorely lacked from their bench. Platek has had issues knocking down shots (45.5%/23.1%/66.7%), and Pierce, who grad-transferred from William & Mary where he was the leading scorer on the team, hasn’t been able to fully recreate that production in Chapel Hill (42.9%/35.7%/53.3%).
Three Key to Victory
- Contain Cole and Force Him to Pass. As mentioned earlier, Anthony, son of long-time NBA player, Greg Anthony, has been a very high volume player for North Carolina. If Alabama wants to have a shot at pulling the upset, their best opportunity lies on the defensive end. North Carolina hasn’t gotten a ton of offensive production from much of anyone else. which has resulted in them relying heavily on the true freshman. If the Tide can frustrate Anthony and force him into a bad game (he does average 3.5 TOPG), it will be up to the rest of UNC’s squad to carry the load, which none of them have been able to do so far against a weak schedule.
- Hang Tough on the Glass. North Carolina has been dominant on the glass in their first four games. Alabama has been pretty strong in this regard as well, though. If the Tide can keep this margin close, or even win the battle outright, Nate Oats’ squad has a chance. Javian Davis has played really well to start the season, but this is by far his biggest test. Hopefully, he can hold up, and others like Herbert Jones can get in on the action.
- Shots, shots, shots. Oats’ offense simply doesn’t work if the team can’t knock down jumpers. Kira Lewis has been incredible all over the court on offense (well, besides the turnovers), but Alabama needs Jaden Shackelford, John Petty, Alex Reese, and Jaylen Forbes to start consistently making their perimeter shots. Otherwise, you end up with a lot of empty possessions with the opponent going the other way for an easy transition basket. On the other side, North Carolina has not been a very efficient jump-shooting team. If Alabama can force them out of the paint and take away easy baskets, the Tar Heels could have some trouble keeping pace with the Tide.
This is obviously a massive opportunity for this young team. With pretty much nothing to lose, the Tide will hopefully come out swinging early on in the Bahamas. James ‘Beetle’ Bolden remains a game-time decision as he continues to deal with that lingering hand injury. Hopefully he can play, because the turnover problem has been off the charts for Alabama so far, and they could probably use a veteran presence.
Either way, sit back and enjoy this one, it’s not often that Alabama gets to play on a big stage against a blue-blood program other than Kentucky. Kira Lewis vs. Cole Anthony should be a blast. The game will tip at 1:30 PM CST, and will be televised on ESPN.