Happy Thanksgiving everyone! As you finish up stuffing whatever desert is leftover while your uncle rambles on and on about his take on the current political landscape, remember to cut him off at 5:30 PM CST for the Alabama Crimson Tide’s (2-3) match-up with the Iowa State Cyclones (3-2) in the Battle 4 Atlantis consolation semifinals. Alabama ended up on this end of the bracket after yesterday’s 76-67 loss to the sixth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. Iowa State lost a competitive game against the Michigan Wolverines in their opener.
‘Bama fought hard yesterday against the superior Tar Heels, but ultimately, too many missed shots and UNC’s staggering size was too much for the short-handed Tide. Today, Alabama will have a much better shot at picking up a big non-conference win over a Power 6 team in the Cyclones, who have fallen in their only two meetings against P6 opponents this year. This will be an interesting match-up for a couple of different reasons, but the most intriguing story-line to this game is the head coaching match-up. Steve Prohm, a former Bama graduate and assistant, is in his fifth season leading the Cyclones. He was also considered one of Alabama’s biggest targets when the Tide were looking for a replacement for Avery Johnson this past spring.
Prohm’s teams are always exceptionally athletic and play fast. He’s definitely continued the tradition and style that Fred Hoiberg made so successful in Ames, Iowa. They always seem to bring in a number of transfers that keep the program running, and they are the type of team that can compete with anyone when they are hot.
POINT 6’5 Tyrese Haliburton (10.8 PPG, 10.3 APG, 4.8 RPG, 3.5 SPG)
GUARD 6’3 Rasir Bolton (12.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG)
GUARD 6’3 Prentiss Nixon (8.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.5 SPG)
POST 6’8 Solomon Young (12.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG)
POST 6’9 Michael Jacobson (9.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG)
Haliburton (no, he’s not connected to Dick Cheney) is an under-the-radar stud on the national stage. After drawing lottery-pick Cole Anthony in the first round, Kira Lewis will have another match-up with a likely 2020 draft pick in this game. At only 175 pounds, Haliburton doesn’t look like he should be as good as he is, but the guy just has a knack for making things happen. He was the main reason the Cyclones stuck in as long as they did with Michigan yesterday, finishing with 25 points on 11/24 shooting, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists, leading the team in each category. He’s a gamer and an impressive player.
Bolton, who the Tide played when he was with Penn State last year (obligatory #deathtotheNCAA here), and Nixon join him in the back-court. Both have really struggled to make jump-shots this season (Bolton: 39.1%/11.1%/80.0%; Nixon: 33.3%/21.1%/60.0%), and it has hurt Iowa State significantly. They both have strong assist-to-turnover ratios, but they need to start helping Haliburton carry the load on offense.
In the front-court, Young and Jacobson give the Cyclones a pair of posts with complementary games. Jacobson is the better rebounder (17.4% REB% to 11.7%) and can stretch the defense with his ability to step out and knock down shots (40.0% 3P%), while Young is the better defender (Young: 87.7 DRtg, 5.9% BLK%; Jacobson: 89.6 DRtg; hasn’t blocked a shot all year).
GUARD 6’1 Tre Jackson (4.3 PPG, 1.8 APG, 1.5 RPG)
GUARD 6’3 Caleb Grill (5.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.7 SPG)
WING 6’6 Zion Griffin (7.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.8 SPG)
POST 6’10 George Conditt IV (10.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.0 BPG)
The Cyclones typically play their starting five as much as anybody in the country does, but they’ve had to adjust a bit this season. Jackson (31.6%/33.3%/0.0%), Grill (60.0%/60.0%/100%), and Griffin (50.0%/35.7%/66.7%) have been inserted quite a bit to try to spark something on offense with Bolton and Nixon’s struggles. Grill (21.3% AST%) and Jackson (17.0% AST%) have both been pretty great distributing the ball as well. Conditt is a monster in the paint defensively (73.5 DRtg, 21.8% BLK%). Yes, read those numbers again.
Three Keys to Victory
- Limit Haliburton. Much like with North Carolina, Iowa State’s offense runs almost entirely through their point guard. Alabama actually did a great job on Cole Anthony yesterday, but when you give up 20 offensive rebounds, it’s not going to matter. Luckily, Iowa State is the complete opposite of UNC in the rebounding category, so if Alabama can contain Haliburton the way they did Anthony yesterday, and force others to beat them, they could have a lot of success on defense.
- Bounce Back on the Glass. As I just mentioned, Iowa State is the total opposite of North Carolina when it comes to rebounding the basketball. They are terrible at it. Michigan out-rebounded the Cyclones by 11 yesterday. The Tide had been pretty good on the glass prior to the UNC game, so if they can get back to their usual ways, ‘Bama could hold a huge advantage in second chance points.
- Keep Reducing Turnovers. Alabama had their best game of the season taking care of the basketball yesterday, turning the ball over seven less times than their average. That actually allowed them to have a +7 margin against the Heels in that area. Both ‘Bama and Iowa State want to get out and running in transition off of turnovers, so the team that turns it over less will likely come away with a victory tonight.
I’d also like to give a quick shout-out to John Petty. He was on fire yesterday, and I really don’t understand why we went away from him in the second half for as long as we did. Petty is a great shooter when he plays in rhythm and takes good shots. He finished 7/10 from downtown in that game, but he was 7/8 in spot-up three-pointers. Both times he tried to create off of the dribble, he missed badly. Alabama needs him to shoot like he did yesterday, and he will be able to do that more consistently when he improves on his shot selection.
This is a very winnable game for the Crimson Tide. Yesterday, Nate Oats’ squad was playing with nothing to lose against a top-ten opponent, and it felt like the offense flowed a lot better because they played a lot more loose (the shots themselves though, yikes). Alabama needs to move the ball offensively like they did yesterday again today. And if they can frustrate Haliburton, force the Cyclones’ other players to take jump-shots, win consistently on the glass, and take care of the basketball, they can win this game.
It would be a much-needed victory.
Again, the game tips at 5:30 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.