Well, things certainly have escalated for the Alabama Crimson Tide (2-4), as they head into Friday night’s 7th Place game against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (2-5) just looking to get a win of any kind in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Let’s not sugar-coat the situation: the Tide look really bad. The roster already was a bit of a square-hole, round-peg situation, but the number of injuries and the NCAA’s incompetence have really hurt this team. They are simply too thin to play at Nate Oats’ preferred pace.
But, what can you do? Oats is trying to rebuild this program into his image, so changing up his style for this year’s team is grossly short-sighted. No, the Tide will simply have to continue churning away, trying to improve both as a team and individually as they attempt to turn this season around. The good news for Alabama is also the bad news: the schedule is brutal. The positive to that is that a winning record of any kind against this schedule will give the Tide a chance come Selection Sunday (please stop laughing).
However, this game is an exception to that schedule. Southern Miss isn’t any good. Their only two wins have come at the expense of Delta State and William Carey. Outside of that, they have been beaten by the likes of North Florida and South Alabama, and been run out of the gym by Iowa State, Gonzaga, and Seton Hall. Alabama simply can’t lose to this team.
What to Watch For
In lieu of the usual roster breakdown and three keys section I typically do for these previews, I’m going to highlight things to look for in this game. The game tonight is about Alabama and what this team needs to do to turn this season around. A victory is the bare minimum expected tonight.
- Bounce-back for Kira Lewis. The Tide have way too many issues as a team for the star player to perform like Lewis did yesterday. 3/13 shooting with four turnovers and poor defense from him will sink this team every night. He can’t afford to play that way.
- Can Petty Stay Hot? It’s incredible how much better John Petty is when his shot selection is where it needs to be. He has carried Alabama on offense this week, and it’s because he is finally allowing the offense to come to him instead of taking terribly forced shots. When his shots are falling, his effort goes through the roof, and this team badly needs that from him. If there is one thing Alabama has improved in significantly this season (besides free throw shooting, which has been much better), it’s getting good looks at the basket. The opportunities will be there for Petty, he just needs to be patient with it.
- Defensive IQ. Alabama sucks on defense. Sucks. A lot of that does have to do with only 9 players running at the pace the Tide play with right now. But a lot of it is just dumb mistakes. Iowa State, who hasn’t been a good shooting team all season, had open look after open look yesterday. ‘Bama is slow to rotate and miserable in transition. Oats runs nothing but man-to-man, and the Tide only have about two guys who can stay in front of their opponent consistently. This is the only thing I’d like to see Oats switch up. I think the defense would benefit substantially from throwing in some zone concepts. But that requires that they get back after a missed shot. Of course, when you turn the ball over as much as Alabama does, defense doesn’t matter. Which brings me to my next point.
- Offensive IQ. Just because the pace is fast doesn’t mean you have to be the first player into the paint. Alabama’s had a bad problem with guys racing to get to the basket, and turning the ball over because of it. Lewis and Herbert Jones have really struggled with this. If you have a step on your man and an outlet pass of some sort, whether it be in the corner on the wing or across the lane, go for it. But if nothing is there, nothing is there. Don’t force it every time just because you think you are supposed to.
- Rebounding. My God, the rebounding. North Carolina and Iowa State got an unbelievable amount of second chance points the past two days. Knowledge and technique are lost on our players when the ball comes off the rim. Alabama both takes and gives up a ton of threes, so, despite the lack of bigs on the court, the Tide’s length at guard and wing should benefit them. Rebounds from perimeter shots are almost always coming off the rim hot. Which means, most of the time, a big isn’t getting the best look at the ball to begin with. I don’t have time for a film review post right now, but believe me, Alabama’s players are wildly out of position on rebounds. The bigs are boxing out, but not with any particular landing area in mind, and the wings and guards (besides Petty) are just standing in random spots on the floor. It’s inexcusable really. With the amount of bricks the Tide throw up, you’d think they’ve had plenty of practice in this area.
Those are just some things to look for tonight and moving forward. Alabama does actually look like a team that is being coached for the first time in a while, but you can tell the players aren’t used to it. This is especially noticeable on defense, where the players are constantly thinking about where they need to be, which is costing them. That second of hesitation, with this pace, has resulted in some disastrous results. Previous coaching staffs would just roll the ball out there and hope for the best. Nate Oats isn’t doing that. It’s going to take some time for ‘Bama’s guys to get used to that. Unfortunately, the schedule doesn’t allow for much of a learning curve without some ugly ‘L’s along the way.
With that all being said, this needs to be a win tonight. Southern Miss might be the worst team on the schedule this year. Hopefully, Oats has these guys motivated to leave the Bahamas with at least one ‘W’.
It’s going to be a late 8:30 CST tip tonight. I know it’s tough right now, especially during the holidays, but try to tune into ESPNU tonight to support the guys. We’ll all get through this.