Let it never be said again that Alabama (4-5) refuses to play in-state opponents on the road, as the Crimson Tide head to Birmingham tonight for a migraine-causing, pandemonium-inducing road tilt at the Samford Bulldogs (6-6). I honestly don’t know how the guys will be able to deal with the raucous road environment at Legacy Arena tonight. May God have mercy on their souls.
In all seriousness, Scott Padgett’s Bulldogs are a solid bunch, and Alabama will need to continue to build upon their recent efforts if they want to come away with a victory tonight. The BJCC in Birmingham has actually been a bit of a house of horrors for the Tide in recent memory, as they always seem to lose marquee non-conference match-ups in the Iron City, so hopefully that will change tonight. This will, once again, be the start of Alabama’s annual in-state, Christmas-break, road trip through the state, as they will also play Belmont in Huntsville this weekend.
But tonight, the focus is on Samford, and getting a ‘W’ in front of the Birmingham crowd for the first time since 2010.
POINT 5’10 Josh Sharkey (16.8 PPG, 9.1 APG, 3.2 RPG, 4.1 SPG)
GUARD 6’2 Deandre Thomas (7.6 PPG, 2.2 APG, 3.5 RPG)
GUARD 6’5 Brandon Austin (13.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG)
POST 6’8 Robert Allen (13.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG)
POST 6’8 Jalen Dupree (12.9 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.1 BPG)
There are a number of interesting tidbits about this starting five for Samford. For one, senior point guard, Josh Sharkey, can play some ball. With an Offensive Rating of 108.4, AST% of 46.9(!)%, and STL% of 6.3%, his advanced metrics are pretty insane, and that’s without mentioning his solid 43.4%/33.3%/71.7% shooting line. This is a guy who lives and breathes college basketball, and he’s going to take advantage of this opportunity to play in a large venue against the state’s flagship.
He won’t be the only one properly motivated though, as former Crimson Tide guard Brandon Austin will be looking to show-out against his old team. Austin’s turned out to be quite the scorer for Samford (43.2%/45.6%/73.7%), so you better believe he’ll be letting them fly from the perimeter.
In the front-court, the Bulldogs roll out a pair of post players, which is quite rare for a smaller school like Samford. Both can stretch the floor, too (Allen: 44.9%/33.3%/55.6%; Dupree: 58.3%/63.6%/78.3%). It won’t be anything like going up against Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins, but Alabama’s bigs will need to be alert and ready to go against these two, as they can more than hold their own.
GUARD 5’10 J.P. Robinson (1.9 PPG, 1.5 RPG)
GUARD 6’1 Donte Tatum (6.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.0 APG)
WING 6’6 Logan Padgett (1.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG)
POST 6’8 Logan Dye (7.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG)
The Bulldogs don’t get a whole lot of production out of their bench, but Tatum is a good shooter (48.3%/44.4%/40.0%) and Dye brings good size in the paint. Alabama will be at a disadvantage for once in coach’s sons on the roster, though.
Three Keys to Victory
- Maintain the Pace. Alabama slowed down the tempo a bit this past Saturday on the road at Penn State, and it appeared to have benefited the Tide. Open shots for the opposing team and turnovers committed by Alabama were down significantly. It was still a very fast pace, mind you, but more of in the top-25 range nationally instead of the typical top-5 Oats-speed style of play. With that being said, up-tempo play should benefit the Tide greatly in this one, as Samford doesn’t have the type of athletes to keep up with it for an entire game, especially considering the Bulldogs just got home from a trip to Hawaii this weekend. Jet lag is a real thing.
- Shot Selection. The Crimson Tide are like Jekyll-and-Hyde on offense. When they are rushing things and taking bad shots, there are a lot of empty possessions. The whole reason Oats likes to play at light-speed is because he believes that moving quickly on offense and getting a shot up early prevents the defense from getting set-up. So, in theory, you should be getting more good looks. Unfortunately, the Tide are still jacking up shots for the sake of getting them up early in the clock, and not because there’s a good look. When the offense moves the ball effectively and takes good shots, Alabama can be really good on that side of the ball. The guys have got to continue to improve in that regard.
- Defensive Discipline. Foul trouble really hurt Alabama against Penn State, as John Petty and Javian Davis both sat for a large chunk of time in the second half of the game this past Saturday. With a team as short in depth as Alabama is, playing at the speed the Tide are playing, they simply can’t afford to commit dumb fouls.
This one definitely needs to be a win tonight. Honestly, if Alabama wants a realistic shot at making the NCAA Tournament come March, they can’t really afford another loss in non-conference play. Blowing the lead in State College this past weekend pretty much guaranteed that. Birmingham hasn’t been kind to the Tide this decade, but hopefully Oats will have his guys ready to go tonight. There has been some good progress made in recent weeks, hopefully ‘Bama can keep it rolling.
The game tips-off at 6:30 PM CST and can be streamed on ESPN+. Or, if you are in Birmingham, you don’t even have to make the stroll down 20-59 this time.