Coming off the hottest shooting night of the season (hat-tip to one John Petty), and the Crimson Tide’s first win in Birmingham since 2010, Alabama (5-5) heads to the much friendlier confines of the Von Braun Center in Huntsville for another challenging match-up with one of the top mid-majors in the country, the Belmont Bruins (8-3). The Bruins are coming off of one of the most successful seasons in their history, ending last season with a win in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament before falling a basket short of knocking off the Maryland Terrapins in the first round.
However, they did graduate a few of their best players from that squad, and long-time head coach Rick Byrd decided to ride off into the sunset after last year’s historic run. Byrd had been the Bruins only coach in program history (since 1999), so it was uncharted waters for the school looking to replace him. They hit a home run though, in my opinion, bringing in Casey Alexander from rival Lipscomb down the street. This is a very good team, and would be a legitimately quality win on a neutral floor in Huntsville. The Von Braun Center has been good to Alabama over the last few years, as the Tide are undefeated there since Avery Johnson started the annual Christmas break road trip, but I would expect Belmont to have some supporters in the building.
POINT 6’2 Grayson Murphy (8.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 5.5 APG, 2.3 SPG)
GUARD 6’3 Adam Kunkel (19.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.8 SPG)
GUARD 6’4 Michael Benkert (4.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.8 APG)
WING 6’7 Tyler Scanlon (9.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.3 SPG)
POST 6’11 Nick Muszynzki (15.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.8 BPG)
GUARD 6’0 Nick Hopkins (7.0 PPG, 1.7 APG, 1.5 RPG)
GUARD 6’6 Ben Sheppard (4.5 PG, 2.6 RPG, 0.9 APG)
GUARD 6’6 Tate Pierson (3.9 PPG, 1.6 RPG)
POST 6’11 Seth Adelsperger (2.6 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.2 BPG)
Three Keys to Victory
- Defense. The Tide got away with a poor defensive performance on Wednesday night, but that simply won’t be the case against this team. They shoot the ball way too well, and are super efficient on offense. Everybody on the team is a pass away from a score. Kunkel, in particular, can’t be left open (49.0%/45.8%/83.3%). Alabama is still adapting to playing at Nate Oats’ pace, although they have slowed it down a bit compared to the beginning of the season. They simply aren’t getting back and getting set on the defensive end, especially after missed-shots. There are guys WIDE open way too often. The good news for Alabama is that the SEC as a whole has really struggled to shoot the ball this year. But that won’t help the Tide today, because that is not the case with the Bruins, who are 26th in the country in FG% (48.5%) and 32nd in 3P% (38.3%).
- Rebounding. The one area Belmont struggles in is cleaning up the glass. Even their bigs have relatively weak RB% (Muszynski: 10.8%; Adelsperger: 8.3%). The best rebounder on the team is their point guard, Murphy, who is actually quite excellent at it for a guard (15.7%). For reference, Petty, who has been great on the boards this season as well, is at 11.4%. If the Tide isn’t going to get back on defense, the least they can do is dominate the glass. Alex Reese really needs to improve in this area, as he very rarely finds himself in good positioning to rebound the basketball. The Tide will need a big effort from Javian Davis and Galin Smith today.
- Break the Press. Yeesh, the press-breaking for Alabama on Wednesday night was pathetic. The press single-handily got Samford back into the game in the second half. The Tide handled it better as the game progressed, but it was ugly for a while. You better believe well-coached teams like Belmont are going to make Alabama prove they can beat the full-court press, especially since it’s so effective against teams that play with a lot of pace like Oats likes to. The good news about that flaw being revealed the other night is that at least it was during the Samford game that the team realized how bad they are at it. That’s an area that needs serious improvement.
- Bonus Key: Keep Petty Hot. Seriously, the dude is on-fire right now. Keep getting him good, in-rhythm shots. The Tide will need it.
This is a big game for Alabama, as Belmont is a legitimately strong mid-major program. With this game being at a neutral site, a win today could go a long way on the Tide’s resume come March. The Tide are unbeaten at the Von Braun Center in the last few seasons, and there is usually a strong Alabama crowd on hand. Hopefully, that will be the case today, because the Tide will need a strong showing to get this ‘W’.
The game will tip-off at 2:30 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.