With the 2019 calendar year finally coming to an end (it’s been a long one for Alabama fans of all rooting interests), the Crimson Tide (6-5) hoops team will play their final game before the conference season begins, as they play host to yet another strong mid-major program, the Richmond Spiders (10-2). Long-time head coach, Chris Mooney, has found a lot of success over the years guiding this team, including just a few years ago, when the Spiders came into Tuscaloosa in the 2017 NIT and ran the Tide and Avery Johnson off of the court. They’ve been very good again this season, beating Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, and Boston College all away from home, with their only losses coming at the hands of undefeated Auburn and a random upset loss to Radford in their last outing.
Make no mistake about it, this is another crucial opportunity for the Tide. Richmond should contend for the Atlantic-10 title and an NCAA Tournament appearance this season. Coming off of by far the best performance of the brief Nate Oats era in Hunstville this past weekend, Alabama will look to keep things rolling at Coleman Coliseum tonight. The Tide have been absolutely on-fire shooting the ball in recent weeks, as they’ve now won four out of the last five games, with the lone loss being a one-possession game at a ranked Penn State team that they honestly should have beaten.
But, all of that is for naught if the Tide don’t continue to improve, and there are definitely still areas that need to be addressed. If anything, the hot shooting has covered up for some deficiencies. Can Alabama end 2019 on a high note?
POINT 5’9 Jacob Gilyard (14.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.0 RPG, 3.6 SPG)
GUARD 6’0 Blake Francis (18.2 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.2 RPG, 1.2 SPG)
GUARD 6’4 Nick Sherod (13.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.0 APG)
WING 6’7 Nathan Cayo (8.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.8 APG)
POST 6’11 Grant Golden (12.5 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.8 APG, 0.8 BPG)
The Spiders have four guys who average double-figures in scoring, led by shooting guard Blake Francis, who is putting up a strong 42.9%/41.1%/81.6% line on almost 15 shot attempts a game. That’s impressive stuff, as is the more efficiently driven Gilyard (53.4%/46.0%/83.3%) and Sherod (45.0%/42.4%/80.0%). These guys can shoot the cover off of the ball. Gilyard is also a magician with the basketball, leading the team with a 30.8% AST% and 5.8% STL%. He’s got very active hands and knows how to run the floor in transition when he gets one of his 3.5 steals per game.
The post is headlined by big man Grant Golden, who can score (55.1%/33.3%/62.5%), rebound (18.1% REB%), and dish out assists (22.6% AST%) as well as anybody Alabama has played in the paint this year. Cayo is another veteran (the Spiders start all juniors, so they should be loaded next season) who plays mostly around the basket, but he’s a great free throw shooter (88.0%).
GUARD 6’4 Andre Gustavson (4.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 0.9 APG)
GUARD 6’4 Jake Wojcik (0.8 PPG, 1.7 RPG)
WING 6’7 Tyler Burton (2.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG)
POST 6’9 Souleymane Koureissi (2.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG)
POST 6’9 Matt Grace (0.8 PPG, 1.4 RPG)
Richmond goes ten-deep, but there isn’t much production here. There is a significant drop-off in scoring when they have to rotate players in, which they do very little. Only Gustavson (19.4 MPG) and Burton (14.6 MPG) average more than 10 MPG.
Three Keys to Victory
- Keep the Pace Churning. It really is starting to look like Alabama is finding the right mix in pace between what Nate Oats traditionally likes to do and the speed at which this roster, as currently constructed, can excel in. The Tide have been noticeably slower in their last few outings when they get the ball in the front-court and the quick look isn’t there. However, that’s not to say that the Tide is suddenly back to playing Grantsketball or anything, they are still top ten in the country in tempo. And it’s finally starting to pay off for this athletic team, as opponents are beginning to struggle with it more than the guys in Crimson and White. That’s when things really start to get exciting for Alabama. As mentioned, Richmond plays a lot of guys, but they don’t play them for long, and for good reason. The Tide need to force the Spiders to dig into their bench as often as possible, as playing at a mach-level pace could really throw Richmond off of it’s game.
- The Perimeter Game. My goodness it has been fun to watch this team scorch the basket recently. When the Tide turned it on at the end of the half against Belmont the other day, they really poured it on them. John Petty, SEC Co-Player of the Week, is filthy right now, averaging 16.4 PPG on 48.7%/50.0%/73.0%, and those numbers keep rising. On the flip side, Richmond is one of the best three-point shooting teams in America, shooting 39.5% from beyond the arc. Two of the top 50 best three-point shooting teams will be lighting it up in Tuscaloosa Sunday night, so it is imperative that the Tide defend the perimeter better than they have most of the season.
- Dominate the Paint. Richmond’s biggest weakness is how soft they are on the interior. While Golden is a very good player on the offensive end, he struggles a bit defending the basket, and he’s by far their best post defender. The story is the same on the glass as well. Alabama should have an advantage in the painted area of the court tonight, so it would be best to take care of business on that end in the case that Richmond is winning the perimeter game by a significant margin. Giving up offensive rebounds will be inexcusable against a team that is 316th in the country in that stat.
2019 hasn’t treated Alabama fans as well as we would have hoped at the beginning of the year. However, Tide Hoops has a great chance to end the year on a hot streak and a high note. Richmond is a good team that can shoot the hell out of the basketball, so fireworks might fly a few days earlier than expected in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
* The game will tip-off at 5:30 PM CST and can be found on the SEC Network.