It may have been easy to lose sight of during a much-needed Thanksgiving break and the big Iron Bowl win on Saturday, but the Crimson Tide basketball team opened up the 2020-21 season with a comfortable 81-57 win over (a now 2-1) Jacksonville State team last Wednesday. The win was the beginning of a new era in Tide Hoops, as Nate Oats has completely transformed this roster. It’s reminiscent of where Alabama football was circa 2008. If you haven’t already, read up on Roger’s super informative recap of last week’s game to get updated on what the Tide looked like in its season debut. It wasn’t a total beat-down by any stretch, and Alabama certainly had to shake off some rust, but it was nice to see the Tide take care of business in a game that the team didn’t play all that well.
Unfortunately for Alabama, there won’t be any more time to ramp up for the meat of the season, as the team will be thrown straight into the deep-end this week as they participate in the 2020 Maui Invitational. Arguably the most prestigious non-conference tournament in the sport, this year’s field includes #14 North Carolina, #17 Texas, Indiana, Providence, Davidson, UNLV, and tonight’s opponent, the Stanford Cardinal. Alabama-Stanford is essentially the unofficial 4/5 matchup in the bracket, as shown below:
The Cardinal are a really good basketball team, too. Led by former UAB coach, Jerod Hasse, Stanford finished last season 20-12 (9-9 PAC-12), and were squarely on the bubble for the 2020 NCAA Tournament before the season was called. They lost starting guard Tyrell Terry to the NBA Draft, but they return the rest of the starting group from last year, and added a five-star, one-and-done stud to replace Terry.
This is going to be a major test for the Tide to play with only one game under its belt. Fortunately, Stanford hasn’t played a game yet this season, so hopefully they will be dealing with the same kind of rust Alabama had to last week. Both of these teams have dreams of competing in the 2021 edition of the NCAA Tournament, and this game would go a long way for the winner.
POINT 6’3 Daejon Davis (8.8 PPG, 3.7 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.7 SPG)
GUARD 6’6 Bryce Willis (7.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
WING 6’7 Ziaire Williams (Five-star Freshman, top 10 overall in the 2020 class)
WING 6’7 Spencer Jones (8.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.0 BPG)
POST 6’9 Oscar da Silva (15.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.8 BPG)
This is a strong starting five. Davis was a solid all-around point guard a year ago, dishing out assists at a high rate (21.2% AST%), defending well (91.0 DRtg), and doing just enough scoring himself (41.1%/32.2%/63.3%) to be a factor in all phases of the game. He’ll certainly miss his back-court partner in Terry, who was the main driver of the offense, but adding the likes of Ziaire Williams will certainly help soften that blow. Williams was selected First Team All-PAC 12 this preseason, and it’s not difficult to see why when you get a chance to see him play. He can do it all from the wing, from attacking the basket off of the dribble to stepping back into a sweet stroke from the perimeter. He’s projected to be a top ten pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, and he was a major coup for Haase and company to keep in-state.
The wild thing is he won’t even be the inarguable best player on the team, not with da Silva hanging out in the post. Another All-PAC 12 first teamer, da Silva is everything you want in a college big man. He scores at a 57.0% clip and has the ability to knock down both threes (31.7%) and free throws (77.1%), rebounds the ball well (13.4% REB%), and defends the low post at a high level (88.3 DRtg, 3.5% BLK%). Willis and Jones round out the starting five. Jones is an excellent three-point shooter (43.1%), so the Tide will need to make sure he has a body on him at all times.
Off The Bench
GUARD 6’2 Isaac White (4.2 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 0.7 APG)
POST 6’9 Jaiden Delaire (6.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG)
POST 6’9 James Keefe (2.2 PPG, 2.0 RPG)
POST 6’10 Lukas Kisunas (2.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG)
The bench gets pretty light, pretty quickly for Stanford. They did add a quartet of three-stars in this year’s recruiting class, but unless those guys are ready to go game one, it seems unlikely that any of them will have an impact on tonight’s game. White is a pretty solid sixth man who adds a scoring spark off of the bench (44.2%/40.8%/76.2%), so Alabama doesn’t want to lose him on defense, but the rest of the rotation is mostly just bigs that provide size.
What to Watch For
- The New Guys. I mentioned this last game as well, but it still holds true this week: the number one thing to look forward to as Tide Hoops fans is the new crop of players Nate Oats brought in. Jahvon Quinerly was awesome last week. He is lightning quick and looked extremely polished getting to the basket and setting up teammates for good looks. The future is bright with him at the point. He lacks a bit on the defensive end, but with his size, it’s to be expected. Jordan Bruner definitely shows true skills in the paint, but it does seem like that knee injury is lingering and still bothering him. James Rojas, Josh Primo, and Keon Ellis may end up being electric off of the bench. Rojas just makes things happen. Primo was definitely shaking some rust off in his first-ever collegiate game last week, but scouts are talking him up as a potential one-and-done for a reason. And I can’t get over how long and active on defense Ellis is. I’m already starting to love the guy.
- Greetings From...Asheville? If you haven’t already heard, the Maui Invitational will be stateside for the first time ever this year due to COVID-19. It’s unfortunate that the team won’t be able to enjoy the typical Hawaiian festivities, but you take what you can get in 2020, and that’s still an incredible opportunity to play some high-level basketball.
Three Keys to Victory
- Hit the Glass. Alabama’s effort on the boards against Jacksonville State was, well, subpar. Especially in the first half. The Gamecocks’ bigs were creating all kinds of extra possessions for themselves, which allowed them to hang around despite their awful shooting. The Tide can’t afford to have that happen tonight against a big Stanford team that is much more efficient at putting the ball through the hoop. Get a body on da Silva and crash the glass, gentlemen.
- Deny da Silva. In fact, let’s just not let da Silva touch the ball much at all. Herbert Jones will be massive on the defensive end in this game, likely splitting time between da Silva and Williams. The optimal strategy, in my opinion, would be to have Herb lock-up on Williams in his first collegiate game and have Bruner/Rojas play deny on da Silva the whole night. Make somebody else beat you (but preferably not Jones or White from the perimeter).
- Get the Shots Going. With so much size on the roster for Stanford, they aren’t going to be giving up many easy baskets inside. Quinerly won’t find those lanes so wide open this week. So, Alabama has to shoot better than the Tide did against the Gamecocks. John Petty can’t take a half to wake up, and Jaden Shackelford can’t force up contested jumpers. We need to get both those guys going on in-rhythm set-shots.
This is a massive game for Alabama, only a week into the season. Not only is it an incredible opportunity to get a quality non-conference neutral site victory, which will be a rare commodity on teams’ resumes this season, but a win puts Alabama on the right side of the bracket the rest of the way. Oats and company didn’t sign up for this tournament to play UNLV and Davidson. A win tonight allows Alabama to take on the likes of North Carolina, Texas, or Indiana on the winning side of the bracket. Those are all expected NCAA Tournament teams.
Simply put: this is potentially a major turning point for the Tide Hoops program. A win could be the catapult to national recognition again. A loss would likely find the Tide biding its time until Houston comes to town just before Christmas. Hmm...a potential program-defining win in a match-up against Stanford. Where have I heard this before? Coach Pettway, you got anything?
The game will be televised on ESPN2 and is scheduled to tip-off at 8:30 PM CST, though that could be pushed back depending on how the other three games go today.