A man sits on the edge of his stout, 2x4-designed coffee table, staring aimlessly into the blue light of the 40-inch television about five feet away from his face. His dog lays on the worn, hand-me-down couch adjacent to a large wall clock with the hands both pointing towards the ‘9’ on the left side of the face. The sweet pup is contemplating why her owner hasn’t taken her to bed yet. Empty beer bottles are scattered across the dark living room, with nothing but the lights of the Christmas tree providing any warmth to the dim and dreary setting. A woman enters the room.
Mrs. BamaBrave4: “I don’t know why you do this to yourself; it just makes you grumpy. It’s literally the same thing every single year.”
This was the scene in my house just before halftime of the Furman game this past Tuesday. The cycle of a Tide Hoops fan seems to be a never-ending vicious circle that typically sees me watching an ugly non-conference game in the middle of December, pondering questions such as: “Why do I get my hopes up every year?” or “Should I just turn it off and tell Josh and Erik that I’m retiring?” It’s become an annual tradition.
This time felt somewhat new though. Alabama wasn’t just losing to Furman. It was an ass-kicking. Just like every guilt-ridden masochist, there comes a point where even he/she comes to wonder if it has gone too far. RBR friends, I very nearly turned the tv off and went to bed. Definitely would’ve made my wife happy.
But then, Juwan Gary checked in. The redshirt freshman brought sudden and much-needed life to everyone in Coleman Coliseum, providing 10 points, 3 rebounds, and some energetic defense in only 8 minutes of play to close the half, as the Tide trimmed the deficit. Then, in the second half, James Rojas spear-headed a turn-around unlike many in recent memory. This wasn’t a scenario where John Petty or Jaden Shackelford suddenly got white hot and brought the Tide back from the dead. No, it was much more encouraging than that.
Nate Oats’ team fought. Hard.
Herbert Jones was awesome in the second half of the game. Hell, he was the main reason the Tide was even somewhat alive in the first half as well. Alabama competed on the defensive end better than any other time since Anthony Grant was coaching the team up. They out-rebounded the Paladins by 21, and out-paced them in second-chance points by a count of 24-3. Give Oats and his staff credit, they absolutely coached their butts off in that game.
After Rojas drained a three that was opened up by a beautiful drive and kick from Herb, I looked at my wife and told her, “This is why I do it to myself. I’m hopelessly in love with this stupid team.”
So, before the football team takes the field in Atlanta to eviscerate the Florida Gators in workman-like fashion tonight, I’ll be on the edge of my coffee table sweating out my morning White Russian, watching my beloved Tide Hoops team battle with another very good mid-major team in Western Kentucky.
POINT 6’0 Kenny Cooper (3.3 PPG, 2.6 APG, 1.9 RPG)
GUARD 6’2 Taveion Hollingsworth (16.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 SPG)
WING 6’5 Carson Williams (5.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.1 APG)
WING 6’6 Josh Anderson (9.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.9 SPG)
POST 6’11 Charles Bassey (16.4 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 4.0 BPG)
As you may or may not know, our old rival from Starkville, Rick Stansbury, is the current head coach of the Hilltoppers. This will actually be his fifth year in Bowling Green, KY. The only time he has failed to win 20+ games in a season there was his first year rebuilding the program. They are 5-2 this season despite playing one of the toughest schedules anybody in the country has faced. The ‘Toppers have wins over Northern Iowa, Memphis, and Rhode Island, with their only two losses coming to the hands of ranked opponents West Virginia and Louisville. Simply put: these guys can really play.
Anyone who knows Stansbury knows why: the guy gets talent. This year’s squad is boosted by four starting seniors with tons of experience. Oh, and potential NBA First Rounder and former five-star prospect, Charles Bassey. Bassey is a beast. You read his stats correctly, he’s averaging a double-double with FOUR BLOCKS PER GAME. That is ludicrous, especially against that schedule. Alabama simply won’t play many bigs better than this guy all season. His BLK rate is 16.8%. I’ve never seen that before. That means he has blocked 16.8% of all two point attempts his opponents have taken this year while he was on the floor. Not 16.8% of all attempts when he was the primary defender, 16.8% of ALL two point shot attempts. He’s pretty good.
And that’s not to say he’s alone out there. Hollingsworth was selected preseason First Team All-CUSA as well. He’s struggled a bit from range, but he is absolutely a bucket-getter (47.1%/27.8%/73.7%). Besides, Anderson (53.7%/40.0%/81.8%) and Williams (37.8%/44.4%/46.2%) have picked up any slack Hollingsworth has left, though Williams has been awful from the line. Cooper rounds out the starting line-up as a bit of a co-point guard with Hollingsworth.
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’1 Dayvion McKnight (6.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.1 SPG)
GUARD 6’1 Jordan Rawls (6.4 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.4 APG)
WING 6’5 Luke Frampton (7.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.7 APG)
POST 6’6 Kevin Osawe (3.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG)
Stansbury only goes four-deep off of the bench, but he’s got some good options here, as well. McKnight is the future of the team. The true freshman is an all-around point guard (44.4%/20.0%/92.9%; 26.1% AST%) who is operating as a heck of a sixth man this season. Frampton is the shooter off of the bench who provides a spark (34.8%/35.9%/100%), he’s not afraid to let it fly from deep. Rawls and Osawe provide solid depth, and Rawls’ automatic free throw shooting (91.7%) makes him a dangerous 15 MPG player.
Three Keys to Victory
- Perimeter Shooting. I mentioned Bassey, right? If Jahvon Quinerly or Jaden Shackelford want to challenge him at the rim all day, Godspeed gentlemen. No, Alabama is going to have to get things going from range today. Six games into the season, and the Tide’s elite shooters have had four absolute duds. Need to get that fixed sooner rather than later if Alabama wants to be the team it is capable of being. It would be helpful if the shot attempts looked more like what we saw in the second half than the first half the other night. Drive and dish, fellas. Stop just chunking up shots because “you are feeling it”.
- Fouls and Free Throws. That being said, Alabama can’t be afraid of Bassey either. In fact, the Hilltopper big is averaging about three fouls per game. He chases a lot of shots, so it is inevitable that he is going to get tagged with fouls. If some of our bigger players like Jones or Rojas (who had an incredibly smart take right at Furman’s Clay Mounce, who was killing the Tide while playing with four fouls) can get into the body and get Bassey in foul trouble, it’s a totally different game. He’s that valuable to them. They don’t have much size after him. Additionally, shooting 50% from the line again isn’t going to cut it. Alabama has to be better from the charity stripe, especially if the Tide wants to make it a physical contest at times in the interior.
- Keep up the Defensive Intensity. Rojas’ impact on the game the other night cannot be overstated. As Roger put it, he’s definitely a bull in a china shop, but that intensity paid major dividends on Tuesday. I think we can officially declare Quinerly and Shackelford being on the floor together dead. They both need serious work on that side of the court, and it’s costing Alabama dearly to play them both simultaneously. With guys like Herb, Rojas, Jordan Bruner (who needs to be utilized more in short bursts - that knee just isn’t right), and Keon Ellis (who needs to play more), Alabama has too many good defenders to justify the amount of easy baskets opponents are getting.
Was Tuesday night’s comeback victory an early turning point for the Tide? For my mental health, and my liver, I sure hope so. Unfortunately, Alabama’s really having to make adjustments on the fly, as Western Kentucky is yet another really good team that is favored to win its conference and make the NCAA Tournament come March. It may not be the showdown many had hoped to see with #6 Houston, but this is going to be a major test for the Tide.
The game tips at 1:00 PM CST and will be televised on the ESPNU.