Winning cures what ails any program, and the Crimson Tide certainly took a spoonful of some good medicine last night. With the shots finally falling, Alabama got a much-needed 86-74 victory against UNLV, advancing them to the 5th Place game against the Providence Friars (2-1) today. Providence, for its part, staved off a big come-back from Davidson right before the Tide tipped off with the Rebels to set-up the match-up.
There were definitely still a number of issues with Alabama’s play last night - it’s not going to be fixed overnight - but the team definitely showed much more heart and enthusiasm than they did in the second half against Stanford on Monday. Of course, it’s always much easier to do so when the shots are falling like they were from the jump yesterday.
This will be a big game for the Tide. Can Alabama carry over the momentum from last night’s win and get things back on track following the opening night disaster? Providence may not be North Carolina or Texas, but this is a great opportunity against a solid Big East team that has dreams of dancing in March as well. Taking two out of three and getting a nice neutral site win over a power seven team would prevent this trip from being a failure, which is unfortunately what a loss would mean tonight.
POINT 5’10 Jared Bynum (9.0 PPG, 4.7 APG, 1.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG)
GUARD 6’5 David Duke (14.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.3 APG)
WING 6’6 A.J. Reeves (9.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.0 APG. 1.3 SPG)
POST 6’8 Greg Gantt (4.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.0 APG)
POST 6’10 Nate Watson (19.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.0 BPG)
The Friars return a good mix of the team from last season that went 19-12 (12-6) and were poised to make the NCAA Tournament prior to its cancellation. That would have been head coach Ed Cooley’s sixth trip in nine tries in his tenure. Providence is a very solid program right now, and the expectations for this year’s team aren’t any different than usual: compete in the Big East and make the Big Dance come March.
They should be well-positioned to do just that. Led by dynamic guard, David Duke (yes, that’s really his name, poor guy) the Friars are very similar to most SEC teams. They can guard you, are physical and athletic, but the shooting can be really spotty at times. We’re unlikely to see any Caleb Grills tonight. It all starts with Duke on the offensive end. The high-volume scorer (35.9%/50.0%/83.3%) has gotten off to a nice start this year, though his overall FG% leaves a bit to be desired. The diminutive Bynum joins him in the back-court in his first year playing for Providence. The Saint Joe’s transfer has been excellent at the point, increasing his assist percentage from 24.6% to 26.4%, while cutting down his turnover percentage from 14.8% to just 3.6%. He’s shooting 40.0% from the field this year, but he’s still searching for his first triple of the season.
In the front-court, big man Nate Watson is the key to the Friars’ success. The 6’10 post has played at a high level on the offensive end, shooting 57.9% from the field and 72.2% from the free throw line. But his rebounding (11.1% REB%) and defense (101.4 DRtg, 3.4% BLK%) have simply been decent for a guy his size. If he gets a bit more physical with his frame, Providence will be tough to beat. Reeves and Gantt both provide good size and varying degrees of offensive ability. Either one can get hot, but they are very streaky shooters.
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’3 Brycen Goodine (2.0 PPG, 1.0 APG, 1.5 SPG)
GUARD 6’3 Alyn Breed (Freshman has yet to score, 1.5 RPG)
POST 6’8 Kris Monroe (3.3 PPG, 2.0 RPG)
POST 6’8 Ed Croswell (5.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG)
POST 6’8 Noah Horchler (7.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG)
Ed Cooley has gone deep into his rotation thus far this year, as most teams do early on in the season. The depth in the post really stands out for this group. Horchler, in particular, is the guy to keep an eye on. He’s capable of stretching the court (20.0% 3P%), and has rebounded at an elite rate (20.2% REB%) .
Three Keys to Victory
- Compete on the Glass. As just mentioned, Providence’s size and depth in the front-court is going to be the biggest challenge to overcome for the Tide tonight. Alabama has really struggled on the glass and in the painted area in general thus far this season. There has to be a commitment to battle for the boards tonight, otherwise the Tide will really be hoping that hot shooting will bail them out. Jordan Bruner better ice up that knee, because he will be needed big time tonight.
- Herb’s Growth. Bruner isn’t the only one that will need to bring his A-game in the post. Herb Jones will absolutely be needed to provide some resistance in the low block and gobble up some rebounds. Hopefully, he won’t have to exhaust too much energy playing physically with the bigs though, because, honestly, his offensive game is looking better than it ever has so far this season. Sure, that’s a small sample size, but Herb’s ability to generate offense is kind of flying under the radar right now. He was excellent last night, scoring 16 points on 7/9 shooting and running the point as a secondary ball-handler when Jahvon Quinerly needed a rest. He knocked down a three, took a guy off the bounce for a nice pull-up finish, and absolutely ended Grill’s hot night when he posterized the poor kid midway through the second half. Keep an eye on Herb’s offensive growth. It would be a major key to getting back to where the Tide was hoping to be this season.
- Perimeter Defense. Once again, Alabama doesn’t have a ton of bodies to throw in the post defensively. Because of that limitation, the on-ball defense from the guards and wings has got to get better. I’m not going to name any names yet, but Alabama has a ton of guys just getting flat-out beat on defense. And don’t get me started on the poor communication on screens. UNLV had a lot of open looks from the perimeter last night, and for a while, they were making the Tide pay for it. The defense has to get better, otherwise Alabama’s really going to be living and dying by the three.
This game is probably a better opportunity than the Tide deserve after that ghastly performance against 4th-place finisher, Stanford. But, the opportunity is there. Getting out of Asheville at 3-1 overall with a solid neutral site win will certainly put the Tide where it needs to be as far as its current tournament resume is concerned. More importantly though, this is an opportunity for the team to show that Monday night’s horrific performance was more of a one-night thing.
Let’s see what the guys have got in them.
The game will tip-off at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised by ESPN2. Pray for better commentary, or turn on Chris Stewart and the gang on the radio.