After an eventful opening week that saw the 14th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (2-0) pass two big tests against strong mid-major programs (with flying colors), the Tide gets a bit of a reprieve this week before things really get popping over the holidays. A pair of home games against South Alabama and Oakland provides the Tide with two final tune-ups before Alabama heads to Orlando, Florida for the (unbelievably generic) ESPN Events Invitational (seriously, that sounds like a made-up tournament on ESPN 2K Hoops back in the day - they didn’t have the naming rights for the Maui Invitational or something so that’s what they went with).
The Jaguars (1-1) make the trip up from Mobile tonight on the heels of a respectable performance against Tide Hoops’ rival, Wichita State, where they were actually tied at halftime with the Shockers before succumbing to a 64-58 loss. Fourth year head coach, Richie Riley, does have probably his most talented team since he took over the job, which includes a surprisingly high number of SEC transfers that yearly RBR readers should recognize.
So, while this is probably the easiest competition on Alabama’s loaded 2021-22 schedule (although Georgia is right there with them, honestly), it’s not like this will be a cake-walk for the Tide - the Jags have SEC-level talent. And while Alabama has looked the part of an elite Final Four contender thus far, there is still plenty to work on, especially on the defensive end, so tonight provides another opportunity for the team to better itself regardless.
*Stats are from the 2020-21 season unless noted otherwise*
POINT 6’1 Tyrell Jones (3.3 PPG, 1.1 APG, 1.3 RPG, 103.5 DRtg) - transfer from Auburn
GUARD 6’4 Jay Jay Chandler (8.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 103.7 DRtg) - transfer from Texas A&M
GUARD 6’5 Charles Manning Jr. (4.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 0.8 APG, 107.4 DRtg) - transfer from LSU
WING 6’7 Javon Franklin (1.3 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 100.2 DRtg) - transfer from Auburn
POST 6’8 Kayo Goncalves (9.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 101.9 DRtg)
Like I said, they’ve got a lot of SEC transfers on this roster. Most of them played sparingly as end-of-the-rotation type of players for their former teams, with the exception of Chandler, who played about 20 MPG for years as a pretty significant contributor in College Station. Alabama has seen plenty of him over the past few seasons. The fifth year senior took advantage of his bonus COVID year of eligibility to make the transition to Mobile, where he has taken on the role of go-to scorer (36.0%/16.7%/66.7% on 12.5 shots per game this year). His experience as a 23 year old with over 100 career collegiate games under his belt will be huge for the Jags this season, and it’ll be a challenge for Alabama’s smaller and younger guards to overcome that gap.
Joining him in the back-court are Jones and Manning - both experienced players with potential who just could not find enough time in their respective rotations in the SEC. Jones isn’t much of a scorer (career 27.9%/23.8%/61.9% shooting splits), but his career AST% of 23.1% shows that he knows how to run an offense and set his team up for success. Manning was a JUCO All-American back in the 2019 season, so he’s got the ability to be a difference-maker. His 6’5 size makes him a tough match-up for most guards, and his career stats (46.6%/31.3%/69.2%; 8.3% AST%, 7.8% REB%) show that he can be an effective player given more playing time.
In the front-court, Franklin joins the one returning Jag from last year’s starting group in Brazilian sensation, Kayo Goncalves. Goncalves is a stretch big that can shoot from range (38.2%/38.2%/71.4%) while still rebounding at a decent clip (10.8% REB%). Franklin has arguably been the biggest benefactor of all the transfers, as he went from playing barely five minutes per game in Auburn to averaging a double-double thus far this year at South. He’s an extremely athletic wing that can absolutely run with the Tide’s best.
Off of the Bench
WING 6’5 Jamal West (5.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 104.4 DRtg)
WING 6’7 Alex Anderson - three-star Freshman
POST 6’7 Diante Smith (1.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 113.5 DRtg) - transfer from TCU
South Alabama only played eight guys in their match-up with Wichita State, so I would assume these eight will be the only ones we see tonight in Tuscaloosa. If that is the case, the Jags certainly have a lot of size off of the bench. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see South go big and start Smith in the front-court alongside Franklin and Goncalves to try to match-up with Alabama’s size. Manning could be a very effective sixth man if Riley chooses to utilize him in that manner.
What to Watch For
- Juwan Gary’s Status. The Glass Cleaner himself, Juwan Gary, exited Friday night’s win over South Dakota State with a scary-looking, non-contact leg injury. However, we got fantastic news from Nate Oats on Monday that Gary’s just dealing with a day-to-day ankle injury. Granted, Oats has downplayed the severity and potential time-line of injuries in his pressers to the media before - Jordan Bruner was a week away for about a month last season - but it’s definitely still much better news than what most were anticipating. Oats went on to say he would consider Gary “doubtful” for tonight’s game, but keep an eye on his status, nevertheless.
- The Frenchman. Alex Tchikou a.k.a. ‘Frentchie’ might be making his debut in place of Gary tonight. The seven-foot Frenchman has served his two-game suspension and is supposedly in a good place now regarding his Achilles injury from last summer. If that is the case, the Tide could be an even more dangerous squad than they’ve looked like thus far. Tchikou has an unbelievably high ceiling. His high school tape displayed guard-level skills handling the ball and scoring, albeit against much inferior competition. And that was also before he tore his Achilles. He’s the ultimate wild-card, but the top of his potential outcome range is a legitimate NBA player. So, it’s definitely something to watch for tonight.
The Tide has two tune-ups before the big holiday tournament next week, which begins an absolutely brutal stretch of games that includes two of last year’s Final Four teams (#1 Gonzaga and #15 Houston) and possibly two of this year’s Final Four teams (#1 Gonzaga, #11 Memphis, or, potentially, #3 Kansas) as well. For that reason, these next two games are going to be pivotal for Alabama to get some good repetitions in and work on its craft and chemistry.
South Alabama has some major-conference talent, though. DraftKings Sportsbook lists Alabama as a 21-point favorite in tonight’s game. The Tide needs to ensure that it plays with the same level of intensity and focus that allowed it to cruise past Louisiana Tech and South Dakota State last week.
The game will tip-off at 6:30 PM CST and can be streamed on ESPN+ or SEC Network+, the latter of which doesn’t require ESPN+ to be able to stream.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.