With Thanksgiving right around the corner, big-time holiday hoops tournaments have begun play throughout the country. The 14th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (3-0) will leave out for Orlando in a few days for its non-conference tourney, but before Nate Oats’ squad can turn its attention to that major opportunity, it first has to take care of business at home against one last dangerous mid-major unit - the Oakland Golden Grizzlies (2-1).
Unlike South Alabama, Oakland won’t be relying heavily on a bunch of power conference transfers this season, but what they lack in raw talent and athleticism they more than make up for in skill and scheme. The Golden Grizzlies have been playing D-1 basketball for 23 seasons, and Greg Kampe has been at the helm for every single one of them. He’s a typical mid-major lifer that absolutely coaches the hell out of his team.
The Grizzlies began last season pretty poorly, losing their first nine games, before installing a 1-1-3 zone defense that gave opposing offenses nightmares in the half-court. Oakland rode that defensive turn-around all the way to the Horizon League Championship Game, where they fell just short of a trip to the NCAA Tournament against Cleveland State. Kampe has carried that same zone defense over from last year, so it’ll be a nice test for the Tide to see what the guys can do against it.
Oklahoma State certainly had troubles with it, as did West Virginia. Oakland held those two teams to just 55 and 60 points, respectively, and even pulled out the victory in Stillwater. This team has been asserting its will on the defensive end, and after seeing how hard the Tide had to work to score against South on Tuesday, a repeat performance could put Alabama on upset alert tonight.
GUARD 5’11 Jalen Moore (12.3 PPG, 7.0 APG, 4.0 RPG 89.6 DRtg)
GUARD 6’6 Micah Parrish (6.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 82.3 DRtg)
WING 6’6 Trey Townsend (11.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 86.0 DRtg)
WING 6’7 Jamal Cain (19.3 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 71.7 DRtg)
POST 6’10 Chris Conway (0.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 87.4 DRtg)
The Grizzlies return four starters from last season, although guard Zion Young has yet to step on the court this year following off-season knee surgery. Without his partner in the back-court, the point guard, Jalen Moore, has had some issues scoring (28.9%/10.5%/69.2%). But, he’s been focused mostly on being the distributor of the team, with a ridiculous 36.3% AST% on a Usage Rate of 30.3%. In other words, he creates a third of Oakland’s offensive opportunities. Parrish has filled in admirably for Young, especially on the defensive end (1.7 SPG), but he’s also had issues shooting the ball (28.6%/0.0%/75.0%).
The front-court is where Oakland’s bread is buttered. Kampe did hit the transfer portal to land Marquette’s Jamal Cain, who has been a machine attacking the basket (51.0%/0.83%/71.4%; 17.9% REB%). His three-point shooting has not been there this season, but at Marquette, Cain shot 37.7% for his career, so you would expect those to start falling for him. If that does happen, watch out for this guy - he’s already averaging nearly a 20-point double-double with an insane Defensive Rating of 71.7. Townsend is the one guy in the starting unit that has been hitting his shots this year (56.0%/37.5%/50.0%), and his coach knows it too, as Townsend has played all 120 minutes of game-time this season. Finally, Conway rounds out the starting group. His numbers certainly don’t jump off of the page, but he plays a major role in Oakland’s 1-1-3 zone, so he’s a vital member of this team.
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’1 Blake Lampman (9.7 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 88.0 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 Osei Price (2.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.7 APG, 86.6 DRtg)
POST 6’8 Will Shepherd (1.7 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 87.1 DRtg)
With Young sidelined to start the year, Oakland has deployed a very short rotation. Heck, Shepherd is only averaging 2.0 MPG. So really, the only guys to note off of the bench for the Golden Grizzlies are Lampman - the prototypical sixth man scorer (45.0%/47.1%/75.0%) - and Price - the freshman with the high ceiling future (37.5%/20.0%/100%; 11.6% AST%; 8.6% REB%).
Three Keys to Victory
- Ball Control. Wooh boy, was the Tide loose with the basketball on Tuesday night against South Alabama. 22 turnovers in a single game is something. If Alabama doesn't clean that up tonight, they will be on upset alert. Oakland has thrived on turning people over this year, as they force 18.3 per game, and not against a bunch of scrubs either. As I mentioned, 2⁄3 of their games have been against power conference foes. They have outstanding length and really disrupt passing lanes well. J.D. Davison has been an incredible creator thus far, but the freshman phenom better not get too ahead of himself trying to make things happen against this staunch zone.
- Angry Chuck. Charles ‘Angry Chuck’ Bediako needs to make a statement tonight. The freshman big man has played well this year, but he’s played like a true freshman. Meaning he hasn’t been overly physical, nor are his skills polished enough yet to rely solely on his size and athleticism. Against a 1-1-3 zone, you need your bigs to rebound the basketball, and since Alex Tchikou didn’t see the floor against South and Juwan Gary is unlikely to play again tonight, Alabama absolutely needs Bediako to bang on the boards. Oakland’s rebounding rate is among the best in the nation, and they’ve been pairing that with all of the turnovers they force to create a substantial amount of extra possessions. Alabama can’t allow that to happen tonight.
- Tempo. All of that being said, the best way to keep Oakland from getting into their zone in the first place is to make this an up-and-down game, just like Nate Oats likes it. It’s pretty hard to utilize a zone if you can’t get set up into it. Pace and quick looks will be incredibly important tonight, if the Tide is to succeed and remain undefeated.
Another night in November, another under-the-radar mid-major that can absolutely play ball. The Tide has passed all of its tests thus far in the early going, but with the ESPN Events Invitational and dates with #1 Gonzaga, #11 Memphis, and #15 Houston looming, Alabama needs to take care of business one last time at home against an inferior team. It won’t be easy, but that’s how Nate Oats obviously prefers it.
The Tide is listed as a 16.5-point favorite tonight, which seems like way too many points, but if Alabama can control the pace of this game and take care of the basketball, it’s certainly doable. The game tips-off at 7:00 PM CST, and you all should get to Coleman Coliseum if you can, because the defending SEC Champs have once again been relegated to ESPN+ and SEC Network+ for tonight’s game.