Welp, another Thanksgiving week tournament, another bad start for the 10th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (4-1) to send them to the loser’s side of the bracket. Certainly not ideal for Nate Oats’ squad, who was looking to leave Orlando with, at least, an opportunity to take on a top-five Kansas team in the finale. Instead, Alabama will do battle with the Drake Bulldogs (3-1), who also suffered their first loss of the season last night. Still, this is an opportunity for the Tide to get yet another solid win against a strong mid-major team for the ole NCAA Tournament resume. Winner will advance to the fifth-place game of the ESPN Events Invitational to take on the Miami Hurricanes, who just came-from-behind to beat North Texas on the other side of the consolation bracket.
So, time to turn the page. The loss to Iona was definitely not a great look for Alabama, but it’s one game. Plus, the Gaels are a good basketball team with a Hall of Fame coach – considering the typical losses Tide Hoops takes most Novembers, this is nothing to rage on about. Still, lessons need to be learned. I didn’t feel like the Tide played a horrible game, just a very flat one. It seems like Alabama played the whole game on cruise control, while the Gaels came out hungry to avenge their loss in the NCAA Tournament last season. Rick Pitino, once again, had a perfect game-plan drawn up to slow the Tide down and contest every three-point attempt. Iona wanted Alabama’s guards to play hero ball, and Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford happily obliged with one isolation drive and contested jumper after another. Despite that, the Tide should have won this game, but you can’t leave 12 points at the free throw line and beat good basketball teams.
Ugh – gotta turn the page. Drake is another tough opponent who has been shooting the lights out thus far this season - 47.1% from the field and 42.0% from the perimeter. They are a veteran squad full of 22- and 23-year-old seniors, so best believe they are going to come out with the same urgency that Iona did. When the bracket was revealed, they wanted ‘Bama in their second game, and while they didn’t get the Tide in the scenario they dreamed up, this is still a massive opportunity for them. So, Alabama is going to get their best. According to DraftKings sportsbook, the Tide is favored by only 6.5 points.
POINT 6’0 Roman Penn (12.0 PPG, 4.0 APG, 3.0 RPG, 92.3 DRtg)
GUARD 6’2 D.J. Wilkins (7.8 PPG, 2.5 APG, 1.3 RPG, 98.7 DRtg)
WING 6’6 ShanQuan Hemphill (7.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 90.5 DRtg)
WING 6’6 Tremell Murphy (15.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 91.6 DRtg)
POST 6’10 Darnell Brodie (6.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 91.4 DRtg)
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’0 Ayo Akinwole (4.3 PPG, 2.3 APG, 2.0 RPG, 92.4 DRtg)
GUARD 6’3 Garrett Sturtz (7.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 84.8 DRtg)
WING 6’8 Tucker DeVries (11.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 86.9 DRtg)
POST 6’8 Nate Ferguson (3.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 80.8 DRtg)
If Roman Penn is the conductor (27.9% AST%), then Tremell Murphy is the engine that drives the Bulldogs’ offense, with a lethal 58.8%/57.9%/75.0% shooting split. Wilkins has been off to a hot start this year as well (42.3%/46.7%/50.0%; 15.3% AST%). So, Drake’s got three guys in the starting unit that can really produce on the offensive end. Darnell Brodie is an athletic big that looms large in the painted area on both sides of the court (50% FG%; 16.2% REB%).
The Bulldogs are deep, too. DeVries is a high-volume scorer off the bench (35.7%/30.0%/50.0%). Sturtz (48.1%/40.0%/75.0%) and Akinwole (42.9%/50.0%/100%) can both shoot the lights out, and Sturtz is a phenomenal rebounding guard (22.7% REB%). Ferguson provides good size and can defend the rim well.
Three Keys to Victory
1. Free Throws. Much like field goals and Alabama football, free throws have cursed Alabama basketball for years now. It doesn’t seem to matter who the coach is, how talented the players are, etc. the Tide always seems to be sunk by poor shooting from the charity stripe. It cost Alabama a chance at the Elite Eight in March, and it reared its ugly head again last night. You simply can’t shoot 50% from the line and leave a dozen points on the court against good opponents. This has to be fixed.
2. Ball Movement. Alabama’s starting duo of guards took 31 shots yesterday and ended the game with three assists. A 10-1 ratio of shots to assists isn’t winning basketball. Alabama has a five-star big man, a senior transfer that has averaged double-digits scoring the previous two seasons, multiple shooters – not to mention Keon Ellis, who needs to be more aggressive offensively, anyway. There is no reason why the offense should be as stagnant as it was yesterday. Alabama needs more off-ball movement in general, but the guards need to look to create more than they did against Iona. I’d love to see some pick-and-pops with Ellis, but that probably won’t be added to the offense overnight. Let’s use some of these big bodies we’ve got on the roster now, there’s no reason to keep playing iso with our guards as if Juwan Gary is still playing the five like he had to last March.
3. The Three-Point Line. As mentioned, Drake can really shoot it from distance. Alabama usually can, but certainly didn’t yesterday. I’m willing to bet the winner of today’s game will be highly correlated to whoever shoots better from the perimeter. The Tide needs to play with much more urgency on the defensive end than it did in its last game.
Playing on the loser’s side of the bracket certainly isn’t what Nate Oats and company had in mind, but Alabama still has a very good opportunity to come away with a pair of solid wins this weekend. Like Nick Saban always says - never waste a failure. Oats himself pointed out in the post-game presser that, had the Tide made a few more free throws and won the game, the team maybe wouldn’t learn the lessons it needs to learn to grow and become a better unit. Will the Tide learn those lessons quickly and bounce-back today?
The game will tip-off at 3:30 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.