It hasn’t been the ideal experience in Orlando for the 2021 ESPN Events Invitational, at least not as far as the results are concerned, but the #10th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (5-1) can still leave Florida with a pair of solid resume-building wins with a victory over the Miami Hurricanes (4-2) tonight. The Tide and Hurricanes will be battling for fifth place in the bracket. Miami opened up the tournament with a stunning blowout loss to the 1-3 Dayton Flyers, who subsequently shocked the college basketball world by beating #4 Kansas in the next round (it’s been a really wild tournament - Dayton will meet Belmont for the championship game this afternoon). In their next game, it looked like Miami was well on the way to another bad lop-sided loss to North Texas, as they trailed by 13 at the half, before rallying in a big way for a 69-63 win over the Mean Green.
Jim Larranaga is in his 11th season in Coral Gables, and he’s found a lot of success there. Unfortunately, he’s riding three straight losing seasons coming into this year, so it feels like it could be make-or-break time for the 72-year old head coach. He’s got a pretty talented squad this year, but the Hurricanes currently rank 130th in Defensive Efficiency. That’s kind of been the story the past few years in Miami, and it hasn’t resulted in much winning. Alabama has a great opportunity to move to 6-1 and retain its spot in the Top 25 with a win today, before beginning the killer three game stretch of at #1 Gonzaga, home against #12 Houston, and at #9 Memphis to begin December.
POINT 5’11 Charlie Moore (10.5 PPG, 2.8 APG, 1.8 RPG)
GUARD 6’3 Isaiah Wong (15.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.5 APG)
GUARD 6’5 Kameron McGusty (17.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.7 APG)
WING 6’6 Jordan Miller (5.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG)
POST 6’10 Sam Waardenburg (6.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.8 APG)
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’1 Bensley Joseph (3.0 PPG, 1.2 RPG)
GUARD 6’5 Wooga Poplar (4.3 PPG, 1.2 RPG)
WING 6’9 Anthony Walker (7.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG)
POST 7’0 Rodney Miller (3.5 PPG, 1.2 RPG)
Three Keys to Victory
- Back-court Defense. The Hurricanes success hinges almost entirely on its starting back-court of Moore (40.0%/32.0%/73.3%; 18.3% AST%), Wong (52.1%/30.4%/70.6%), and McGusty (43.8%/22.7%/85.4%). Miami goes as they do. So, Alabama’s guards have got to play better defense than they have been this week. There have been way too many open shooters and easy dribble-drives. Miami is an iso-heavy offense, so first-line defense is going to be critical. Charles Bediako and company need to be quick to slide if the primary defender gets beat, as the ‘Canes’ bigs aren’t huge threats offensively. On PnRs, the Tide’s bigs and wings need to hedge hard, as Miami’s guards are definitely looking to score, not pass.
- Free Throws. Not sure I even need to expand on this - the free throw shooting this week in Orlando has been horrendous. It’s the main reason the Tide lost to Iona on Thursday. You can’t shoot 50% from the charity stripe and beat good basketball teams. On the flip-side, Miami is shooting 75,7% from the line. Gotta make the freebies, guys.
- Offensive Movement. The Tide’s starting guards did a much better job of distributing instead of looking to score constantly against Drake than they did Iona, and it showed in the final score. As mentioned, Miami is not very good on defense, but a good way to make it easier for a defense to compete is by doing a lot of standing around and running heavy isolation. The Tide needs to keep it moving in the half-court, and get it running in the full-court. If the Tide pairs its pace with fluid offensive movement, Miami won’t be able to stay on the court with Alabama.
It’s been a wild tournament in Orlando this week for the ESPN Events invitational, but Alabama has an opportunity to return to Tuscaloosa with a pair of solid neutral site wins. If the Tide can continue to grow based on the lessons learned from the opening game against Iona, it will definitely still be considered a successful trip.
The game tips-off at 5:30 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.