Distinguished ladies and gentlemen of Roll ‘Bama Roll, we finally made it - college hoops is BACK. In what is, without a doubt, the most anticipated season in Tuscaloosa this century, the hype for tonight’s game against a very good Louisiana Tech team is palpable. For years, the opening night of the college hoops season has focused on major contests like tonight’s Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden - where #3 Kansas will meet Michigan State and #9 Duke will do battle with #10 Kentucky.
In 2021, however, there will certainly be quite a few folks tuning in to the SEC Network tonight at 8:00 PM CST, as the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech roll into town. Because welcoming in Eric Konkol’s group will be a team that, unlike the four playing in Madison Square Garden tonight, actually was a champion last year - the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Your defending SEC regular season and conference tournament champs will be looking to repeat both of those accomplishments in 2022. No SEC team has won back-to-back outright regular season and SEC Tournament titles since Adolph Rupp was coaching Kentucky in 1950. So, the 14th-ranked Tide will be looking to make history this season. Alabama can absolutely do it too, even though the SEC will be loaded this year, in major part because Nate Oats and his staff have assembled a heck of a team in Titletown (and there is more good news to come on that front...)
With all of that being said, it has to start somewhere, and for Alabama, that’ll be in the form of one of the best mid-major teams in the country. Louisiana Tech went 24-8 last season - the Bulldogs’ third straight year winning 20+ games, finished second in Conference USA behind only Western Kentucky (who Alabama fans should know quite well), and made a run all the way to the Final Four of the NIT at, coincidentally, Madison Square Garden. The Bulldogs have won 20+ games in five of Coach Konkol’s six seasons in Ruston, and they are led by a dangerous big man.
This is going to be a fantastic basketball game in Coleman Coliseum tonight. Can Nate Oats’ talented squad of mostly new faces come together and get a win on opening night?
POINT 6’3 Amorie Archibald (10.0 PPG, 3.3 APG, 3.3 RPG, 96.5 DRtg)
GUARD 5’11 Cobe Williams (8.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.7 APG, 94.6 DRtg)
GUARD 6’4 Exavian Christon (3.3 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.1 APG, 97.2 DRtg)
WING 6’6 Isaiah Crawford (11.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 92.4 DRtg)
POST 6’7 Kenneth Lofton Jr. (12.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 87.7 DRtg)
With four returning starters back from last year’s Second Runner-Up at the NIT, this is an experienced group that knows how to win basketball games. Archibald is a four-year starter that has total command of this offense, sporting a 20.4% AST% and a identical 20.4% Usage Rate. He’s a capable scorer (35.9%/31.2%/80.0%), but his real value is his leadership and presence on both ends. Williams and Christon join him in the back-court. Williams is a diminutive, yet dynamic, guard. He’s more of a threat to get hot scoring (44.3%/33.3%/74.7%), but his 18.9% AST% proves reliable as a secondary ball-handler for the Bulldogs. Christon is a super senior and three-time team captain. His numbers won’t blow you away (32.7%/31.3%/78.3%; 8.6% AST%; 103.0 ORtg), but he’s a glue guy and a high I.Q. player.
In the front-court, Tech is led by a pair of dangerous forwards. Kenny Lofton Jr. was the C-USA Freshman of the year last season, and for good reason. At 275 pounds, he’s a load in the paint, but he also has the ability to handle the basketball well. He does a little bit of everything well except shoot the ball, and he will be a tough challenge for the Tide’s front-line tonight. Joining him is fellow preseason All-Conference USA member, Isaiah Crawford. The 6’6 wing can stretch the floor with his shooting ability (48.9%/38.1%/65.9%), but still rebounds well at a 10.6% clip.
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’3 Keaston Willis (19.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.1 APG) - transfer from Incarnate Word
GUARD 6’4 LaDamien Bradford - transfer from Texas A&M, not many stats from last year
GUARD 6’5 Terran Williams - 3-star freshman
POST 6’8 Stacey Thomas (1.2 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 97.5 DRtg)
POST 6’10 Kenny Hunter (1.7 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 92.0 DRtg)
Finishing out the rotation, Tech will rely on a few new faces this season. Willis is a known shooter (42.5%/36.6%/75.9%) and was the best player on Incarnate Word last season. He fills the role of the scoring sixth man to a tee. Bradford didn’t see any time at all at A&M, but he and Williams were both decent recruits who will definitely contribute. Thomas and Hunter provide solid depth and good size in the post.
What to Watch For
- The New Guys. Nate Oats and his staff have done an unbelievable job with recruiting and building out this roster. With the like of Herbert Jones, John Petty, Josh Primo, Jordan Bruner, and Alex Reese all having moved on, the Tide’s hopes to repeat as SEC champs this year will rest largely on the shoulders of guys like J.D. Davison, Charles Bediako, and Noah Gurley, all who could very well be starting tonight. We’ll have to wait a few games before we get to see Alex Tchikou and all of his seven-foot, Frenchman glory, as he’s still recovering from his Achilles tear last summer and is serving a two-game suspension to start the year.
- The Rotation. With the last point being made, it’s going to be very interesting to see how Oats decides to deploy his roster tonight. If I had to guess, I would think we see Davison, Jaden Shackelford, Keon Ellis, Gurley, and Bediako to start the game. Jahvon Quinerly will thrive in the sixth man role he played in so well to end the season last year, and along with Juwan Gary, would be an excellent first two off the bench. Again, no Tchikou tonight, so expect to see Darius Miles and Keon Ambrose-Hylton vie for key minutes in the rotation, along with freshman guard Jusuan Holt.
- A Tribute to Fluff. If you can recall, Tide Hoops Super-Fan and Legend, Luke Ratliff, passed away shortly after the season ended for Alabama last Spring. The University will be honoring his legacy before the start of the men’s basketball game tonight. It will be impossible to fill the void in the student section that he left behind, but Alabama will be presenting a plaid jacket, much like the one Luke always wore to games, to the new president of the Crimson Chaos tonight. In fact, Nate Oats and company are encouraging everyone who attends tonight's game to rock plaid in honor of Fluff. The ceremony for Luke will begin at approximately 7:40 PM CST, so please arrive early and pay your respects. And then get loud as hell in Luke’s honor.
Again, Louisiana Tech is a very good basketball team - any kind of win tonight should be celebrated for the Tide. Alabama is an 11.5-point favorite against the Bulldogs according to DraftKings sportsbook, but I’d be thrilled with even a one-point victory. It’s going to be difficult for an Alabama team with a lot of new faces to cover that spread against a veteran squad that Kenpom has ranked 88th and Bart Torvik has rated 101st in the preseason (for reference, Alabama’s rankings are 19th and 16th, respectively).
Either way, it’s going to be a big night for Tide Hoops. The 2021-22 campaign begins in earnest tonight, and Nate Oats and company are raring to go in front of a full house for the first time since February of 2020. Get there early for Fluff, and let’s pack Coleman Coliseum out for the defending SEC champs.
If you can’t make the game, it will be televised on the SEC Network at 8:00 PM CST.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.