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
In case you are experiencing an oncoming bout of Deja Vu, the above section is how I opened last year’s preview against the South Alabama Jaguars (1-1; Kenpom: 218; T-Rank: 159). As you can see, the 18th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (2-0; Kenpom: 15; T-Rank: 23) has started off the 2023 season in an identical fashion as the 2022 campaign - as far as the results of the opening week and the set-up for the following two are concerned, at least.
The big difference this season - other than the Tide looking a lot less dependent on small guards making shots - is that the match-up with the Jags will be in Mobile. And while Richie Riley’s squad may not be as talented as the group that did battle with Alabama last year, you know good and well that this game will be treated as a Super Bowl of sorts for the home-town Jaguars. Couple that with a ridiculous 9:00 PM CST tip-off, and suddenly you’ve got yourself a tricky game for a young Alabama team hitting the road for the first time. Especially when you consider that South damn-near beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa last season. That was really the first sign that it was going to be a frustratingly up-and-down year at the Capstone.
So yes, this game will teach us a lot about this team, and whether or not they are able to avoid the valleys that befell last year’s group. It’s going to be a test.
POINT 6’1 Isaiah Moore (16.5 PPG, 9.0 APG, 4.0 RPG)
GUARD 6’1 Tyrell Jones (9.0 PPG, 1.5 APG, 1.0 RPG, 2.0 SPG)
GUARD 6’4 Greg Parham (13.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 SPG)
WING 6’6 Owen White (7.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.0 APG)
POST 6’11 Kevin Samuel (13.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.0 BPG)
This year’s edition of the Jags is completely different than last year’s team. Only former Auburn transfer Tyrell Jones returns from the main rotation last season. Jones is a solid guard, but there’s nothing that jumps off of the film when you watch him play. He averaged 5.4 PPG and 2.6 APG last season with South with mediocre scoring numbers (37.3%/33.3%/77.4%).
Coach Riley and South Alabama have pretty much embraced the role of mid-major transfer destination, as the remainder of the starting line-up all made their Jaguar debuts this year. Unlike last season though, it’s not filled with talented former SEC players. Isaiah Moore, the new point guard, spent four years at Franklin Pierce, which I promise is a real school and not just the 14th President of the United States. His early offensive numbers at the D-1 level have been really impressive (56.0%/0.0%/100%; 43.9% AST%), but we are talking about a really small sample size. Joining him in the backcourt is the VMI transfer, Greg Parham. Parham was a three-year starter and a career 36.7% three-point shooter with the Keydets, where he was also the leading scorer in his final season. He actually transferred over last year but missed the full 2022 campaign with a back injury.
In the frontcourt, the transfer theme continues. Owen White spent four years starting for the totally-not-made-up Michigan Tech Huskies. He’s started off the year playing a nice stretch-four type of role, knocking down 4/10 shots from three. Finally, the well-traveled Kevin Samuels, who’s now starting for his third college team (he started at TCU and played for Florida Gulf Coast last season), rounds out the line-up. Across his four-plus years of playing in the post, he’s averaged just under a double-double (9.5 PPG/8.2 RPG) while blocking 2.4 shots a game, good for a 9.3% BLK rate. He’s a huge presence in the post.
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’2 Jamar Franklin (12.0 PPG, 1.0 APG)
WING 6’6 Judah Brown (2.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG)
POST 6’9 Marshall Kearing (6.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG)
POST 6’10 Julian Margrave (5.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG)
The Jags’ bench is mostly comprised of bigger guys to help out with some depth in the frontcourt. When you have as many guards as South does in the rotation, you need plenty of bodies to throw at the likes of Brandon Miller, Noah Clowney, etc. The one person to really make note of is true freshman, Jamar Franklin. The three-star product out of Florida has provided a huge lift as a scoring sixth man, and he represents the future of this program.
Three Keys to Victory
- The Fab Four. The third-ranked 2022 recruiting class was the best in Alabama’s long history, and the freshman have not wasted any time backing up those rankings. Brandon Miller is every bit of the NBA lottery pick we had been hearing about all preseason, Jaden Bradley and Noah Clowney will likely be joining him in the pros sooner rather than later, and Rylan Griffen has picked up right where he left off in high school, as the 6’5 guard started to really make moves up the recruiting boards late in his prep career. Sure, it’s only been two games, but these four have absolutely looked the part - long, athletic as hell, can all dribble and shoot, give great effort on defense - Nate Oats and company really look to have knocked it out of the park with this class. Enjoy these guys while you can.
- Maturity. That being said, Alabama is heavily dependent on a lot of inexperienced players. Even the vets that the Tide has are still learning to play with each other. Still, Alabama is a double-digit favorite tonight for a reason - they are clearly the superior team by a lot. So, it will all come down to how the players approach this game both mentally and emotionally. It’s going to be a late-night road tip-off in an atmosphere that could be pretty wild. That’s the number one thing that the Jags have going for them. If Alabama’s players can stay locked in and continue looking like vets, this should be an easy win. If they let the moment get too big for them, this could be an ugly loss. Expect a lot of quick whistles when South has the ball. The guys can’t lose composure.
- Keep Up the Defensive Intensity. The Crimson Tide’s defense through two games has been elite. Alabama is seventh in the country in Defensive Effective FG%, in part because they are second in 2P% allowed. The Tide is also 10th in OREB% and 26th in OREB% given up. With that being said, South Alabama has a lot more size than either Longwood or Liberty did, especially with Samuel at the five. This should be the first true test for the Tide’s bigs. The frontcourt for Alabama has been sensational this season, can they keep it up?
It’s a tricky trip tonight, there’s no doubt about that. Lesser Tide teams of the past would lose this game, probably to the tune of 20+ turnovers, foul trouble all night, and settling for 30+ threes at a 15% make rate. Can this year’s group prove that they are cut from a different cloth? That seems to be the case so far, but we said the same thing last year, before South Alabama took a three-point lead into the halftime locker rooms.
The game tips-off after most people have gone to sleep - 9:00 PM CST. The reason why though is that we finally get to see our top-20 Tide team play on regular cable, as the game will be broadcast on ESPNU.