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Points in the Paint: Blue Collar Basketball is Back in a Big Way

Relentless, tenacious defense

NCAA Basketball: Longwood at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this spring, I did a three-part year-in-review for the Crimson Tide Basketball team: what went right, what went wrong, why, and areas of improvement. I’ll just put the bottom line below (it links to the offense and defense pieces, as well), and that should give you an idea of what was facing this rebuilt 2022-2023 team:

Let’s put it all together, now that we’ve touched on some of the highlights of what was possibly the most accomplished regular season in Alabama basketball history, the disappointing and often shambolic defense, and an elite offense that was far better than you may recall.

On offense, it was a team that worked fast, that shot from the perimeter more than almost anyone in the country. They were a less accurate team from the perimeter, and more of the offense went through the post this season than in 2020. But Alabama added a highly effective interior team, that was particularly good snagging offensive rebounds and getting to the line.

Those positives were offset by a turnover-prone offense that never allowed the defense room to breathe, which in turn forced a struggling defense even further back on their heels. And, yes, the defense was as bad as you remember: in many ways worse. It fouled more often, gave up a lot of FTA and threes the old-fashioned way, forced too few turnovers, and were bad at perimeter rotation — where teams torched the Tide this season the most.

The loss of three veteran perimeter players contributed as much to the Tide’s defensive woes as offensive ones, though Jahvon Quinerly in particular had a bad year: defensively, with his ball-handling, and in particular in his shooting. Though, it should be noted Q was one of the few returning ‘Bama defenders whose defensive rebounding and steals and blocks improved, so he was getting trying to get after it. Like too many on this roster though, his effort was simply too unsteady.

Effort. Poor shooting. Too many turnovers. Getting bullied in the post. Absolutely miserable perimeter defense. Those were all areas in need of improvement. Toughness, in a word.

Well, I am pleased to report that this iteration of ‘Bama basketball is the nastiest, scrappiest, toughest and deepest defensive team we’ve seen yet under Coach Nate Oats. The Tide has had a deceptively tougher-than-it-seems early season schedule too, with three teams that all figure to be in the mix for tourney bids — two of them are defending conference champions, and one was a runner-up; all three played in the postseason.

It has been all-but assured by Coach Oats this year that if you’re not playing defense, then you’re not playing. Period.

What are the results?

An absolute shellacking of three quality programs, keyed by some wicked defense and utterly filthy rebounding — they’ve had 60+ boards twice already. And they had not had 60 rebounds in any game....in seven years previous.

Rich Riley honestly sounded in awe:

“We held them to 32% and forced 21 turnovers, you look at that and you think we win going away,” South Alabama coach Richie Riley said. “But then you look at our end. We struggled shooting the ball and got destroyed on the glass. I mean, just destroyed. I don’t remember very many games I’ve been a part of giving up 25 offensive rebounds. We made them miss first shots, but we had to rebound. And we didn’t do that.”

Of course, there are still too many turnovers (they’ve outnumbered assists in two of three contests), and perimeter shooting must improve. But, even on nights where the offense is bogged down — and it was on first shots Tuesday evening — if the defense continues to play like this, there are few teams in the country that can match that ferocity.

“It was a good road win,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “Offensively, we were not good for very large stretches of the game. We had turnovers, and didn’t get a shot for a while there. Offensive rebounding saved us, which is has for a good part of the year.”

“Offensively, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Oats said. “We’re not anywhere close to where we need to be. Defensively, I give our guys a ton of credit. Give South a lot of credit, too. They were on the ropes, we had them down 20. … We had to hold them off there at the end.”

Blue collar basketball is back. We missed you.

Here’s our weekly run-down of where ‘Bama stands:

  • RPI: 31st
  • Sagarin: 15th
  • KenPom: 15th (21st offense, 13th defense)
  • Bart Torvik: 17th (17th offense, 12th defense)
  • Projected NET ranking: 18th
  • Projected Bracket: Lunardi (6 Seed West); TR (20.2% chance of 1-seed, 13.7% chance of Final Four)

Roll Tide!

Poll

Biggest surprise of the early season?

  • 23%
    The defense
    (70 votes)
  • 52%
    The rebounding
    (158 votes)
  • 11%
    How easy they’ve made it look, despite being without three players
    (35 votes)
  • 12%
    FINAL FOUR, BABY! WHOOOOOO!!!
    (37 votes)
300 votes total Vote Now