Coming off of its first road victory of the season this past Tuesday, the 18th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (3-0; Kenpom: 16; T-Rank: 18) plays host to the Jacksonville State Gamecocks (1-1; Kenpom: 229; T-Rank: 220) in Tuscaloosa tonight, and although it’s yet another match-up of 2022 NCAA Tournament participants for the Tide, tonight’s game is definitely a tune-up for next week’s loaded field at the Phil Knight Invitational.
The Gamecocks lost most of their production from last season and have already dropped a game to Illinois-Chicago this year. 7th year head coach, Ray Harper, certainly has a bit of rebuild job ahead of him this season. The reigning Atlantic Sun champions made only their second appearance ever in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, which wasn’t much of a surprise given how well they competed with the Tide last December when then-sixth-ranked Alabama escaped with an ugly 65-59 win in Coleman Coliseum.
But again, those were two very different teams playing in that meeting last year. Tonight’s game between the two will almost certainly end up being a Quad 4 match-up for the Tide when March rolls around - which honestly might make it even more vital of a game. Alabama definitely doesn’t want to have a disgusting Q4 loss on the ole NCAA Tournament resume come Selection Sunday. Can this young group keep up the focus and intensity ahead of what should be a slew of big games next week?
POINT 6’0 Demaree King (12.5 PPG, 4.0 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.5 SPG)
GUARD 6’3 Skyelar Potter (16.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.5 SPG)
WING 6’6 Juwan Perdue (2.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG)
POST 6’9 Amanze Ngumezi (13.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG)
POST 6’11 Maros Zeliznak (4.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG)
Off of the Bench
GUARD 6’1 J.J. Platt (7.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 APG)
GUARD 6’3 Peyton Daniels (4.0 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.0 RPG)
GUARD 6’5 Camron McDowell (8.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.5 APG)
WING 6’7 Clarence Jackson (8.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 APG)
POST 6’7 Marcellus Bingham (4.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG)
The Gamecocks don’t return a single starter from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. Demaree King was the first guy off of the bench though, and he’s continued to be a driving force on the offensive end (43.5/38.5%; 22.1% AST%). Skyelar Potter is one of the many players utilizing his bonus COVID year to play for his third team in five seasons, and he’s been a filthy scorer for Jacksonville State early on (66.7%/63.6%/25.0%). Juwan Perdue is the only other guy who has started both games so far, and he’s been excellent on the glass (25.6% REB%)
I suspect Ngumezi and Zeliznak get the start tonight just because Alabama is so big, the ‘Cocks need some size in the post. Ngumezi originally played ball at Georgia, and missed all of last season with an injury, so he’s got the experience and the raw talent to battle in the paint. Zeliznak has an elite 66.9 DRtg this season, albeit on a very small sample size.
Other than that, Wichita State transfer, Clarence Jackson, is a dangerous stretch-four (career 31.3% 3P% to go along with a 14.9% REB%) and Camron McDowell (Georgia) and Peyton Daniels (Vanderbilt) both transferred from SEC schools and were three-stars coming out of high school, so they’ve got talent.
Three Keys to Victory
- Effort/Mental Maturity. Much like the South Alabama game earlier this week, the Crimson Tide are heavy favorites to romp over this overmatched in-state foe. But this ain’t football. Sleepwalking against perceived “cupcakes” gets you beat on the hardcourt. Just ask Louisville how things are going up in Kentucky. A young team like Alabama’s can often struggle to keep a high level of effort and focus in games like this - we saw plenty of it last year. But Tuesday’s showing against South was encouraging in this regard.
- Board Dominance. Alabama has corralled over 60 rebounds in two of its first three games this season. Sixty. That is an insane amount. The Tide leads the country in RPG by over seven boards. This team is just so long and athletic, that when they combine that with high-level effort, it’s nearly impossible to beat the Tide to the glass. Keep winning the rebounding battle like this, and Alabama won’t have to worry about many teams this season.
- Reintegrate JQ. Jahvon Quinerly made a truly surprising return to the court in Mobile on Tuesday. And while smoothly reintegrating him into our new rotation won’t really be necessary tonight, it will be in the long run. Games like this one are perfect for working that out. The way Alabama has played so far with the new guards in Mark Sears, Jaden Bradley, and Rylan Griffen, it’ll be interesting to see where Quinerly fits.
Things are about to heat up for Alabama in a big way next week, when they head to Portland, Oregon for the Phil Knight Invitational. The Michigan State Spartans, who just beat #4 Kentucky in the Champions Classic the other night, will meet the Tide in the opening round. And Alabama will be playing wither Oregon or UConn the following night, regardless of the outcome of the first game. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch this group go head-to-head with these fantastic programs.
But - first things first - Alabama needs to take care of business tonight. Show up with that same level of intensity and focus, work on cleaning up the offense a little bit, get Quinerly in the flow of the rotation and worked back up to the speed of the game, and let’s take this 4-0 record to the Pacific Northwest and make some noise.
The Tide is a 22-point favorite for tonight’s 8:00 PM CST tip. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.