It has been a bit somber the past 36 hours or so around these parts, so I’m here to get the RBR party back started with some fantastic news - Tide Hoops is BACK. That’s right y’all, the Crimson Tide men’s basketball team begins its 2022-23 season tonight! Just in time for the football season to come to an end!
In all seriousness though, this could be the start of a very fun basketball campaign for the men in Crimson and White. This is actually my tenth year of covering Tide Hoops for Roll Bama Roll - so I’ve learned to be cautious with my optimism - but this year’s squad is exactly what we envisioned a Nate Oats team would look like at Alabama when he was hired. Long, athletic, position-less players who can mostly all dribble, drive, shoot, and defend. Exactly how good this team can be remains to be seen, as Oats and company basically tore down and built back up the whole roster, but they should be a lot of fun to follow.
If you haven’t had a chance, check out my season preview article that goes into detail how this offseason and preseason played out for the Crimson Tide - it was a very eventful one.
On to tonight though. The Crimson Tide will begin the college basketball season with one of the only pairings of 2022 NCAA Tournament participants on the opening night slate. The Longwood program is one of the better rebuild stories in college basketball in recent years. The Lancers only began playing college basketball in 2004, when they went a cool 1-30. Before current coach, Griff Aldrich, showed up in 2018, the best record the team had posted was a pair of 12-19 finishes in 2010-2011 when they weren’t even in a conference.
All Aldrich did was turn them into the class of the Big South. After a couple years of building, the Lancers won 26 games last season, going 15-1 in conference play and winning both the regular season and tournament titles. They made their debut in the NCAA Tournament as a 14-seed before getting wrecked by Tennessee 88-56.
All of this is to say that this program has come a long way, and with four returning starters back from last year’s 26-win squad, they are going to be a great opening test for a very talented Tide team that lacks experience playing together.
POINT 6’0 Walyn Napper (7.8 PPG, 4.1 APG, 2.8 RPG, 1.0 SPG)*
GUARD 6’2 Deshaun Wade (11.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.2 SPG)
GUARD 6’4 Isaiah Wilkins (12.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.5 SPG)
WING 6’6 Jesper Granlund (4.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.1 APG)
POST 6’7 Zac Watson (7.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG)
*stats from Southern Miss
As mentioned, the Lancers return four starters from last season, as only starting point guard, Justin Hill (who transferred to Georgia), departed from the team. Additionally, most of these guys are either seniors or graduates who are taking advantage of the additional COVID year of eligibility. So, this is an experienced group. Wade is the go-to scorer (44.8%/44.6%/76.7%) and Wilkins is an all-around, big guard who makes everything happen (46.9%/39.4%/81.4%; 14.0% REB%; 93.0 DRtg). The big question for Longwood this season is trying to fill the void left at the point guard position after Hill’s departure. Aldrich went to the transfer portal to snag Walyn Napper from Southern Miss, who had strong numbers for the Golden Eagles (41.2%/33.3%/50.8%; 32.1% AST%), but it remains to be seen how well adjusted he is to the team.
What to Watch For
- Brandon Miller. I know that we’ve been hyping this guy up a ton the past few weeks, but it’s for good reason. Miller is a 6’8, do-it-all wing with the ceiling of an All-American. Anyone who has watched him play this preseason has said he’s, without a doubt, one of the most talented players in the country this year. And we finally get to see his game on display tonight.
- Health Statuses. Jahvon Quinerly is still 4-6 weeks away from returning to action, but Oats said this weekend that he thinks Nimari Burnett, Charles Bediako, and Darius Miles will all be available for the opener. Hopefully, each of them is 100%, but if they aren’t, expect to see plenty of Dom Welch and Noah Clowney tonight.
Three Keys to Victory
- Build Chemistry, The all-important intangible in sports - building chemistry. It’s very much a real thing in basketball. Longwood has a ton of returning production in the form of guys that have played a lot with each other. Alabama needs to avoid costly mistakes on either side of the court against this experienced group, and that starts by teammates understanding each other’s game.
- Bully Ball. The Lancers have a great group of veteran guards, but they can be dominated in the frontcourt. Longwood, for all of its success last year, finished 325th in the country in 2P% defense (53.9%) with their average defensive time of possession coming in at 317th. They were, quite literally, one of the worst defenses in the country at preventing the other team from scoring. Alabama needs to be driving the basket all night.
- Take Care of the Ball. Of course, Aldrich knew how bad the Lancers were at defending the basket, so he deployed an aggressive approach to try to turn opponents over before they could get into the paint. The Crimson Tide has definitely had its issues with turnovers over the years, and with Quinerly out, Alabama will be leaning heavily on Mark Sears - who is more of an off-guard - and true freshman Jaden Bradley as its primary ball-handlers tonight.
The long wait is over, folks - basketball returns tonight! And as has become the standard under Nate Oats, Alabama isn’t taking any nights off. Longwood is a heavy favorite to repeat as Big South champions, and for good reason. They are absolutely capable of winning tonight in Coleman Coliseum.
Still, this Alabama team has a shot at being truly special. At the very least, we are going to get a very good idea of what Nate Oats can accomplish here in Tuscaloosa this season. He’s got his type of team, and very few health concerns. Let’s see where this thing ends up. It all starts tonight, as the Tide tips off with Longwood at 7:30 PM CST. Unfortunately, a pair of 2022 NCAA Tournament participants matching up - one of them being ranked 20th in the country - is apparently not good enough for television. The game can be streamed on SEC Network+, listened to on any Crimson Tide radio affiliates, or you could just come out and support the Tide in person.