Tide Hoops stock is through the roof. After an epic come-from-behind win over an elite Houston team, the 4th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (8-1; Kenpom: 10; T-Rank: 13; NET: 5) finds itself ranked among the top teams in the country. Everything seems to be clicking for the Tide as the C.M. Newton Classic in Birmingham looms following another big-time test with the Memphis Tigers (8-2; Kenpom: 26; T-Rank: 14; NET: 38) in a midweek clash. Nate Oats seems to have another SEC and Final Four contender in Tuscaloosa. Things are rolling.
If this sounds familiar to you, well...
Memphis just picked up a huge 92-78 win over No. 6 Alabama. pic.twitter.com/oh6bvG0f6r— SLAM University (@slam_university) December 15, 2021
Now, let’s be clear here - this year’s squad feels a lot less fraudulent than last season’s. From the size to the level of energy and maturity consistently displayed, it’s really a complete 180 from a year ago. Still, last year’s team exhibits a very direct cautionary tale for Nate Oats’ current group. It is December 13th. No one remembers you for what you did in December. It’s about competing for an SEC title and making a run in the NCAA Tournament come March. The only way to do that is by continuing to play at a high level and working to improve on your craft.
Tonight’s match-up with a very good - and underrated, honestly - Memphis team is a perfect opportunity to do just that.
POINT 6’0 Alex Lomax (8.4 PPG, 3.5 APG, 4.4 RPG, 88.0 DRtg)
GUARD 5’11 Kendric Davis (18.4 PPG, 4.9 APG, 4.2 RPG, 95.1 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 Jayden Hardaway (6.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 102.9 DRtg)
WING 6’9 Deandre Williams (14.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 90.3 DRtg)
POST 6’8 Chandler Lawson (5.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 95.7 DRtg)
Unlike last year’s Tigers, who were headlined by a couple of one-and-done star freshmen, Penny Hardaway has one of the most experienced teams in college basketball this season. Deandre Williams is 26 years old! And he’s a beast, too. Capable of handling the rock and even running point (22.5% AST%), Williams is a jack-of-all-trades with his size and skillset (56.4%/35.7%/68.6%; 1.3 SPG; 1.1 BPG). This guy really should be playing professional ball somewhere. Joining him in the frontcourt is former Oregon transfer, Chandler Lawson, who returned home to Memphis last season. He’s much more of a traditional post player (57.5%/33.3%/50.0%; 12.4% REB%).
The backcourt is headlined by SMU transfer, Kendric Davis - last season’s AAC Player of the Year. He’s a high-volume scorer who has struggled a bit with efficiency this year (38.8%/31.3%/89.3%), but he was electric all of last season, and came up huge in the Tigers’ win over Auburn this past Saturday with 27 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists. His 29.4% AST% leads the team, but Alex Lomax is the returning starter at point guard. Not that his 20.0% AST% is too shabby. When you combine these two with Williams, you can see how it’s difficult to defend three guys who can really run the offense. Finally, Penny’s son, Jayden, rounds out the starting five.
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’4 Elijiah McCadden (3.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 100.1 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 Keonte Kennedy (8.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 98.3 DRtg)
POST 6’9 Kaodirichi Akobundu-Ehioge (1.3 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 93.7 DRtg)
POST 6’9 Malcolm Dandridge (6.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 89.0 DRtg)
Memphis isn’t a super deep team this year, but they’ve got quality contributors off of the bench. Elijiah McCadden paces the team in perimeter shooting (47.1%/40.0%/30.0%), as he and UTEP transfer Keonte Kennedy provide a scoring lift off of the bench (42.9%/28.9%/57.1%). Kaodirichi Akobundu-Ehioge and Malcolm Dandridge both provide strong, physical depth in the post, and are nice contributors on the glass (10.5% and 13.8% REB%, respectively).
Three Keys to Victory
- Maintain Effort. If the South Dakota State game ten days ago was a test of the Tide’s maturity, this game is a test of Alabama’s heart. This team has experienced some serious highs already this season, as the top-five ranking suggests. However, there is still a lot of basketball to be played before March. If the fellas want to achieve their true goals - winning the SEC and making it to Houston for the Final Four - you have to have that killer mindset that you are going to show up with the same level of effort and intensity every single game, regardless of who you are playing or what happened in the previous game. In short, the Tide needs to continue to show that they’ve got that dog in them.
- Dominate the Glass. For as athletic and big as the Tigers are, you might be surprised to learn that they are vulnerable on the glass. While they do a solid job of rebounding on the offensive end (34.5% OREB% - 41st in the country), they give up a ton of offensive boards themselves (31.9% OREB% allowed - 289th in the county). Rebounding, of course, has been one of Alabama’s strengths this season, as the Tide rank 4th in the country with a 39.2% OREB% and lead the country in total RPG. Additionally, Memphis isn’t a very good shooting team (32.8% 3P% - 202nd in the country), so Alabama needs to utilize its length and size to keep the Tigers out of the paint and force jump-shots. The Tide needs to keep Davis and Williams working away from the basket.
- Minimize Turnovers and Keep it Moving. Alabama only turned the ball over three times in the second half against Houston. That is the reason the Tide was able to come from behind and win that game. The offense was as smooth as I’ve ever seen it. Oats had the guys running sets seamlessly and preventing the ball from getting stuck in any one person’s hands. That’s how you beat an elite defense. Alabama scored 44 points on the best defense in the country in the second half alone. In an absolutely raucous environment. Seriously, take a few minutes to read thought this breakdown thread from Sam Vecenie of The Athletic. This is what Nate Oats’ offense is supposed to look like:
Did a thread on some of the stuff I saw in the Alabama-Houston game from over the weekend. Particular emphasis on Jaden Bradley, Noah Clowney, Brandon Miller's gravity, and some of the awesome sets Alabama's staff set up in the second half to generate offense. https://t.co/OO2F8U8rpg— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) December 13, 2022
I’ve criticized Oats in the past for not running enough set pieces or making adjustments on the fly in real time. He absolutely shut me up on Saturday.
There’s no secret that this Tide team appears to be special. From the physical make-up to the mentality this team has shown early on this year - this could be the best Tide Hoops team of all-time. They have that potential. But unmet potential is worth a whole lot of nothing in this economy. Have any doubt about that, just flip the calendar back 365 days.
Memphis is as experienced as they come, and between guys like Kendric Davis and Deandre Williams, they have the ability to compete with anyone. Just ask Auburn. These Tigers will be dancing come March, without a doubt. Alabama has another fantastic opportunity to get a big win tonight in Tuscaloosa, and y’all should come on out for it.
The game tips at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN2, for those of you who can’t join us in Coleman tonight. If you don’t have a cable or streaming subscription, Sling TV is offering their best deals in time for the holidays.