One of the major reinventions of the Alabama basketball program that Nate Oats wanted to implement when he arrived in Tuscaloosa was an “anybody, anywhere” type of scheduling mentality, and boy, has he done just that. After spending last week in Portland, OR for the Phil Knight Invitational, where the 11th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (6-1; Kenpom: 11; T-Rank: 19) took home a pair of ranked wins against a trio of then #12 Michigan State, #20 UConn, and #1 North Carolina, the Tide will soon spend a week playing at current #1 Houston before returning to the great state of Alabama to play Memphis and #14 Gonzaga - all return trips from last year’s brutal December schedule, of course.
Sandwiched in between those monstrous three-game slates is a matchup tonight with the South Dakota State Jackrabbits (3-5; Kenpom: 143; T-Rank: 156), a squad that Alabama hung 100 on a year ago before Eric Henderson’s squad ended up making a run to the NCAA Tournament. Much like Jacksonville State from a few weeks back though, this ain’t last year’s Jackrabbits. Following a loss to Kent State last night - yes, they played in Ohio just yesterday - SDSU has now lost as many games this year as they did all of last season. The J’Rabbits lost their top three scorers from a year ago, and they simply haven’t had the scoring prowess to make up for their glaring weaknesses in other areas of the game.
Still, this is a proud and well coached program. Nate Oats called tonight’s matchup a “maturity game” earlier this week, and I could not agree more. Alabama is a massive favorite tonight for a reason, but can they show the maturity to take care of business in Tuscaloosa in a trap spot?
POINT 6’4 Alex Arians (7.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.3 APG, 104.0 DRtg)
GUARD 6’2 Charlie Easley (8.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.3 APG, 102.6 DRtg)
GUARD 6’3 Zeke Mayo (12.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 100.2 DRtg)
WING 6’8 Matt Dentlinger (9.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.1 APG, 100.2 DRtg)
POST 6’9 Kyle Williams III (10.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 102.8 DRtg)
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’0 Matthew Mims (6.3 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.1 APG, 107.2 DRtg)
GUARD 5’5 Tanner Te Slaa (3.5 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 100.7 DRtg)
WING 6’7 Luke Appel (6.2 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 104.5 DRtg)
WING 6’7 Matthew Mors (4.1 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 103.1 DRtg)
The first thing that jumps out to me this year compared to last is how much more size South Dakota State has. Not to say that they are huge or anything, but last year’s Jackrabbits basically ran four guards and a wing at all times. Even with the losses of their best scorers, SDSU does have a good amount of returning experience. Alex Arians has stepped up at the point guard spot and done a solid job playing a role that he hadn’t prior to this year (40.0%/33.3%/76.0%; 21.7% AST%).
Charlie Easley and Matthew Mims have been the sharpshooters this season (Easley: 47.2%/46.4%/72.7%; Mims: 34.2%/42.9%/80.0%), but Zeke Mayo is the engine that powers the Jackrabbits (43,2%/30.2%/100% on 11.0 FGAs per game; 18.2% AST%). He is also the leading rebounder on the team (13.3% REB%).
Three Keys to Victory
- Maturity. This is the theme to tonight’s game. How much maturity can this young Tide team display against an overmatched opponent, especially when a date with #1 Houston looms next week? As long as Alabama comes out with the same intensity and effort that they have shown all season, this should be a wrap tonight. South Dakota State simply doesn’t have the guys to run with the Tide this year.
- Dominate the Glass. I mentioned that the Jackrabbits have a lot more size now, but it hasn’t helped them much in the rebounding department. SDSU is 356th in the country in OREB% at just 18.5%. In contrast, Alabama is 2nd in the country at 41.0%. This might be the largest disparity in all of college basketball this season, in any area of the game. Alabama’s size and athleticism are just on another planet compared to South Dakota State’s.
- Turnover Margin. Both of these teams struggle at protecting the rock - Alabama is 319th and SDSU is 355th. If either team can do even an average job in taking care of the ball, they will likely have a nice edge in points off of turnovers, which will either make it an easy win for Alabama or will give the Jackrabbits a shot at hanging around.
Alabama is dealing with a few issues on the injury front. Noah Clowney is unlikely to play tonight following his tailbone bruise suffered in the previous game against UNC. And Dom Welch is still a little bit away from making his Crimson Tide debut. However, Oats did mention that Darius Miles shouldn’t face any limitations tonight.
It’s always tough to motivate a bunch of college kids to bring the same level of intensity night in and night out, especially when playing a bit of a let-down game as a break in the schedule. If Alabama comes out firing though, this shouldn’t be much of a game. The Tide is listed as a 19.5-point favorite for tonight’s 7:30 tip in Tuscaloosa. The game will be available for streaming on ESPN+ and SEC Network+.