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Bama Basketball Breakdown: #8 Creighton

After an encouraging, but disappointing, loss in Toronto, the Tide now heads to the arena of its ancient hoops rival

NCAA Basketball: Central Michigan at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

After perhaps the best performance of the young season for the Alabama Crimson Tide (6-3; NET: 10; Kenpom: 10) a week ago against arguably the best team in college basketball, the morale around the program seems to have picked back up, even despite the loss to Purdue in Toronto. The fellas battled all day, with relentless energy and a ‘zero-quit’ attitude that refused to yield, even after the Boilermakers delivered dagger after dagger late in the second half. Make no mistake about it, most teams would’ve folded after Braden Smith started knocking down all of those late threes, but not this Tide team. Nate Oats came out with an absolutely perfect gameplan that was executed almost to perfection, and the result was an Elite Eight type of battle between Alabama and Purdue.

Now it’s time to take that next step and win one of these big games. Up next, the Tide will take the floor in Ohama, NE for yet another clash with a top-ten opponent - the eighth-ranked Creigton Bluejays (8-2; NET: 9; Kenpom: 12). An ancient Tide Hoops rival, the Jays are coming off of their first-ever Elite Eight appearance last season, where they suffered the same fate as the Tide did last March by losing a heartbreaker to San Diego State. They are also coming off of their second loss of the season, after the Jays were stunned by UNLV on Wednesday night by a final of 79-64.

Greg McDermott is now in Year 14 in Omaha, and, despite that loss to the Runnin’ Rebs, he may just have his best team yet. The Bluejays are loaded with skill and experience, and they were on just about every media member’s shortlist of teams capable of cutting down the nets in April. Going to their place for a matchup in front of a sold-out CHI Health Center is going to be every bit as difficult as last Saturday’s showdown with Purdue, regardless of the Jay’s most recent outing. Hell, that loss this week might make winning today even tougher.

The Roster

Starting Five

Steven Ashworth (#1, SR, G, 6-1): 8.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.4 APG

Trey Alexander (#23, JR, G, 6-4): 15.0 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 4.7 APG

Baylor Scheierman (#55, SR, G, 6-6): 18.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 4.3 APG

Mason Miller (#13, SO, F, 6-8): 7.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.6 APG

Ryan Kalkbrenner (#11, SR, C, 7-0): 15.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.4 APG

Off of the Bench

Francisco Farabello (#5, SR, G, 6-4): 5.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.1 APG

Josiah Dotzler (#15, FR, G, 6-3): 2.3 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 0.3 APG

Isaac Traudt (#41, FR, F, 6-10): 6.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 0.6 APG

Fredrick King (#33, SO, C, 6-10): 5.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 0.1 APG

Greg McDermott’s squad returns three starters from last year’s Elite Eight run, and they are by far the best players on the team - Alexander, Scheierman, and Kalkbrenner. Alexander is a dynamic guard who can play both on and off the ball quite well (40.4%/29.6%/80.0%; 23.1% AST%), although he is struggling a bit with his consistency. Scheierman is the former South Dakota State star who laid an egg against the Tide two years ago, but was one of the best low-major players in the country at his previous stop, and was even recruited in the transfer portal by Oats and company. The guy is a walking bucket (46.2%/37.2%/93.5%), and he’s never seen a shot he didn’t like (13.8 FGA per game and 8.6 3FGA per game). Despite that fact, he also shares the ball well with others (23.6% AST%) and is a plus defender (95.6 DRtg) and rebounder (12.9% REB%).

Kalkbrenner is the steady force in the post. He presents a much different challenge than the massive 7’4 Zach Edey did last week. Kalkbrenner is a good bit lighter and less physically imposing as Edey, but he has great footwork and can stretch the floor as a shooter as well (64.0%/33.3%/66.7%). He’s a good defender (94.2 DRtg; 6.5% BLK%) and a solid rebounder (13.6% REB%), but if Alabama’s bigs can bring the same effort and execution they did last week, Kalkbrenner won’t the same nightmare that Edey was.

Ashworth and Miller round out the starting five. Ashworth transferred in from Utah State, where he was the leading scorer for the Aggies. He doesn’t have to do as much offensively for the Jays, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t still produced at a highly efficient clip (41.5%/39.6%/90.0%; 18.3% AST%). But on a team that’s loaded with shooters, the best one might be the 6’8 stretch-four, Mason Miller (60.6%; 58.6%/85.7%). Farabello also shoots 41.4% from three off of the bench, and the back-up duo of Traudt and King provide good depth in the post.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Win the Three-Point Battle. Folks, this is going to be the definition of a shootout. Alabama attempts three-pointers at the 28th highest rate in America and is 5th in the country in 3P% (40.9%). Creighton is 3rd and 26th, respectively, in those same two stats. Here’s the kicker though - the Jays also give up the most three-point attempts in the country. The looks should absolutely be there for the Tide, but can Alabama do a better job of contesting Creighton on the perimeter? UNLV shot 10/22 from deep in their win the other night - most of which were completely uncontested. Whoever chases shooters off of the arc better will likely have a good shot at winning this game.
  2. Dictate the Tempo. While Creighton shares Alabama’s affinity for the three-ball, the Jays do not have the same philosophy when it comes to tempo. McDermott’s crew is middle-of-the-road in pace, and their lack of depth - only eight players log 10+ MPG - could prevent them from being able to run at the Tide’s breakneck speed all night. The Jays lack of depth hasn’t been tested much this season, in large part because they simply don’t foul (1st in the country in Free Throw Rate Allowed). However, when you get tired, you start to foul more. If Alabama can control the tempo in this game and dig into that bench, the Tide could be playing its best five against the Jays mostly untested backups in the second half.
  3. Hit the Offensive Glass. Creighton has been an elite defensive rebounding team this year, ranking in the top-ten for OREB% allowed. However, they haven’t played a team that attacks the glass like Alabama does (28th in the country in OREB%). With size and athleticism all over the depth chart, the Crimson Tide are in a unique position to challenge Creighton on their rebounding prowess.

True road games are never easy, and that’s especially so when you are playing an experienced and talented group looking to get right after an upset loss earlier in the week. With that being said, if Alabama plays at the same level and with the same energy and focus that we saw from the Tide last week, there aren’t a lot of teams in the country that Nate Oats’ crew can’t beat.

Tonight’s game will tip-off at 7:00 PM CST and will be televised on FOX. The Crimson Tide is a 7.5-point underdog.