With the Emerald Coast Classic and ACC-SEC Challenge now both in the rearview mirror for the 2023-24 campaign, one thing is pretty clear about this year’s now-unranked Alabama squad - they can’t defend a damn thing. At least not right now. The four-game stretch of dominant blowouts to start the season had many Tide Hoops fans hoping that the drop-off from last season’s historic team may not be too significant, but those hopes were dashed in the span of five days right after Thanksgiving.
Listen, Clemson and Ohio State are good basketball teams; as is Oregon, who the Tide did defeat in Destin. Clemson will contend for the ACC crown this season. All three are potentially NCAA Tournament teams. Still, giving up an average of 89.3 PPG and seeing your Defensive Efficiency tank from the mid-40s to 80th in only a three-game span is some truly impressive futility. What really is the most concerning aspect of it is that, structurally, I don’t know what Nate Oats can really do to enact much meaningful change. It’s quite clear that the big men on this team aren’t good enough to defend the interior or even close out defensive possessions with rebounds at a high rate, let alone make much of an impact on the offensive end. I really hate to name names, but if Nick Pringle and Mo Wague are the best the Tide has at the five, we might have to reset our expectations for this season.
Wague will get every opportunity to prove the doubters wrong tonight, since Pringle is now serving a suspension, too:
Alabama's Nick Pringle suspended for conduct detrimental to team— Charlie Potter (@Charlie_Potter) December 1, 2023
"Nothing serious off-court or anything. It’s just in-house. ... I still love Nick. Hopefully, he can get himself figured out and be back with the team shortly."https://t.co/8co3fbhSne pic.twitter.com/YtHfcEnbxQ
Now, with all of that being said, there can certainly still be incremental improvements each player can make to get the defense playing at least at an acceptable-enough level to where the Tide can outscore its opponents most nights. And to be fair to the guys, there wasn’t really any time to fix anything between the Ohio State and Clemson games. With a full week of practice and film time, hopefully we will start to see some noticeable improvements, whether that be in the form of player development, team chemistry, or coaching adjustments. And boy, will we need those improvements ASAP, because after tonight, Alabama begins an absolute gauntlet of a three-game road trip against #4 Purdue, #10 Creighton, and #1 Arizona - the latter two of which are true away games. A 6-5 start to the season is the most likely outcome at this point.
For tonight, obviously the focus is on self-improvement, as Alabama welcomes Bryan Hodgson and his Arkansas State Red Wolves (2-6) to Coleman Coliseum. Hodgson, of course, was one of Nate’s tops assistants his first four years in Tuscaloosa - and one of the three that got head coaching gigs after last season. Unfortunately for Hodge, his Red Wolves are...not good. Just about the only thing they do well is hit the glass for offensive boards, which they rank 64th in the country in. If you think Alabama has had issues defending, wait until you get a load of Arkansas State. They are 236th in Defensive Efficiency in large part because they foul like crazy (345th in opponent Free Throw Rate) despite not forcing any turnovers (331st in Opponent TO%), and they allow the most three-point attempts in the country. Not exactly a recipe for beating a Nate Oats-coached team. Hopefully, better days are ahead for Hodge.
But hopefully those days don’t start tonight. The game will tip-off at 7:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network. The Tide is favored by 24.5.
EDIT: And just as I’m going to post this, apparently true freshman wing Kris Parker is going through warm-ups:
Alabama freshman Kris Parker is currently going through warmups with the team.— Blake Byler (@blakebyler45) December 5, 2023
He was previously announced to be redshirting this season.
Either Oats is really desperate, or he has an ace up his sleeve. Or a little bit of both!