Well, it’s been another interesting 24 hours for the 2nd-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (23-4, 13-1 SEC; Kenpom: 2; T-Rank: 2; NET: 2), and not in a good way. I’m sure by now everyone has read the latest from the additional details that emerged from Darius Miles and Michael “Buzz” Davis’ bond hearing yesterday, where it was reported that Brandon Miller was tangentially involved in the lead-up to Davis’ shootout with another man in Tuscaloosa last month, which led to the tragic death of Jamea Harris. I’m not going to get into that in this space - Brandon Miller was cleared by the authorities of any wrongdoing and was never given a suspension of any kind. Unless public backlash has changed either Nate Oats’ or a higher-up at the university’s mind, I’m expecting Miller to suit up yet again for the Crimson Tide tonight.
The good news for Alabama is - if there is anyone in the SEC that you’d want to play while dealing with a bunch of off-the-court distractions going on - it’s the hapless South Carolina Gamecocks (10-17, 3-13 SEC; Kenpom: 225; T-Rank: 241; NET: 243). After years of solid basketball under Frank Martin - which included a Final Four run in 2017 - South Carolina decided to move on from arguably the second-most successful coach in their history after another ‘disappointing’ season last year. The dominance of the women’s team there has really clouded their fanbase’s judgment, considering the men’s program is one of the worst high major programs in the country historically. It was a move that was very similar to Ole Miss canning Andy Kennedy a few years prior.
Unfortunately for both of those schools, they’ve learned that not every bottom-feeding basketball program can just luck up and get a guy like Bruce Pearl. The Gamecocks hired Lamont Paris - formerly of Chattanooga - to take the reigns from Martin. At first, it seemed like a great hire after he was able to lockdown the commitment of five-star McDonald’s All-American G.G. Jackson this past offseason. However, it’s been an outright disaster since the opening tip of the season.
This South Carolina team is one of the worst SEC basketball teams I’ve witnessed in my time covering SEC hoops. Granted, they have improved since their horrific non-conference slate that included blowout losses to the likes of George Washington, Colorado State, and Furman, but even after winning two of the past three games against fellow cellar-dwellers Ole Miss and LSU, it takes a lot to find things to like about this team.
POINT 6’2 Meechie Johnson (12.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 113.6 DRtg)
GUARD 6’2 Chico Carter (9.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 116.2 DRtg)
WING 6’5 Hayden Brown (11.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 108.9 DRtg)
WING 6’9 G.G. Jackson (15.3 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.0 APG, 109.4 DRtg)
POST 7’0 Josh Gray (4.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 104.6 DRtg)
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’2 Jacobi Wright (6.6 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 115.6 DRtg)
GUARD 6’3 Ford Cooper (1.0 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 115.7 DRtg)
WING 6’8 Zachary Davis (2.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 109.0 DRtg)
POST 6’8 Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (2.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 112.3 DRtg)
POST 6’8 Daniel Hankins-Sanford (2.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 112.1 DRtg)
The aforementioned G.G. Jackson gets all of the headlines for South Carolina this season, and for good reason - he’s by far their most talented player (38.5%/33.6%/65.0%; 11.3% REB%) - but he is mostly an iso-driven scorer at this point in his career. Meechie Johnson is the main distributor in this offense (23.6% AST%) and is an erratic scorer himself (36.2%/33.7%/77.0%). He’s joined in the backcourt by a trio of experienced guards, the most notable of which is Chico Carter, who is by far the best shooter on the team (47.1%/47.6%/63.0%). Carter did miss the previous game against LSU, so his status will definitely be something to monitor tonight. Jacobi Wright plays big minutes off of the bench as another capable scorer (37.2%/37.1%/75.6%) and willing passer, so expect a lot from him tonight if Carter can’t go.
Joining Jackson in the frontcourt for the starting unit is Hayden Brown and Josh Gray. Brown is a true slasher (42.9%/21.7%/66.7) - he’ll be looking to attack off of the dribble and get into the paint. He’s also one of the better defenders and rebounders (10.0% REB%) on the team - not that it’s a high bar to clear. Gray is a classic big man. The seven-footer is, unsurprisingly, quite adept at rebounding (22.0% REB%) and in protecting the rim (6.3% BLK%).
Zach Davis is another freshman from Paris’ first class that has shown flashes of potential. The 6’8 wing has guard skills and can even run the point when he’s on the floor (10.5% AST%), but he’s got some fine-tuning to do before he makes a major impact. Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk and Daniel Hankins-Sanford are the double-name duo who provide decent size and depth in the post. Both are solid rebounders (Bosmans-Verdonk: 11.5% REB%; Hankins-Sanford: 16.3% REB%) but don’t add much outside of that.
Three Keys to Victory
- Block Out the Noise. This game really shouldn’t be much of a contest - Alabama is listed as a 17-point road favorite for a reason. But there is no doubt that the continued coverage of the Darius Miles situation will impact this team to at least some degree. How effectively the guys can block out the media circus that’s likely to follow them now that the star player, Brandon Miller, has been linked to the tragic events of that night and made out as a villain by the court of public opinion will determine how this historic season will end.
- Defend the Arc. South Carolina doesn’t do much of anything well, but they can get hot from the perimeter at times. The Gamecocks shot 15/32 in their win over LSU the other night, and that was without Chico Carter playing. If Alabama allows them to get open looks from downtown, the ‘Cocks can make this a game on a night where emotions might be quite high for the Tide.
- Take Care of Business. This is very much a game where Alabama simply needs to play to its standard of excellence and then get out of there with a win. With a final three-game stretch of NCAA Tournament-level teams followed by the postseason itself, the Tide just needs to take care of business on both ends of the court tonight and get ready for the part of the season that matters the most.
The most difficult challenge for Alabama tonight likely won’t come on the court itself. It’s unfortunate that so many members of this team and program were completely removed from the events of that tragic night last month, yet they will now have to hear about it ad nauseum until the ravenous mob of online vigilantes deem some sort of punishment as sufficient enough to allow the program to move on. But that’s where we find ourselves.
Nothing the guys can do about it now except continue to play ball to the best of their abilities. Things are about to really ramp up on the court for the Tide after this one tonight, so Alabama needs to be ready to fine-tune some things and take care of business in Columbia. As mentioned, Alabama is listed as a 17-point favorite for tonight’s 8:00 PM CST tip. The game will be televised on ESPN2.