Ladies and gentlemen, it’s officially NCAA Tournament time. Your twice-over SEC Champion and top-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide (29-5, 16-2 SEC; Kenpom: 2; T-Rank: 2; NET: 2) will begin its 24th NCAA Tournament appearance looking to make its first march to the Final Four in school history. What an amazing sentence to be able to type out. Nate Oats and his staff deserve every bit of praise that they have received thus far, and this team in particular has to be commended for what they have accomplished this season - arguably the best in Tide Hoops history.
In order to cement their places at the top though, a deep run in March will be expected. While Alabama has fallen short of making it to the Final Four in its prior 23 attempts, the Tide does have nine Sweet Sixteen appearances to its credit. I’d have to do some more digging, but I’m pretty sure that 24 total tournament bids and nine second weekend trips are among the most of any school in the nation that lacks that prestigious Regional Championship.
The good news for the Tide is that the journey will begin in the friendly confides of Birmingham, AL. Granted, Alabama’s recent history of non-conference match-ups at Legacy Arena at the BJCC is bleak, but we are going to ignore that for now. For all intents and purposes, Alabama will be playing at home for its first two games of the tournament. The first game will be against the 16th-seeded Texas A&M - Corpus Christi Islanders (20-10, 14-4 Southland; Kenpom: 172; T-Rank: 184; NET: 175), who qualified for the Big Dance by winning the Southland conference tournament for the second year in a row, and advanced to the main bracket by defeating Southeast Missouri State in Tuesday’s First Four game.
Corpus Christi was a tad bit under-seeded, in my opinion. Not that they shouldn’t be a 16-seed, but forcing them to play an extra game didn’t seem right. Not when Howard and Northern Kentucky got straight into the field. The Islanders have pretty much dominated their conference in Steve Lutz’ two years, and they are pretty good in certain areas of the game. Plus, this will be their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, so they are used to playing on this stage.
POINT 5’11 Jalen Jackson (7.5 PPG, 3.0 APG, 3.0 RPG, 102.0 DRtg)
GUARD 6’4 Trevian Tennyson (15.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 106.7 DRtg)
GUARD 6’5 Simeon Fryer (4.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, 105.2 DRtg)
WING 6’5 Isaac Mushila (14.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.2 APG, 96.6 DRtg)
POST 6’8 De’Lazarus Keys (6.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 102.2 DRtg)
Off the Bench
GUARD 5’10 Ross Williams (9.8 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.3 APG, 105.1 DRtg)
GUARD 6’3 Jourdyn Grandberry (2.6 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 101.1 DRtg)
POST 6’8 Owen Dease (4.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 101.8 DRtg)
Unfortunately for the Islanders, they’ve been hit by the injury bug. They are playing this tournament without three rotation players - including starting guard and Southland Defensive Player of the Year, Terrion Murdix, who got hurt in the championship game of the Southland tourney. The lack of bench depth is not because they’ve chosen to run a tight rotation - they’ve just had to do so recently.
The backcourt is run by diminutive guard, Jalen Jackson, who has had to take over as the primary ball-handler with Murdix out. He’s a decent scorer (43.2%/32.3%/69.2%) and distributor (18.6% AST%). Trevian Tennyson is the go-to on the offensive end, however. A true shooting guard (44.0%/40.8%/89.8%), Tennyson is on the court to do one thing - get buckets. Alabama will need to keep him at bay to keep the Islanders from having any kind of chance in this one. Simeon Fryer and sixth man Ross Williams are both solid scorers as well. Williams is a shooter (40.4%/39.9%/85.4%), while Fryer is a slasher who likes to get into the paint and to the line (48.4%/18.2%/82.6%).
Isaac Mushila is a really fun player. He stands at only 6’5, but he loves to play in the paint with his back against the basket. He’s an elite rebounder (20.8% REB%) and has legitimate post moves, but he can also step out and knock down shots (54.8%/38.9%/83.7%). Like a modern day, poor man’s Charles Barkley. De’Lazarus Keys is the only true big man on the team. He’s a strong rebounder as well (16.1%), though he lacks much polish.
Three Keys to Victory
- Stay Out on Shooters. Texas A&M-CC is actually a much better shooting team than their main campus’ team in College Station. The Islanders are 52nd in the country in 3P% at 36.5%, so they are very capable of knocking down big equalizers and keeping things interesting if Alabama doesn’t respect their shooters. Tennyson is the main guy, so Alabama’s guards need to be ready to keep him contained. But Jackson, Williams, and Mushila all knock down jumpers at decent-to-great rates.
- Keep the Islanders at Bay - and off of the Free Throw Line. If the perimeter shots aren’t there for Corpus Christi, they’ll simply try to earn three-pointers the old-fashioned way. The Islanders are the second-best free throw shooting team in all of college basketball. They convert 80% of their attempts from the line, and they get to the line at a strong clip (69th in Free Throw Rate). Alabama absolutely does not want to send this team to the charity stripe. They made 27/35 free throws in their win over SEMO the other night, which is honestly the reason they are still playing.
- Flex that Size Advantage. Obviously, Alabama has plenty of advantages in this game. But the main advantage will be the Tide’s blatantly superior size and athleticism. Scroll back up and check out those heights again - this is a little team with Southland-level athletes. The Tide should be able to dominate the boards, get to the rim at will, and run these guys up, down, and ultimately off the court.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this should be a competitive game. However, the Islanders do some things well, and they could keep things interesting for a while if the Tide doesn’t bother to get off of the bus. Ultimately, this game is all about Alabama. If Nate Oats’ bunch brings even their ‘B’-game, this will be a rout. The game isn’t yet posted on DraftKings sportsbook, but we’d expect the line to be 20+. They could cover that by halftime.
Regardless, it’s the NCAA Tournament opener for our beloved Tide, and they’ve earned the right to coast to the Second Round. Let the journey begin! The game will tip-off approximately 30 minutes after the West Virginia - Maryland game ends, so about 1:45 PM CDT on Thursday. CBS will provide the coverage.