One of the new realities of “Alabama: Basketball School” is — and will be going forward — a heavy yearly roster turnover, with one-and-dones increasingly stocking the two-deep.
For what seems to be the umpeenth year in a row, the Tide lost a pair of First Rounders to the NBA last night. To that, add the matriculation out of the program of several other players, and the departure of still more to the portal. The Tide will return its starting PG, Mark Sears and reigning SEC 6th Man of the Year. There are some exciting portal prospects coming in, as well as a nice recruiting class; and there are some very high potential underclassmen that saw time last year as well (Nick Pringle et al). But for all intents and purposes, it will be a talented team with almost no chemistry or experience with the program or one another.
There are two ways to deal with this, of course: 1. Ease starters in, work on a rotation, let players find their way and their own chemistry, or 2. Throw them into a crucible of fire against Top 10 teams in the preseason, and let them take their lumps — and just maybe stun an NCAA title contender here or there.
I had thought in this “down” year that Coach Nate Oats might be willing to take his foot off the gas, to let this new roster and coaching staff gel. Get through the holidays, focus on the SEC schedule, and then try to peak when the postseason came around.
I should have known better. Coach Oats does nothing at half-speed. To the contrary, what started off as a trickle of sleepy scheduling news, with a few decent teams here and there, has begun to morph a bona fide sneaky-tough early slate.
The Tide’s notable preseason play begins with a relatively short road trip to Destin, where the Tide will be participating in the Emerald Coast Classic.
The names don’t jump off the screen at you: Santa Clara, Oregon, and Ohio State, but that really belies the degree of difficulty here. All road games are hard — even a short jaunt up to Birmingham, where the Tide has not won since the Eisenhower administration, can’t substitute for being on the home floor, with the familiar routines, familiar sight lines, and familiar facilities. So, games being in Destin does not instantly translate to gimmes.
Nor are the teams anything to scoff at.
Despite struggling somewhat in a stacked Big 10 last season, the Ohio State Buckeyes are every bit as talented as the Tide and their incoming recruiting class is far better than UA’s on paper. In terms of raw talent, OSU is probably even better that ‘Bama. Their NET ranking was 49th on the year. Both Oregon and Santa Clara have NET rankings in the 40s as well, and both went to NIT play last season. Oregon was 32nd in efficiency rankings, Ohio State finished at 37th. Even Santa Clara was quite competitive versus a road-heavy schedule of Western and intermountain postseason teams (Utah State, Gonzaga, St. Marys, BYU, etc.).
But solid bubble teams very reminiscent of what will form about half of SEC play? Absolutely.
There are no off-days here.
Then we get to the “exciting” games; the ones that will have ESPN in a lather: Alabama vs. Arizona and Purdue in the Hall of Fame games in Toronto.
If road trips are hard, international ones are scarce easier — particularly when your opponents are No. 5 Purdue and No. 10 Arizona.
The Boilers return a veteran core of fundamentally sound Big 10 bangers that will include reigning consensus National Player of the Year, Zach Edey. The 7’4” behemoth is a load in the post and a mismatch ngihtmare for most teams. For Alabama, with an uncertain frontcourt and now having lost its best Big, that challenge intensifies.
They leverage that size to their advantage too with a dangerous inside-out game. Purdue led the nation in post efficiency offense, were 10th in offensive efficiency, 8th in overall efficiency, were the best in the nation at getting to the stripe, and were third-best with free throws as a percentage of their offense. And, whereas Arizona will try to run you off the court, Purdue just grinds you down and waits for (or creates) an opponent’s mistake. They are an ungodly-slow 330th in tempo. But that implacability like the erosion of the tides is punishing on mental errors, on defensive lapses, on one sloppy pass. It will pose a significant challenge to even a veteran team; for a mostly-new one with an offensive scheme that is already prone to turnovers? It could be ugly.
On the other end of the spectrum are the flashy, sexy Arizona Wildcats. Just because of their early NCAA flame-out, that in no way makes this squad a lightweight. This team is perhaps the most talented Alabama will face all year, and certainly has the most terrifying offense. It is also diametrically opposite from Purdue in practically every way.
The Wildcats were No. 7 in overall efficiency last season, 6th in adjusted offense, 3rd in field goal defense — behind Houston, Tennessee and just ahead of Alabama — 3rd in shot efficiency offense, 1st in shots/per 60, 10th in adjusted tempo, 3rd in adjusted scoring efficiency, and were a Top 10% team (34th) in 3-point shooting.
Did I mention that the ‘Cats are returning perhaps their most loaded roster in half a decade?
Two elite teams, two very difficult play styles, 2000 miles from Tuscaloosa. Both will put pressure on a new roster learning the system, learning CNO’s expectations, and learning one another.
If we thought ‘Bama was going to ease into the new year, we were sadly mistaken. I know that I was.
Which game will be the most difficult for Alabama?
This poll is closed
Purdue and Arizona are equally difficult for different reasons
Other (Ohio State, etc.)
NONE OF THESE! WHOOOO! CUT DOWN THE NETS, BABY! 33-0!!!!