Friday, November 27, 2015

Bama Stuns Shockers, 64-60

Before I get into the details of this game, let me say that first and foremost our thoughts and prayers are with Anton Grady, the Wichita State player who is hospitalized after leaving the court on a stretcher with an apparent head injury with 3 minutes remaining in the game.

For the first time in 22 tries, after three and a half years, we finally defeated a ranked opponent.  It was a huge upset, as we were 10 point underdogs coming into the game.  Now, before we get too excited, please note that WSU is now 2-3, will not be ranked in the upcoming polls, and is playing without their best player who happens to be their only true point guard.  All of that being said, it was still a huge win for a team.

Defense was the story of this game.  In my last recap, I noted that we don't change defenses very often.  That changed today, as Coach Johnson opened up in a half-court trap, and made several defensive adjustments throughout the game that seemed to keep Wichita State out of sync.

When we led 17-12 with 8 minutes to play in the first half, only to surrender the lead before halftime, I feared this game would follow the script of our other losses this year, play well early, get blown out in the second half.  Instead, the team kept battling every time things started to look bleak, and put themselves in position to win before making the plays at both ends of the court in the final minute to pull off the upset.

I'm very proud of this team.  They've looked awful against quality competition this year, and it wasn't always pretty today, but they stuck with it and got the job done.  The good Shannon Hale was back, he scored 20 points and actually showed some aggressiveness in attacking the basket at key moments late in the second half.  Riley Norris also had a great game, scoring 12 and making 2 of 4 from three point range.  Dazon Ingram added 11 points but had 5 turnovers to only 3 assists.  Justin Coleman struggled going 0 for 7 from downtown including some awful misses that weren't even close.

The Shockers went with a zone defense much of the second half, and it seemed to really frustrate our offense.  We only made 5 of 20 from downtown, but we seemed to make them at key moments when we needed them the most.  Their zone helped them control the tempo, and it was more of a half-court type of game than I think we would prefer to play.  In a sense, we beat them at their own game, but ironically I'm not sure we would have been able to beat them if we were able to play as fast as we would have liked.  Even though the shots weren't falling, we were aggressive in attacking the basket and able to get to the free throw line.

Ted Valentine and his crew were inconsistent at best, and Jeff Pon made several calls that I disagreed with, both for and against us.  Speaking of officiating, I want to go back to the Grady injury for a moment.  It is my understanding that according to the rules, the officials should only stop the clock for an injured defensive player if they need to review for an intentional foul.  They did stop the play to review it after Gregg Marshall adamantly claimed that he was elbowed, but that is a rule that needs to change, in my opinion.  I understand if a score is imminent, the officials should not blow a play dead if a team is seconds away from an uncontested layup or dunk, but otherwise no player should lie on the court more than 4 or 5 seconds without medical attention in my opinion.  As some of you know, I officiate basketball at the high school level.  Last year, I had a similar situation, a defensive player went down in a heap in the back-court in transition.  I immediately blew the play dead, and during the delay the offensive coach took issue with my decision. I told him, "by rule, you are right, but it's a player safety issue in my mind and I would have done the same for your player."  I'm no doctor, but I know with some types of injuries response time is of paramount importance, and I'm not going to risk a kid suffering a worse outcome because I followed some stupid rule about allowing play to continue because the injured player happened to be on defense at the time. This is an area that I feel strongly that the rules committees, at all levels, should take a serious look at.  

All of that being said, Gregg Marshall was quoted as saying "I was scared when he fell because to me it looked like a heart issue,"  Well, Gregg, that's not exactly consistent with you pitching a fit to the officials and screaming that Dazon threw an elbow.  I've watched the replay, and it's clear that the contact was incidental, and if anything was primarily instigated by Grady.  I thought his actions unnecessarily incited the crowd and brought undue disdain to our team.  There's no doubt Marshall is a good coach, but he's a weird dude, very animated on the sidelines and frankly comes across as a prick.  I'm glad we have Coach Johnson, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching our squad hand Greggy another "L."

This was Coach Johnson's best game so far, in my opinion.  As I mentioned above, he did a great job of switching defenses when necessary.  One of the great things about going to these types of tournaments is that with the smaller venues and crowds, sitting so close to the court you can hear a lot more of the interactions between the coaches, players, and officials.  He picks his battles with the officials wisely, at one point he got us a 3 second call by bringing it to the attention of the officials, and I don't think it would have been called otherwise.

This was the second time this year that the first half score matched the second half, as we won both 32-30.  I like that a lot better than the 40-24 per half beat down we suffered at Dayton.

My only complaint about this venue is the scoreboard.  There's very little information available as far as stats, fouls, etc go, and the color scheme is maddening.  The time appears in green when the clock is running, but red when it's stopped. The team who's currently winning's score is green, while the losing team's score is red, but they both turn yellow when the score is tied.  Team fouls also appear in red, while everything else is yellow.  The result is a clashing mix of red/yellow/green in various places at different times.

There was another good crowd today, but we only had about 75 fans or so.  It was a road environment for the most part, but our small crowd was loud and we had a lot of fun at the end of the game.  We had several Xavier fans sitting around us, who were very gracious and supportive of our team.  The WSU fans we interacted with after the game were all also very nice.  One even apologized for the rudeness of their fans, but they've been pretty well behaved for the most part from what I've seen at this tournament.

Up next, another top 25 opponent, as we play number 17 Notre Dame for 5th place Sunday night at 7pm ET.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Game Preview: Wichita State

Following a disappointing showing against Xavier, the Alabama men's basketball team will attempt to bounce back in Orlando against yet another quality foe in Wichita State. Obviously there will be plenty of talk about Alabama's courtship of Gregg Marshall before turning to Avery Johnson. But I believe the more important discussion is why Alabama has looked seemingly so clueless in two games against quality competition so far. The next couple of days are important for this Alabama team. Alabama has looked, more or less, pitiful against quality competition so far. Did I expect them to win at Dayton or on a neutral floor against Xavier? No. I did expect them to be more competitive, and not lose both games by a combined 51 points! This team has some holes, no doubt about it, but I believe they're better than what we've seen. In my humble opinion, the problem is Avery is asking this team to play a brand of basketball it's simply not capable of playing; and by doing so he's giving them no chance to compete against better teams. I'm all for him recruiting players for the brand of basketball he wants to play and playing that style. But, as the head coach, he owes it to the current players to game plan in a way that allows them the best chance to win. This team isn't capable of consistently shooting the ball well so I fail to understand the logic in playing fast and creating more possessions for the opposing team, particularly when this Alabama team is far from lockdown on the defensive end (Xavier's second half numbers - 56% FG, 45% 3pt% - along with the 19 free throw attempts in the 1st half when Alabama had a chance to build a sizable lead due to Xavier's poor shooting).  Playing fast is great in theory, but in both the Dayton and Xavier games, when adjustments were made on the defensive end by those teams, Alabama did not respond well. It's only four games in, but the playing fast for the sake of playing fast needs to be shelved until Avery has players with a better skill set to play that way. Otherwise blowout defeats are going to be the rule, not the exception, and this team is going to be lucky to finish .500. Who cares how pretty or "fun" it is if the end result (losses) is the same as it was under Grant?

Wichita State enters this game following a loss to USC on Thursday. Wichita is ranked 20th in the AP poll, but will likely exit the next poll as they currently sit at 2-2. The Shockers are vulnerable right now as Fred Van Vleet, their starting point guard, and arguably their best overall player, is sitting out with a hamstring injury. Nevertheless, they're still a veteran, well-coached team with a fanbase that travels, and there will be pressure for them to bounce back and finish strong this weekend. For all intents and purposes, tomorrow will be like a true road game environment for Alabama as the Shocker fans will easily outnumber the Crimson Tide supporters in attendance. This Bama team showed an ability to bounce back following the loss at Dayton. Let's hope they can do it again. 

Wichita State

68.8 PPG 75.0
75.2 OPP 66.5
.417 FG% .401
.417 OPP .422
.322 3PT% .313
.378 OPP .388
.629 FT% .745
.670 OPP .656
33.8 RPG .398
44.0 OPP 35.0
15.3 TOPG 11.5
16.8 OPP 16.3

Ron Baker has been forced to take up the slack while Van Vleet sits out. He's responded by averaging 21.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.3 apg and has knocked down 43% of his 3 point shots. Alabama must limit his production tomorrow.  The other double figure scorer for Wichita State is Anton Grady. He's averaging 10.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and 1.0 bpg. In total, Wichita State has seven players that are averaging 5 points or higher so there is balance on the offensive end. As of now, Van Vleet is expected to miss all three games in Orlando. His backup, Landry Shamet, also sat out the USC game. His status for the remainder of the event is unknown. In their place, Wichita has been playing Baker and Ty Taylor II, a freshman, at the point. Alabama needs to exploit Wichita's weakness and inexperience at that position. Forcing turnovers while not allowing Wichita State to control the pace of the game will be imperative for Alabama. Post scoring has also been an issue for Alabama. It would be nice to see more touches for Jimmie (only 4.25 field goal attempts per game so far) and Mike (2.25 field goal attempts per game, despite the fact that Mike has converted 88% of his field goals). 

Maimed by Musketeers, Xavier 64 Alabama 45.

Turnovers, fouls, and air-balls, that was the story of the game for Alabama.  We got off to a great start, especially defensively.  Xavier didn't score a basket until nearly 6 minutes into the game, and we were able to attack the basket to take a 9-2 lead.  Xavier made some adjustments and started playing a softer man before switching to a zone, which completely shut down our offense.  We were 5 of 28 from 3 point range.  Eventually, Xavier started making some shots and they were able to come back and put the game away.

On the positive side, we didn't completely fold when things went south.  Shannon Hale made a 3 at the end of the first half to cut the lead to 3, and while we never really threatened after the 15 minute mark of the second half, we at least answered enough to keep the score somewhat respectable.  Early in the game we did a good job of keeping them off the boards, but Xavier finally took control of the glass as they are prone to do.

Defense was a lot better, but we still fouled way too much.  At one point in the first half they had shot something like 19 free throws to our 2.  The intentional foul call, which I thought was questionable, was one of the turning points in the game.

Give credit to Xavier for keeping their composure despite not playing their best game.  They only shot 15 for 25 from the free throw line and had 18 turnovers themselves.  Early in the second half, Dazon Ingram had a 360 dunk to cut the lead to two points, but Xavier promptly answered by making back to back 3's to stretch the lead to 8, and that was pretty much the ball game.

Given our inability to shoot, it's not surprising that we struggled against the zone.  We actually ran a 2-3 zone, and briefly showed a 2-2-1 press in the second half.  It was moderately successful, but with our inability to score the defensive strategy was largely inconsequential.  The final box score says we "only" had 18 turnovers, but it sure seemed like a lot more watching the game.  I think at one point we turned it over on 5 straight possessions.  Many of them were unforced, double-dribbles, errant passes, and travels, that seemed to be the result of guys trying to rush their decisions but being non-committal.

Despite the aforementioned dunk, Ingram did not have one of his better games.  He had 6 points, one assist, and 6 turnovers.  Coleman was a little better with 10 points and only one turnover, but he was only 2 for 7 from three point range. On the rare occasion we went to the free throw line, we shot poorly again, making only 6 of 10.  Shannon scored 10 points but again, I think he did more harm than good with his 5 turnovers and lapses on defense.  Our bigs played decent, but couldn't stay out of foul trouble.  Jimmie showed some good moves in the first half and probably should have scored more, but he was unable to finish close to the basket.  Hall blocked 3 shots in 16 minutes and was a good defender of the rim, but also picked up 3 fouls in short order.  We were over matched, and the final outcome was not too surprising.

 The HP Field House is located in Disney/ESPNs Wide World of Sports Complex, and is a very nice facility that seats about 5,000.  Xavier brought significantly more fans than we did, I would estimate we had maybe 100 there to Xavier's 1,500.  Wichita State brought more than both teams combined, and there were also 50 or so Dayton fans across the way.  The Xavier fans were louder and more enthusiastic as you might expect.

We had several Shocker fans sitting near us, and while my past experience with that fan base has not always been positive, the people around us were great.  We were sitting right behind the bench and they were even cheering for and encouraging our guys. At halftime, I went to the concession stand to purchase beer, assuming that Bobbyjack would tend to our general admission seats.  Instead, he also made a concession stand run, and I returned to our seats to find four yellow clad WSU fans sitting there.  I politely explained that we had merely left to go to the concession stand, and offered to hold the seats for them and make sure they got them at the conclusion of our game.  The gentleman sitting closest to me was extremely accommodating, he apologized, vacated the seats, and wished us luck,  The WSU fan sitting in front us then informed me that "you just kicked the president of Wichita State University out of his seat!"  A quick google image search confirmed, their University president was indeed sitting in the 3rd row wearing a yellow WSU t-shirt.   Anyway, I know there is a bit of bad blood between our schools due to our courtship of Gregg Marshall (and I'm still not a fan of his goofy ass), but I thought it was really cool that a) their President makes the trip and sits in the stands like a normal fan and b) he was so kind to let us have our seats back for the remainder of our game and didn't pull the "do you know who I am" card.

Despite the loss, and their lack of seat-saving abilities, it was great to see Bobbyjack and his son again.

Up next, we play those Wichita State Shockers tomorrow at noon eastern since they were just upset by USC.  It will be another road game type environment against a top 25 team.  The Shockers are missing their best player and a contributing freshman guard, but this will still be a very difficult matchup for us.

Game Preview: Xavier

The Alabama men's basketball team has traveled to Orlando to take part in the Advocare Invitational, one of the many college basketball events that take place the week of Thanksgiving. Alabama will open the event against a familiar foe in Xavier, tipping off the event on Thursday at 11 AM. For those unable to make the trip to Orlando the game will be televised on ESPN2. This will be the third time in three years that the two programs will face each other. Xavier has won the last two meetings, and holds a 4-3 advantage in the all-time series. Xavier will also enter this game as the 23rd ranked team in the country in the AP poll. This game will be another significant challenge for Alabama. Xavier is deep, talented, experienced and well-coached.

Stats Comparison

Alabama                                    Xavier

76.7                  PPG                   80.8                                         
.451                  FG%                 .410
.387                  3PT%                .350
.633                  FT%                  .805
34.7                  RPG                   43.5
14.3                  TOPG                11.8

Xavier has seven players that average 9 points or better so Alabama will have to play a better brand of team defense than what we saw on Friday when they allowed Louisiana Lafayette to shoot 46% from the floor (40% from the 3 point line). Scoring 105 points while knocking down 15 3-point shots is fun to watch but, let's be honest, that was likely an outlier. Miss half of those 3-point shots and Alabama would have potentially been faced with a second straight ugly loss, this one at home. To beat the best teams on its schedule (and Xavier is definitely in that category), this Alabama team will have to defend at a higher level than what we've seen thus far.

Due to family obligations for Thanksgiving, I will be unable to watch the game live so I will be the annoying guy at the table checking his phone every two minutes. For those of you making the trip to Orlando, have a safe trip and enjoy yourselves. And may all of our readers and contributors have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. If the worst thing that happens to us this week is the Alabama basketball team loses some games, so be it. Roll Tide!  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sleeping with the Enemy, Xavier Musketeers

In advance of the opening game of the Advocare Invitational, I asked Joel D. from Banners on the Parkway to share his thoughts on the Xavier team and our upcoming game.  In addition to his response below, he also mentioned that they will run an "Alabama fan's guide to Xavier basketball," on the morning of the game.  I'm looking forward to reading it on my flight to Orlando.  If you visit the Banners on the Parkway site, please follow their rules and be a good representative of the University of Alabama.  Here is Joel D.'s response:

Xavier's biggest strength is in its depth. They have six guys averaging double figures and a seventh in Remy Abell who doesn't look for his own shot but can really hurt you if left alone. James Farr and Jalen Reynolds are both monster forwards, each listed at 6'10" and weighing over 230 pounds. Reynolds is a guy who is the focus of the offense when he posts deep whereas Farr gets his buckets more by chasing boards and being in the right place at the right time. More on these guys a hair later.

On the perimeter, Trevon Bluiett is the guy to look out for. He can jar jumpers from all over and has a nifty set of moves to get himself space. Myles Davis is the emotional leader of the team and - despite a slow start this year - a heck of a shooter. Edmond Sumner is a 6'6" redshirt freshman point guard who is just incredibly athletic. If he gets up a head of steam, he's looking to bury someone. He's prone to freshman mistakes, but we deal with them because he's so darn talented.

JP Macura comes off the bench to play the wing; he has serious gym rat game. He is a frenetic whirlwind of action all over the floor, has huge range, and can score from a lot of unusual angles. And don't forget Remy Abell, the team's best perimeter defender, a good shooter if left open, and an athletic finisher at the rack.

The other strength right now is rebounding. Xavier is shooting like garbage inside the arc right now, but they rebound 40% of their own misses. This is where Farr and Reynolds - and also Bluiett and Macura - come back into play. The Muskies feast on second-chance points, and Coach Mack rewards effort on the offensive glass with playing time.

The biggest team weakness is three-point defense. Do you have some guys who can shoot it from deep? They'll get their chances to hurt X. Aside from Remy Abell and reserve point guard Larry Austin, Jr., Xavier is basically bereft of even average perimeter defenders. This leads to guys getting torched off the bounce and opening up looks as the defense rotates. Xavier's counter to this is a 1-3-1 zone. The zone tends to get other teams scrambling a bit, but there are still clean looks to be had against it. We also tend to foul a lot.

My impression of Alabama right now is shaped by the drubbing they took at the hands of Dayton. Dayton and Xavier are rivals going way back, so we're kind of passively aware of each other all year. When I saw what UD had done to Alabama, I kind of noted it away as something to come back to this week once I see how X fares against the Tide.

My overarching impression of Alabama right now is that Avery Johnson has his work cut out for him. He can clearly recruit, but I'm not sure his style of coaching is going to translate from the NBA to college ball. Any transition between coaches is rough on a program, so Xavier is catching Alabama at a nadir in my estimation.

I think Xavier can control the game from the outset if they avoid turnovers. Any shot is going to be a fairly solid chance at point because Xavier should have the rebounding advantage at both ends. The advantage inside should translate into second-chance points and Alabama in foul trouble, which should in turn give X the chance to pull away fairly early. The potential spanner in the works is that Xavier has been miserable in holiday tournaments under Coach Mack. We've lost to teams much, much worse than Alabama is right now. Anything can happen on Thanksgiving with this program.

This seems like a terrible matchup for us.  I just hope we can be a little more competitive than we were against Dayton, which obviously isn't setting a very high bar.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Crimson Caps Cajuns, Alabama 105 ULL 93

Hopefully everybody took the over in this game. We had more points at halftime, 55, than we did in the entire game against Dayton.  It was the first time since 2004 that we scored 100 points against a Division 1 opponent.  It's amazing how much better this offense looks when the shots are falling. We had 6 guys in double digits, with Shannon, Justin, and Riley all scoring 18.  Retin added 17, Art Edwards had 12 and Dazon Ingran scored 10.  Obviously, we aren't going to shoot 15 of 25 from 3 point range every game, but when we do, and take care of the basketball like we did Friday night (only 11 turnovers) we will be able to put some points on the board.

I was especially pleased with the play of both point guards.  Dazon Ingram had 10 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and only 1 turnover.  For him to reach double digits in scoring despite Shawn Long protecting the rim for the Cajuns was impressive.  Justin had 18 points, 8 assists, and only one turnover, despite only shooting 2 for 9 from three point range.  He was 6 for 6 from the free throw line and generally made great decisions with the ball.  We were quite effective with both of them in the game at the same time in the second half, when Justin mainly played the 2.  I still think Justin holds the ball and dribbles a bit too much at times, but overall he had an excellent game, and was outstanding at protecting the ball late in the game.  The good Shannon Hale was back, shooting with confidence going 5 of 6 from downtown and only one turnover.  He seems much more comfortable at the 3 position than the 4.

Louisiana Lafayette is a lot like us in some ways.  They want to play very fast, but aren't particularly strong at shooting the ball.  Before we get too excited about the offensive outburst, it's important to note that ULL was giving up about 85 points per game coming into this contest.  Shawn Long was as good as advertised, making some 3s and dominating the boards for 25 points and 14 rebounds.  Thankfully, his free throw shooting wasn't very good, at only 4 for 10.  For some reason they sat him on the bench for a stretch in the first half during which we stretched our lead up to 16 points.  

Speaking of free throw shooting, we were much improved at the charity stripe this game.  Retin bricked a couple of technical shots in the first half, but otherwise we shot a respectable 26 of 35 for 74%.  That was important, as there were a lot of fouls in this game, by both teams.  

We need to improve defensively.  We were often beat down the floor and caught out of position leading to many of the fouls. In fairness, the pace of play unfairly influences a lot of people's perception regarding the quality of defense being played.  A lot of people notice point totals, but the simple math is the more possession you have in a game, the more possessions your opponent will have, and the more points you will give up.  A better measure of a defense's effectiveness is to look at defensive efficiency, or points allowed per possession.  Many people thought we played good defense last year under Coach Grant because we were involved in so many low scoring games, in fact, our defensive efficiency rating was .995, good for 171st in the nation.  So far this year, admittedly in a small sample size, our rating is 1.031 which ranks us 211th. Obviously that's not good, and we have regressed, but it's not as dramatic as it may seem.  

Beyond the fact that we are often caught out of position, I would like to see us try to change defenses a little more often.  We rarely press or run zone.  We stayed in a soft man most of the game, which wasn't an unreasonable approach, but against a team like ULL that can't really shoot but has a beast of a center, I would have liked to have seen a little bit of zone to try to prevent him from getting the ball.  We did switch to a half-court trap for a bit in the second half that created a few turnovers. 

I'm also a little surprised our opponents have not tried more zone or pressing defenses against us thus far.  With Coach Johnson's NBA background, he doesn't have a lot of experience in coaching against a press or trapping defense, and I'm curious to see how we will respond against those types of systems.  

The crowd was embarrassingly pathetic.  I would guess no more than 3,500 or so there, which is inexcusable for a Friday night 7pm tipoff against a team picked to win their conference, on a weekend with a home football game.  The student turnout was respectable, sections R,S, and T were more or less full up to the portals, and it was a noticeable contrast from the season ticket holders.  With the exception of a few of the women's basketball players, we had the entire row to ourselves.  The poor attendance was really disappointing after the solid crowd we had for Kennesaw State.  It is disheartening that so many seemingly threw in the towel after one bad loss.  If Terrance Ferguson ultimately signs elsewhere, or Coach Johnson goes back to the NBA in a couple of years after having some moderate success here, nights like this will probably be a big part of the reason why.  I realize traffic was horrendous coming from Birmingham, it took me an hour and 20 minutes. Still, we should have had at least twice as many people attend this game, if not more.  Furthermore, the University roped off a huge section of the parking lot to accommodate the football RVs, of which I think I counted a grand total of 4 that were present at tip-off.  On the bright side, the lack of a crowd made it easier to get out than what I feared.  The few present were loud and into the game throughout, and mostly stayed till the end.  It was our last true home game for nearly a month.  

Up next, we're going to Disney World!  Bama will travel to Orlando to participate in the Advocare Invitational at ESPN's Wide World of Sports.  Our first game is at noon EST on Thanksgiving Thursday against the Xavier Musketeers, so enjoy some Tide hoops with your turkey.  Xavier is already 3-0 with a 16 point road win over top 25 Michigan on their resume, so this will be another very tough test.  Bobbyjack and I will both be there, so be sure to check back here for a first hand report.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Game Preview: Louisiana Lafayette

Alabama will look to rebound from a humbling 32 point loss at Dayton when they host Louisiana Lafayette on Friday night at 7:00 PM. If you can't make it out to Coleman Coliseum, the game will be carried on SEC Network+, accessible through the Watch ESPN app. Lafayette was the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt Conference. They enter this game at 1-1, with the loss coming at Miami. They are an experienced, talented team with a potential draft pick in star big man, Shawn Long. This will be yet another challenge for a young Alabama team looking to regain some confidence following that tough game this past Tuesday.

Stats Comparison

Alabama                                  Louisiana Lafayette

62.5                 PPG                 92.5
.404                 FG%               .530
.243                 3PT%              .200
.545                 FT%                .643
36.0                 RPG                .430
16.0                 TOPG              12.5

Three Players to Watch for Louisiana Lafayette

1. Shawn Long - F - 6'11, 246 lbs - 17.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.0 bpg.
2. Devonta Walker - F - 6'7, 220 lbs - 14.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg
3. Jay Wright - G - 6'1, 180 lbs - 10.0 ppg, 5.0 apg

This Lafayette team begins and ends with Long, a legitimate NBA prospect, whose length, interior scoring ability and rebounding prowess are going to make him a tough task for Jimmie, Donta, Mike, and anyone else who has to guard him. But Long is only one of five players averaging double figure scoring through two games so Alabama can not focus on him exclusively. Lafayette wants to play fast, which is how Alabama wants to play, but Lafayette may be the more skilled team, and is certainly the more experienced team with a roster dotted with juniors and seniors. There are some similarities between the two teams. Neither is great when it comes to perimeter shooting or particularly effective at the free throw line, and they have a lot of work to do on the defensive end as Alabama opponents are averaging 72.0 ppg through two games, while Lafayette's opponents are averaging 80.5.

I believe the key to this game will be how Alabama competes on the boards against a team that was one of the best rebounding teams in the nation last season, and is +15 in rebounding margin through their first two games this season. While both teams may not be stellar when it comes to shooting the ball, if Lafayette gains extra possessions off the glass the odds will shift favorably in their direction. Jimmie Taylor has to avoid silly fouls, and stay on the floor in this game or I'm not sure Alabama can win. But, with a series of tough games looming in Orlando next week, Alabama has to find a way to win this game tonight.

The SEC could also use some victories. In what was expected to be a step forward for the conference as a basketball league this season, the first week of the season has instead been brutal. Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas have already dropped games. Some of the losses have been RPI killers (Southern over Mississippi State, George Mason over Ole Miss on a neutral court, Chattanooga over Georgia, Akron over Arkansas) while others have just been face plants (Alabama at Dayton, Auburn gives up 91 points to Colorado in a home loss). The projections from the league have dipped from talk of six, maybe seven teams, making the tournament in the preseason to only four teams being the magic number now. The conference as a whole really needs to step up its level of play.