A couple of years ago Montevallo came in here to play an exhibition game against us and led at halftime. We were fortunate to pull it out in the second half. That was not the case last night. The Falcons only lead came at 3-2, and the game was never in doubt as Coach Anthony Grant emptied the bench and tried a variety of different lineups.
The starting lineup consisted of Mikhail Torrance, Senario Hillman, Anthony Brock, Chris Hines, and Jamychal Green. Our style of play is completely different from what we have become accustomed to over the last few years. The high post appears to be a thing of the past. We push the ball up the court on every rebound, and generally take the first open shot available. In the half court offense, we mostly run a drive and dish game, but we actually set off ball screens to get guys open on the wings and in the corners.
Defensively, intense pressure is the word. We put pressure on them in the backcourt for most of the game. We mostly ran a 2-2-1 press, and it was run much more effectively than the swiss cheese version of the 2-2-1 we saw last year. We were very aggressive and fundamentally sound when trapping in the corners. Coach Grant did a good job of making adjustments and switching to a full court man to man and a half court man to man at times to get the Falcons from getting into any sort of rhythm. I do not think you will see us run much zone at all, despite our lack of size inside. It just doesn't seem to fit the identity of this team. Even in the halfcourt defense, we played a tight man to man and picked them up at halfcourt. It's a very high risk/high reward defense. We forced a lot of turnovers for easy baskets, but if teams are able to break the press, they will have numbers that will give them some quick, open shot opportunities. While the game may look chaotic at time due to the fast pace and full court nature of our system, there is definitely a method to the madness. We are not playing street ball out there.
We actually ran a couple of inbounds plays! Even better, they did not consist of throwing the ball up for grabs in the back court for a jump ball tyle situation. We even ran a play from the baseline designed to get a quick shot off, and it worked! We ran at least 3 different inbounds plays last night, which is 3 more than we ran in an average game last year.
I can't say enough about the intensity and effort. I saw more players dive on the floor for loose balls last night than I have in the last 2 years combined.
We did look sloppy at times, particularly on offense. I have not seen a box score, but we had too many turnovers. A major contributing factor was some of the unusual lineups we used. Coach Grant wanted to get everyone significant playing time, so there were times when we had Greg Cage, 3 new players, and one experienced contributor on the court at the same time. A lot of the turnovers were from the post. On several occasions Hines or Mitchell would turn it over trying to pass back out to the perimeter to a guard who was covered. Learning to find the open man from the block should come with time. Otherwise, I thought both Hines and Mitchell played good games. Mitchell is not as tall as I expected, but he plays big. He can get up and down the floor and is solid on the boards. He can also step and defend the perimeter when necessary. I think he will be solid for us as a #3 type. Hines is still a little green, but he's going to be a major contributor in the post even if he doesn't continue starting. Justin Knox was solid as expected off the bench. Anthony Brock didn't light up the scoreboard, but he was nuisance to their guards on defense all night. He and Hillman combined on quite a few steals.
I criticized Senario Hillman quite a bit last year for ball hogging and taking plays off at times on defense. In fairness, Hillman hogging the ball was probably the best chance for us to score at times last year in that offense. He played very well within the system last night. I expect him to excel under Coach Grant. Our system will create a lot of opportunities for him in the open floor where he is dangerous. He shot the ball well last night, but as we all know he is streaky and that will come and go. His defense was top notch, and he caused a lot of problems for them in the backcourt.
One of my major concerns was lack of a consistent perimeter shooter. With our lack of size and depth issues down low, and the fast paced style of play, we will need to be able to knock down open shots from the perimeter when the opportunity presents itself. We know Hillman is streaky and Brock showed some promise last year, but I think we may have found a solution: Charvez Davis. The Juco transfer from Montgomery has a sweet shot. He knocked a couple of 3's, but what I was most impressed with was his flawless form. A quick release, smooth delivery, great rotation, and good follow through. He may not be as athletic as Hillman, but he's more than quick enough to hold his own on defense and he should get some good scoring opportunities in our offense.
Ben Eblen, a freshman from SC, came in and ran the point some. He is a good ball handler and a very serviceable point guard. He's doesn't have the size and athleticism of Torrance, Steele, or Brock, but he takes care of the basketball and makes good decisions.
Unfortunately, free throw shooting continues to be a problem. I stated last year that while we had plenty of legitimate complaints regarding Gottfried, this wasn't one of them. There is only so much a coach can do when it comes to free throw shooting. Prior to last year, we were consistently one of the best FT shooting teams in the SEC, but I do not know what has happened. It seemed like every time we went to the line we made 1 out of 2.
Both teams were in the double bonus with about 4 or 5 minutes to go in each half. That's well over 40 fouls called in this game. The game was called tighter than I would have liked, especially for an exhibition game against a Div.2 school that didn't start until after 8pm. Our aggressive, physical style is going to result in a lot of fouls on both us and the opposition. The way we attack the basket on offense, there will be a lot of block/charge situations. There were probably 7 or 8 block/charge calls that easily could have gone either way in the game. I fear we won't get those calls on the road in the SEC.
I was sitting on the floor directly across from our bench, so watching the game I was not able to observe Coach Grant as much during the game as I would with my normal seats 2 rows behind the bench. From what I was able to tell, he was very active coaching throughout the game, but with a very calm demeanor. Everytime I looked over, he was giving instructions but was never animated or yelling. I'm not sure if he sat down at all during the game, everytime I saw him he was standing and coaching.
In conclusion, great effort, very physical on both ends, good, aggressive defense, and a lot of fun to watch. I don't think you can tell a whole lot in a game like this. The results may or may not improve much this year, but I think we will certainly enjoy watching this team and will be proud of their effort.
Finally, a few non-basketball observations from the game:
First of all, the crowd was great for a late exhibition game being played at the same time as the World Series. I would estimate a crowd of 6,000 or so, although most left at halftime.
The new TV screens and scoreboards look great. However, I do have one complaint. The stats board that showed turnovers/assists/rebounds/steals is gone. I wish they would replace one of the pictures of the fans/women's team/gymnastics team etc with a stats board. I missed being able to look up and check the turnover to assist ratio at any point during the game. Of course, the thing didn't work half of the time anyway, so oh well. Also, the fire alarm went off with about 6 minutes left in the game and continued nearly till the end, that was slightly annoying. On the wall just inside the back entrance, they have placed pictures of all of our All American and All SEC players throughout the year. It's worth the walk around there to check it out, pretty cool.
The women's team lost to UNA. That's the University of North Alabama for those of you who may not have heard of them. Embarassing. I like Coach Hudson, but I have my doubts if Mal really went out and hired the best candidate for that job.
The student section is now known as Crimson Chaos. A horrible name, in my opinion. Of the 4 finalist, The Tidal Wave was the best option. I suggested Grant's Army, but as usual, nobody listened.
Congratulations to Bobbyjack's Yankees on their 27th World Championship. I was glad to see one of my favorite Cubbies (Joe Girardi) lead them back to the top.
I promise all of my recaps will not be so long winded. It was the first game of a new era, so I tried to do this in a way to answer as many questions as possible. Up next, our final preseason game against Augusta State next Tuesday at Coleman Coliseum.