18 November 2009
I'm still not totally convinced that the 2009-2010 Alabama basketball team is very good, but they showed me a little something tonight.
Even better than showing me something -- they won their first game of the season 86-69 over Jackson State. And that is win #1 for Anthony Grant at Alabama.
It is important to note that both teams played without one of their better players.
JSU's best player, Grant Maxey, played just three minutes because of a nagging ankle injury. He probably could have had an impact on this game, but they need him for their conference play, and it was a smart decision to hold him back.
Alabama played without Anthony Brock, who has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. That's a broad term that could mean anywhere from a one game suspension to being gone from the team. From talking with several people in the know, it sounds like this was a relatively minor offense, and that his suspension is likely more of a message from Coach Grant about what will and will not be accepted in his program. We'll let you know more as we find it out.
I'll start out with the negative stuff, before moving on to some of the more positive things:
- Bama was out-rebounded 42-32, including giving up 17 offensive rebounds. That can not happen if this team wants to win games.
- The Tide forced just 13 turnovers, a number way too small for a team that plays pressure defense.
- Foul trouble forced all three of Bama's big men to the bench, which was part of the rebounding problem. These guys have to be smarter about conserving fouls.
- Bama shot just 59.4% from the foul line. This team does not have enough scorers to waste opportunities to get free points.
Those are four big things that will be telling stories for this team all year long.
If JaMychal Green stays in foul trouble, Bama has no legit inside prescence, and teams will simply pound away. Bama does a great job of denying good shots, but that does no good if they allow teams to crash the offensive glass.
From a stylistic standpoint, Bama is probably going to give up a decent number of offensive rebounds, simply because the Tide is always looking to run. If guys release downcourt on a shot, it creates less bodies going for rebounds. When a guys like Green and Justin Knox are on the bench with foul trouble, that means that Bama is both out-manned and under-sized. That will create major problems.
The way that Bama has to combat that is by forcing turnovers. If teams can't shoot the ball, they can't get offensive rebounds. Bama did not press in the full court a lot tonight, probably feeling the loss of Anthony Brock. But the Tide did pressure a lot in the front court. But there were not enough take-aways to make up for the lack of size and bodies inside.
This team does have the ability to get points in bunches, and they seem to do a nice job of getting to the foul line. But shooting 32 free throws isn't going to help you a whole lot if you miss nearly half of them... especially if you aren't a very good offensive rebounding team. Free throw shooting is a streaky thing, and the Tide was 15 of 22 (69%) in their first game. But eight of the 13 missed free throws came from guys who are supposed to be good shooters, and that can't happen.
The biggest problem that Bama is facing right now, though, is the lack of point production by Senario Hillman. The explosive junior has attempted just 15 shots in Bama's first two games, and has scored a total of nine points. That's not good. He also has nine turnovers, which is not good. He does have nine assists, though, which is good.
Basically, if I told you that Senario Hillman had nine points and four rebounds, you would think he had a bad game. The problem is that those are his totals through two games. Last year he averaged 12.9 points and 2.5 rebounds a game.
It would be incorrect to say that he is playing poorly, though. He's involved in the offense. His nine assists are second to Mikhail Torrence's 11. He's running the offense the way that it is designed to run. He's not forcing bad shots. The problem is, he's not shooting. He only attempted one shot in his scoreless first half on Tuesday, and took just six for the game.
The Tide staff needs to figure out a way to get him more opportunities to shoot. He is an integral part of the Bama attack, on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. And if Bama is going to score consistently, he's got to be a part of that.
Having said that, here's the postive stuff:
--- The team responded well to playing without its primary point guard. This is a guard heavy offensive scheme, and the Tide played without its primary leader. That shows good resiliency from a team that is very young in the system. Hopefully they won't have to deal with that much longer.
--- Tony Mitchell is coming into his own. After a 12 point, 5 rebound day against Cornell, the true freshman exploded for 23 points and 5 rebounds in just 24 minutes. He got most of those points playing power forward when either Green or Knox (or both) were on the bench in foul trouble. JSU isn't a big team, so he wasn't terribly under-sized, but the nature of his points would not likely have been affected by that. He was 10 of 14 from the field, and only a couple of those shots came from a set play where he had someone posted up. Most of them came from him simply being more athletic than everyone else on the floor. And he'll be able to say that most nights, even in SEC play. This guy is an explosive leaper, who also maintains good enough body control to make guys miss the ball around the rim.
--- I was impressed with Ben Eblen. He still has virtually no offensive game - just 4 points on 1 of 2 shooting. But he played 22 minutes, all at the point guard spot, and didn't commit a turnover. He had 3 assists and 2 rebounds, and played solid defense. He's still not ready to take on SEC defenses just yet, but he looks like a kid who could develop into a very good floor general.
--- Mikhail Torrence looks like he might be settling into the system a little bit. He's been very publicly very hard on himself for a lot of turnovers through Bama's two exhibition games and the season opener. Against JSU the assist to turnover ration was 8 to 2. For good measure he added 13 points, 3 rebounds, and a steal. He has a chance to be Bama's go-to guy for points this season if he can continue to work on his outside shot.
--- JaMychal Green is still damn good when he's on the floor. In just 22 minutes he had 13 points and 4 rebounds. More impressively, he had 5 blocked shots. Had he not committed a loose ball foul 18 feet from the basket, he probably would have played more minutes.
--- Bama had just 10 turnovers. I've said that I think this team will probably have a lot of turnovers, simply because the style of play will generate that. A lot more possessions, combined with those possessions moving faster, combined with guys inexperienced in the system is going to lead to it. But they played a very controlled game tonight. That's what they'll have to do if they want to win.
--- There is still a lot of coaching going on. It's nice to see the Bama assistants working during the game. Coach Grant is clearly in charge of his bench, but he is secure enough in his own talents to let his staff coach the game. All three of Bama's assistants are very active, and I like seeing that.
--- The effort is there. I wasn't able to attend the Cornell game, but from talking with several folks who were in attendance, the effort was there on Saturday, as well. Execution is the key, but when the effort is gone, things turn ugly. If you attended any women's basketball game during the final two years of Stephany Smith's coaching era, you'll know what that looks like. The guys seem to be buying into the system and playing hard. More experience in the system will lead to better execution as long as the effort is there. And folks that I talked to that are around the program are encouraged by the effort.
--- Charvez Davis still needs to work on his defense, but the kid can flat out shoot. He was 5 of 7 from behind the three point line, and he's still got an insanely quick trigger. He takes good shots, though, rather than just flinging it up every time he catches the ball. He'll have to keep shooting well to keep teams from going zone-heavy against the Tide.
--- The team is relatively balanced. Four guys ended up in double figures in scoring, and seven of the ten guys who played had an assist. No one played more than 30 minutes. That will also be key if Bama hopes to have the legs to pressure teams.
--- The style of play is still fun to watch. If you haven't seen it yet, it such a complete departure from the style of play over the last decade. Wins are certainly more fun to watch, and hopefully they'll start to come with more frequency.
There is still a lot of work to be done. Jackson State isn't a very good basketball team, but Bama did what it had to do to win. That statement downplays the win a bit, because the final margin was a comfortable 17 points. But the bottom line is that these guys need to win some games to build confidence in themselves, and in themselves within the system. Wins also help keep the Bama fan base interested and excited - even if they do come against lesser talent.
There is a big game on Friday night against a Providence team that is pretty solid. Parking will be a nightmare because of the Coleman Coliseum lot being owned by the RV folks on football weekends. They are going to run the Crimson Ride shuttles from the soccer field parking lot, though. I know it will be an inconvenience, but it would be nice for the guys to play in front of a large crowd. I have to work, so I unfortunately won't be in attendance. So you guys need to go in my place... as many of you as possible... and take a friend... or better yet, take three friends.
I know the mantra is that people will start to go when the team starts winning. But this is a team that needs the fans there now. The style of play leads to a frenzied pace, and a lot of crowd noise can affect a team's effectiveness when trying to play against that type of pressure. I know that folks want to watch a winning team. The point is -- this team will win more games if there are more people in the seats. Crowd noise will affect the way that Bama plays, and the way that Bama's opponents handle the Tide's pressure.
So show up on Friday night.
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