Grading Alabama Basketball’s Non-Conference Schedule
This weekend Avery Johnson and the Alabama Crimson Tide (8-4) begins SEC play against the Texas A&M Aggies (11-1) after a solid non-conference performance.
Although the Crimson Tide still has Oklahoma later in January, it's been a up and down and suspenseful season for the Crimson Tide in the first 12 games of the season.
Here is my assessment of each game with a final grade through the non-conference schedule.
Alabama gets their first win of the season down in Annapolis, Maryland against the Memphis Tigers, who currently sit with two losses this season. Point guard Collin Sexton sat out due to suspension but the team didn't lose a step on offense scoring 82 points in the game lead by Dazon Ingram's 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assist. Donta Hall made his presence felt on both sides of the ball with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blokcs, also Avery Johnson did a good job filling in for Sexton adding 13 points, and the other freshman Herbert Jones and John Petty added a combined 23 points. Alabama did struggle to stay out of foul trouble with some their rotation player having to play more minutes early on in the game, but the Crimson Tide maintained momentum and the victory. Depending on what Memphis team we see this year, and they can be competitive in the AAC, won't be a key win for the Crimson, but a solid one.
According to ESPN's Bracketlogy, Lipscomb is projected to go the the NCAA tournament. In Collin Sexton's season-debut, he scored 22 points and 5 assist in a 86-64 victory. Despite shooting 37.5 percent from the free-throw line, Alabama shooting 60 percent from the field got them a victory that will look decent on their resume, but not the marquee win the Crimson Tide needs to make the tournament. A good win none the less.
The John Petty coming out party was on November 17 in a 104-67 victory over Alabama A&M. Petty shot 10-13 from three-point range for a season-high 30 points. Sexton followed him with 25 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assist. Although Petty hasn't had a game from the field like this since, but if him and Sexton can rekindle performances like this on offense consistently, this Crimson Tide team has the chance to be one of the best back court in the conference.
If you didn't know the star power Collin Sexton brings to the Crimson Tide, watch his performance in the 77-76 victory over UT-Arlington. Sexton scored 29 points and made a clutch defensive play at the end of the game against guard Erick Neal who had a hot second half. Although the Crimson Tide could stop forward Kevin Hervey, who scored a team-high 24 points, a close game that Alabama is normally on the losing side of the spectrum, they pulled it off with the offensive aggressiveness of their freshman star. Sexton proved that night he can score at-will. UT-Arlington have enough talent to be a tournament team and with Hervey and Neal leading the charge, I don't see why they wouldn't make it. So if they do this could be a good win for the Crimson Tide's resume.
BYU is similar to the Memphis game at the beginning of the season. Both teams have one loss outside of the Crimson Tide, but the differences in the two is BYU has more potential become a solid win for Alabama, and Memphis is a wait and see win. Although Facebook had a difficult time showing the game live and the two teams had to play at a local college in Brooklyn, the circumstances were in the Crimson Tide's favor defeating BYU 71-59 with four players scoring in double-figures. Solid from the free-three line and from the field gave Alabama their first victory in Brooklyn that weekend.
Brooklyn wouldn't end well for the Crimson Tide. As fans watched both the chaos on the football field during the Iron Bowl, chaos in Brooklyn between Minnesota/Alabama as the entire Alabama bench was ejected after spilling onto the court during a altercation between Petty and a Minnesota player. This left Alabama with five players for the reminder of the game until Petty went out with an ankle injury and Ingram was fouled out. Sexton, Norris, and Smith had to play 3-5 for the remainder of the game and similar to the UT-Arlington on a local scale, Sexton gained a ton of national attention with his 40-point game. Although Alabama need this marquee win on their resume, it's not a bad loss on their resume considering they stayed in the game under the circumstance. But you have to think maybe it could have been a different outcome without the altercation.
Another win and another close game for the Crimson Tide against a potential tournament team. Donta Hall's efficiency on offense with 15 shooting 6-7 from the field, and Sexton and Ingram scoring 22 a piece.
If there is a bad loss on Alabama's resume, it's this game. Hall had a dominant game with 20 points and made all nine of his field goals, but not much production from his teammates. Sexton scored all of his 7 points from the free-throw line and Petty was the second leading scorer on the team with 12, but shot 4-12 from the field. A 3-point loss is tough especially at home, but the Crimson Tide could bounce back from this bad loss in SEC play by getting some big wins. Not a loss that ends Alabama's tournament chances by any means, but will definitely be in the bad loss column at the end of the season.
Alabama followed up the loss to UCF with one of their sloppiest games on the ball against a tough Rhode Island team. The Crimson Tide committed a season-high 24 turnovers in the game, URI scored 26 points off those TOs and shot 18 percent from three. But defense on the inside and five players in double-figures helped them get passed a team who made the tourney last year and will make it this year. Alabama's bigs gave them the advantage over a Rhode Island team who Avery Johnson called after the game "his favorite team to watch outside the SEC."
Arizona had a hard time winning in the Bahammas losing three straight, but returned to Arizona and handed Texas A&M their first loss of the season and with plenty of momentum heading into this game with the Crimson Tide. Forward Deandre Ayton is projected to go in the top-5 in the NBA draft, and he played like it with his season-high 29 points and 18 rebounds. Hall went toe-to-toe with the fellow forward scoring 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Sexton scored 30 points. But Ayton, Allonzo Trier, and a tough atmosphere in McKale Center was too much for the Crimson Tide. The Wildcats will be in the tournament come March, so a game Alabama wanted and a road game that could have looked good on their resume, didn't work in their favor.
Mercer is a on the bubble team for a lower seed in the NCAA tournament currently, but if Alabama loss this game, this could have been a worse loss than UCF at the end of the season. Slow night for the entire offense but Collin Sexton's 21 points, and John Petty showing out in front of a home crowd in Huntsville with 18 points, the Crimson Tide escaped with a 80-79 victory. For Alabama's sake, Mercer becomes a potential tournament team so this could look more like a valuable win and less like a win they had to scrap for.
The Big 12 is one of the best conferences in college basketball this season and Alabama has two of them on their schedule, both at home. Texas is a time parallell to Alabama in terms of freshman star player, rebuilding programs, and similar in the record. When Sexton wasn't on the floor, Alabama looked lost on offense and struggled to keep up with Mo Bamba who had 17 points and 11 rebounds. The Crimson Tide shot 34 percent from the field and 56 percent from the line, 5-9.
Final Grade: B
I commend Avery Johnson for scheduling tougher opponents in various conferences including Power 5s, but Alabama needed at least one of those marquee wins against Arizona, Minnesota, and Texas. UCF is a bad loss, but with the tough non-conference schedule Alabama's had, going coming out 8-4 isn't bad. A Oklahoma win could boost this grade up with point guard Trae Young being one of the most talented players in college basketball this season, but since there's still good wins within the conference, Alabama is in good shape so far.