Mizzou is heading back on the road to test the theory that there is such a thing as Alabama basketball the same week of National Signing Day, and off a recent Football National Championship.
Get to know the Alabama Crimson Tide
A lot has changed since the last time Mizzou played the Tide (oddly around signing day last year), first off they parted ways with former Head Coach Anthony Grant and then they threw all the money they had attempting to get Gregg Marshall to leave Wichita State to become their new Head Coach. Marshall opted to stay in Kansas along with his seniors (VanVleet and Baker) for at least one more tournament run. Then Alabama did something unexpected and tabbed former NBA player, Head Coach and Analyst, Avery Johnson as their Head Coach and things have worked out. Johnson has the 12th ranked recruiting class coming to Tuscaloosa, an energized fan base and a strong defense to boot.
While the team currently sits a little over .500 overall and three games under in conference, the team has shown well all season long, in the same way that Mississippi State has. The Tide turned a lot of heads this past November by beating Wichita State (though they were without VanVleet at the time) and Notre Dame, and topping that off with a December win over Clemson at Clemson, where the Tigers don't lose. Throw in a close loss to Oregon, possibly the best team in the Pac 12 and you've got a team that has the look that is well ahead of where many expected them to be at this point.
In conference play, Bama has beaten three teams and were the first to beat South Carolina on the year with a barrage of threes that would have made Clarence Gilbert envious. Otherwise, the Tide have lost close games against everyone else they've played, coming up just short on the scoreboard a number of times, again much like Mississippi State.
BEST WINS: Wichita State (11) 64-60, Notre Dame (32) 74-73, Clemson (48) 51-50
WORST LOSS: Auburn (178) 83-77
And now time for a chat...
Q&Roll Bama Roll
Parker from Roll Bama Roll has agreed to have a chat with us and to give us some insight into the brand of basketball the Tide like to play and how things have been going in year one of the new era in Alabama.
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RockMNation: How has Avery Johnson's first year gone to date in your opinion?
Parker: Avery Johnson is the man. Seriously, he has completely changed Alabama basketball for the better after the horrifyingly stale Anthony Grant days. Off the court, Avery's hire has been an 'A+'. He's recruiting at a level we haven't seen in a long time, he's fired up the fan base, he helped make changes to the student section at Coleman Coliseum, which had previously been more of a mausoleum than a gymnasium, and he's engaged the local media and sold the program in ways that Grant never even attempted.
On the court, Avery's hiring can only be graded out at a lowly 'A'. Make no mistake about it, Johnson inherited a team that has a serious lack of talent, especially in the post. Grant's recruiting had become really mediocre over his last few seasons. He's taken a team that should never compete against the likes of Notre Dame and Wichita State, and done just that. The start of SEC play was rough, but Alabama had a front-loaded conference schedule. A win over Mizzou would put Alabama at 13-9 (4-6 SEC) with an RPI in the 40s. That's bubble territory. Barely bubble territory, but still. Needless to say, Tide fans are extremely excited about the future of the program.
RMN: It doesn't look like the freshman are getting many minutes to date, is that a function of the juniors and seniors being just better or a lack of development?
Simmons: Well, Alabama only had three new freshmen this season, and the best one, Dazon Ingram, was lost for the year before he could ever really get started. Ingram was the Tide's starting point guard, and would probably have the second-most minutes on the team if not for his injury. That was a tough blow, and Alabama hasn't been nearly as good without him.
Donta Hall is starting to really come along, but he's still developing. His rebounding and defensive numbers have been really good for the little bit of time that he has played, but his offensive game needs serious work. Tide fans are excited about him though, and he has seen his minutes rise in recent weeks. Brandon Austin is still developing his game; he needs work in a lot of areas before he can see the floor with greater frequency.
RMN: Which player(s) should Mizzou fans be most concerned about for this game?
Simmons: That's kind of a difficult question, as Alabama doesn't really have anyone who's going to intimidate Tiger fans. Retin Obasohan has greatly improved and is thriving in Avery's system. His ability to drive to the basket has been critical for Alabama this season. Besides that, the Tide have a number of guys who can get hot and knock down shots, but there's no telling who that person is going to be on any given night. Arthur Edwards, Justin Coleman, Riley Norris, and Shannon Hale all have the ability to go off, but they seem to rotate that role every game. Hale may not even be able to go Saturday.
RMN: Are you surprised with how competitive Alabama has been this season in seemingly every game?
Simmons: Absolutely. I thought coming into this season that Alabama had the potential to be about where they are currently, but only if everything went right. Well, the Tide lost arguably their most talented player a few games into the season and yet, here they stand. Avery Johnson has coached the hell out of this team. They don't do anything very well, but they keep winning games.
RMN: How do you see this game playing out and what's your predicted final score?
Simmons: It's probably not going to be the prettiest basketball played this season. As I mentioned above, Alabama grinds out wins. If one of the aforementioned players starts getting hot from the perimeter things could loosen up a bit. I'm expecting an ugly, not particularly well played game where the more experienced, home team comes out on top. Let's call it 71-63 Alabama.
Thanks to Parker for taking the time to answer our questions, he's a great follow on twitter, has exceptional taste in music and if you really get down with college football and want to see how the other half live, check out Roll Bama Roll.
As noted in our question and answers above Alabama is going to beat you by making you uncomfortable with strong defense. The one thing Anthony Grant teams always were, were strong on the defensive side of things and Avery Johnson has maintained that level of play and even enhanced it. The Tide do a great job effecting and guarding your shot, both from outside and in. They've also got the bigs down low that can affect your shot if you try to go to the rim, and on top of all that, they don't foul you. So to put some points on the board, Mizzou is going to have to be very efficient and patient to make sure the shot they get is a good one. Where Bama can be exposed is a bit is in the rebounding category, they don't rebound particularly well, and neither does Mizzou so this is going to be all about effort, who wants it more so to speak.
From a player point of view, Parker mention Obasohan (from Belgium!) as their most complete player but Mizzou fans should also keep an eye on Riley Norris the sophomore with a deep shooting range who if he gets hot could put the Tigers in a hole all by himself. Keep an eye on Jimmy Taylor as well, if anyone is going to be rebounding the ball for the Tide it'll be him, so hopefully Mizzou can body him up and take him out of his game.
Like Sam did for Ole Miss, we're tossing the three keys out the window, there will be no more keys. Mizzou played a good game (for them) on Wednesday night and shot the ball pretty well, they have to continue this against a solid Alabama team that if they get hot, like they did against South Carolina can run you out of their building. Namon Wright, Wes Clark and Terrence Phillips have to build off of the game they had against Ole Miss, Rosburg and Woods need to not be invisible under the basket and try and assert their will against a team that can be had here.
This game is winnable, it's going to be tough, don't get me wrong, but it's doable. Can Mizzou get it done though? Their last two games on the road (not counting Kentucky) they've stuck around and shown some life, so hopefully that trend continues and they can play a full 40 minutes tomorrow afternoon.