Alabama basketball, coming off a 65-55 win over South Alabama in Mobile, is off to an excellent start and most would expect it to stay that way when the Crimson Tide (3-0 and ranked 18th in the nation) hosts Jacksonville State ( 1-1) at 8 p.m. CST Friday in Coleman Coliseum.
Bama Coach Nate Oats agrees with part of that.
“We’ve had a good first three games,” he said following Alabama’s Friday morning practice. “I think our defensive effort has been about where we want to be. Offensively, we’ve got a long way to go. It’s early in the year, but we’re sitting where we want to be after three games.”
He said that Jacksonville State is a well-coached team, and pointed out that in each of his three previous seasons Bama has gone against the Gamecocks, losing to them in an exhibition game in his first season and two tough games the past two years.
The Gamecocks are led by 6-3 senior transfer (from Morehead State) Skyelar Potter, who is averaging 16 points per game. But Oats said, “They have several.”
He said the Bama plan “probably” will be similar to how Alabama played Liberty’s high-scoring Darius McGhee in Bama’s 95-59 win over the Flames last week. The Tide held McGhee, one of the nation’s premier three-point shooters and scorers, to 8 points, including 1-5 on three-pointers.
In addition to defense, holding opponents to 56 points per game, the Tide has been tremendous rebounding, two games with over 60 boards and averaging 58.3 per game, a margin of 24.6 over opponents, which Oats said is leading the nation.
He also said, “Jacksonville State will test us on the boards.”
Oats said that Bama’s first three opponents did not challenge for [offensive] rebounds, instead retreating to guard against the Tide’s transition game. Jax State will not be like that, he said.
“If we can get defensive rebounds, maybe we can get our offense going a little better, get out in transition.”
He reiterated that defense and rebounding are key, and also maintained that despite just a 40.2 percent rate on field goals, including just 23-85 (27.1 percent) on three-point shots, that “We haven’t shot great, but we have a good shooting team.”
More than anything, Oats wants to see improvement in ball handling. They are not so much opponent steals as Bama carelessness that has led to 18.3 turnovers per game. “I think the guys are trying too much,” he said. “We as coaches maybe didn’t prepare them well enough for the press.”
An interesting development against South Alabama was the appearance of Jahvon Quinerly in the final minutes of the game. Quinerly, last year’s starting point guard, suffered an ACL injury in the early moments of last season’s final game in the NCAA Tournament. Early prognosis was that he might be back in December, or perhaps not until Southeastern Conference play began in January.
Oats said doctors had cleared him a few weeks ago and against South Alabama, he “got his feet wet.” His knee’s not yet in game shape and will be on restricted minutes against Jacksonville State.
Both Darius Miles and Dom Welch continue to be “day-to-day” and are doubtful for Friday night.
Alabama’s lineup is likely to be the same as it has the first three games, center Charles Bediako (5.7 points per game, 8 rebounds per game) with Brandon Miller (17.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg), Mark Sears (10.7 ppg, 11 assists) , Nimari Burnett (6.3 ppg), and Noah Clowney (6.3 ppg, 10.7 rpg).
But Oats said there are “eight or nine” who could be starting. The Tide has had good bench play from Rylan Griffen (10.7 ppg), Jaden Bradley 9.3 ppg), and Noah Gurley (5 ppg).