The Alabama Crimson Tide (3-1) bounced back in a big way Friday afternoon with a 79-61 win over Ball State (1-3), which set the stage for what has become a frequent non-conference meeting with the Wichita State Shockers (2-2). The Shockers advanced to the 5th place game of the Charleston Classic by way of their 82-76 win over the Appalachian State Mountaineers, who Alabama, of course, beat last weekend in Tuscaloosa. This is actually going to be the sixth meeting in nine years between these two teams, and when you combine that with Alabama’s attempt to lure the Shockers’ head coach, Gregg Marshall, away from Wichita after the firing of Anthony Grant, you’ve got the makings of a somewhat spicy non-conference rivalry.
The Tide and Shockers have played in Tuscaloosa, in Wichita, in Orlando, and even in the NIT Championship Game in Madison Square Garden. The Shockers have won three of the previous five meetings in that span, but this isn’t your typical Wichita State team. Gregg Marshall’s squad lost all five starters from last season, and they’ve had a rough start to the year this season, having already lost to Louisiana Tech and Davidson.
Of course, the Tide have had some issues as well. This should be a good one, but it’s a game Alabama really needs to win.
- POINT 6’0 Samajae Haynes-Jones (12.8 PPG, 4.8 APG, 1.8 RPG, 1.5 SPG)
- GUARD 6’4 Jamarius Burton (6.5 PPG, 4.3 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG)
- GUARD 6’5 Dexter Dennis (6.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 0.8 APG)
- WING 6’8 Markis McDuffie (20.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.3 SPG)
- POST 6’11 Jaime Echenique (7.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.5 BPG)
As mentioned, this is a really young team. McDuffie and Haynes-Jones are seniors, Echenique is a junior, and the rest are all freshmen. As such, this team will continue to get better and better, but for now, they are relying heavily on the three upperclassmen. McDuffie was the sixth man last season, and he’s stepped up in a major way as the go-to scorer on this team (47.5%/51.9%/66.7%). But he really has but all of his focus on scoring. He’s yet to dish out an assist this season. That has not been the case for Haynes-Jones or Burton. Both are sporting strong AST% (26.8% and 29.4%, respectively), as they have been the main catalysts in creating opportunities for their teammates. Neither have shot the ball very well though (Haynes-Jones: 32.8%/29.6%/71.4%, Burton: 45.0%/0.0%/57.1%), so Alabama needs to understand these guys are looking to pass.
Dennis is the shooter in the starting line-up (35.0%/50.0%/46.2%), though he mainly floats around the three-point line and takes advantage of his fellow guards gaudy assist numbers. Echenique is a critical player for the Shockers because, outside of the freshman Udeze, he’s the only true post player on the roster. As far as the bench is concerned, it’s mostly all freshmen still attempting to adjust to the college game. The lone exception to that is Stevenson, who appears to be the next great Shocker. He’s done everything for Gregg Marshall’s club off of the bench.
- Keep Tevin Mack Involved. After preventing the Texas transfer from really getting into a groove the first three games of his Crimson Tide career, Avery Johnson allowed Mack to get a big chunk of minutes against Ball State, and it paid off greatly. Mack scored 20 points in 23 minutes, including shooting 5/9 from downtown. If Alabama wants to be successful this season, Mack has to be a scorer.
- Limit McDuffie’s Attempts. Wichita State has struggled quite a bit offensively this season. McDuffie has been the only guy who can consistently create for himself and score. Expect Alabama to sick Herbert Jones on him and be quick to double anytime he gets into the paint.
- Get the Ball to the Rim. The Ball State game once again displayed what Alabama does best offensively: getting the ball inside and cleaning it up around the rim. That needs to carry over into the Wichita State game and moving forward the rest of the season. Donta Hall needs to get his touches around the basket, Dazon Ingram needs to attack, and Kira Lewis needs to penetrate and dish. That opens up everything for this offense.
Alabama needs to get out of Charleston with a second win today. Wichita State will continue to get better as the season progresses, and very well could still end up being an NCAA Tournament team, so this could be a big opportunity. Right now is definitely the best time to catch them, though. Can the Tide continue to build off of it’s performance over Ball State? Or will they revert back to the ugly performance from Thursday? This is a big game.
Tip-off is set for 12:30 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.