With the Crimson Tide’s two tune-ups in Tuscaloosa this past week now in the rearview mirror, Avery Johnson’s club heads to Charleston, South Carolina to participate in the Charleston Classic.
Johnson has made it a point to make sure Alabama (2-0) faces a bevy of tests early on in the season in non-conference play, and this year’s big non-conference tournament is no exception. The Tide will open the tournament with a match-up with the Northeastern Huskies (1-1) on Thursday afternoon, with a win likely setting up a rematch of the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament this past March against the Virginia Tech Hokies (1-0). Tech is currently ranked 16th in the country in the latest AP Poll, and they aren’t the only ranked team in the field, as #23 Purdue lurks on the opposite side of the bracket.
However, Alabama should not overlook their opening opponent, otherwise matchups against Virginia Tech and/or Purdue will be unlikely to occur. Northeastern returns the majority of their 23-10 team from a year ago that came up 7 points shy of making it into the NCAA Tournament field themselves. These guys can play, and they are well coached under the leadership of Bill Coen, who has been the head coach for the program since 2006. The Huskies have every intention of winning 20+ games again this year, and as only 3.5 point underdogs in this game, clearly Vegas thinks the Tide will have their hands full as well.
The Charleston Classic will provide quite the early season test for the Tide, and that starts Thursday afternoon against Northeastern.
POINT 6’5 Vasa Pusica (17.9 PPG, 5.1 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.1 SPG)
GUARD 6’1 Jordan Roland (21.0 PPG, 2.0 APG, 1.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG)**
GUARD 6’1 Donnell Greshem Jr. (9.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.8 SPG)
WING 6’6 Bolden Brace (7.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.2 APG)
POST 6’10 Anthony Green (6.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.8 APG)
*Stats from 2017-18 season
**Stats from this season
The Huskies will be sending a pretty stout starting five out for the opening tip on Thursday. It all starts with the rangy 6’5 point guard, Pusica. An effective shooter (50.4%/42.7%/80.7%) with length and the ability to create open shots for his teammates, Pusica offers a unique challenge for the Tide defensively. Kira Lewis has been low-key awesome in his first two games in Crimson and White, but he’s shown some lapses defensively. Pusica will make him pay if those defensive deficiencies continue. The Tide could try to hide Lewis on the defensive side of the court by allowing Dazon Ingram or Herb Jones to match-up with Pusica, but Lewis could encounter issues with Roland as well. The George Washington transfer has started off this season on fire (50.0%/47.1%/90.9%), and he isn’t afraid to pull the trigger, as he’s shot the ball 24 times in two games for Northeastern.
Greshem and Green are both returning starter for the Huskies, joining Pusica in that category. Greshem is a shooter (40.8%/43.1%/78.4%), but his size limits his ability to create. He did have a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio last season. Green is the lone big-man in the regular rotation. His ability to rebound (14.0% REB%) will be critical for Northeastern if they hope to compete with ‘Bama on the boards. A 71.6% scorer a year ago, Green isn’t asked to do much offensively other than clean up around the rim. Finally, Brace rounds out the starting five. A decent shooter himself (46.1%/39.6%/82.4%), Brace’s ability to play both out on the wing and in the paint makes him an invaluable asset to the team.
However, as with many small conference teams, the Huskies seriously lack depth. Murphy has been a good player for them coming off of the bench (56.8%/25.0%/75.5%, 9.3% REB%), but the rest are pretty unproven. Heck, Strong has played in both games this season and has yet to record a single relevant statistic. Athleticism, size, and depth definitely all favor Alabama significantly.
- Get off the Bus. Alabama has yet to play a game away from the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum this season. So while the Tide performed well in their first two outings, it remains to be seen how well this team will travel. Has John Petty cured what ailed him in his freshman campaign whenever he left Tuscaloosa? How will Lewis play in his first trip with the Tide? The 17-year old true freshman has looked great thus far in his young career, but as Petty himself as shown, that doesn’t always translate when you hit the road. The good news is this is the first time Avery Johnson’s had a truly experienced squad, so maybe that will enable Alabama to avoid the pitfalls in production that we’ve become accustomed to seeing from them away from home.
- Speed It Up. The Huskies are going to want to limit possessions and prevent Alabama from getting out into transition. The Tide need to be able to utilize their speed and athleticism to lead to easy transition buckets. Disrupt passing lanes on the defensive end of the court, put pressure on the ball handlers, and try to turn these guys over, because there is no way Northeastern is going to be able to run with the Tide on Thursday.
- Free Throws. Free throws are to Alabama basketball what kicking is to Alabama football. It doesn’t seem to matter who is going to the charity stripe, where the game is being played, or what the current situation is on the scoreboard, Alabama will find a way to be bad at free throw shooting. The Crimson Tide have already allowed one top-tier small conference team to hang around a lot longer than they should have due to an inability to knock down free shots. Northeastern may not let the Tide off of the hook if that continues into this tournament.
This should be an entertaining and telling next couple of days for Tide Hoops. If Alabama is ready to take the next step as a program, they should be able to snag a pair of victories in Charleston this weekend. However, it won’t be easy, and that begins with an experienced, skilled Northeastern squad on Thursday afternoon.
The game will tip-off at 1:00 CST and will be televised on ESPNU.