What’s up family - took a brief break and focused on my day job unfortunately so I am excited to jump back in and write about the boys. Our Baylor MBB team has found the juju again and rattled off three big wins since we last spoke. Which brings us to the Big 12/SEC challenge, and the Alabama Crimson Tide.
We are going to dive into the depths of what makes this Alabama team tick, but as a little amuse bouche let me tell you what, these fellas are unpredictable as all get out. Which honestly makes this game appointment television on Saturday. So clear your schedules, grab a hazy Dr. Pepper, and settle in. Without further ado let us pick apart the Alabama Crimson Tide Men’s Basketball Team.
Setting the Scene
The Who: #4 Baylor MBB x #UNRANKED Alabama MBB
The What: Big 12/SEC Challenge
The Where: Tuscaloosa, AL
The When: Saturday 1/29 3:00 PM CT on ESPN
The Why: Baylor looks to continue their dominance in the Big 12/SEC Challenge where they hold the best record since the challenge has begun
How We Got Here
As we mentioned previously Baylor just ripped through three really impressive wins. First, a dominant bounce back win without Sochan and Akinjo (or Ahhkeenjuu according to ESPN+ announcers). Second, a convincing but gutty win in Norman fueled by Matthew Mayer’s knee and nothing else. Most recently just a complete decimation of a really tough Kansas State team at home, and the return of King Jeremy the first.
It really does feel like Baylor MBB has their juice back and we are absolutely buzzing. The offense is clicking, the defense is stifling, and the boys seem to be playing with a sense of togetherness that had been lacking. There’s a ton to be excited about for these fellas.
The Tide on the other hand have had a season of highs and lows, clever article title right? But in all seriousness this Alabama team is incredibly puzzling. I would go as far as saying that Alabama may be the most inconsistent team in the country. Here’s what I see and what to expect from the Crimson Tide.
Alabama Eye Test
Before watching a second of tape on Alabama, I looked at their record and it is a total head scratcher. The Tide sit at 13-7, 7th place in the SEC, but have wins over great teams like Houston, Tennessee, Florida, and LSU. They also have a win against an average team in Gonzaga - obviously kidding but I just couldn’t bring myself to call Gonzaga great.
Alabama also has some absurd losses on their record; dropping games to Iona, Davidson, Missouri, Mississippi State, and most recently Georgia. Alabama was once ranked as highly as 6th in the country, but following their inconsistent play now are unranked.
Highs and lows aside, one thing Alabama does really well is win at home. The Crimson Tide are 9-1 at home, with their only home loss coming to now #1 Auburn 81-77. This is actually something that makes me a little bit nervous for this game.
There really is no pattern to how Alabama plays or what seemingly causes them to turn it on or off. So, I hand picked some games that intrigued me and watched tape from games they have won and lost. Here’s my eye test after watching Alabama film against Memphis, Gonzaga, Houston, Auburn, LSU, and Georgia.
Let’s start by being very honest with each other, offense is what Alabama does best. If they are hot this game will be a shootout. The Crimson Tide are 15th in the nation in scoring offense at 81.1 PPG. In some aspects, Alabama’s offense reminds me a lot of Baylor’s. The Crimson Tide primarily execute their offense either beyond the three point arc or at the rim. Alabama also crashes the offensive glass at an incredibly high level and extend possessions with second chance opportunities.
If you watch the tape you’ll see Alabama hoist threes from all over the court, some of which are nonsensical. These young men live by the mantra “chicks dig the long ball” - wrong sport I know, but you get the sentiment. Alabama is 6th in the country in 3FGA, with 595 threes taken through 20 games. It literally is mind blowing the amount of times you’ll see the Crimson Tide settle for OK or borderline bad threes when the defense is giving them better looks.
The good news for the Bears is that Alabama’s three point volume doesn’t translate to consistent three point success. Alabama ranks 296th in the country in 3FG%, as a reminder there are 350 teams so 296/350 isn’t good. That being said, Crimson Tide can do damage from deep; in big wins they are hot, in bad losses they are cold.
When Alabama doesn’t settle for threes, they have a group of guards that can attack the rim at a high level. If the Alabama guards use or deny screens they can beat many defenders off the dribble. This team is extremely quick and athletic.
Lastly, the Crimson Tide do a great job of getting out in transition. If teams playing Alabama don’t get back on defense, the Tide get out running and often will take open transition threes. The good news is Alabama’s defense is nothing to worry about so opponent misses are rare. That mention of defense is what we call a great segue.
As I quite literally just mentioned, Alabama’s defense is bad. There’s not a real way to sugar coat this, but the only team in Tuscaloosa that plays defense is coached by Nick Saban, and that team just got smoked by a young man named Stetson. Back to basketball, Alabama opponents average 74.7 PPG, which ranks 304th in the country. Again, there are 350 total teams so 304 is not good.
Defensively Alabama primarily chases around screens, and will rarely switch. I am not an Alabama insider so I am not sure why this is their approach, but it isn’t working. Good teams take advantage of this by having the primary ball handler move quickly over screens to create further separation from the on ball defender.
Another direct result of Alabama not switching screens is that help defenders have to rotate aggressively. This over helping leads to open looks for Alabama opponents on the backside of the play. If a team rotates well on offense, passes more and dribbles less, then they could pick Alabama apart.
One thing that did stick out to me from the Bama defense is they block a ton of shots. Alabama’s bigs have great length and bounce, and are active around the rim. This could cause issues for the Bears guards when trying to finish through traffic. But the best way to offset a shot blocker is with a ball fake; look for Baylor to give these guys the ole hesi hey.
There are two key contributors to Alabama’s play against tougher opponents, three point shooting and turnovers. In Alabama’s big wins, they have gotten hot from deep and limited turnovers. If they do both of these things in Tuscaloosa it could be a long afternoon.
Alabama Players to Watch
#5 Jaden Shackelford – Guard
Jaden Shackelford is a 6’ 3” Junior guard and the Crimson Tide’s leading scorer. Shackelford averages 17.1 PPG and is a bonafide stud. He also is a solid rebounder averaging 5.7 RPG.
Shackelford is a lefty with a quick and pretty jumper. If left open from deep, he will make a team pay. Shackelford is lethal spotting up and relocates will without the ball in his hands to get to his spot. He also is solid off the dribble, most of the time taking a step to his left to get to his strong hand.
Shackelford is a great finisher and attacks the rim. Although listed at 6’ 3” he plays bigger than this. He often starts to his left, but can really finish with either hand at a high level.
#13 Jahvon Quinerly – Guard
Jahvon Quinerly is a 6’ 1” Junior guard. Quinerly is the primary ball handler and true point guard for the Crimson Tide. Quinerly is second on Alabama in scoring at 14.3 PPG, and team leader in assists at 4.3 APG.
Quinerly does most of his damage offensively by driving to the paint. He can score efficiently inside and is a great finisher. Quinerly also drives with his head up, looking to pass. There are times on the tape where Quinerly manufactures passing lanes when they don’t appear to be open.
Defensively, Quinerly is a solid on ball defender. He is quick and can take away driving lanes by moving his feet despite being a bit undersized. Quinerly also does a great job rotating on defense and helping when he is an off ball defender.
#14 Keon Ellis – Guard
Keon Ellis is a 6’ 6” Senior guard, and is a key leader for the Crimson Tide this year. Ellis is the Tide’s third leading scorer averaging 12.2 PPG, and leads the Tide in both rebounding at 6.4 RPG and steals at 2.1 SPG. Ellis really is the definition of a do it all combo guard.
With his length and athleticism Ellis causes issues on both ends of the floor. Offensively Ellis is an effective three point shooter and can shoot over smaller defenders. He also has a first step that is quick as a hiccup and can blow by defenders getting to his spot.
On defense, Ellis is an elite off ball defender. If you watch the tape you will see how well Ellis does keeping an eye on both his man and the ball handler. This makes Ellis a threat to jump passing lanes. As an on ball defender Ellis’ length and active hands makes him a nightmare to play against.
#3 JD Davison – Guard
JD Davison is a 6’ 3” Freshman guard, and scares the bejesus outta me. Davison was the #13 player in the 2021 class and the #3 point guard. If you watch his highlights you see why immediately.
Davison has literally all the tools of a top tier college basketball point guard. Davison sees the floor incredibly well, can get to his spot on the floor with ease, has a tight dribble, and has that ‘it factor’.
Davison is still coming into his own as a Freshman, but averages a respectable 8.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 4.1 APG. Davison reminds me a little bit of an unrefined Ja Morant, don’t come at my DM’s and attack me. He is incredibly explosive, crafty, and has a few plays per game that make your jaw drop.
For some reason I just have a gut feeling that Davison is going to have the game of his life or something absurd like that on Saturday. I hope I’m wrong.
#0 Noah Gurley – Forward
Noah Gurley is a 6’ 8” Senior forward in his first season in Tuscaloosa. Gurley spent his first three college seasons at Furman University. Gurley is averaging 7.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and right around 1.0 BPG. Gurley is another do it all guy for the Crimson Tide, and always seems to be in the right place to make a play.
On offense Gurley primarily has an impact in the paint. He is a good finisher at the rim and a decent ball handler for a forward, so he can take the ball from the elbow to the block with ease. He is a capable shooter, and if left open can knock down threes.
Defensively, Gurley’s length can cause troubles for smaller players. He isn’t an elite shot blocker but contests shots well nonetheless.
#10 Charles Bediako – Center
Charles Bediako is a 7’ 0” Freshman center, he was the #6 center and #35 player in the 2021 class out of IMG Academy. Bediako does a ton of things well that you would want out of a modern day center. He has had an effective first year at Alabama so far averaging 6.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, and leads the team in blocks at 1.6 BPG.
Bediako is an efficient paint scorer. He leads the Crimson Tide in FG% shooting 64.2% from the field. He is still a little bit raw and struggles when he is forced to put the ball on the floor.
Defensively Bediako is a great shot blocker. He makes intelligent and instinctual plays and closes gaps on shooters very well. Bediako is quick off his feet and takes tremendous angles defensively to eliminate shot attempts.
Here’s the deal, and I will make this brief, Alabama is not going to be able to shut down anyone with their defense. Crimson Tide games are always barn burners. If Alabama is shooting well and limits turnovers they can run with anyone in the country.
Why Baylor Wins
As always with Scott Drew led teams it will be a team effort to win this game. Baylor has the talent, discipline, and scheme to go into any game and leave with a victory. Even one of the statistically toughest places to play in the country this year, Tuscaloosa. Here’s how each of the guys will get it done.
#0 Flo Thamba – @Flo_T3
Flo has looked much better the last few games. He has done a great job of solidifying the paint on both ends of the floor. We will need this to continue Saturday.
If Flo continues to give Baylor meaningful minutes by being a backbone defensively and setting good screens, he will have done his job. It will be key to crash the glass against Alabama and I believe Flo will have another impactful game on the boards.
We will need Flo’s length to try and keep Bediako at bay, and he will need to do so without getting into foul trouble.
#1 Jeremy Sochan – @SochanJeremy
Guess who’s back, back again, Sochan’s back, tell a friend. I was at the Kansas State game Tuesday and my eye balls almost shot out of my head when I saw him check in. Enough cannot be said about the impact Sochan has on this Baylor team. See EvanMiya’s analysis of him being one of the best glue guys in the country.
Here are the top "glue guys" in the country, according to our ratings at https://t.co/cegyfz8ykZ.— Evan Miyakawa (@EvanMiya) January 28, 2022
These are players who have a much bigger impact on their team's performance than their individual stats would indicate pic.twitter.com/4b3AyFAx87
This Baylor team is infinitely better when Sochan plays. The versatility that he offers on both ends of the floor hides almost any holes you could find in this team. I expect Sochan to come back into his own this game as he continues to get healthy and shake off the rust.
It will be key for Sochan to defend switches well on Alabama’s elite guards, and stay out of foul trouble. On offense we will need Sochan to attack and use his skill set to take advantage of openings as a result of the Crimson Tide defensive scheme.
Is it it absurd to guarantee a double double?
#2 Kendall Brown – @TheeKbrown
The Kendall Brown we all love made an appearance on Tuesday against Kansas State. Brown posted a double double with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 assists. The difference maker was how Brown aggressively got to the rim in the halfcourt and in transition. When Kendall decides he’s going to the rim, there really isn’t a way to stop him.
This matchup with Alabama I think actually suits Kendall well. If Brown is not defended by Ellis, I think he can take advantage of any other matchup on the court. If Brown is defended by Ellis, look for Brown to prioritize creating for others off of cuts to free up driving lanes.
Defensively, Brown will need to be active and show athleticism when switched on to a smaller Alabama player.
#3 Dale Bonner – @dalebonne
NEW FEATURE ALERT
The game Tuesday against Kansas State will forever be known as the Dale Bonner game. This man entered his bag and probably will never come out. I am now officially a Dale Bonner truther and will follow him into battle.
His defensive effort, passing, and basketball IQ have been key to Baylor’s success without Akinjo. I love you Dale.
#4 LJ Cryer – @LjCryer
Welcome to Cryer’s inferno family. It really is LJ Cryer’s world and we are just living in it. I mean if you find me a more repeatable and beautiful shooting stroke than LJ Cryer’s @mattisbear will personally give you a million dollars. Also he is shooting a dummy 46.7% from deep.
The last few games, LJ has taken advantage of his opportunities with Akinjo sidelined. Cryer has shined and has continued to show that there isn’t a shot he can’t create or make.
A point of concern against the Crimson Tide may come with LJ defensively. If switched on to any of Alabama’s bigger guards, LJ will need to play defense with his feet and try to stay out of foul trouble.
With Alabama being a horrendous flood gate of a defensive team, I expect LJ to have a big game.
#10 Adam Flagler – @adamflagler
I think it is fair to say that out of everyone on the team Adam Flagler probably shouldered the most responsibility with Akinjo hurt. Flagler has had some tough spots this season, but has shown great leadership and poise as he continues to lead this team.
Even when his shot is off, Flagler has done a great job creating for others and getting them involved. Flagler communicates and hustles defensively and is playing like a true vet on this team.
Against Alabama, I would love to see Flagler create more off the dribble towards the hole. I think there are a lot of weaknesses in Alabama’s defense inside the three point line, and Flagler has the skill set to take advantage of that in the midrange game or at the rim.
#11 James Akinjo – @akinjojames3 (Insta no Twitter for our boy)
There’s not yet any word on James Akinjo’s availability Saturday. For a number of reasons this isn’t the game to rush Akinjo back into action. I firmly believe that this Baylor team is better with James on the court, but we need him for Kansas next Saturday.
My hope is his tailbone is healing up, he’s kicking it on the sideline in street clothes, and cheering on the boys.
Get well soon James.
#23 Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (EJ/JTT) – @JonathanTchamwa
EJ really did the whole darn thing against Kansas State didn’t he? Also that two handed block was clean, not a foul. EJ also posted a double double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Our boy even drilled a three from the top of the key that may have been the shot heard round McLennan County.
In all seriousness, when EJ plays well this team looks almost unbeatable. The energy and poise that he brings to both ends of the floor are a staple of this team’s success.
Full disclosure, I think Alabama offers some matchup issues for EJ. Their length inside could make finishing at the rim a bit tougher for him. That being said, I expect EJ to be a key player defensively for the Bears. He will be asked to switch on to guards which he does at an elite level. Of course EJ will need to do this and stay out of foul trouble.
#24 Matthew Mayer – @MatthewMayer24
Oh buddy, we haven’t had a heart to heart since it was Matthew Mayer Time (#IMMT) in Morgantown or Kneegate in Norman. Mayer continues to be probably the most fun, unpredictable, and lovable goofball to ever enter the Ferrell Center.
Mayer has by his standard had an off year shooting the ball, but that isn’t impacting his game overall. What you will always see from Mayer is 110% effort. Mayer’s defense has been elite this season, and he has shown leadership all throughout the year as well.
Mayer seems to show out when Baylor is in the toughest situations and we need a spark most. I expect a big game out of Mayer against Alabama. As we have discussed over and over again in this article, the Bama defense is booty cheeks and that will be a direct igniter to Matthew Mayer Time.
Mayer set a career high at 20 points on the road in Morgantown, I will go ahead and make a guarantee that he will match or beat that in Tuscaloosa.
Here we go, my unequivocally accurate prediction is incoming. Alabama plays incredibly well at home and Baylor plays incredibly well on the road, unstoppable force meets immovable object scenario.
Baylor will come out really hot and open up a solid lead. I expect the Bears to look to set hard ball screens, creating space off the dribble and by making quick passes. This will cause Alabama to have to rotate quickly and allow Baylor players to get open.
Alabama will probably knock down a few threes and weather the storm, and their offense will get hot. The Crimson Tide have a lot of talent and it will show out, especially where they play well at home. The halftime score will be tight.
Throughout the second half I expect it to be back and forth to start. Baylor will probably get into some foul trouble giving the Tide some easy points at the stripe.
Baylor is an elite defensive team and down the stretch I think it will show. The Tide will try to shoot their way back into the game, and settle for contested threes. Baylor will go on the patented Scott Drew run, and win by double digits in a high scoring affair.
Baylor 81 – Alabama 68
Just for the juice, I will be taking the Bears to cover if the line is single digits. I will quote tweet the article with the line and over/under when they hit books on Saturday.