WHAT THEY BRING
Supposedly, an offense
This is…not very pretty. The Hornets haven’t shot well at all under Lewis outside of a two year stretch (2007-09) when they went 31-5 in SWAC play. Since then, all but one offense has ranked outside the top 300 in eFG%, which is, uh, bad. The Hornets also struggle massively with turnovers, ranking below the national average in eight of the last ten seasons. They don’t hit twos, threes, or free throws. All of those, to me, seem like key components of playing offense.
The Hornets are a fairly common 2010s offense: four guys that can shoot, with a fifth that, if desperately requested, can attempt to. (The backup center has yet to attempt a three and probably won’t.) It’s a four-out motion offense that runs continuity ball screens, other ball screens, and can function out of the post with fair frequency. Basically: it looks like a lot of other college basketball offenses.
The one thing they’ve consistently been very good at: offensive rebounds. Alabama State’s ranked above the national average in OREB% in every Lewis Jackson season. For the most part, their best OREB% outings are saved for SWAC brethren, though they did pop out a 39.5% OREB% against Iowa last season.
Consistently, Alabama State’s ranked right at or around the national average in taking threes. They’ve never been a great passing team; few teams feature more ISOs in college basketball, especially teams without a true #1 scorer. Jacoby Ross was Alabama State’s closest thing to that last year, but for whatever reason, he’s scaled down his usage rate so far this year. He’ll still get more than his share of shots, though.
The leading scorer is Tobi Ewuosho, a senior from Chicago that’s been pretty efficient inside the arc. Ewuosho has been a quality piece in transition, but he likes to take the ball to the basket out of spot-ups in half-court offense, too.
Other notable guy: Brandon Battle has an absurd usage rate (33.6%!) as a backup center, and the Hornets like using him in various ways, notably out of the post.
Man-to-man defense that prevents threes, but doesn’t do much else
Generally, this is Alabama State’s stronger side of the ball. It’s not great, of course – the last three ASU defenses have all finished 300th or worse in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency – but it is less bad. 8 of the last 11 Hornet squads have had a better defense than offense. All of them have generally had the same characteristics. Every ASU defense is well-above the national average in preventing three-point attempts, at or above the national average in forcing turnovers, and near the bottom nationally in both defensive rebounding and free throw rate.
In particular, they’re struggling to keep up with offenses that move the ball well for open shots on the perimeter. It’s just three games, but opponents are already shooting 42.6% from deep against the Hornets, and it’s not that much of a fluke.
They’re only guarding a little over 44% of catch-and-shoots, and opponents have shot 44% on the unguarded attempts.
It’s also a bad transition defense. Both Gonzaga and Houston got plenty of easy buckets when Alabama State’s defense wasn’t set, and both had success inside and outside the perimeter. It seems like an easy call for Tennessee to push the pace early and often; they’re the better team here, and if you’re the better team, you should maximize your own possessions.
Bad interior defense, bad defensive rebounding, Papa John’s
Last year’s Hornets were good at defending cuts to the basket; that’s yet to be the case this season. All of these are small sample sizes, obviously, but the only thing they’ve been above-average at is ball-screen defense. Everything else has been pretty ugly.
Lastly: this is a bad defensive rebounding team. They’ve been this way for three seasons straight, and this is likely to be a fourth. In particular, the last two Alabama State defenses finished 341st and 317th (improvement!) in DREB%; this team is 326th so far. Might as well go inside early and often and blow them out on the boards.
NEXT PAGE: I’m gonna stop doubting Rick Barnes from here on out, regardless of how much he has to replace