Show Me My SEC Tournament Opponent, 2020-21: Alabama

 Alabama offense

It’s a Talladega offense and Nate Oats is Dale Jr.

Prior to yesterday’s utter demolition of Mississippi State, the famed Ball & Oats offense had kind of…not necessarily come up dry as of late, but had largely stopped producing impressive results. From January 23 to March 11 (the day before the State game), Alabama played 12 games. Just once did they go above 1.11 PPP, and seven times, they fell below a point per possession. This was unusual, because across Alabama’s first 15 games, they only fell below 1 PPP three times.

It wasn’t like Alabama had turned into a bad offensive team, but they were missing lots of shots they’d been making, particularly at the rim. Luckily for Alabama, apparently all it takes to get going again is to play Mississippi State instead of Kentucky.

As we all know, Alabama’s goal is going to be to push the pace early and often. The only two sub-70 possession games they’ve played since the first Tennessee fixture were both recent blowouts, and they were more driven by defensive dominance than anything offensively-minded. Per hoop-math.com, Alabama gets 40.3% of its initial shot attempts in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, which is the highest rate in the entire country. If you’ve watched the Tide play, you know that you’re going to see a lot of quick attempts off of missed shots forced by their fantastic defense.

Every player on the floor is primed to push the pace, whether that’s through more simple transition actions or by pressuring the paint off of a ball screen, which about 20% of Alabama’s possessions end up deriving from.

Alternately, if it gets somewhat late in the clock – God forbid they see the final 10 seconds of it! – Alabama’s more prone to spread it out, find a good isolation matchup, and attack it all the way to the rim. This has been particularly effective for Jahvon Quinerly, a player who has slowly gotten better offensively throughout the course of the season.

Daryl Morey’s favorite basketball team

The story, as it has been all year, is all about those layups and threes, though. Just 11.3% of Alabama’s shot attempts are from Other Twos territory, which is the lowest in all of college basketball and the lowest by nearly 7% versus the next-closest Big Six team. What Alabama is doing isn’t being replicated by anyone at the high-major level, which both speaks to how deceptively innovative it is and how strange it is that the big boys are slow to adopt a movement that’s been building at the lower levels of college basketball for years.

Alabama gets all their shots from a variety of actions, but the main point of it all is that every single rotation member Alabama puts into a game has the ability to drain a three when called upon. Nate Oats certainly benefited from the fact that the roster Avery Johnson left him had these capabilities, but he’s pushed it to its very extremes. As Tennessee found out earlier this season, if you collapse when a Tide guard (or Herb Jones) penetrates the paint, you’re leaving yourself open to a barrage of deep attempts.

Or, of course, if you don’t collapse, then the SEC Player of the Year can take it all the way to the rim on you and slowly but surely break you down.

Jones winning the award feels more like “SEC’s Best All-Around Player on the Best Team” than the actual SEC Player of the Year resume we normally see. You could’ve easily made arguments for John Petty to be in that same conversation, and I felt like Jaden Shackleford somehow became underrated this year after developing into a much, much better overall player. Watch how they spread the floor; watch how no one player seems to be more important than the team itself. There are three legit stars, with a budding fourth in Quinerly and several important, good role players.

Yes, they’ve got flaws

Alright, enough good things said. We do need to explore what caused Alabama’s small downturn over the last few weeks. Per Bart Torvik, even after yesterday’s destruction of Mississippi State, Alabama still ranks just 87th in offensive efficiency over its last 10 games, which is…not where you want to be heading into March.

Why is this so? The answer’s actually two-fold: Alabama’s started to make a lot of unforced errors with the ball and has seen a giant drop-off in two-point efficiency. Over the last 10, Alabama’s posted an offensive TO% of 19.3%, which ranks 210th nationally. Again, not ideal!

More importantly to what we’re exploring, though, they’ve had a lot of issues actually converting all the attempts they get at the rim. Alabama’s made just 50.3% of their twos in the last month, which ranks 154th nationally. Both of the above rankings were significantly worse prior to yesterday’s get-right game, and it does seem important that Alabama gets more two-pointers blocked than all but four teams in America.

If Tennessee’s going to keep Alabama’s offense muted in this game, it’s going to take a big effort, especially without John Fulkerson. Guard the threes, force hard finishes at the rim, aggressively pressure the ball, and unleash Yves Pons. Easy enough, yeah? Yes? Maybe?

The quick scout of Alabama’s rotation is below. The first five players are expected starters:

  • #13 Jahvon Quinerly (scoring PG). Excellent little jitterbug of a player who’s gotten better as the season went on. 44.3% from three on 97 attempts, 58.3% at the rim, but doesn’t have a great assist/turnover ratio. Doesn’t usually start, but I think he may due to Joshua Primo’s injury.
  • #5 Jaden Shackleford (combo G). Alabama’s leading scorer and a much better defender than he was a year ago. Shackleford takes a ton of threes, but he’s also gotten much better at scoring at the rim and has started to get fouled more often as of late.
  • #23 John Petty (wing G). I pray he graduates eventually, because I am convinced he will endlessly torture Tennessee even after he departs Alabama. 38.7% from three, 66.7% at the rim.
  • #1 Herbert Jones (wing F). SEC Player of the Year and SEC Defender of the Year. Not super easy to argue either award. Jones doesn’t have gaudy box-score stats, but he does all the little things that coaches love – deflections, diving for loose balls, pounding the boards, etc. He might only have 12 points in a game, but he’s probably responsible for 30 more.
  • #2 Jordan Bruner (stretch 4). Bruner is another player that doesn’t have beautiful basic stats but makes the team way better when he’s on the court. In his final season at Yale, they were 18 points better with him on the court; Alabama is much better at turning opponents over and forcing tough shots when he’s out there.
  • #11 Joshua Primo (wing G). Sustained a knee injury yesterday that looked pretty worrisome, so I’m not sure he’ll play. If he does: 39% from three, but has a TO% almost three times higher than his AST%.
  • #14 Keon Ellis (wing G). Getting better; more useful on defense than offense at the moment. Ellis is a nasty guard to get around because he has fantastic pick-pocket skills, but he hasn’t been a huge offensive threat just yet, aside from an odd performance here or there.
  • #3 Alex Reese (stretch 4). Probably the one guy on the roster where I’m like “alright just let him shoot it.” Reese is 26-for-105 (24.8%) from downtown and is shooting 28% from three on 275 attempts the last two seasons. If he hits it, he hits it, but you’d rather a guy whose expectation is ~0.84 PPP take the shot than you would Quinerly or Petty or Shackleford.
  • #33 James Rojas (stretch 4). JUCO guy, is committing an astounding 8.6 fouls per 40 minutes in conference play. Not an offensive threat at all, but an excellent defensive rebounder.

NEXT PAGE: (30 For 30 voice) what if I told you everyone praises the wrong side of the ball?

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