Alabama gained some notoriety over the weekend at the Barclays Center Classic when it played the last 11 minutes with only three players against No. 14 Minnesota, and almost won the game after being down 12 at one point.
However, the Crimson Tide were not able to come out victorious in that contest, and must now shift their attention to a Louisiana Tech, who will come into Coleman Coliseum with a 5-0 record and a top-10 RPI ranking.
The Bulldogs, led by third-year head coach Eric Konkol who has complied back-to-back 23-10 records in Conference USA, were selected to finish third in their conference behind preseason NCAA Tournament hopefuls Middle Tennessee State and UAB.
The Crimson Tide, coming off of their first week in the AP Poll since 2011, went 2-1 over the past week in Barclays Center Classic play, with the aforementioned loss to Minnesota and wins coming against UT-Arlington and BYU.
The Bulldogs have wins this season over Texas-Tyler, Southeast Missouri State, Montana State, George Mason, and Evansville, with the George Mason and Evansville wins coming in the Cancun Classic in Cancun, Mexico.
Let’s take a look at the players to watch, the keys to victory for both teams, and a score prediction for Wednesday’s tilt.
Players to Watch
Herbert Jones (Alabama)
Jones has been the Tide’s most consistent perimeter defender with his extremely long wingspan and quickness laterally.
Over the last 3 games, he has drawn six offensive foul calls against opponents on charges, which is an extremely high rate for a college basketball player with such a small sample size. Jones is also a capable offensive player and rebounder, averaging 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game from a bench role.
The freshman even found his way into the starting lineup for the Minnesota contest over sophomore guard Dazon Ingram, which is pretty telling about Avery Johnson’s feelings about Jones’ performance this season.
If John Petty can’t go – he’s a game-time decision with an ankle injury – look for Jones to take on the defensive role of guarding the best wing scorer for Tech.
Donta Hall (Alabama)
Hall leads the Tide in rebounding this season, posting an average of 7.2 rebounds per game.
The Bulldogs rank 290th in the country in total rebounds, so exploiting that lack of rebounding on the front line will be important for the Tide to win this game comfortably.
Hall is also the Tide’s go-to option in the post, where Louisiana Tech only has one player taller than 6-10 that plays significant minutes, so finding a way to get Hall significant post touches will open the offense up for perimeter shooters, such as Riley Norris, John Petty, and Collin Sexton.
Jacobi Boykins (Louisiana Tech)
Boykins is one of Louisiana Tech’s better perimeter shooters, shooting 35.1 percent from behind the arc, with 72.5 percent of his total shot attempts coming from downtown,
He’s also Tech’s top rebounder at 7.2 rebounds per game.
Boykins poses a significant threat from the outside, which is a part of Alabama’s defensive strategy that it hasn’t exactly excelled at this season.
He also excels rebounding the ball as a combo guard/forward, so limiting his output offensively and on the glass will be very crucial to Alabama stopping Louisiana Tech’s offense, who boasts a top 40 offensive rating nationally.
Jalen Harris (Louisiana Tech)
Tech’s leading scorer and shotmaker, sophomore Jalen Harris is the cog that makes their offense go from a scoring standpoint.
The Bulldogs don’t have the most impressive assist numbers (300th in the country in total assists), so isolation offense is crucial to their offensive attack.
Harris excels at that type of offense with a bevy of dribble moves and craftiness that allows him to create his own shot.
Finding a way to slow down his nearly 45 percent 3-point shooting is critical to limiting the offensive output of the Bulldogs.
How Alabama Can Win
The Tide need to commit to cleaning the glass on nearly every possession against the Bulldogs, both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
Louisiana Tech struggles to bring down rebounds at a consistent level, so the likes of Donta Hall, Daniel Giddens, Alex Reese, Galin Smith, Riley Norris, and Herbert Jones, all need to crash the glass and bring down a good percentage of offensive rebound chances in an attempt to spiral the game out of control in their favor.
Those forwards should all have good rebounding performances and for the Tide to outrebound the Bulldogs handily.
How Louisiana Tech Can Win
The Bulldogs need to get Collin Sexton out of his element early.
Teams have had success (namely BYU and Memphis) when Sexton is either struggling (in the case of BYU) or not playing (in the case of Memphis), so finding a way to get him into foul trouble or out of rhythm is going to be very important.
As evidenced by Saturday’s game against Minnesota, Sexton doesn’t need much to get going offensively (he can even be down a few teammates and still get it done), so being physical with him is important to attempt to frustrate him and throw him off his game.
The Tide simply have too much talent for the Bulldogs roster, and the Alabama’s size will be may be a lot to handle.
Look for the Tide’s bigs to have a good day on the boards and for Sexton to do his thing from the guard position to help Alabama rebound from the loss to Minnesota.
Prediction: Alabama 86, Louisiana Tech 71