Alabama vs. Rhode Island preview: Tide face another tough non-conference test

In Features by Devin Sherrer

After falling 65-62 to UCF on Sunday afternoon, Alabama returns to action on Wednesday against the highly-regarded Rhode Island Rams.

Contrary to the Crimson Tide, Rhode Island comes into this game on a winning note after defeating in-state rival Providence on Saturday.

Neither team will be ranked in this matchup; however, both teams are receiving votes in the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 poll after having a solid start to the season.

The Crimson Tide have looked a bit shaky at times, but clutch offensive play late in games has led to a 6-2 start with wins over quality opponents like Louisiana Tech, UT-Arlington, and Lipscomb — all three of whom are currently in the NCAA’s Top 50 in RPI.

Meanwhile, Rhode Island has had a positive start to the season as well. In addition to beating rival Providence, Dan Hurley’s team has grabbed a key win for their tournament resume in beating No. 19 Seton Hall.

The Rams do have two losses on the season, although, both are to AP Top 25 opponents in Virginia and Nevada.

Both Alabama (#18) and Rhode Island (#10) come into the game as Top 20 teams in the latest release of the NCAA’s official RPI.

Additionally, both teams are receiving votes in the AP Top 25 poll.

A win for either team here would go a long way toward adding yet another quality to win to their NCAA Tournament resume.

Players to Watch

Collin Sexton (Alabama)

It will be interesting to see how Alabama’s star freshman point guard responds to his most recent performance against UCF.

In the loss to the Knights, Sexton shot 0 of 4 from the field and finished with only seven points which all came at the free-throw line. He also had trouble handling the ball as his three assists were matched by three turnovers.

Sexton is averaging 22.1 points per game this season which shows you just how uncharacteristic Sunday’s performance was.

Alabama will need him to step up in a big way on Wednesday night as Rhode Island boasts a talented group of guards.

Fatts Russell (Rhode Island)

Fatts Russell has been electric for Rhode Island in his last couple outings.

The 5’10 freshman is coming off back-to-back 20 point games for the Rams and will look to continue that trend in Tuscaloosa.

Although Russell is not a starter, he has been Rhode Island’s go-to-guy when coming off the bench.

He can shoot the three and drive the lane without issue. Alabama has struggled to keep guards out of the lane which means we could see Russell present a major challenge in this department.

Expect him to play his style of basketball and look to be a menace off the bench.

How Alabama Can Win

For Alabama to knock Rhode Island, the Crimson Tide will need to improve in two key areas that have recently been a bit of a problem: halfcourt offense and defensive intensity.

The Alabama offense has been much better this season in terms of scoring; however, the halfcourt offense must improve. Far too often, Alabama is taking contested, low-percentage jump shots from the perimeter.

The Crimson Tide will need to make moving the ball a priority against Rhode Island’s suffocating defense.

Alabama has enough good shooters, that with solid ball movement to create open jumpers, the Tide should be able to knock down a high percentage of shots unlike in the UCF game.

Alabama’s defense hasn’t been particularly poor; however, the team is yet to play a full 40 minutes of sound defensive basketball. That is a problem when facing teams with such good guard and post play.

If the Crimson Tide are able to function efficiently as a defensive unit, it should lead to more transition opportunities in which to flourish.

How Rhode Island Can Win

Rhode Island has scored the ball at a high rate all season long and will need to do so again on Wednesday night.

In the Rams’ victory over No. 19 Seton Hall, they posted 75 points while shooting above 50 percent from three-point range. Overall, the Rams are shooting 41 percent from deep this season and this has lead to a high level of efficiency on the offensive end.

If Rhode Island is able to get the 3-ball working on Wednesday, it could be a long night for Avery Johnson’s team.

Also, the getting to and converting from the free-throw line will be a key for the Rams.

Alabama has struggled in many games this season and if the Rams are able to exploit this deficiency and take advantage of their own free-throw shooting opportunities, then they’ll will be in good shape.

Devin Sherrer is a devout SEC basketball fanatic. He has followed all things SEC since birth and really there is nothing he’d rather do than sit back, relax, and enjoy the roller coaster we call college basketball. He can be found on many SEC and NCAA basketball forums and has been writing basketball-related content for leisure since 2016.