The Alabama Crimson Tide is figuring it out. This doesn’t mean they have figured everything out in the past tense, as though this is a complete team which will roar through the rest of its games, but the progress on this team is undeniable.
By Matt Zemek
Alabama is regularly scoring at a high rate while making adjustments on defense. This is beginning to look like the teams coach Nate Oats created when he led the Buffalo Bulls to multiple NCAA Tournaments and multiple wins in March. The pieces are certainly in the process of coming together, and they need to continue to come together for this team to realize its potential. Next on the slate for Alabama is a road game in Nashville against the Vanderbilt Commodores. One basic reality connected to the Commodores shapes most of the game plan for Oats and his team.
1 – Alabama must defend Saben (not Saban)
The central key for Alabama on Wednesday is Saben. No, that’s not a misspelling, and we’re not talking football, either. Saben Lee went off against Auburn earlier in the season. He is a formidable scorer who – when on – is a real load to guard. Alabama needs to keep him in check. This need would be paramount in any circumstance, but it is especially important because Vanderbilt’s Aaron Nesmith is out – probably for the season – with an injury. This leaves Vanderbilt noticeably shorthanded and with relatively little firepower. Not allowing Saben Lee to bust loose has to become a core concern for the Tide in Memorial Gym.
2 – Early energy
Alabama was gunning for Auburn. Everyone knew the Crimson Tide would not have a hard time getting up for that game. Auburn had a bulls-eye on its back at 15-0. Alabama was at home. The Tide played by far their most complete game of the season. They weren’t as dominant against Missouri at home, a natural product of not having quite the same emotional investment as the Auburn game. Yet, in Coleman Coliseum, the Tide took care of business.
Now, though, they have their first road trip since the Auburn win. This is the test of a team’s maturity and evolution. Has Alabama truly grown into something bigger and better than what we saw a few weeks ago? Now is the chance to prove it. A mature team will go into Memorial Gym and play with a level of intensity seen against Auburn (or at least close to it). A mature team will play 40 consistent minutes on defense. Shots might not drop. Offensive flow might not carry into this game. The point of emphasis is on effort, and being ready to become the hunted, not the hunter, in the SEC. If Alabama comes out of the gate with strong defensive energy and sustains it, that will be a good indication this team really “gets it.”
3 – Non-Kira Lewis scoring
In road games, the natural instinct will be to let Kira Lewis carry this team. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, if the Alabama supporting cast can provide important baskets in a road game, it will be a telling sign that Alabama can turn to multiple sources if a road game becomes even the slightest bit thorny. If you’re looking for indicators of widespread and deeply-rooted progress, role player scoring on the road is one.