After opening the season with four comfortable wins, No. 18 Alabama basketball moves into the meaty part of its non-conference schedule this week as it takes part in the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore.
The Crimson Tide will be joined in the showcase by No. 1 North Carolina, No. 12 Michigan State, No. 20 UConn, Iowa State, Oregon Portland and Villanova. The tournament will take place from Thursday until Sunday with each team guaranteed to play in at least three games. Winners will move on in the winner’s bracket while losers will fall into the loser’s bracket.
First up for Alabama is a Thanksgiving day matchup against Michigan State as the Crimson Tide and Spartans are set to tip off at 9:30 p.m. CT on Thursday. Here’s everything you need to know about the matchup.
How to watch
Who: No. 18 Alabama (4-0) vs. No. 12 Michigan State (3-1)
When: 9:30 p.m. CT, Thursday, Nov. 24
Where: Moda Center, Portland, Ore.
Watch: ESPN (play-by-play: Roxy Bernstein; analyst: Bill Walton)
Listen: Crimson Tide Sports Network (play-by-play: Chris Stewart; analyst: Bryan Passink; engineer Tom Stipe)
Alabama’s projected lineup
Mark Sears: 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, junior
Stats: 15.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, 41.3% FG, 41.7% 3-pt
Nimari Burnett: 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, sophomore
Stats: 9.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.8 apg, 40.9% FG, 37.5% 3-pt
Brandon Miller: 6-foot-9, 200 pounds, freshman
Stats: 20.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 50.0% FG, 51.7% 3-pt
Noah Clowney: 6-foot-10, 210 pounds, freshman
Stats: 6.8 ppg, 10.5, rpg, 0.5 apg, 42.3% FG, 8.3% 3-pt
Charles Bediako: 7-foot, 225 pounds, freshman
Stats: 4.3 ppg, 6.8, rpg, 1.0 apg, 53.8% FG
Michigan State’s projected lineup
Tyson Walker: 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, senior
Stats: 13.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.8 apg, 46.7% FG, 35.3% 3-pt
A.J. Hoggard: 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, junior
Stats: 9.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 8.3 apg, 32.3% FG, 30.0% 3-pt
Joey Hauser: 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, graduate student
Stats: 14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 47.5% FG, 50% 3-pt
Malik Hall: 6-foot-8, 220 pounds, senior
Stats: 12.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.0 apg, 56.3% FG, 36.4% 3-pt
Mady Sissoko: 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, junior
Stats: 8.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 0.8 apg, 57.9% FG
Tide’s first big test
Alabama is looking to start the season 5-0 for the first time since its 2017-18 campaign. So far, the Crimson Tide has breezed through its non-conference schedule, beating all four of its opponents by double-digit points, including three wins of 20 or more points.
Thursday figures to be a different story as Alabama squares off against a Michigan State team that has already knocked off then-No. 4 Kentucky and Villanova as well as giving then-No. 2 Gonzaga a run for its money in a 1-point loss to the Bulldogs.
“We’re going to have to come out of the gate ready to play because they’ve played tougher teams,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said during a Zoom call Tuesday night. “At this point, it is what it is. We’ve got to be ready to go even though we haven’t quite played the schedule they’ve played. But I think we played some decent teams and played well against them.”
One of the biggest battles between Alabama and Michigan State will come on the boards.
Alabama leads the nation in rebounds per game (56.0), offensive rebounds per game (19.5) and rebound margin (24.5). Freshman forward Noah Clowney has provided the majority of the muscle down low, topping the SEC while ranking No. 21 nationally with 10.5 rebounds per game. Sophomore center Charles Bediako has also been key to the Crimson Tide’s success on the glass, ranking 19th national with 4.0 offensive rebounds per game.
Michigan State is currently averaging 38.5 rebounds per game and features a pair of scrappy forwards in Mady Sissoko (6.5 rebounds per game) and Joey Hauser (6.0 rpg).
“Coach Izzo’s teams are the best rebounding teams in the country just about every year,” Oats said. “They’re always one of the best rebounding teams. Can we rebound the ball against one of the premier rebounding programs in the country? That’s a test. Can our guys withstand the physicality of a tough Big Ten team and not let it get to their head? They’re going to obviously try to be physical with us. We’ve got to be men about it. They’re not going to call every foul. Some of the physicality isn’t a foul. It’s just tough, physical basketball. We’re going to have to handle it.
“Can we take care of the ball? Can we rebound it? Can we be physical without fouling? Can we handle their physicality without letting it get to our heads? Those are some of the big questions I’ve got.”
Alabama has dropped all three of its non-conference tournament openers under Oats. During the head coach’s first year in 2019, the Crimson Tide opened play in the Battle 4 Atlantis with a 76-67 defeat to then-No. 6 North Carolina. The following year, it fell 82-64 to open the Maui Invitational. Last season, Alabama opened the ESPN Events Invitational with a 72-68 loss to Iona.
Fortunately for Alabama, it’s generally been able to rebound from those losses. The Crimson Tide went 1-1 following its opening loss in the 2019 Battle 4 Atlantis but followed up opening defeats with back-to-back wins in both the 2020 Maui Invitational and last year’s ESPN Events Invitational. Still, those opening losses prevented the Tide from moving on in the winner’s bracket, ultimately depriving it of possible resume-boosting wins against top teams.
This week, Oats said he gave his team Saturday and Sunday off before returning to the court Monday and Tuesday in preparation for Thursday’s tournament opener against Michigan State.
“We want to make sure we’re fresh, but we also want to make sure we’re prepared,” Oats said. “I think the staff does a good job of preparing them. We got to make sure they’re mentally ready to go for this first round.”
Alabama will likely remain a bit short-handed during this weekend’s Phil Knight Invitational. Tuesday, Oats provided injury updates on Darius Miles and Dom Welch, stating that both have been limited in practice as they continue to deal with lower-body injuries.
“We don’t have our full roster yet,” Oats said Tuesday night. “Darius has been in practice a limited amount. Dom still has not done anything live in practice. Darius is starting to do live stuff. We’ll see how Darius is tomorrow as to whether he can go Thursday. I’d say he’s more probable than Dom right now, but they’re both still up in the air. So we’ll have 10 healthy players, for sure. Maybe 11. I don’t know. Hopefully, we get Darius back here soon, and then I think Dom will be a little bit behind Darius.”
Both Miles and Welch have worn walking boots while watching the past few games from the bench. Miles has missed Alabama’s last two games after playing in just seven minutes during the season opener against Longwood on Nov. 7. Welch, a St. Bonaventure transfer, has yet to make his Alabama debut.
Miles averaged 5.8 points and 3.3 rebounds over 17.2 minutes per game in 30 appearances for Alabama last season. Welch averaged 12.3 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 41.4 percent from the floor and 37.4 percent from beyond the arc for St. Bonaventure.
On a positive note, Oats said Jahvon Quinerly should be off his minutes restriction. The senior guard returned to the court earlier this month after missing the beginning of the season while rehabbing from a torn ACL he suffered during the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 18. Quinerly made his season debut at South Alabama on Nov. 15, logging four minutes in Alabama’s 65-55 win over the Jaguars. He recorded 6 points and eight assists over 17 minutes in the Crimson Tide’s victory over Jacksonville State on Nov. 18.
“He’s pretty much full ready to go now, like we can use him as we need,” Oats said. “It’s good to have him. I think he can break them down a little bit, collapse the defense, hopefully get us some 3s.”
— Alabama forward Brandon Miller is averaging 20.2 points per game, the most by any freshman in the country and No. 40 overall.
— Miller’s 3.75 3-pointers per game ranks 12th nationally.
— Alabama has made 44 3-pointers this season, the most under Nate Oats in the first four games of the
— Nate Oats used to work at Michigan State basketball camps during the summer when he was the head coach at Romulus High School in Michigan.
— Michigan State returns nine letter winners from last year’s team that finished 23-13 overall and 11-9 in the Big Ten and reached the NCAA Tournament for the 24th straight season. Head coach Tom Izzo welcomes back five players who started at least one game last year, and a trio of seniors – forwards Malik Hall and Joey Hauser and guard Tyson Walker – who have combined to play 278 games and started 177 games in their careers.
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