By Chris DePew
Aug. 11, 2017
After two wins in three exhibition games in Canada this week, Alabama basketball returns home to an energized fan base expecting an end to the NCAA tournament drought. But there are still questions to answer and many things to improve on before the Nov. 10 season opener against Memphis. Here are a few things we learned from Bama’s summer session.
The breakout star may not be who we expected: In any other Alabama recruiting class, John Petty would have been endlessly hyped as a basketball deity in the making. But with so much attention on Collin Sexton, a homegrown five-star shooting guard somehow became a second banana in many people’s minds.
No one is reducing Petty to an afterthought now. In the first game of the trip he drained six 3-pointers (from the slightly longer international line), went 8-for-10 from the field and finished with 22 points and five rebounds in just 16 minutes as the Crimson Tide routed McGill 96-57. And while his shooting cooled off the next two games, he still added 16 points at Carleton and 11 versus Ottawa.
Petty has an accurate, almost-instantaneous release that should drive opponents nuts this winter, especially with a point guard who can set him up for success. It is no coincidence that his biggest struggle (4-for-11 shooting) came in the 81-71 win at Ottawa. A banged-up Sexton sat the game out and Petty looked much less comfortable trying to create his own shot off the dribble.
It’s finally time to buckle up: With more talent on hand, coach Avery Johnson looks more willing to unleash the uptempo attack he’s promised was coming ever since arriving in Tuscaloosa. Alabama’s fast break was sometimes lethal and sometimes out of control this week, but it kept looking to push the ball upcourt as much as possible, both with and without Sexton. After back-to-back plodding seasons as one of the NCAA’s least-efficient offenses, the Tide seemed to thrive under the FIBA shot clock rules (24 seconds, resetting only to 14 on offensive rebounds).
What’s less clear is whether centers Donta Hall or Daniel Giddens will be able to keep up with the faster pace. Giddens had 13 points in the rout of overmatched McGill but scored just five apiece in the next two games. Hall finally broke through for 11 points against Ottawa after combining for 10 points in his first two games. Neither was able to score much in a humbling 84-71 loss to Carleton.
We still haven’t seen the starting five on the floor: The difference between a promising but erratic team and one that can contend for the SEC and make a deep tournament run may come down to how Dazon Ingram’s foot heals. The sophomore combo guard seems more likely to turn over full-time duties at the point to Sexton, but he’s almost certain to join him and Petty in a three-guard starting backcourt. And Ingram is likely to slide back to point guard when Sexton is resting, because there is still a clear separation between his skills and those of Avery Johnson Jr.
The intrigue comes up front. Braxton Key is safely penciled in as a starter while Giddens will push Hall at center. But if neither big man breaks through or if Johnson wants to exploit matchups, he could use Riley Norris at forward and make Key an undersized post player for a speedier lineup. Ar’Mond Davis will return to be the ninth player in the rotation. Freshmen Alex Reese and Herb Jones are on-the-fence candidates to redshirt, while Galin Smith almost certainly will sit out his first year at Bama.
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