After opening the season with a comfortable four wins, Alabama’s No. 18 basketball moves into the meaty part of his non-conference schedule this week as he participates in the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon.
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 through Sunday with each team guaranteed to play in at least three games. Winners will advance in the winner bracket, while losers will fall in the loser bracket.
First up for Alabama is a Thanksgiving Day matchup against Michigan State, as the Crimson Tide and Spartans kick off at 9:30 pm CT on Thursday. Here’s everything you need to know about the matchup.
how to look
Who: No. 18 Alabama (4-0) vs. No. 12 Michigan State (3-1)
When: 9:30 p.m. CT, Thursday, November 24
Where: Fashion Center, Portland, Oregon.
Clock: 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 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 ft 9 in, 200 lbs, 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
Carlos Bediako: 7-foot, 225-pound, freshman
Stats: 4.3 ppg, 6.8, rpg, 1.0 apg, 53.8% FG
Michigan State 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 ft 9 in, 220 lbs, grad student
Stats: 14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 47.5% FG, 50% 3-pt
Malik Room: 6-foot-8, 220 pounds, senior
Stats: 12.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.0 apg, 56.3% FG, 36.4% 3-pt
Mady Sisoko: 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 looks to start the season 5-0 for the first time since its 2017-18 campaign. So far, the Crimson Tide have quickly topped their non-conference schedule, outscoring all four of their opponents by double-digit points, including three wins of 20 or more points.
Thursday looks to be a different story as Alabama faces a Michigan State team that has already defeated then-No. 4 Kentucky and Villanova, as well as giving then-No. 2 Gonzaga a run for his money in a 1-point loss. against the Bulldogs.
“We’re going to have to come out 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 have to be ready to play even though we haven’t played the schedule they’ve played. But I think we played against some decent teams and we played well against them.”
One of the biggest battles between Alabama and Michigan State will hit the boards.
Alabama leads the nation in rebounds per game (56.0), offensive rebounds per game (19.5), and rebounding margin (24.5). Rookie forward Noah Clowney has provided most of the muscle down, leading the SEC and ranking 21st nationally with 10.5 rebounds per game. Second-year center Charles Bediako has also been key to the Crimson Tide’s cup success, ranking 19th nationally with 4.0 offensive rebounds per game.
Michigan State is currently averaging 38.5 rebounds per game and boasts a pair of struggling 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 almost every year,” Oats said. “They are always one of the best rebounding teams. Can we rebound the ball against one of the top rebounding programs in the country? That is a test. Can our guys handle the physique of a tough Big Ten team and not let it go to their heads? Obviously they are going to try to be physical with us. We have to be men about it. They will not point out all the faults. Some of the physicality is not a lack. It is a hard and physical basketball. We’re going to have to handle it.
“Can we take care of the ball? Can we bounce it? Can we be physical without making a mess? Can we handle its physicality without letting it go to our heads? Those are some of the big questions I have.”
Alabama has lost its first three non-conference tournaments under Oats. During the head coach’s first year in 2019, the Crimson Tide opened play in Battle 4 Atlantis with a 76-67 loss to then-No. 6 North Carolina. The following year, he 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 has generally been able to rebound from those losses. The Crimson Tide went 1-1 following their opening loss at 2019’s Battle 4 Atlantis, but followed up opening losses with back-to-back wins at both the 2020 Maui Invitational and last year’s ESPN Events Invitational. Still, those early losses kept the Tide from advancing in the winner’s bracket, ultimately depriving them of potential resume-boosting wins against top teams.
This week, Oats said he rested his team Saturday and Sunday before returning to the field Monday and Tuesday in preparation for Thursday’s 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 preparing them. We have to make sure they are mentally ready for this first round.”
Alabama is likely to be a bit shorthanded during this weekend’s Phil Knight Invitational. On Tuesday, Oats provided updates on the injuries to 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 list yet,” Oats said Tuesday night. “Darius has been in practice a limited amount. Sun hasn’t done anything live in practice yet. Darius is starting to do live stuff. We’ll see how Darius is doing tomorrow as to whether he can go on Thursday. I’d say it’s more likely Dom at this point, but they’re both still up in the air. So we will have 10 healthy players, for sure. Maybe 11. I don’t know. Hopefully, we’ll get Darius back here soon, and then I think Dom will be a bit behind Darius.”
Both Miles and Welch have worn walking boots while watching recent games from the sidelines. Miles has missed Alabama’s last two games after playing just seven minutes during the season opener against Longwood on Nov. 7. Welch, a transfer from St. Bonaventure, has yet to make his Alabama debut.
Miles averaged 5.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game in 30 appearances for Alabama last season. Welch averaged 12.3 points and 6.0 rebounds on 41.4 percent shooting from the ground and 37.4 percent from beyond the arc for St. Bonaventure.
On a positive note, Oats said that Jahvon Quinerly should be off his minute restriction. The senior guard returned to the court earlier this month after missing the start of the season while rehabbing 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 November 15. him logging four minutes in Alabama’s 65-55 win over the Jaguars. He recorded 6 points and eight assists in 17 minutes in the Crimson Tide’s win over Jacksonville State on November 18.
“It’s pretty full and ready to play now, like we can use it whenever we need it,” Oats said. “It’s good to have it. I think he can break them down a little bit, collapse the defense and hopefully get us some 3-pointers.”
— Alabama forward Brandon Miller is averaging 20.2 points per game, the most of 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 season.
— 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 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 they started 177 games in their careers.