Alabama vs. Arkansas State Game Thread

With the Emerald Coast Classic and ACC-SEC Challenge now in the rearview mirror for the 2023-24 campaign, one thing is pretty clear about this year’s unranked Alabama team — they can’t defend anything. At least not now. A four-game streak of dominant layoffs to start the season had many Tide Hoops fans hoping that the layoff from last season’s historic team might not be too significant, but those hopes were dashed in a five-day span right after Thanksgiving.

Look, Clemson and Ohio State are good basketball teams; as well as Oregon, which the Tide defeated in Destin. Clemson will be fighting for the ACC crown this season. All three are potential NCAA Tournament teams. Still, giving up an average of 89.3 PPG and watching your Defensive Efficiency tank from the mid-40s to the 80s in just three games is a truly impressive waste. What’s really the most troubling aspect of it is that, structurally, I don’t know what Nate Oats can really do to make meaningful changes. It’s abundantly clear that the big men on this team aren’t good enough to defend the interior or even close down defensive possessions with rebounds at a high rate, let alone make much of an impact on the offensive end. I really hate to mention names, but if Nick Pringle and Mo Wague are the best the Tide has at the top five, we may have to adjust our expectations for this season.

Wague will get every chance to prove the doubters wrong tonight as Pringle is also now serving a suspension:

Now, with all of that being said, there can certainly still be incremental improvements that each player can make in order for the defense to play at least at an acceptable enough level that the Tide can outscore their opponents on most nights. And to be fair to the boys, he wasn’t really there any time to fix anything between the Ohio State and Clemson games. With a full week of practice and film time, hopefully we’ll start to see some noticeable improvements, whether it’s player development, team chemistry or coaching adjustments. And man, we need those improvements as soon as possible, because after tonight, Alabama begins an absolute challenge of a three-game road trip against #4 Purdue, #10 Creighton, and #1 Arizona – the last two of which are true road games. A 6-5 start to the season is the most likely outcome at this point.

Tonight, the focus is clearly on their own improvement, as Alabama welcomes Bryan Hodgson and his Arkansas State Red Wolves (2-6) to Coleman Coliseum. Hodgson, of course, was one of Nate’s top assistants in his first four years in Tuscaloosa — and one of three to get head coaching gigs after last season. Unfortunately for Hodge, his Red Wolves…are no good. About the only thing they do well is hit the glass for offensive rebounds, ranking them 64th in the country. If you thought Alabama had trouble on defense, wait until you get the load of Arkansas State. They’re 236th in defensive efficiency in large part because they foul like crazy (345th in opponent free throw rate) despite not forcing any turnovers (331st in opponent TO%), and they allow the most three-point attempts in the country. Not exactly a recipe for a win against a team coached by Nate Oats. Let’s hope Hodge has better days ahead.

But hopefully those days don’t start tonight. The game will begin at 7:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network. The tide is favorable on 5/24.

EDIT: And just as I’m about to post this, apparently true new wing Kris Parker is going through warmups:

Either Oats is really desperate, or he has an ace up his sleeve. Or a bit of both!

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