Penn State vs. Alabama Preview: Making the Case for a Top 25 Ranking

By Dan Smith on December 13, 2019 at 8:00 am
Dec 21, 2018; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide guard Herbert Jones (10) shoots the ball as Penn State Nittany Lions forward Lamar Stevens (11) defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at Coleman Coliseum.
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
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Alabama Crimson Tide
4-4 (0-0 SEC)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
2:00 p.m. ET – Saturday, Dec. 14
Bryce Jordan Center
University Park, PA
Watch Info: BTN | GAMETRACKER
KenPom Rank: 84
Read: Penn State Beats No. 4 Maryland

To help scout the Crimson Tide, we touched base with Brent Taylor of Roll Bama Roll. You can follow him on Twitter at @btbama22 and read his Alabama men's basketball coverage at rollbamaroll.com.

The start of the 2019-20 season for Penn State has been about as successful as one could have hoped. The Nittany Lions (8-2, 1-1 Big Ten) have played a quality schedule and emerged with several good wins. They got their best one yet on Tuesday night after knocking off undefeated Maryland, the 4th-ranked team in the nation.

The next AP Poll comes out on Monday, and in the meantime, there is one more game for head coach Patrick Chambers and his squad to make their case to be included in it. They host Alabama on Saturday afternoon, in the return game from last season's matchup in Tuscaloosa. The Tide took that game 73-64.

It was an offseason of turnover for the Tide, after failing to make the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Avery Johnson was fired, and Buffalo head coach Nate Oats was hired in his place. Oats came to Alabama after taking the Bulls to two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

Tasked with revamping Alabama's roster on the fly, Oats has been stymied at every turn. Junior college transfer forward James Rojas tore his ACL in September. Four-star freshman forward Juwan Gary then tore his ACL a month later. And while he added former 5-star guard Jahvon Quinerly, the Villanova transfer was denied a waiver and will sit out his true sophomore season in 2019-20.

"We probably set our expectations too high in the offseason, expecting a bunch of players from a previous coaching staff to be able to immediately adapt to a new style of play," Taylor said of the fan reaction to Oats. "Then two of Oats' new players went down with ACL injuries before the season, and a third didn't get the transfer waiver we all expected."

Still, it is early in the season, and the team is learning.

"The 4-4 record has been a bit disappointing, but we've also seen the team slowly getting more comfortable with the new offense," said Taylor. "Hopes are still high for this season, as well as the future of the program."

Projected Starters
Penn State Alabama
G Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Jr. G Kira Lewis - 6'3" - So.
G Myles Dread - 6'4" - So. G John Petty - 6'5" - Jr.
G Myreon Jones - 6'3" - So. G Herbert Jones - 6'7" - Jr.
F Lamar Stevens - 6'8" - Sr. F Javian Davis - 6'9" - Fr. 
F Mike Watkins - 6'9" - Sr. F Alex Reese - 6'9" - Jr.

Scouting report (feat. Brent Taylor of Roll Bama Roll)

Star point guard Kira Lewis was a key contributor last season, including in Alabama's win over Penn State. But he is being relied on very heavily this season, and may have hit a bit of a sophomore slump.

"Lewis continues to be a dynamic scorer from the point guard spot, especially with his knack for knifing through small spaces for layups," Taylor said. "However, he hasn't yet shown major improvement from his freshman season, and is struggling a bit with turnovers this year."

Oats brings a new style to the team that pushes the pace. It has had mixed results with the current roster.

"The high pace of play is leading to a lot of points," said Taylor, mentioning the current 80 point-per-night offense and high rate of three point attempts. "However, this is a brand new basketball philosophy ... Oats is trying to teach some old dogs new tricks and [trying to] undo bad habits. It's led to a huge uptick in turnovers so far this season."

Alabama's transition offense leads to a lot of three point looks, and the Crimson Tide have some shooters who can cash in.

"Once John Petty hits a three pointer, look out," Taylor warned. "He's always been a streaky, high-volume three-point shooter, and now the offense gives him even more volume. He's carried the team in multiple game this year. Lewis and freshman Jaden Shackleford are also high volume three-point shooters who can get hot and do some major damage in a hurry."

Penn State will need to attack Alabama with a similar fast-paced three-point attack. Fortunately, this year's team is better equipped to handle that than just about any other in the Chambers era.

keys to the game

  • Win the turnover battle. Penn State won the Maryland game largely on the back of forcing 20 turnovers and mostly avoiding sloppiness on their own end. Alabama's intense tempo opens up the door for sloppy play to be a killer, but they are a mistake-prone team in their own right. The Nittany Lions should continue to be aggressive and take advantage of the sloppy playing style of their opponent.
  • Defend the perimeter, including in transition. Alabama shoots threes as frequently as almost any team in the country, and they have shot the ball well. They have to find shooters like Petty and Lewis in transition and keep them uncomfortable as they continue to fire away.
  • Even out the FTA disparity. Let's not get crazy and suggest Penn State shoot more free throws than their opponent, but we can certainly push for some balance. Maryland hung around on Tuesday by getting to the line and making their first 12 attempts, while Penn State did not attempt a free throw until there were four minutes remaining in the game. Stay out of foul trouble, and force some contact on the offensive end.

Prediction

Brent: Ultimately, Alabama's defense just can't hold the Nittany Lions. Penn State 84, Alabama 76

Dan: Alabama wants to push the pace, but Penn State does not mind doing so. They will want to make a statement after Tuesday's win that they are worthy of being ranked for the first time since 1996. And they have shown that they are more resilient than teams of the past, bouncing back nicely from tough losses to Ole Miss and Ohio State. Penn State 85, Alabama 75

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