Alabama Basketball: 5 Things We Learned from Puerto Rico
It was paradise in San Juan for Alabama.
After failing miserable in an early season invitational last season, the Crimson Tide went 3-0 to capture the Puerto Rico Tip-off this time around.
This was a very solid three-game stretch for Anthony Grant and company, moving the Tide to 5-0 and more than likely somewhere close to the top 10 teams in the nation.
What did we learn from Alabama's performance in Puerto Rico?
Defense Is Still Key for Alabama
If teams want to score on Alabama, they'd better be ready to earn it.
Easy looks and scores aren't luxuries the Crimson Tide are willing to yield on the court.
Through five games, Alabama is holding their opponents to a very cold 31 percent from the field. Opposing players with an open look against Anthony Grant's team better take advantage, as those looks are very rare.
Alabama is relentless on this end of the floor, but they're also very versatile.
The Tide will switch from man-to-man to zone defense with full court pressure or half-court traps without skipping a beat, no matter what lineup Grant puts out there.
Alabama forced 18 turnovers against Wichita State in the Puerto Rico Tip-off semifinal and blocked 14 shots, the latter of which is a new tournament record.
It's this defensive effort that allows Alabama to develop as a better offensive team, which we have seen flashes of this season.
Alabama Still Suffers from Offensive Droughts
It's obvious Alabama's strength is their defense, and it's a good thing.
Offensively, Alabama has seen improvement, but they sill appear to be plagued by long scoreless droughts that test their defensive prowess.
Alabama took a 17-5 lead on Purdue with 12:17 left in the first half.
The Crimson Tide would not score again until a Trevor Releford layup with 3:32 remaining. That's almost a nine-minute span with zero points.
Even during Alabama's remarkable run through the second half of last season, the Tide were hampered by very long stretches of no offense.
The difference this season is Alabama is even better on defense.
And the scoring for Alabama is only going to get better as freshmen Randolph, Lacy and Cooper find their places in the offense.
Developing Depth Down Low
It's no secret JaMychal Green is Alabama's best frontcourt player.
He's a dynamic player on both ends of the court and really might be the most important cog in this team.
But even a player of his caliber needs some help, and Alabama thought they had that help in 7'0" sophomore Moussa Gueye.
Gueye, a native of Senegal, was rated by most recruiting services as a four-star prospect and big score for Anthony Grant.
Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in a preseason pick-up game and is out.
Enter Carl Engstrom and Nick Jacobs. The 7'0" sophomore and 6'8" freshmen have been serving key minutes in Alabama's young season.
Engstrom's length creates problems for teams down low, and he has been rebounding well. Offensively, he is no threat, yet. He's too slow to make a move and has terrible hands.
Jacobs reminds me of Richard Hendrix. A big bruiser down low, he can rebound but also creates space around the basket to score.
While having Gueye back would be best, Alabama do know they have capable players who can play key minutes if needed.
Tony Mitchell Is the Man
I'm not sure who got more excited about Tony Mitchell's thunderous jams in Puerto Rico—me or Hubert Davis on the ESPN broadcast.
Coming into the season, we all knew Mitchell could fly through the air and throw down dunks with the best of them.
Now, Mitchell can step back and knock down a mid-range jumper or three-point shot.
If he can keep this up consistently, he will become a very big problem for teams to defend.
Do you stay off him and allow a face up situation where he drains the jumper or do you play him tight and allow his strength and speed to slash to the basket?
Not only is he knocking these shots down, they aren't bad shots. He isn't forcing the issue and if this keeps going, he might be forcing his way into a lottery pick.
Newly Found Swagger
Watching this Alabama team over the weekend, I never really felt as if they were in danger of losing any games in the tournament.
Watching Tide hoops in the past meant waiting for the lead to be blown or for the opponent to wake up and assert themselves.
But so far, when the game hasn't gone their way or shots have stopped falling, Alabama has just kept going along without panicking.
This November has been the antithesis of what we saw a year ago when Alabama collapsed early on.
I know it's early, but the Tide look like a potential top 10 program right now. It should be an exciting season.