TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama was coming into the game Tuesday off the back of two straight games giving up 90 plus points in the Emerald Coast Classic. The arena changed, the lineup changed, and the opponent changed, and yet Alabama’s defense stayed the same.
This is quickly becoming a problem for Alabama, and one that does not, and will not get better quickly. In the first half Tuesday night against Clemson, Alabama held the Tigers to 33 points and .943 points-per-possession. The Crimson Tide only trailed at the half 33-31 because of the defense and how well they played.
What happened in the second half what nothing short of disastrous for Alabama, and it made aware just how much work was needed in order for this team to reach their goals. Clemson scored 52 points in the half, and went on multiple big runs to close out the game emphatically.
The points-per-possession ballooned to 1.269 for the Tigers by the games end, but that number finished at a terrible 1.625 . Clemson was able to get almost anything in the paint, which played right into their hands. Players like Grant Nelson, Jarin Stevenson, and some other guards were getting beat to the punch on the glass, and Clemson was able to get 12 second chance points from it.
This also meant that Clemson was able to slow the game down, which is a style that Alabama is not accustomed to playing against. Part of the reason Alabama lost this game was because every time they missed a shot, Clemson could wipe off at least 30 seconds, and sometimes more, off the clock before Alabama ever saw the ball again.
“I thought [Clemson’s] physicality bothered us,” Nate Oats said postgame.
The Alabama defense came up against a very similar style of team last year in March when they played San Diego State, in a game they lost. Slower paced, physical teams are kryptonite for Alabama over the past few years, and this loss shows it more than ever.
There is no Brandon Miller, Noah Clowney, or (crucially for this game) Charles Bediako to help this years team out on both ends of the floor. Alabama is not going into games with the most “talented” players on the court every game this year, and it makes sense that when this years team runs into a Clemson team that started three seniors, they get pushed around a little.
It is November still, and Alabama will have a game against Arkansas State before the gauntlet of Purdue, Arizona, and Creighton. But this is a sizeable issue that leaves stains on offensive performances that normally are not criticized.
In my previous article about the Emerald Coast Classic, I wrote that this game against Clemson is like a non-conference “mid-term.” The team played and looked good against Morehead, Indiana State, South Alabama, and Mercer before Thanksgiving. But this game, and more specifically the second half, was like getting a D on a midterm when you were at a B average in the class. The team might still be fine come seasons end, but right now there is a lot to improve.
Mark Sears said after the game that “We’re going to get [the defense] fixed,” and it needs to be true.
There is still a lot of games to be played, and we have not entered SEC play, yet there is still a lot of concern when you see how Alabama has played as of late. In their three toughest games so far (Ohio St., Oregon, and Clemson), Alabama has given up 92, 91, and 85 points. That won’t cut it when they play teams like Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn, and others down the road.
It will be a good look at the state of this team when they get to the Purdue game and have to guard Zach Edey down low. Or when they play Creighton who has the ability to shoot the lights out any given night. If the team responds well and can step up, then this worry will all be for not. But until Alabama shows the ability to stop teams on defense when it matters the most, then this group will become just an average team that fans will soon forget.
Alabama snapped a 19 game home winning streak on Tuesday, and as Nate Oats said: “You need to give the crowd something to cheer for.”