• Game 6: Alabama (3-2) vs. Notre Dame (4-1)
• Date: Nov. 28, 2015
• Place: HP Fieldhouse; Orlando, Fla.
• Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPNU
• Opponent Nickname: Crimson Tide
• Head coach: Avery Johnson
• Conference: SEC
• Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
• 2014-15 record: 19-15 (8-10)
Not all has gone according to plan in the 2015 Advocare Invitational. Marquee teams Wichita State and Notre Dame are a combined 1-3 entering the tournament’s final rounds, but Mike Brey’s Irish today have a chance to emerge from November at 5-1 with a pair of power conference victories on their resume.
Today’s foe Alabama – coached by former San Antonio Spurs point guard Avery Johnson – registered its mild upset over Wichita State Friday due in part to the continued absence of Shockers star point guard Fred VanVleet. The Crimson Tide had previously lost to Xavier 64-45 Thursday and earlier this season was run off the floor by Dayton, 80-48. (The Musketeers and Flyers, coincidentally, will play for the Advocare Invitational title Sunday.)
Johnson features a balanced attack, both in production and usage, with seven players averaging between 19 and 27 minutes per game and eighth man Donta Hall (6’10” 205) providing an extra spark of athleticism off the bench. Junior forward Shannon Hale leads the Crimson Tide at 12.6 points per game, aided by senior guard Retin Obasohan (10.2 ppg) and freshman swingman Dazon Ingram (9 points and 7 boards).
Notre Dame is listed as a 10-point favorite in today’s contest.
The off-season losses of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton continue to plague the Irish offense, a group that’s struggled with its spacing and flow through five outings. Notre Dame’s exacerbated its expected early season growing pains with uncharacteristic struggles as marksman, missing 14 of 32 free throws and a whopping 31 of its 47 three-point shots.
The inside pairing of Bonzie Colson and Zach Auguste remains a work in progress, but its clear the two rank among the squad’s five best weapons, necessitating their dual presence. If the two are to play in tandem the Irish attack will sacrifice spacing, but it cannot continue to lose the battle of the boards as well – Notre Dame surrendered 15 offensive rebounds to Iowa in Friday’s 68-62 victory.
If Brey goes big, his power forward combination will have to reward the head coach with a better performance on the glass.
A BIG BOOST
Lending a hand of late – and thus credence to a return to the 4-around-1 offensive attack – are backups Matt Ryan and Matt Farrell. The pair has played a combined 70 minutes in Orlando, getting 11 crucial points from the freshman Ryan in the aforementioned win over the Hawkeyes and a pair of assists and three-point bucket from Farrell during a decisive 25-7 run near the end of the first half.
Brey was bullish on the pair exiting the pre-season and it appears both have cemented their roles as sixth and seventh-men in what is, at present, a seven-man rotation.
Austin Torres served briefly as an eighth option Friday, contributing an assist and blocked shot in five first half minutes. The Irish attack could benefit down the road should Torres continue to contribute similarly as an athlete aiding the weak side defense and rebounding efforts.
Lost in the offense’s clunky early-season output is the emergence of junior forward V.J. Beachem. Beachem hit for 14 points and 9 rebounds in Thursday’s loss to Monmouth, then responded with a team-high 16 points and five boards against Iowa.
“He has answered the bell down here both nights," Brey told reporters Friday night. "I just think he's really confident. He's defending, he's rebounding; he's making big shots. He really feels like he belongs as a starter."
The bulk of Beachem’s offense has been produced from beyond the arc, with 11 of his 14 field goals in Orlando occurring from long range. The next step for Beachem would be the occasional two-dribble pull-up and backdoor cut to augment his efforts from long range.
Beachem has attempted just one free throw this weekend in 74 game minutes. A few forays closer to the hoop could help create space for others over the course of a contest.