Tide points to guard play for win streak
The biggest question facing the University of Alabama basketball team prior to the season still has not been answered. It has not yet found one - and only one - point guard to replace All-American Ronald Steele, who is sitting out the season because of ailing knees.
For coach Mark Gottfried, that is good news.
The consistently solid play of freshman Rico Pickett and sophomore Mikhail Torrance has forced that promising reality.
Pickett has started the previous seven games. But Torrance has kept the heat on him, even dishing out a season-high 10 assists with just one turnover in 15 minutes of the blowout win over George Washington.
Today, the Crimson Tide (10-3) hopes to build on its six-game winning streak against No. 19 Clemson (11-1), its last, tough out-of-conference opponent before the Southeastern Conference season begins. When it tips off at 3:30 p.m. at Coleman Coliseum, it may not matter which ballhandler is on the floor.
"Both are doing a terrific job," Gottfried said, "but the main thing is that they're not turning the ball over. It's been this way all year long. They move the ball. The open man has it."
Alabama is a sterling second in the SEC with a 1.38 assist-to-turnover ratio. It is fifth in the SEC in assists with 16.69 per game.
Against the Colonials, the Tide put on a virtual clinic for distributing the ball.
Alabama scored 35 baskets on 25 assists and committed only 10 turnovers. That helped the team shoot 48 percent (35 of 73) from the field and 46 percent (11 of 24) from 3-point land.
"They are just getting us the ball," said junior Alonzo Gee, who is averaging 15.7 points per game. "We're having fun playing together and sharing the ball."
The starter alongside guards Alonzo Gee and Mykal Riley, and forwards Richard Hendrix and Demetrius Jemison hasn't mattered much. With Pickett starting, the Tide is 7-1. It is 2-0 with Torrance.
The need to take care of the ball is as relevant today as ever. The Tigers, who are 2-1 against SEC opponents, is fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in turnover margin, forcing 19.1 per game. They are third in the conference with 81.9 points per game.
What could prove challenging is that, while they press and apply pressure, they are also physical.
To help handle it all, one may see more of guard Brandon Hollinger, the former point guard who has found a home at shooting guard. His prowess as a substitute on the wing has contributed to the team ball-handling success nearly as much as the improvement of Torrance and Pickett.
Alabama hopes to continue its hot streak that began right before the break for finals and has continued through Christmas break and into the New Year.
"We are maturing," Gottfried said. "And I think now we're building confidence. It's taken us a while to get here and we can obviously get a lot better but we are playing pretty well right now."