The University of Alabama men's basketball team was able to salvage a trip to Asheville, N.C. for the 2020 Maui Invitational by defeating UNLV and Providence in back-to-back outings after getting blown out by Stanford on Monday night.
Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats and his bunch currently sit at 3-1 and will have 10 days between now and its next game, which is a trip to Atlanta to face Clemson inside State Farm Arena for Holiday Hoopsgiving.
Here is what we learned from Alabama's time spent in 'Maui in the Mountains':
Welcome to College Basketball, Josh Primo
Alabama's highest-rated recruit coming into this season was five-star freshman guard Josh Primo, and while he flashed against Jacksonville State in the season-opener at times, his real coming-out party was against the Runnin' Rebels and Friars.
Over the least two games, the native Canadian poured in 11 and 15 points, respectively. Combined, he went 6-of-12 from three-point range and provided a spark off the bench in both wins.
His impact was really felt in the 88-71 victory over Providence on Wednesday, where he recorded a team-high plus/minus of plus-23.
Having been hampered by a hip injury that cost him some practice time, Oats says he is just now getting more and more comfortable within the offense
"I thought he was really good in the summer,” Oats said. “I’m not surprised by his [impact] at all. He’s a good shooter. He’s 6-foot-6. He plays hard. He’s tough, physical. He can rebound it. He’s giving us really good minutes off the bench."
Fans have to remember that Primo is only 17 years old so he really hasn't even scratched the surface yet of what he can be. With him continuing to grow, then mix in guards John Petty Jr. and Jaden Shackelford and this team could re-write the 3-point records it broke a season ago.
"I was really happy with the minutes he has given us," Oats said after the UNLV game. "If he keeps playing like that, he will get more."
Herb Jones' Offensive Progression
Most of the chatter around the Crimson Tide program this offseason was senior wing Herb Jones and his development on the offensive end of the floor.
And he answered any questions about that, in just three games at Maui he averaged 11.6 points and went 16-of-25 from the field, which is shooting at a clip of 64 percent. He also buried two three-pointers which is one more than he made all of the 2019-2020 campaign.
It's amazing what you can accomplish without dealing with a fractured wrist or hyper-extended elbow like he did throughout his junior season.
"He's spent a ton of time in the gym all offseason," Oats said. "I've been telling you guys all fall that he's really trying to be a pro. He starts hitting jumpers like he's hitting them right now and he's playing a lot of point guard when Quinerly comes out. He's going to get a triple-double this year.
"He's been playing as good as anybody on our team through the first three months of practice here. I'm really happy to see his shots go down for him, see his hard work pay off."
There was the five turnovers against Providence, but as his decision-making goes up from gaining more experience at the point-guard position when Alabama goes with its big lineup, you can expect that number to go down over the long haul of a season.
Defensively, Jones was his normal self recording four steals and one block in these three games. Match his defensive prowess with occasionally hitting a three-pointer here or there, and you have one of the best two-way players in the country.
Effort, Intensity Much Better Over Last Two Games
Oats questioned and challenged his team's effort after the 18-point drilling to Stanford, and by the way they responded, especially with how they crashed the glass against Providence, out-rebounding the Friars by 20, he has to be more than pleased.
Petty told reporters after the win against UNLV that the players had a meeting where they asked each other to look in the mirror and ask theirselves, deep-down, what they wanted this season to be about.
Well, the outing against Stanford appears it could have been a one-off.
"Over this three-day span," Jones said. "I saw my teammates respond to whatever coach needed us to do. Like, after the first game, he challenged us to be tougher and play harder and that's what I felt like we came out and did."
So what did Oats learn about his squad after playing three days in a row?
"How hard you have to play," Oats said. "How hard it is to get a win in high-major Division 1 basketball and the attention to detail that it takes to get a win. I mean, you let up for one-half second on the defensive end and you give up a three. Do that three or four times or give up how many we gave to Stanford, that puts the game out of reach.
"We practice hard, but games are different than practice. There's a level you gotta bring to a game to win and I didn't think we had it at first, but I think we have it now. We have grown a lot in that area and if it took that loss to Stanford to get us there, then so be it.
"I think we have a good team and I'm looking forward to seeing what we do against Clemson."