Alabama Basketball turns a corner as Mack blooms and Avery Johnson adjusts

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 15: John Petty /

Alabama basketball was in need of an early win so Avery Johnson changed his player rotation and Tevin Mack took charge as the Tide easily handled Ball State 79-61.

There are no must-win games in November but Alabama basketball came close to having one against Ball State. The Crimson Tide was expected to dispense with Northeastern, allowing it to move on to Virginia Tech and potentially another top team. Expectations had no relation to reality. A listless Alabama basketball team was rolled over by good but not great Northeastern team, sending the Tide to the Charleston Classic loser’s bracket.

A loss on Friday to Ball State would have gone beyond the already missed chances to enhance the Tide SOS. It would have said the Crimson Tide was on track for a disappointing season.

On Friday, the Tide was as sharp as it was flat on Thursday. Alabama basketball, if it is to become a perennial NCAA Tournament team, must beat teams like Northeastern and the Ball State. Both mid-majors are potentially good enough for NCAA bids, but neither match Alabama basketball in talent.

Several things stood out on Friday. The ball movement was crisp and productive. Alabama basketball had 22 assists on 33 made baskets. Balance that against 14 turnovers and the Tide offense grades high on playing smart basketball. That assist-to-turnover ratio, plus blocks (5) and steals (4), will win most games.

What stood out most was Avery Johnson and Tevin Mack

Avery Johnson surprised most Alabama basketball fans by using a more traditional player rotation pattern. Avery used just seven players for 94 percent of the first-half minutes. Starters, Donta Hall, Galin Smith, John Petty, Herbert Jones and Kira Lewis, shared that block of time with Dazon Ingram and Tevin Mack. Subs, Avery Johnson Jr. got five minutes while Alex Reese played less than a minute.

Many Alabama basketball fans hope Avery’s adjustment is a new pattern to be followed throughout the season. It can be argued the eighth player in the rotation should be Alex Reese getting more minutes than AJ Jr. Perhaps that will happen when an added three-point boost is needed from Reese.

The other new development was the sudden blossoming of Tevin Mack. Mack had 20 points in 23 minutes to lead the Tide in scoring. He was 5-for-9, outside the arc. Mack’s performance resembled his play for Texas two seasons ago. It also matched what Alabama basketball insiders said throughout his transfer season about him being the Tide’s best offensive player in practices.

It will be interesting if Avery Johnson Sr. and Tevin can provide repeat performances Sunday afternoon against Wichita State. If the Crimson Tide can leave Charleston at 4-1 on the season, some of the damage in missing out on playing higher-ranked teams will be erased.

Next. Kira Lewis will be better than Collin Sexton. dark

November is a busy month for Alabama basketball. After the Charleston Classic, the Tide has November games against Murray State and UCF.