Emerald Coast Classic Preview: Chris Holtmann Says Alabama Will Challenge Ohio State With “Best Offense We'll Face All Year”

By Andy Anders on November 24, 2023 at 7:30 am
Mark Sears
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 1 scoring offense in all of college basketball awaits Ohio State on Friday.

 Crimson tide
4 - 0
Raider arena
Niceville, Fl

The second ranked opponent the Buckeyes have seen in their young season, No. 17 Alabama is off to a 4-0 start in 2023-24 after the Crimson Tide secured the No. 1 overall seed in last year's NCAA Tournament as the SEC's regular season and tournament champions.

Fresh off a game in which its offense burst out to a 7-of-10 start from 3 and an initial 30-9 lead that led to an easy 73-56 win over Western Michigan, Ohio State's defense gets a major challenge in Alabama.

"It’s likely to be the best offense we face all year," Holtmann said. "I think that’s pretty likely. Their pace, the way they can put (Grant) Nelson in difficult situations for you to guard. Their personnel is very good. Their scheme is great."

The tilt between the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide is the second game for both teams in the Emerald Coast Classic. The winner of the matchup between Ohio State and Alabama will face the winner of Oregon and Santa Clara on Saturday at 7 p.m. while the loser will play the loser of that contest at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Need to Know

Score, score, score the ball

In four games this season, Alabama averages 101.8 points a game. The vast majority of teams across college basketball haven't scored 101 points in a single contest and many won't throughout the entire season. The Crimson Tide have collected 105, 102, 102 and 98 points in the four games they've played so far, albeit all against mid-major opponents.

The production isn't just the result of pace either, as Alabama leads the country in points per 100 possessions with 139.9. So not only are they the best offense in terms of putting points on the board, they're the most efficient this season, too. Last year the Tide were seventh in the nation with 81.8 points per contest.

All of Alabama's numbers won't change Ohio State's approach, however.

"I think defensively, it's going to be the challenge in terms of figuring out how to slow down what they do," Holtmann said. "Like I said, they have really good personnel and great spacing."

Volume of threes

Alabama took the most 3-point attempts in all of college basketball a year ago, averaging 29.5 attempts per game from distance. The Crimson Tide were just 215th in 3-point percentage at 33.5, but the points generated from their high volume of 3-point attempts helped fuel their above-mentioned No. 7 scoring offense.

This year, the team's taken a step back in terms of attempts but a step up in efficiency. Alabama has fired off an average of 22 threes in its four games, sinking 48.9% of them thus far.

Three Important Buckeyes

Bruce Thornton

Ohio State doesn't want to deviate from its typical game plan, which means as much as ever, things on the offensive side will flow through Thornton, the team's star point guard. Averaging 15.3 points and 4.5 assists per game so far this year, the Buckeyes will hope to get the high end of his production.

"We're going to be aggressive. We're not going to change up too much of how we play," Holtmann said. "I thought we played with great pace last game and it was great to be able to see a man defense ... we're going to play with great pace, play with aggressiveness."

Roddy Gayle Jr.

The high-flying Gayle has been Ohio State's top scorer so far in 2023-24, averaging 18.7 points per game while shooting 54.5% from the field. If the Buckeyes are to keep pace with Alabama, he'll need to generate plenty of offense.

Felix Okpara

Okpara's development as a rebounder and offensive weapon to complement strong defense (averaging 2.5 blocks per game so far in 2023-24) continues to be of paramount importance for Ohio State this year. Alabama starts two forwards that stand 6-10 or taller, so Okpara will need to maintain momentum from his 11-rebound outing against the Broncos.

Three notable members of the Crimson Tide

Mark Sears

Projected Starting Lineup
No. Player Position Height Weight 2023-24 Stats
1 Mark Sears G 6-1 185 19.5 PPG, 4.5 APG
55 Aaron Estrada G 6-4 207 15.3 PPG, 3.0 APG
3 Rylan Griffen G 6-5 180 7.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG
23 Nick Pringle F 6-10 230 8.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG
2 Grant Nelson F 6-11 230 13.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG

Sears averages more points per game than any player, Buckeye or Crimson Tider, that will take the floor on Friday. He's collected 19.5 points per game while shooting 64.8% from the field. He was also Alabama's second-leading scorer a year ago, posting 12.5 points per contest.

Grant Nelson

Nelson is Alabama's leading big man, scoring 13.8 points and hauling in a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game down low. A transfer from North Dakota State, Nelson has some ability to stretch the floor as well with a career 3-point percentage of 30.8.

Aaron Estrada

The other major transfer portal land for the Crimson Tide this offseason, Estrada is the team's second-leading scorer at 15.3 points per game after migrating in from Hofstra. Tuscaloosa is actually the fourth stop in Estrada's collegiate journey, as he has previously played for St. Peter's and Oregon in addition to Hofstra and Alabama.

How it plays out

Line: Alabama -8, O/U 151.5

Ohio State's defense in 2023-24 is still jelling, with that being the side of the ball that gave it the most fits last season. I don't expect Alabama to put up 100 against better competition than it has played thus far this year, but I also am not anticipating a Buckeye upset on Friday in a high-pace game.

Prediction: Alabama 84, Ohio State 77

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