2023-24 Non-conference opponent preview: North Alabama

  • 08/07/2023 8:41 am in

Indiana’s 2023-24 non-conference schedule was finalized on June 27 and Inside the Hall will have a team-by-team look at each opponent. Today: North Alabama.

North Alabama is one of the three ASUN teams Indiana will face on its non-conference slate this winter. The two schools will meet on Dec. 21 for the third time in five seasons. Indiana and North Alabama last met in December 2020, an 87-52 win for the Hoosiers in Bloomington.

Last season the Lions finished with an 18-15 record and went 10-8 in conference play. North Alabama lost in the first round of the CBI but did have a win over Ole Miss on the road. The Lions are led by Tony Pujol, who is entering his fifth season with the program.

Pujol has been North Alabama’s coach since the program jumped to NCAA Division I in 2018. And through the transition period, last season was the Lions’ best since joining the ASUN and Division I. Next season North Alabama has the talent to take another significant step in search of its first trip to the Big Dance.

Point guard Jacari Lane is poised for a significant jump after a stellar freshman season. The Huntsville, AL native started in eight games last season but mostly came off the bench and averaged 12.8 points and 3.2 assists. The 6-foot guard only attempted 36 shots from beyond the arc but was great around the rim shooting 52.7 percent from the field. The rising sophomore established himself as a reliable ballhandler, an aggressive driver and was excellent at drawing contact. Lane made 108 free throws (82 percent) in just 25.8 minutes a game.

Pujol also retained his starting two-guard, KJ Johnson. Johnson spent the first two years of his college career at Lipscomb where he was named to the ASUN All-freshman team. The Tennessee native is a capable passer with a similar game to Lane. Johnson is good at getting to the rim and seeking contact. He can step outside the arc and shoot it (35.9 percent on 64 attempts) but like his point guard it is not his specialty. With a 6-foot-3 frame, the senior also tends to find comfort in the mid-range.

With Johnson’s experience and Lane’s talent, the Lions’ backcourt could be a good tandem. However, the lack of perimeter shooting could be a problem for North Alabama. Daniel Ortiz, the leading scorer and 40.9 percent 3-point shooter from last season, left the program for UAB.

Dallas Howell, a 6-foot-7 small forward, does return for his junior year. Howell was second on the team in 3-pointers made and attempted last season only behind Ortiz and shot the ball at a 38.4 percent clip. Howell also uses his size well on the glass. The sharpshooter averaged 4.1 rebounds a game in 2022-23, second on the team. Of Howell’s 74 made field goals, 53 were from long-range a season ago.

Speaking of height, Damian Forrest played the five for the Lions last season and the high-flyer will be back for his senior season. Forrest only stands at 6-foot-9 but does all the dirty work for the Lions on the low block. The former Cleveland State Community College big man averaged a team-high 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a contest last season. Forrest can’t stretch the floor well but has strong athleticism and defensive instincts.

Will Soucie is a 6-foot-6 guard who started all 33 games for the Lions last season. Soucie is a capable athlete who likes to post up smaller defenders, although he will need to find more consistency handling the ball, as he turned it over 60 times last season.

Pujol might have his best team at North Alabama this upcoming season. Lane and Johnson are two solid guards with good skillsets and Forrest does the grit and grind, but it might come down to the bench. With Lane moving into the starting lineup, it might be challenging to find that bench production. Bart Torvik has the Lions finishing seventh in the ASUN and as the No. 200 ranked team entering the season.

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