Friday, December 2nd - at Texas - Alabama will enter December on the road with two of the toughest back-to-back non-conference games I can remember, beginning with this trip to Austin. The Longhorns lost their share of players from last season to graduation and the NBA Draft, but this roster is still loaded with talent. The Longhorns do return five players who averaged double figure minutes (Kerwin Roach Jr., Eric Davis Jr., Tevin Mack, Shaq Cleare and Kendal Yancey) and add a graduate transfer from Arkansas-Little Rock (Mareik Isom). Shaka Smart also signed a top five recruiting class headlined by 5 star center, Jarrett Allen, and 4 star guard, Andrew Jones. This Texas team will rely heavily on freshmen and sophomores, but their depth and talent is impressive on paper.
Sunday, December 11th - at Oregon - Alabama will remain on the road, traveling to Eugene to play the preseason PAC 12 favorite. The Ducks return 67% of their scoring from last season, including three of their top four scorers, Dillon Brooks (16.7), Tyler Dorsey (13.4) and Chris Boucher (12.1). They also return Dylan Ennis, a Villanova transfer who only played in two games last season before suffering a season-ending injury. In addition, Oregon will welcome a top 20 recruiting class. And finally, Dana Altman is one of the more underrated coaches in the country. He has built this Oregon program into a nationally relevant one (yet more proof that football and hoops can co-exist) that is a potential national championship team if they're healthy (Dillon Brooks' status is unknown entering the season due to nagging injuries).
Thursday, December 15th - USC Upstate - Our guys return from their 2-game trek through the wilderness to face USC Upstate from the Atlantic Sun. Prior to the 15-16 season, the Spartans had been to the postseason three out of the last four years, and posted a winning record in all four of those seasons. And then the bottom fell out last season as the program only won 10 games. There is hope in Spartanburg of a resurgence as the team returns their top three scorers from last season (Deion Holmes, Michael Buchanan and Mike Cunningham) and nine of their top eleven scorers overall.
Sunday, December 18th - Clemson [Birmingham] - For the second straight season, Alabama will play a home game at Legacy Arena in Birmingham against a quality opponent. This time around, it's the Clemson Tigers from the ACC. After missing the postseason in 15-16 despite the presence of a 1st team All-ACC player in Jaron Blossomgame (18.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Clemson is hungry to make the NCAA Tournament with the best team they've had in years. For starters, Blossomgame - a preseason All-American on some lists - returns, along with the 2nd and 3rd scorers from last season (Donte Grantham and Avry Holmes). The Tigers also add potential impact transfers in Marcquise Reed (averaged 15.1 ppg as a freshman at Robert Morris), Shelton Mitchell (averaged 4.3 ppg as a freshman at Vanderbilt) and Elijah Thomas (former 4-star recruit, transferred from Texas A&M).
Wednesday, December 21st - Arkansas State [Huntsville] - Alabama will play in Huntsville for the first time since 1999. As long as the Huntsville area continues to produce good basketball recruits, expect Avery and the staff to continue to look at scheduling games in Huntsville, particularly if the fans turn out in support. After an 11-20 record a season ago, Arkansas State made a coaching change, hiring Grant McCasland, a Baylor assistant for the last five seasons. Prior to that he compiled a 199-44 record (not too shabby) as a head coach at the JC and D2 levels. He led Midland College to the 2007 JC national title. Assuming he can recruit, McCasland should be able to have some success at Arkansas State. The Red Wolves return two of their top three scorers from last season (Devin Carter -17.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 41% from 3; Donte Thomas - 11.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg).
Thursday, December 29th - Stetson - The final non-conference game of the season. Stetson, from the A-Sun conference, has really struggled to get off the mat as a program. In the last five seasons, their best effort was a 15-16 record in the 12-13 season. If the Hatters are ever going to put together a run for the A-Sun title, this could be it. Seven of the top nine scorers return from last season. Derek Newton (voted the A-Sun Freshman of the Year last season, 16.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 46% from 3), Divine Myles (from Mobile, 13.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.3 spg, 51% FG), Brian Pegg (12.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 57% FG) and Luke Doyle (9.8 ppg, 40% from 3) are the leaders for what could be a sleeper team in their conference.