The team is in Sin City for the final two games of the MGM Grand Main Event. Their first opponent will be the Valparaiso Crusaders, led by Alec Peters, one of the top players in college basketball. This will be the second meeting between Alabama and Valparaiso. Alabama won the first match-up all the way back in 1955. Tip time is scheduled for 11 PM CT. The game will not be televised, but you can stream it on youtube here (yeah, I know).
My Two Cents: Teams like Coastal Carolina, Ball State and Valparaiso may not move the needle much with the average fan, but these are good programs who should compete in their respective leagues and help Alabama's strength of schedule. This Valparaiso team in particular could be a stiff challenge for our guys. The Crusaders are considered the favorite to win the Horizon League title, but they have put together a tough schedule (this event, Oregon, Kentucky and Rhode Island) to help their at-large chances, if necessary. This could be a huge game for both programs on Selection Sunday. One surprising stat for Valparaiso so far this season is they have not shot the ball well from 3 (only 20% for the season so far). They could be due for a breakout game so Alabama must continue to improve their 3-point defense.
Players to Watch: Shannon Hale finally emerged in the Ball State game after a slow start to the season. He finished with 19 pts on 7-12 shooting (3-5 from 3) with 2 boards, an assist and 2 steals, in 19 minutes of action. When Shannon plays like that, he's one of the better players in the SEC. Unfortunately, consistency has not been his forte. For Alabama to win this event and to have the kind of season they want, they need that kind of effort from Shannon on a regular basis.
Alec Peters gets most of the headlines for this Valparaiso team, but Shane Hammink ain't too shabby either. The 6'7, 210 lb redshirt senior is averaging 16 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.7 apg and 1.7 spg. Alabama's defense will be severely tested by the duo of Peters and Hammink.
Prediction: Valparaiso will have the best basketball player on the floor in Alec Peters, but Alabama will have the depth advantage on their side. I think that depth, along with Bama's strong defensive play, gives them a slight edge in this one. Alabama - 64 - Valparaiso - 60