Sunday, October 14, 2018

2018-19 Schedule Preview: December

Tuesday, December 4 - 7 P.M. CT - Georgia State (TV: SEC Network+) - Alabama's second opponent from the Sun Belt conference, Georgia State is expected to be the preseason favorite in the league. They return four of their top five scorers from last season (all seniors), including 2018 Sun Belt Player of the Year D'Marcus Simonds (21.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.4 apg) and former Alabama player, Devin Mitchell (12.0 ppg, 44.7% from 3). The Panthers finished the 17-18 season with a record of 24-11 (12-6), and a final KenPom ranking of 101. They made the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four seasons. Head Coach Ron Hunter has thrived at Georgia State, compiling a 140-85 record in seven seasons and five postseason trips (two NCAA tournaments).

Sunday, December 9 - 12:00 P.M. CT - Arizona (TV: ESPN) - This is a big one. It's not often that Alabama plays host to a top ten program in the sport (Kentucky being an exception, of course), but that's the opportunity they've been given after traveling to Tuscon a year ago. Arizona finished the 17-18 season with a record of 27-8 (14-4), and a final KenPom ranking of 28. The Wildcats won the Pac 12 regular season and conference tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The top five scorers from last season all departed so Arizona could be in rebuild mode this season. The roster has a total of ten freshmen and sophomores on it, but more than enough talent to remain a presence in the Pac 12 standings.

Tuesday, December 18 - TBA - Liberty - Huntsville, AL (TV: TBA) - The team returns to Huntsville for the third annual Rocket City Classic. Liberty, formerly a member of the Big South conference, is now a member of the Atlantic Sun conference. The Flames finished the 17-18 season with a record of 22-15 (9-9), and a final KenPom ranking of 184. Liberty returns four of their top five scorers from last season so they have an opportunity to make an early impression in their new conference.

Friday, December 21 - 8:00 P.M. CT - Penn State (TV: SEC Network) - I'm guessing there will be no shortage of football allusions from the SEC Network broadcasters when this game tips. That's unfortunate because both basketball programs have made strides in the last few years. Penn State finished the 17-18 season with a record of 26-13 (9-9), and a final KenPom ranking of 19. The Nittany Lions also won the postseason NIT in rather dominant fashion despite playing only one game at home in the event. Penn State looked like an easy pick to be a Big 10 sleeper in 2018-19, but their top player - Tony Carr - made the decision to enter the NBA draft. As a result, expectations have been tempered somewhat for this group. But this is still a team that returns three double-digit scorers from a 26-win team so writing them off would be a mistake.

Sunday, December 30 - TBA - at Stephen F. Austin (TV: TBA) - You've got to give Avery credit. Most coaches, if not all coaches, at the other "high-major" schools would never have scheduled a home-and-home with a school like Stephen F. Austin. For one thing, it's probably not the easiest trip to make to Nacogdoches, Texas; for another, the Lumberjacks are very good. Stephen F. Austin has become a mid-major power, and have continued their success over the course of three different coaches. They finished the 17-18 season with a record of 28-7 (14-4), and a final KenPom ranking of 112. The Lumberjacks return their top three scorers from last season, and are the likely preseason pick to win the Southland Conference title.    

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