With the release of the 2K Sports Classic field, Alabama's basketball schedule is finally complete. To celebrate this joyous occasion, I have decided to preview each team that will face off against our beloved Crimson Tide. Obviously things are subject to change so these teams could look very different by the time the season tips off, but we'll give it a shot and see how things work out. Okay, let's get down to business. This first preview will cover the games for November.
11/06/12: Stillman – The season kicks off with an exhibition game against Stillman College. While the recent trend of “secret scrimmages” held between D-I schools prior to the season may eventually cancel the need for games like this, I hope they continue. I know it’s only so much that Alabama’s players, coaches and fans can learn from a game like this, but I prefer to look at it from the other side. How exciting it must be for Stillman or UAH players and their fans to come to Coleman for a game against Alabama. The same goes for hundreds of other D2 and NAIA schools across the country taking part in similar exhibition contests. And sometimes the little guys even win the games! Stillman had a solid year last season, finishing 17-11, but missing the Division II tournament.
11/09/12: South Dakota State – The first game for Bama in the regional round of the 2K Sports Classic is a tough one. South Dakota State returns four starters and nine of their top ten scorers from an NCAA tournament team a year ago. They are skilled, they are experienced, and they will be a nightmare game to play right out of the gate. For a team like S.D. State, coming from a one-bid league, this game represents a great opportunity to notch a quality win early in the season that will aid them in March. They will bring their A-game to Tuscaloosa. Alabama would be wise not to overlook this team.
11/11/12: West Alabama – From what I’ve read, the Gazelle Group really struggles to fill these tournaments so they are forced to reach out to D2 schools in order to complete the event. While this is a great opportunity for a program like West Alabama, it doesn’t do much for Bama’s strength of schedule. West Alabama struggled last season, finishing 8-20.
11/15/12: Oregon State – Craig Robinson has had a few bright spots during his tenure at Oregon State (for example: winning the 2009 CBI postseason tournament), but he has yet to get the program over the hump. In his four seasons the Beavers have yet to post a winning record in PAC 10/12 play despite the league being arguably the worst power conference during that time span. The Beavers finished 9th in the conference last season, but did post its first 20+ win season under Robinson (21) before bowing out in the CBI semifinals. The star of the team, Jared Cunningham, decided to forego his senior season and was the 24th pick in the 1st round of the NBA Draft. Despite losing Cunningham, OSU does return four starters and six of their top seven scorers from last season. They could be a sleeper team in an improved PAC 12.
11/16/12: Purdue/Villanova – Purdue has enjoyed a successful run so far under Matt Painter. After a rocky first season in which the Boilermakers only won nine games, Painter has led Purdue to an average of 25 wins a season in the six years since. However, Purdue will enter the 2012-13 year with a relatively young team. Painter has recruited well so the rebuilding is expected to be minimal, but some rebuilding is expected nonetheless. If Bama meets Purdue, it will be the fourth straight year the teams have played.
Though Villanova struggled through a 13-win season in 2011-12, the program has been a consistent national brand under Jay Wright. In eleven seasons, Wright has taken the program to seven NCAA tournaments, including two Sweet Sixteen’s, an Elite Eight and a Final Four appearance in 2009. After losing their top two scorers from a year ago Nova is by no means a lock to return to the NCAA tournament, but Wright’s overall success means they’re not a team to be overlooked either.
11/23/12: Charleston Southern – The Tide will enjoy a week off before welcoming Charleston Southern. Hailing from the Big South Conference, the Buccaneers won 19 games a year ago, but were not invited to a postseason tournament. Returning four starters, they are expected to contend for the conference title this year.
11/27/12: Lamar - Pat Knight seemed overwhelmed in trying to follow his father at Texas Tech. It was in his best interest as a coach to make a fresh start and build his own history. Lamar gave him that chance, and it paid dividends in his first season in Beaumont. The Cardinals won 23 games, won the Southland Conference Tournament, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in twelve years. Despite losing in the opening round in Dayton, the season was a success. Even more impressive was that this success happened in the wake of some turbulence within the locker room that led Pat Knight to publicly call out his team. While his handling of the situation was questioned by some (including yours truly), his team responded in a positive manner and finished the season strong. That team was senior-laden however, so it would appear that Knight and Lamar will be in rebuilding mode this season.