Monday, December 29, 2014

Bama Bests Bruins, 56-50

UCLA won the tip-off and scored on an alley-oop dunk to start the game.  After that, the Bama defense held the Bruins to just one made fg over the next 14 minutes, building a 20-5 lead.  While UCLA did not help their cause with a handful of unforced errors, most of the credit for the first half lead goes to the Alabama defense.  UCLA only got a few open looks, and none from inside the perimeter.  More importantly, Jimmie Taylor, Rodney Cooper, and Michael Kessens controlled the glass and limited their second chance opportunities.

I thought we actually played fairly well offensively in the first half.  We had good spacing and ball movement for the most part, and had a lot of open, high percentage shots that just didn't fall.  We weren't very good at finishing around the basket, and unfortunately, putting the ball through the hoop is kind of important in basketball.  We probably should have been up 15-20 points at the half, but instead only took a 29-17 advantage into the locker room.

Steve Alford and UCLA made some nice adjustments at halftime.  They worked the ball to their athletic bigs in the post and quickly drew Jimmie Taylor's 3rd and 4th foul.  Taylor did a great job of defending the rim when he was in the game, but we really struggled to stop them in the post when he came out.  We finally made the proper adjustment of switching to a zone, but not before UCLA was back in the game.

On the offensive end, we had no real inside presence and they started hedging the off-ball screens and bumping our cutters, which slowed the offense to a grind.  For much of the second half, we were back to the old "high ball screen with 5 seconds on the shot clock" offense.  Thankfully, Ricky Tarrant went off for 24 points.

I was afraid we put Taylor back in the game too early with 7 minutes left, but he played solid defense the rest of the game without fouling.  Levi Randolph didn't have one of his better games, and he was uncharacteristically bad from the free throw line most of the night, but he came up big when needed.  I thought it was critical that we never allowed UCLA to get the lead.  Levi made an incredible contested jump shot to put us up 2 with just under 2 minutes to play.

I would still like to see a little bit more leadership in key situations in tight games.  With the lead and about a minute or so remaining, Taylor turned the ball over trying to pass to Kessens on the perimeter.  Tarrant and Levi cannot allow that to happen, somebody has to go get the ball in that situation.

We overcame another poor shooting night, 4 of 22 from 3 point range and only 18 of 30 from the line, but Ricky and Levi stepped up as we made 8 of our final 10 free throws to finally put the game away.

We had trouble getting the ball in bounds at times, which led to only having one timeout remaining at the end of the game.  I thought we used that timeout too early, with a 3 point lead and around 30 seconds remaining.  If UCLA would have scored there, we could have been in big trouble if we couldn't get the ball in bounds.  To Coach Grant's credit, it worked out as the team executed the man to man defense he set up, switching on every screen and forcing a bad shot from UCLA.

This isn't a traditional national power UCLA team, but I also don't think they are as bad as many are making them out to be.  This was their first loss to a team outside of the top 20.  Yes, they looked horrible against Kentucky, but Kentucky is going to make a lot of decent teams look horrible.  They don't have much depth, but they have some talented young players, some decent bigs, and are well coached.  Hopefully they can continue to develop and this will ultimately be a top 100 win for us.

The crowd was great, I would estimate close to 13,000 actually showed up, which is fantastic for a Sunday night during the winter break, even against a somewhat down UCLA team.  The Bruins probably had a couple of hundred fans scattered throughout, honestly I think we had more fans at their place last year than they brought here.  Several former players were in attendance, Eric Washington was recognized on the video screen, Chris Hines was sitting behind the goal with a group of high school aged kids and they all appeared to be having a blast, and Andrew Steele was also there.  There were a lot of school and church groups in attendance, whoever did the marketing for group sales for this game apparently did a good job.  Justin Coleman's church group was there and sitting near us.  The crowd was loud and stayed till the very end, hopefully seeing the home team win a close game will make some of those folks want to come back.

Unfortunately, the arena was apparently severely understaffed.  We arrived 30 minutes or so before tip-off and immediately noticed the long lines for tickets and concessions.  I understand many people weren't able to purchase their walk-up tickets until midway through the first half, and based on comments from people sitting around us, the lines for the concession stands were generally over 40 minutes.  I never patronize the Coleman concession stands because in my experience they are overpriced with limited choices of very poor quality.  Parking and post-game traffic is a complete cluster due to a number of factors including but not limited to: construction of the baseball stadium, incompetence of those directing traffic, and those stupid shuttle buses clogging the flow of traffic.  They need to rectify some of these issues if we ever expect to draw large crowds on a regular basis.

Up next, the North Florida Osprey's come to Ttown for a 6 pm tipoff Friday night for the last non-conference game of the season.  UNF upset Perdue, so we will need to stay focused if we want to avoid our annual season-killing non-conference home loss.  The game will be televised on SEC Network.  If your travels back from the Sugar Bowl take you through Tuscaloosa, there's no reason not to stop and take in the game.  Happy New Year and Roll Tide.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Fresh Meat- UCLA 12/28 in Tuscaloosa 6:30PM EST (5:30 CST)

One of the premiere basketball programs of all-time visits Tuscaloosa in the return trip from last year's disappointing close loss in Pauley Pavilion. This isn't the same UCLA squad from last year... as they lost 3 to early defections to the NBA draft (all 1st round draft picks). UCLA has a pattern so far this year.. win 4, lose 2, win 4, lose 2... the pattern says they win. We shall see. Note that is is UCLA's first and ONLY true OOC road game this season.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Tide survives, 60-59 over Appalachian State.

I've always said there is no such thing as an ugly win.  This game provides the strongest contradictory evidence to that statement that you will ever find.

Tarrant and Kessens were back in the starting lineup.  The team appeared flat early on as the Mountaineers built an 8 point first half lead.  By starting Kessens, Cooper, and Taylor, it appeared our game plan early was to take advantage of ASU's apparent weakness, which is their lack of size and inability to defend in the post.  Unfortunately, this also took us away from our strength of playing up-tempo and shooting from the perimeter.  Taylor and Cooper got several good looks from the low block early on but could not finish around the rim.  Kessens was slow to start, but turned it around and had a fantastic game.

In fact, Kessens and Riley Norris were arguably the only bright spots in this one.  Thankfully it was just enough.  We finally realized the jumpers were not falling and started working the ball in to Kessens consistently in the second half.  We finally took the lead with about 8 minutes to play, but could never put them away, every time we got up by 4 we had a turnover or gave up an open 3.

I've been calling for Justin Coleman to play more, but he didn't really help his case in this game.  He only played 10 minutes, and while I thought he initially gave us a spark in the first half, he had two horrible turnovers where he telegraphed a lazy pass at the top of the key that resulted in uncontested dunks for App State.

Rodney Cooper sat on the bench for most of the 2nd half.  While he didn't have a great game, we certainly could have used his rebounding, and I would have put him in on defense at the end of the game.  At one point Kessens scored 5 in a row to cut the App. State lead from 8 to 3, and was promptly pulled from the game.  Our substitution patterns continue to baffle me.

Those of you who have been around for a while may remember Ron Steele's comments from last year regarding how guys playing scared can hurt their game, ie that they are afraid to make mistakes for fear of losing playing time.  I think we are seeing a bit of that right now with Coleman and Hale.  Coleman is a freshman, he's going to make some mistakes, but he's at his best when he plays wide open. Hale is more experienced, but both were taken out of the game following turnovers and defensive lapses respectively.  Moreover, in these last few games the team as a whole seems a lot more calculating on offense, hesitant to shoot or quickly move the ball.  We need to let the guys play, live with the mistakes, and get the tempo back up on offense.

This was the last game before Christmas, and with the UCLA game looming, while it's still disappointing, it's certainly not surprising that we came out flat.  Levi played a solid game, but as the captain I would have liked to see him be a more vocal leader in this game, and do something to energize and focus his teammates.  He got called for 5 seconds late in the game which gave App State a chance for the win.   The last few years we've lost at least one of these December games that has killed any hopes for suspense on selection Sunday.  Thankfully, the guys found a way to win and got the stop at the end to avoid another disaster.  I've criticized Coach Grant's timeout management in the past, but will give him credit for using every single remaining one and giving the Mountaineers different looks, while evaluating their lineups, on the final play.

The crowd was sparse, but a little better than Friday night.  I would estimate maybe 2,000 or so.  They actually got into the game and gave our guys a boost when things were tight in the second half.

Up next, the UCLA Bruins come in Sunday night for a 5:30 pm tipoff on ESPNU.  They will be looking to avenge their embarrassing loss to Kentucky.  It's a chance to watch our Tide against one of the historically great programs in college basketball, so hopefully we'll have a nice crowd.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fresh Meat- Appalachian State 6:30PM EST (5:30PM CST)

Quick turnaround to face App State. They come in 3-5, but are better than their record shows. They have 2 true road wins (@ VA Tech and Jacksonville). They've played 2 non-exhibition home games so far this season.

Link to App State write-up.
Season stats

Frank Eaves leads the team at 16.4 PPG on horrendous shooting (35%/26%). Chris Burgess is the only real threat beyond the arc at a respectable 42%. Tommy Spagnolo cleans up the boards at 7.4 a game... averaging 9.5 his last 3.

- 62.4 PPG
- .402 FG/.279 3pt FG
- +.6 rebound margin
- -2.7 turnover margin/game

We should end up winning, but don't be shocked if this game is closer than you'd think it should be.

Game is on

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Tide Tackles Tigers, 69-49

Stillman is not very good, and we basically treated this as an exhibition game, playing lots of players and experimenting with different lineups.  Rodney Cooper and Ricky Tarrant got the night off.  Justin Coleman and Riley Norris were joined by Devin Mitchell, who hasn't been playing much in recent games, in the starting lineup.

Coming off the heartbreaking loss at Wichita, many were concerned that there would be a hangover effect.  The young starting lineup did their job and set the tone of the game right off the bat, jumping out to a 12-2 lead, while holding Stillman scoreless for the first 5 minutes of the game.

After that, it got a little sloppy, as we treaded water for the rest of the first half and only lead by 13 at the break. We pulled away in the second half, but it was a sloppy game for the most part.  We only shot 3 of 20 from 3 point range, turned it over 16 times, and we had stretches during the game where we did not rebound well.

On the positive side we had 5 guys score in double figures, with Justin Coleman leading all scorers with 14.  It was good to see John Gibson and Dakota Slaughter get some minutes.  I thought Shannon Hale played well, despite missing 5 free throws.  Levi was solid as always and Riley Norris played a great game, putting up 13 points and 7 boards. Kessens really struggled, with 4 fouls, 2 points, and a couple of bad turnovers in 16 minutes.  That's Moussa Gueye/Karl Engstrom bad, and we're going to need much better production out of him in the post if we expect to beat decent teams.

One of the more exciting moments of the night came when one of the Coliseum's light bulbs blew, which sounded light a firecracker going off.  The fixture was smoking for several minutes later, but thankfully nothing caught on fire.

With the students gone and an early 6 pm tipoff on a rainy Friday night during the holiday season, attendance was predictably horrible.  I would estimate a gathering of no more than 1,200. I don't understand why we start games at 6pm when there is no TV.  I was barely able to make tipoff myself coming from Birmingham.  Stillman normally brings a decent crowd across town, but they were noticeably absent last night.

Up next, it's a quick turnaround to get ready for Appalachian State, who comes in for a 5:30 p.m. tipoff Sunday.  Speaking of Birmingham, this would be a perfect game to play in the state's largest city.  I'm not expecting much of a crowd going up against Sunday before Christmas church services in Ttown tomorrow night.  The game will be televised on SEC Network.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Fresh Meat- Stillman Tigers 7PM EST (6PM CST)

Stillman makes the long road trip to Coleman to face a dejected team that should've beaten Wichita State Tuesday. Let's see how the Tide performs.

Season stats

Stillman is 4-3 on the season... played a bunch of tomato cans so far so we'll see if this is a laugher at the half.

Offensive stats look good at 85.8 PPG, 46.5% FG and 39.2% from beyond the arc... against questionable competition though. Rodnerius Lewis leads the team with 25.2 PPG with Jamon Jackson-Wilson grabbing over 7 board a game.

they have a +11 rebound edge so that could pose a problem if we let them hang around. I don't think we will, and the thousands in attendance can celebrate a Friday night win.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Shocked by Shockers, Wichita State 53, Bama 52.

This was a golden opportunity to pick up a huge road win over a quality opponent to boost our NCAA tournament resume, and we blew it.  Yes, we played better than expected, but there are no moral victories.  This was a painful loss that epitomizes our inability to finish games over the last 6 years.  We were in great position to shock the country with an 11 point lead with 6 minutes left in the game.  We proceeded to be outscored 13-1 in the last 6 minutes.

The end result is all that matters, but it wasn't like the night was a complete disaster.  We faced a top 15 team on the road, and not only held our own, but took it to them for most of the game.  The offense wasn't great, but WSU is a very good defensive team, so I can live with that.  Shannon Hale has struggled much of this year, but made some great plays for us.  He finished tied with Levi for leading team scorer with 13 points, and really gave us a spark off the bench.

The bench was constantly up and into the game, and there were several possessions in the second half when WSU scored to cut the lead to 5 or 6, and we showed great poise in executing the offense and getting a basket on the other end to maintain our comfortable 8-10 pt lead.

I liked our game plan overall.  WSU has some big wings and guards, but while they have a size advantage in the post their big men aren't particularly skilled.  We started out in a tight man and put some pressure on them, but then switched to a zone mostly in the second half and we did a good job, for the most part, of closing out on their perimeter shooters.  Taylor and Kessens cleaned up the glass and guarded the rim well.  Everything was looking as good as could be expected and we had a double digit lead on the road with around 6 minutes to play, but then the momentum shifted.

I loved the effort tonight.  I felt like we outworked them for most of the evening.  We had better energy, beat them to loose balls, etc.  When it came down to clutch time, they responded and we didn't have an answer.  There were a few questionable calls in the last 5 minutes that did not go our way, but you have to expect that and be able to overcome it on the road, and we were not.  I thought Taylor fouling out was a huge factor in the outcome of the game.  They relentlessly attacked the rim the final minutes, and routinely either got to the line or got second chance opportunities.

We were outmatched and on the road in a hostile environment and had a chance to win, so I'm hesitant to criticize Coach Grant for this one.  I thought we were well prepared, and showed  a great amount of mental toughness for much of the game (at least up until the point when Taylor fouled out), but again, I think we misused the timeout situation at the end of the game.  We had a timeout remaining, down one (we would have been tied, but Levi had another off night from the line and only made one of two the previous trip), and with about 4-5 seconds remaining it was obvious there was no clear path to the basket that would result in an open shot.  THAT is the time to call a timeout.  Instead, we waited until the ball was knocked away and we were fortunate to recover with 1.2 seconds remaining, which only leaves enough time to draw up a desperation catch and shoot from Cooper from beyond the arc.

Heartbreaking loss, and while there is a lot of basketball to be played, it's very possible that this will be one that keeps us out of the tournament.  Up next, Stillman comes across town for another ridiculous tipoff time, 6 pm Central Friday night.

Fresh Meat- @ Wichita St

Day job has kept me busy so here's a link from earlier in the year with a team preview.
Game is 9pm EST (8CST).

My expectation is for us to be in the game for the most part. Keep it competitive and I'm content.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tide 65 Tennessee Tech 53.

Bama came out flat and appeared uninspired for much of the first half.  The offense was stagnant with little movement and we had problems with Eagles man to man defense.  Tennessee Tech was able to knock down some open 3s and get some second chance opportunities to build a 13 point lead in the first half. We finished strong after the 8 minute media timeout in the first half and was able to take a 1 point lead into halftime.

Rodney Cooper had a great game and led us to victory with 23 points including 2 of 4 from 3 point range and 11 of 14 from the free throw line.  On the bright side, our defense was much better than it's been most of the season.  I think the Eagles only scored once from the floor in the final 9 minutes or so.

The last couple of seasons we have played poorly in these December games immediately after finals.  At least this year we found a way to avoid the embarrassing loss.

The substitution patterns did not make much sense to me.  Kessens got his first start over Shannon Hale, and played reasonably well.  Tarrant was said to be cramping up and did not play much in the second half, but Retin Obasohan got the bulk of his minutes over Justin Coleman.  Retin played fairly well, but I still think Coleman should be getting more minutes.  He's rarely used in the second half of games.

We only shot 14 three pointers in this game, and made 6.  Credit to Tennessee Tech for putting an emphasis on slowing down our perimeter game.  Other than Rodney Cooper, we did not make our free throws either.  The normally automatic Levi was only 4 for 8.

The 8pm start on the same night as graduation resulted in a very small, apathetic gathering to watch this one.  I would estimate no more than 2,000 fans in the house, with probably less than 100 students. I expect more of the same with the 2 games next weekend.

Up next, we travel to Wichita, Kansas to take on the 11th ranked Wichita State Shockers.  In theory, it's a great opportunity to pick up a huge quality win on the road.  In reality, we will probably be on the wrong end of a severe beat down.   The game is Tuesday night at 8 pm Central time on ESPN2.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fresh Meat- Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles 9PM EST (8PM CST)

If you put a gun to my head and asked me before I googled what the Tennessee Tech mascot was I would've been a goner. Golden Eagles... that's about as bland as... Tigers.

Write up from Tenn Tech.
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle
Webcast: TideTV
Season stats

Charles Jackson and Dwan Cardwell lead the team offensively at 14.0 and 13.8 a game. Jackson also pulls down 10 boards a game so watch him on the glass. I suspect Jimmie Taylor gets the assignment most of the game with Kessens/Norris switching up.

Offensively as a team... meh as 45% FG and 26.4% beyond the arc (which is about what I shoot today). They are +6 on the boards.

Tech has lost all of their road games so far... and I don't expect that to change after tonight.

If you want to see our season stats click here. Besides yours truly, no one would've guessed that Cooper would be leading in 3 point percentage (attempting more than 10 shots). We know about Levi's offensive side, but what I'm most impressed about is his 19/6 assist to turnover margin.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Musketeers Maul Men's Team

Alabama jumped out to a quick lead before falling to the Xavier Musketeers 97 to 84, but the game did not seem as close as the final score.  Our team played fairly effectively in the middle of the first half while Xavier's big man sat on the bench with two fouls.  Then Bama's outside shots refused to fall while they could not work the ball underneath the basket.  We had no answers for their zone.  Here's a Box Score.

Please see the comments to Bobby Jack's "Fresh Meat" post previewing the game for real analysis.  I was flipping back and forth between our game and the ACC Championship football game.

The one thing I liked most about this game was when Head Coach Anthony Grant (finally) drew a technical foul after protesting a charge called against Riley Norris after a Musketeer "flop" caused an official to waive off one of the few inside hoops I saw us score.  The official might have made a good call.  I don't know.  The camera angle we had did not allow me to see whether any real contact was made.  It seemed to me the official who blew the whistle suffered the same disadvantage, and I suspect that is why Grant was so upset with the call.  It really was good to see Coach Grant defend his player so vigorously that he drew a zebra's ire.  I hope his passion continues and filters its way into the team.

As has been noted below, our kids are not playing particularly good defense right now, but they still are much more fun to watch than they have been recently.  I hope to make my first pilgrimage to Coleman Coliseum next Saturday/

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Fresh Meat- @ Xavier Musketeers 8PM EST (7PM CST)

1st true road game as we head to Cincinnati (WKRP?) to play Xavier in the return game from last season's loss 77-74 in Coleman. Xavier is on a 2 game losing streak and so far hasn't played anyone of note.

Trevon Bluieitt and Miles Davis are ones to watch outside the arc while Matt Stainbrook is shooting 72.6% from the field and pulling down over 8 boards a game. Stainbrook worries me more than the perimeter shooting as we all know how thin we are inside.

Xavier is big... really need Taylor, Norris, and Kessens to slow them down on the boards.

Season stats
Write up from Xavier's site.
Xavier's roster

Game is on CBS Sportsnet... since I will be attending the SECCG down the road chances are if I catch any of this game it will be late 2nd half.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Bama Bests Bulls

Here is your late report on the victory of the South Florida Bulls.

Alabama (5-1) avenged last season's two-point loss to the South Florida Bulls (5-2) by a convincing score of 82-71 within the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum.  Here is a Box Score.  

I was only able to watch the second half and have not yet viewed my recording of the game, but Bama played sound defense most of the game and enjoyed balanced scoring. Four of our players hit double figures, lead by Rodney Cooper with 20 and Ricky Tarrant with 17.  Bama hit 8 of its 25 three point shots and continues to shoot well from the foul line, going 20 out of 25.  Levi Randolph came one shot short of tying the school record of consecutive free throws made after having been jinxed on the air by former Alabama star Wendell Hudson.  (More on Hudson later.) 

It appears the infusion of new blood, the continuing emergence of Levi Randolph (my favorite player of the past three years), Cooper's finding his shot again, and the influence of new coach Reggie Witherspoon all have breathed new life into what had become a frustrating program.  Every Bama Basketball fan has been rooting for Head Coach Anthony Grant and hoping he could regain the energy and success his teams showed during his second, third and fourth seasons.  As much as I personally liked Tony Pujol, Witherspoon appears to be a substantial upgrade.  Knowing nothing about the inner workings of the team, I also suspect the personalities of this season's squad are more conducive to success than those we have witnessed the previous two seasons. 

This team is fun to watch.  The players actually move without the ball on offense and pass the ball around the court.  Perhaps previous squads had become too dependent on their point guard leader. I do not know.  DJC and MSmilie are much better students of the game than I.  Hopefully they can offer some real observations as the season progresses. The defense has dipped a bit from what we saw in earlier squads, but at this point I am more than happy with the trade off.  

Other than the performance of the team, the greatest treat I enjoyed last night was hearing Wendell Hudson (pictured above from his college days) provide color commentary in the absence of Bryan Passink who was away performing other duties.  Most of our readers likely will know Wendell only as the former head coach of our Women's Basketball Team, but he is an important historical icon in Alabama history.  Wendell was the first African-American scholarship athlete to play any sport at The University of Alabama and a very good basketball player.  

Wendell was a senior power forward my freshman year and led our team to its first NIT appearance (this was when the NCAA Tournament field was only 22 teams and an NIT invitation carried significant prestige) in many years.  Playing for Head Coach C.M. Newton, Wendell was instrumental in bringing Bama Basketball back to relevance.  I owe Wendell a huge personal debt because that team his senior year is the one thing that influenced me to become a fan of Bama Basketball.  I'd never played organized basketball or even been a fan of the game before then.  I always enjoy Wendell's commentary during the games and have found him personally charming and engaging the few times I've had the privileged to meet him.  If you ever see him at any of our games, please introduce yourself and thank him for everything he has done for us.  

Thank you, Wendell Hudson, for everything you have done for our program,  our school, and for me. 

Roll Tide! 

Monday, December 01, 2014

Fresh Meat- USF Bulls 12/2 @ 9PM EST (8PM CST)

The Stan Heath Orlando Antigua led Bulls come to Tuscaloosa with a 5-1 record looking to complete the 2 game series sweep (from last year) and continue its dominance in the state of Alabama (they won @ UAB in a thriller). Former NBA good Rod Strickland is an assistant on the team... you know him from his forgettable days with OUR NY Knickerbockers.

Their only loss came to our good pal Mark Gottfried in Raleigh 68-65. Being that NC State is so far looking like a NCAAT team thanks to Kat Barber and the great Trevor Lacey) this game is going to be a real test to us.

Write up from USF.
Season stats

4 average double digits led by Corey Allen Jr @ 15.8 PPG. He's 50% from 3, 55.8% overall, and 75% from the line. Anthony Collins runs the point dropping over 7 assists a game.

Statistically, nothing really jumps out... as a team they kinda suck from beyond the arc, below average FT shooting, slight rebounding margin, but are shooting 49% overall from the field.

The game is on the SEC Network... for more in depth coverage read this post from MS in October.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Alabama 76 Arizona State 71, Road losing streak broken

It wasn't pretty, but we finally found a way to win against a decent team away from Tuscaloosa to take 3rd place in the CBE Hall of Fame tournament.  Hopefully this will give us the confidence we need going into December.  I watched the game on ESPN3 on my laptop, and for the most part the quality was decent, although the picture did get blurry on a couple of instances.  At one point, they were showing an injured Sun Devil on the sideline, you heard a whistle and the commentator said "offensive foul called."  We had the ball, they never showed the replay or told us who the foul was on.

Unlike the ISU game, we couldn't throw the ball in the ocean in the opening minutes.  Both teams looked flat for much of the first half.  Once again we fell down 8 early in the second half, but continued to battle and found a way to win the game.

We had a difficult time defending in the post, and still continued to have defensive lapses at bad times.  The substitution patterns did not make any sense to me.  I still think Justin Coleman should be playing more.  It doesn't show in the box score, but his quickness on the dribble drive really opens up scoring opportunities for everyone else.  He only played 16 minutes and barely saw the floor in the second half.  I would like to see more of Coleman and Tarrant on the floor together.  I think each could play about 30 minutes, giving them 20 minutes of shared time per game.

  Arizona State built their second half lead primarily on second chance opportunities.  We simply could not get a rebound, and with both Jimmie Taylor and Rodney Cooper sitting on the bench, that should not have been surprising.

Levi Randolph had another great game and Ricky Tarrant got hot at the right time to lead the comeback.  We won the game at the free throw line, where Levi has not missed all season (I felt like the announcers were trying to jinx him by reminding us of that fact literally before every single shot).

It's great to finally win a close one away from home, and hopefully this is a win the young team can build on.  Up next, the South Florida Bulls make their return trip to Tuscaloosa for a 8 p.m. CST tipoff Tuesday night.  Unfortunately, the day job will have me in Florida next week, so hopefully one of the other contributors here can make it to the game and give us a recap.  Happy Thanksgiving and Roll Tide.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fresh Meat- Arizona St Sun Devils 7PM EST (6PM CST)

In a game former Arizona State and Alabama great Jamal Faulkner is probably having a hard time picking sides, we have a chance for a quality win. Losing to Iowa State is acceptable, but I believe we need this one for confidence going forward. ASU lost to Maryland 78-73 yesterday.

The last time we played the Sun Devils was 1989. you might remember Arizona State's HC Herb Sendek from his previous gig at NC State where they pushed him out for only making the NCAAT. they replaced him with their 18th choice (Sidney Lowe) who was AUful and was replaced by our pal Mark Gottfried (who has taken NC State to 3 straight NCAATs).

Write up
Season stats (minus the Maryland game)

Coming into the Maryland game they were giving up a ridiculously low 44 PPG while putting up 68 albeit vs really bad opponents. They are a perimeter centric team taking 60/131 shots from beyond the arc. Keep them at bay out there and we should win.

No TV for this one, but ESPN3 is the way to watch it. Like I said, we NEED this game (3 point favorite according to Vegas) if we are to start dreaming about making the NCAAT (as an at large team).

Cyclones Clip Crimson, 84-74

Iowa State is a legitimate sweet 16 caliber team if they can get the right draw.  In some ways, they are very similar to Alabama.  Both teams have depth and scoring ability on the perimeter, have played average at best defense so far this year, and lack a real post presence.  The difference, Iowa State is a little more talented and a lot more experienced.  That, combined with the fact that this was a de-facto home game for them, and the outcome is not surprising.

We started the game on fire from 3 point range, but couldn't stop the Cyclones at the other end so we were unable to build a lead.  Once the shots stopped falling for us, Iowa State was able to take over control of the game. While I like the fact that this team doesn't hold the ball and play scared offensively like we did at times last year, I thought poor shot selection hurt us at a couple of key points in the game.  Hale had an off night, and he forced a couple of bad, contested shots early in the shot clock, both when Iowa State was on a run, and also when we had just fought back to tie or take the lead.

Cooper had a great game, and Levi had a nice second half after getting off to a slow start to keep us in the game.  I would still like to see Coleman playing more as I think he puts everybody else in better position to score.  I like Tarrant, but his shot selection hurt us at times.

Our defense looked bad at times, but Iowa State executes extremely well on offense.  The mayor did a nice job of exploiting our weaknesses.  When Riley Norris is manned up on an experienced, quick, athletic 4 in the post, we've got to recognize that he's going to need some help.  Coleman and Tarrant's inexperience also showed on the defensive side at times.  We did a little better after switching to a zone in the second half, but couldn't stop their perimeter shooting.

The good news is that most of the defensive mistakes were made by the newcomers, and I expect that aspect of our game to improve throughout the season.

We play Arizona State tonight at 6 pm in the 3rd place game.  This should be more of a true neutral site game, I have no idea how well ASU travels for basketball, but Tempe to Kansas City is a haul.  Plus, one would think the ISU fans will be supporting us to boost their own strength of schedule.  The Devils have some sharp shooters, so our perimeter defense will need to be better tonight.  This is a big game, we haven't won away from Tuscaloosa in ages, and we need a win to build some confidence with two difficult non-conference away games remaining.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Fresh Meat- #13 Iowa St in Kansas City

I said earlier this week might define our season and I'm sticking to it. The first BIG test is HERE! Iowa State in their first 2 games have been a scoring MACHING averaging 87 PPG. Grant(ed) it was against Oakland, MI and GA State, but still... over 80PPG in the slow down era of college hoops is admirable.

Their starting 5 all average at least 13PPG, Niang and Dejean-Jones pull in 19 boards, with Naz Long leading the team in 3 pointers (and attempts). Long has taken close to 1/2 of the team's total 3s so that's the guy to watch outside. Inside, while not tall they do a great job on the boards (+5.5).

Iowa State plays 3 SEC teams this season (South Carolina and Arkansas). Looking at their non-conference slate we are one of their 3 toughest games.

Season stats
ESPN Season stats
Write up

9:30 PM EST (8:30 PM CST) tipoff on ESPN2. I don't expect to win, but would like a good showing to better gauge us for the Arizona St/Maryland loser tomorrow.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fresh Meat- Southern Miss 9PM EST (8PM CST) on SEC Network

Undefeated USM (RPI 231) travels to Coleman Coliseum to take on the UNDEFEATED Crimson Tide (RPI 33) tonight. USM already has one win over the state of Alabama (South Alabama) so we don't want to let them own the state in hoops so expect HIGH energy tonight.

Season stats
USM write up

Kevin Holland (Tuscaloosa) and Jamie Chapman (Mobile) represent USM from the state.

I have not seen them play so stats is the best I can do. I do believe we escape with a close win tonight in front of a capacity crowd. Okay, a sparse crowd of family, friends, and a few writers/commenters.

LET'S GO 2 AND ZERO vs the hated Golden Eagles this year (football and hoops). I'm not aware we play them in any other sport that matters.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Clumsy Crimson Caps Catamounts, Bama 80 Western Carolina 74

It wasn't pretty but it was a win.  I said in an earlier post that this will be a team that relies heavily on perimeter shooting, and is the type of team that could upset anybody on a given night if the shots are falling, but could lose to anybody on a given night if they are off.  This game definitely fell into the latter category, but thankfully we were able to find a way to win despite shooting 2 for 17 from three point range.

First, the positives.  Michael Kessens returned to action and had a nice game.  He's a big man who can stretch the floor a bit with a decent mid-range jump shot ability.  I liked having him and Jimmie Taylor in the game together to run some pick and pops and a high-post-low-post game against the zone.  When it became obvious that our shots were not falling, we found other ways to score, primarily getting to the free throw line where we made 76%.  Once again we had 4 guys score in double figures, and Jimmie Taylor emerged as an offensive threat in the post with 15 points.  He's not going to score a lot with his back to the basket, but we ran some well designed plays to get him open dunks and lay-ups, that were well timed and executed.  Levi continues to do everything you would hope for from a senior captain, and more.

Getting Kessens back allowed us to play 10 guys, but I think some of the new lineups effected our chemistry a bit.  It was obvious that certain groups just need a little bit more time playing together.  We lost a few rebounds fighting against our own teammates, threw some passes away because one player would expect the other to cut when they didn't, etc.  While we were definitely more sloppy in this game than the last two, I still think the offense  played fairly well.  We had more turnovers, but despite shooting only 2 for 17 we still scored 80 points, which is about what we had in the first two games.  We had a lot of good, open shots that just didn't fall, and you could tell the team lost some confidence.

The officiating was very inconsistent.  They called 16 fouls in the first 9 minutes of the game, and then in the second half, only called 5 for the first 10 minutes or so, passing on a lot of calls with a similar level of contact that were being called in the first half.

At several points in the first half and early second half we were able to stretch the lead to 8, but seemingly always took the foot off the gas and allowed WCU to score on a 2nd or 3rd chance opportunity, or would miss an open shot or turn the ball over.  WCU kept fighting back, and switched to a zone defense that really gave us some problems in the 2nd half.  They eventually took a 5 point lead with about 7 minutes to play.

My girlfriend commented that Justin Coleman should be playing more, as he sat on the bench most of the second half.  Almost immediately after she said that, Ricky Tarrant leaves the game with an injury and Coleman came in to make our only 3 pointer of the second half and give Bama the lead for good.  I understand the thinking behind going with Tarrant over Coleman for much of the game, Tarrant was playing very well, frequently getting to the free throw line and scoring 18 points in the process.  Plus, it was a close game and Coach Grant usually errs on the side of the more experienced players in those situations.  Still, Coleman seems to elevate everybody else's games offensively and he certainly had the ability to give us the outside shooting we were missing in this game.  It will be interesting to see how their time is divided going forward.  Having two excellent point guards is not a bad problem to have.

In conclusion, we really didn't play well, but it seems like every year we end up losing a game like this in November or December and it comes back to haunt us.  At least we were able to do enough things well to overcome our mistakes and get a win.

The game very sparsely attended, it was one of the deadest atmospheres I can remember at Coleman in a long time.  I would guess there was probably only 1,000 or so people there.  WCU has two players from Alabama who brought a lot of friends and family, so the Catamounts had 50-60 backers on their side.

Up next, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles come to town for an 8pm Thursday night tipoff.  They are also 2-0 and coming off a 68-59 come from behind win over South Alabama.  The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Fresh Meat- Western Carolina Catamounts

WCU gets another shot at a SEC West team tonight. They lost @ M$U 66-56 on 11/14. Box score is here. I didn't see the game, but despite the 10 point loss it looks like they were dominated. James Sinclair did put up 20 points on 50% shooting.

Seven of the 12 that see PT for WCU are juniors or seniors. Pretty much the norm for most mid-major squads. Rhett Harrelson and Justin Browning are Alabama natives (Enterprise and Sylacauga).

Write up from the official WCU site. WCU was picked to finish 7th in the Southern Conference.

Game is 9PM EST (8PM CST) on the SEC Network.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tide Tops Towson Tigers, 82-54

First of all, I apologize for the delay in getting this recap posted.  Between the football game and work obligations, I've had a lot going on this weekend.  Along those lines, the recaps for the two games this week may be abbreviated and/or delayed for the same reasons.  Bobbyjack simply doesn't pay me enough to make this a priority, so if you have any problems with that, take it up with him. :)

The complaint department is closed for the time being after the season opening win.  Jimmie Taylor picked up 2 early fouls as Towson jumped out to a 4-0 lead.  With Riley Norris unexpectedly forced into the game to play center, we were a little out of sync the first few minutes.  Once the team settled down, it was all Bama.

The offense was fun to watch, with lots of off-ball screens, back door cuts, and open looks from the perimeter.  Justin Coleman started at pg again and he does not look like a freshman at all. At times, it's easy to forget that he's only 5'9".  His stats don't tell the whole story, he scored 9 points, and only had 3 assists to one turnover, but his combination of quickness and ability to see the whole court, really puts us in good positions offensively.  He was 0 for 3 from the 3 point range, but he's got a nice shot and will shoot a solid percentage of the course of a season.  Defensively, he plays bigger than his size, has great fundamentals evidenced by the fact he's always moving his feet to maintain position, and his quick hands give him the opportunity to deflect some passes and get some steals.

Getting Tarrant and Obasohan back really helped.  The additional depth at the PG position allowed us to handle the ball much better.  We only had 8 turnovers in the game, and we were also able to press a lot more.

In fairness, I don't think Towson is a very good team.  Their big men were not particularly skilled, so they were not able to take advantage of Kesson's absence and Taylor's foul trouble.  They had a few decent shooters, but the ball handling skills of their guards left a lot to be desired.

We had 4 guys score double digits, with the captain Levi Randolph turning in a double-double with 15 points and 10 boards. We even made our free throws, going 17 for 19, with both Tarrant and Levi going 5 for 5 each.

The crowd was a little disappointing for it being a double-header on the night before a huge football game.  I would estimate approximately 3,500 or so were in the house.  I regret that I was not able to catch any of the women's game.  Our girls beat Florida A&M 60-44 earlier in the evening.  I was hoping to at least catch the second half of that game, but I was nearly an hour later leaving work than I had hoped for, and it took me over 1.5 hrs to drive from Birmingham thanks to idiot motorists and the AL Dept. of Transportation's genius decision to go ahead and start construction on I-59 before the two heaviest traffic weekends of the year.  Anyway, the women play tonight (Sunday) against Duke at 7 p.m. on SEC Network.  I'm looking forward to getting a look at Coach Curry's squad.  

Up next, the Western Carolina Catamounts continue their tour of the SEC with an 8pm tipoff in Coleman tomorrow night.  They are coming off a 10 point loss to $tate in $tarkville, for whatever that is worth.  The game will be televised on SEC Network if you can't make it to Coleman.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fresh meat- Towson Tigers (9PM EST)

This year I'm just going to throw links and some blurbs. MS has done the legwork on previews if you search through this blog.

Towson beat the ever tough Slippery Rock last week in exhibition so they're undefeated! Here's the box score of that.

Here is a write up for the game.

Game is on ESPN3... I will be in attendance for a 1st hand look.

2014-15 Schedule Preview: Everyone Else

With the season tipping off tomorrow, it's time to do a crash course for the remaining schools on Alabama's schedule. My apologies for not completing the previews in full, but real life intervened more often than not in the last month. Aight, let's go!

Missouri Tigers - Only one game with the Tigers on the schedule this season. They will come to Tuscaloosa. Frank Haith split for Tulsa after an underwhelming season. Missouri turned to Kim Anderson, a former player and assistant under Norm Stewart. Anderson won a national title just last season at Division II Central Missouri. This hire didn't move the needle much in the wake of Bruce Pearl being hired at Auburn, but I think Anderson is going to a do a good job in Columbia.

It could be a rough first season for Anderson though. This is going to be one of the youngest teams, not only in the SEC, but in the country. Of their 13 players, nine are freshmen or sophomores. That's not to say they're not talented. Anderson inherited an impressive first class from Frank Haith consisting of five 3-4 star rated players. The top returning players include Johnathan Williams III, Wes Clark, Ryan Rosburg, Keanu Post, along with transfers Keith Shamburger (Hawaii) and Deuce Bello (Baylor).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Elephants Excel in Exhibition 81-67 over Montevallo

Kessons, Tarrant, and Obasohan all dressed but did not play due to minor injuries.  Bama started true freshman Justin Coleman at point guard, along with Levi, Shannon, Cooper, and Taylor.  We were obviously the bigger, stronger, more athletic team, but after going to the post in a couple of early possessions we did not really impose our will physically.  The starting five jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but Montevallo answered and made it a competitive game. 

The experimental rules were in effect, meaning the game was played with a 30 second shot clock and players were allowed 6 fouls.  I liked the 30 second shot clock, and can only remember a couple of instances where we were forced to rush at the end of a possession.  It seemed to help the flow of the game, in my opinion. 

The additional foul was helpful, considering Shannon Hale picked up 4 fouls in the first half, and we were in the double-bonus a little over 10 minutes into the game.  Hale and Taylor in particular are going to have to play smarter on defense to avoid getting into foul trouble.  I don't think we are quite as good defensively as we have been in recent years, but being too aggressive when getting caught out of position could lead to some foul trouble issues.  It's also important to note that our game plan defensively was very conservative, which is somewhat uncharacteristic.  We only pressed a couple of times and that was only after made free throws, and we did not run any traps.  It was mostly man to man, then some 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone down the stretch, but we didn't even trap in the corners out of the 1-3-1. 

On the other hand, I think we have the potential to be much better offensively.  Justin Coleman is going to be a great point guard.  He is lightning quick and can create passing lanes and opportunities for his teammates, plus he has a very quick release and can shoot the 3.  In fact, we have several guys who can shoot the 3, and they weren't shy about putting it up.  25 of our 52 attempts were from downtown, and we made a respectable 36%.  Coleman, Hale, Levi, Coop, Devin Mitchell, and Dakota Slaughter all made 3 pointers, only Jeff Garrett was 0 for 3.  I hope Coach Grant continues to give these guys the green light to pull the trigger.  I felt like we passed up too many open shots in recent years, and with our post play not likely to generate a lot of scoring, there is no reason to not take our chances from 3-point land. 

We struggled a bit with turnovers when Coleman had to come out of the game as that forced us to play Levi Randolph at the point.  Tarrant and Obasohan should give us more depth when they return. 

Montevallo was able to make several runs, but we never let them get the ball in a one score game.  After our initial 10-0 run, the lead fluctuated between 4 and 11 or so for pretty much the rest of the game.  UM had a couple of guys who really killed us from the perimeter, and sometimes well beyond the perimeter.  Their game was somewhat tainted by UM's #5, who frankly played dirty and had a bad attitude.  He was called for a technical foul, along with Levi Randolph, in the first half when UM's #5 shoved Levi after the whistle then decided to get in his face and start talking trash. 

Free throw shooting was bad for most of the game, but then we made every single shot in the final minutes to stretch the lead back out to a comfortable margin.  Overall, I was pleased with our effort, especially considering we had 3 key contributors sitting out.  The offense looks improved, we shot the ball well, Coleman is way ahead of the curve, Levi had a fantastic all around game, and we answered all of their runs.  Still, there are some things to work on defensively, and we need to be more consistent shooting free throws throughout the game. 

We've added some banners to the Coliseum reflecting our post season appearances, and I think they look great.  As one might expect, there was not much of a crowd, I would estimate only about 1,500 or so, with about half of that being composed of very vocal Montevallo fans.  They even brought their mascot for some inexplicable reason.

Up next, the Towson Tigers travel to Tuscaloosa Friday night for an approximate 8:00 p.m. tipoff in the first game of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.  This is the second game of a double-header, with the women's team playing Florida A&M at 5:30.  It should be a great night of basketball, and with several thousand additional fans arriving for the big football the next day, hopefully we will have a decent crowd. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Season Prediction

Every year I like to predict the outcome of each game on the schedule prior to the start of the season.  I'm usually way off, but let's try this again:

Western Carolina-W
Iowa State-L
Southern Miss-W
Tennessee Tech-W
@Wichita State-L
App. State-W
North Florida-W
Texas A&M-W
@South Carolina-L
@Miss State-W
South Carolina-W
Ole Miss-W
@Texas A&M-L

That puts us at 8-5 going into SEC play, 10-8 in conference, 18-13 overall.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Florida Gators

Alabama will host the Gators in the only regular season match-up between the two schools. With Florida and Kentucky expected to once again be the kings of the league, this should be a great opportunity for Alabama to notch an impressive win. The only problem with that is there haven't been many wins against the Gators in basketball lately. Alabama is 3-15 in the last 18 contests. Anthony Grant has yet to beat his former boss, Billy Donovan. If Bama gets off to a slow start in league play, this game could be crucial in terms of the ultimate direction of the season. At some point, if Alabama is going to take the next step under Anthony Grant, winning home games against the power teams like Florida becomes necessary.

While Florida is expected to be top 25 strong again, a slow start could be in the cards for the Gators. Their non-conference schedule is considered by some to be the toughest in the country (Miami, Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, at Kansas, Florida State and Uconn). This coming on the heels of losing a handful of veterans who led the program to three Elite Eights and one Final Four. While Florida will remain talented as always, that lack of experience may lead to some early struggles. However, one figures that Billy Donovan will have this team figured out by the time conference play begins.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Coach Grant speaks at Birmingham Tip Off Club

The Birmingham Tip-Off club hosted a recruitment party/panel discussion at Iron City last night.  First of all, I want to say this was an excellent event, very well organized and very well attended.  I would estimate close to 1,000 people were there including members and prospective members.  It was great seeing that many people excited about basketball at this time of the year in the city come together.

Joe Dean Jr.emceed the festivities which featured a panel discussion with Coach Grant, UAB Coach Jerod Hasse, and former auburn player and assistant coach Chuck Person.  Bruce Pearl supposedly suffered a back injury a couple of days ago and was unable to attend, but he taped a video from his home that was played at the beginning of the ceremonies.

Pearl said that he was excited about the challenges at auburn, and looks forward to having a great rivalry with Coach Grant to improve the game of basketball within the state, and said they have "too much respect for each other to take the rivalry too far."  You can tell the guy is full of B.S.  He did state that they have sold out every season ticket available and sold out their first exhibition and season opening games.

The loudest applause of the night came when he said they were in discussions about playing UAB.  Jerod Hasse also echoed that sentiment and said they are hoping to start a regular series at the BJCC.  Both Person and Hasse spoke of the importance of playing in-state schools to generate interest within sport.  Obviously, Coach Grant's hands are tied on this one.  I know some will disagree with me, but Paul Bryant Jr. needs to remove his head from his ass and allow us to schedule UAB (and Troy, and South Alabama, etc, for that matter).  I understand the animosity, but most of that originated with Gene Bartow who is now worm food.  We will always have a strong alumni base in Birmingham, but we are losing ground in the local basketball community to auburn because of the way we treat UAB.

Chuck Person has a good sense of humor and was moderately entertaining.  He said the good news for auburn is they have a lot of guys coming back, which is also the bad news.  Coach Grant said he was optimistic about our depth, and said we should be able to use more guys than we have in the past.  Jerod Hasse was also excited about the Blazers depth, and said he anticipates playing being one of the fastest teams in the country this year.

Coach Grant said he would like to see a High School coaches association in this state where the coaches could possible lobby to be allowed more offseason time/scrimmages, and could work together to promote the sport.

Each coach was asked to tell a funny story about something that happened behind the scenes.  Coach Grant said that Chris Hines was the type, for better or worse, he never thought he committed a foul.  But he did foul, a lot.  Some of the other players were getting irritated at him in practice and coach called him over, and basically asked what his beef was.  Chris responded, "Coach, if I play hard, these guys get mad at me, but if I don't, then you get mad at me...They're just gonna have to stay mad at me I guess."

Nearly every in-state coach was present and recognized at the beginning of the event.  I recall Montevallo, UAH, Jacksonville State, Birmingham Southern, and others.  CM Newton and Wimp Sanderson were also in attendance, as was Wendell Hudson, Bryan Passink, and Leon Douglas.

I had the chance to speak with some of the coaches from the smaller schools, and they are generally unimpressed with Alabama's fundamentals.  "Very talented, but not very skilled" was the general impression.

I also spoke to someone fairly close to the program, and he confirmed that we were blown out in a secret scrimmage by Georgia Tech, but that Kessons, Tarrant, and Retin did not play.  Coaches don't really try to win those games, a lot of times they will work almost exclusively on a weakness, much like these exhibition games.  I was told that if we had a "big game" all 3 of those guys would play.  I suspect they will be held out of the Montevallo game Monday might, which frankly we may very well lose.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Auburn Tigers

Alabama hosts Auburn in the first of two meetings between the rival programs. Due to an offseason hire, a spark to the basketball side of the rivalry may have been struck. Auburn made one of the splashiest hires in the offseason by hiring former Tennessee coach, Bruce Pearl. Despite Pearl being under a show-cause penalty at the time of the hire, Auburn made a move early in the coaching carousel before other, perhaps more attractive jobs, became available.

And more jobs would have become available. Regardless of what you think of Pearl (personally, his checkered history with the rules and buffoonish behavior have never been my cup of tea), you can't argue with the results on the court for the programs he has coached. In nine seasons at D-II Southern Indiana, Pearl took the program to the NCAA tournament each season, including a Division II national championship in 1995. In four seasons at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he took the program to two NCAA tournaments, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2005. That run, which included a win over Alabama and Mark Gottfried in the 1st round, raised Pearl's profile, and ultimately led to Tennessee hiring him. In six seasons, Pearl took the Volunteers to the NCAA tournament each season he was there before a certain backyard BBQ and the subsequent lies that followed landed the coach in hot water with the NCAA, relegating him to the sad existence of being a VP of Marketing for a Knoxville wholesaler while making a nice paycheck as an analyst for ESPN. To borrow a line from a classic 1994 rock song, "Times are gone for honest men, and sometimes far too long for snakes."

Unfortunately for Alabama fans, it's not a question of if Pearl will revive the Auburn program, but when. Excitement around the Auburn program within the fanbase, attention from the college basketball media, and successes on the recruiting trail are already painting the picture that Pearl, assuming he sticks around Auburn for longer than a cup of coffee, will be a problem that Anthony Grant (or the next guy) will have to contend with for the foreseeable future. Whether Grant is willing or able to embrace this challenge remains to be seen, but the tension for Alabama/Auburn basketball games should be much more palpable moving forward.

Due in part to Pearl's impressive coaching record, many media outlets are expecting Pearl to work miracles in his first season. The preseason media poll has Auburn at 8th, despite a lack of depth and overall talent in the wake of four sub-par recruiting seasons under Tony Barbee. Frankly, I think the media is a little too drunk on Pearl's charisma in its confidence with this Auburn team, but the league is wide open after Kentucky and Florida so I suppose anything is possible.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Key Players "Banged Up" As Season Approaches

Anthony Grant gave his first press conference of the 2014-15 season today. A number of different subjects were covered, but one piece of information that stood out with the first game looming on November 10th is that three key players on the roster were mentioned as "banged up" by Grant. Cecil Hurt tweeted more details of the injuries. Retin Obasohan (ankle), Ricky Tarrant (lower leg) and Mike Kessens (sports hernia recuperation). Obviously, all three of these guys are expected to be major contributors for the team this season so losing any or all of them for an extended time could certainly hurt this team in getting off to a strong start. Hopefully Grant was correct when he said that none of the injuries are expected to be long-term.

It seems doubtful, based on Grant's comments, those three will play on Monday against Montevallo so I expect we will see all four freshmen play some heavy minutes. If Ricky and Retin are out, Justin Coleman could start at PG. As I wrote in the Montevallo preview, they are a very experienced, talented Division II team so the young guys will have to be ready to play. Grant continues to sound confident when discussing the prospects of this team and season, which is good. But this team needs to get healthy if they're going to turn things around from a season ago. An exhibition game is one thing, but the season comes fast and furious in less than two weeks, and I personally will feel better if this team is closer to 100%.  

Monday, November 03, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Arkansas Razorbacks

Alabama's challenging schedule to begin league play continues with a trip to always tough Bud Walton Arena. If there's one team that could emerge as that third team in the SEC with Kentucky and Florida, I'm betting on this group. They're one of the deepest and most experienced teams in the conference, well-coached, great fan support and have a potential breakout star in Bobby Portis, who Bama fans may remember for his 35 point, 9 rebound, 6 block performance in Bud Walton a year ago. If Arkansas improves on defense and wins a few more on the road, they will return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.

Arkansas returns 6 of their top 8 scorers, including their top 3 scorers from a year ago, the aforementioned Portis, Rashad Madden (12.6 ppg) and Michael Qualls (11.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg). Other returning players of note are Alandise Harris (8.9 ppg), Anthlon Bell (7.1 ppg) and Moses Kingsley (4.0 ppg, 1.5 bpg). Keaton Miles, a transfer from West Virginia will also be eligible this season after sitting out last season.

Two major question marks for this Arkansas team will be at point guard and on defense. Rashad Madden was forced to run the point for the team last season. He did a manageable job, but he's better playing off the ball. In an effort to address this, Mike Anderson signed two point guards. Juco recruit, Jabril Durham, may get the first shot at running the team. At Seminole State College last season, Durham averaged 21.2 ppg, 6.7 apg, 5.5 rpg and 2.5 spg. The freshman guard, Anton Beard, was a 3-star, ESPN top 100 recruit.

We've yet to see any of Mike Anderson's teams at Arkansas really stand out defensively. It's strange really, as the identity of his teams at UAB and Missouri was made on the defensive end. Last season, Arkansas was 13th in the SEC in opponent points per game (74.4). If this team hopes to compete for the SEC title and return to the NCAA tournament, they've got to improve on the defensive end.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Kentucky Wildcats

Alabama will return home to play the preseason #1 team in the country. It will be the first of two games with the Wildcats, and what should be a great opportunity for Bama to post a huge win for the postseason resume should they be in that position come March. Once again John Calipari signed the top recruiting class in the country but, unlike previous seasons in Lexington, he will have also have the luxury of returning roughly 60% of the scoring from last season. UK will be so deep that Calipari is seriously considering playing a two-platoon system in an effort to get all of his talented players on the floor.

With this much talent, the biggest question for Kentucky may be how hungry will this team be? Last season's Kentucky team was supposed to be unbeatable on the back of what was considered by some to be the greatest recruiting class of all time. There were serious discussions that Kentucky would go 40-0. Instead, they were a disappointing team, finishing 12-6 in conference play. And then March happened. Despite losing in the SEC Tournament title game to Florida, Kentucky played with a renewed swagger in Atlanta. A swagger which they carried into the NCAA tournament as an 8 seed where they knocked off Kansas State, unbeaten Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan to advance to the program's third Final Four in Calipari's five seasons. Once there they knocked off Wisconsin before losing in the title game to Uconn. Will that experience bond the returning UK players and allow them to serve as leaders to the new guys, or will chemistry continue to be an issue as it has been for Calipari's last two squads?

The top returners include the Harrison twins, Aaron (13.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.1 spg) and Andrew (10.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.0 apg). The media has selected Aaron Harrison as preseason player of the year. Also returning is 7'0, 240 lb, Willie Cauley-Stein, who missed Kentucky's final three games with a foot injury. The injury could have been the difference between Kentucky raising a championship banner and Cauley-Stein earning an NBA paycheck right now. Cauley-Stein was 2nd in the SEC last season in blocks per game. He is also one of seven players on the Kentucky roster listed at 6'8 or taller. A fantastic athlete, Cauley-Stein needs to improve his offensive game, rebounding and needs to play with a higher motor.

Friday, October 31, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - South Carolina Gamecocks

Alabama will continue their road trip with a visit to Columbia for the first of two games with the Gamecocks on the schedule. Alabama has had their troubles in Columbia, posting only a 2-5 record there since the 2000-2001 season. It doesn't figure to be an easy game this year either, as Frank Martin is slowly starting to turn that program around.

Preseason media polls are always ripe for debate, and this season's poll is no exception. Perhaps the most surprising prediction for me was the media picking South Carolina to finish 12th, despite the Gamecocks starting to turn a corner late last season with a home win over Kentucky and two wins in the SEC Tournament. This season, they return 7 of their top 8 scorers from last year, including a potential star in sophomore Sindarius Thornwell (13.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.1 spg, 37% 3-pt). I will be surprised if this Carolina team doesn't finish higher than 12th.

Along with Thornwell, the Carolina backcourt is in good hands with Tyrone Johnson, a 6'3 guard who was averaging 11.1 ppg and 3.4 apg before his season was cut short by injury. Also returning is Duane Notice (8.2 ppg, 36% 3-pt). Justin Mckie (son of BJ) played sparingly as a freshman, but could be expected to take on a bigger role this season.

The biggest question mark for South Carolina will be in the post. They have plenty of bodies, but consistency has been an issue, and they lack the length and athleticism of other teams in the league. Michael Carrera is under-sized at the 4, but he's tough and plays hard for 40 minutes most nights. However, he's going to need help if Carolina is going to make a jump in the standings this season. The most intriguing post player for Carolina could be sophomore Demetrius Henry. A 4 star recruit out of high school, Henry had flashes last season but will need to produce more to help provide some inside/outside balance for this Gamecock squad. If consistency continues to elude the Carolina post players, expect to see plenty of small-ball in Columbia this season.

There are those who disapprove of Frank Martin's tough love brand of coaching, but the players who have stuck it out with him at K-State and now at South Carolina have shown improvement and do play hard for the demanding coach. The general opinion is that Martin will turn things around in Columbia. This season could be the start of that anticipated better future for Gamecock basketball.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A challenge for Crimson Tide Marketing- PROMOTE THE 11/14 GAME vs Towson

At the very worst a 1 loss Mississippi State team will be coming into Tuscaloosa on 11/15 to play one of the biggest games in college football. Chances are the #1 team in the nation will be here along with College Gameday.

The night before we open the basketball season vs Towson.

Kickoff is probably going to be 2:30PM CST on the 15th so anyone NOT within a 2 hour drive is probably coming into Tuscaloosa the night before. HOW ABOUT GETTING SOME MARKETING DONE TO ATTRACT THESE FANS? Git 'er dun!

Game time for Towson last I checked is 8PM CST. That is a perfect time for those travelling into Tuscaloosa the night before the Mississippi State game to attend and maybe spur interest in coming back for another down the road. My plans are to do just that (anyone got a ticket? heh).

A couple years ago we had a similar scenario with aTm coming in and the hoops team opening up against North Dakota St. I attended and was dismayed at the maybe 4K fans in attendance. I am hoping for a better showing of fans.

I get the apathy towards hoops right now... heck, I'm probably the most negative of the contributors here on this season and the near future of hoops in Tuscaloosa, but I'll still try to attend a few games when I can.

I was happy with Hoops on the Quad... hopefully this was not an anomaly, but a preview of future promotion of the hoops teams (men and women).

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Tennessee Volunteers

Alabama will head to Knoxville for their first conference road game of the season. This will be the only game with Tennessee in the regular season. Road games, conference and otherwise, were a real challenge for our guys last season. If the struggles on the road continue, expect a slow start in conference play as 3 of the first 5 games are on the road.

The highs and lows of sports are one of the things that compels us to watch. Sometimes it happens over the course of a season, sometimes within the game itself. Tennessee's 2013-14 season was a season full of highs and lows. One game they would defeat Virginia, the eventual ACC champs, by 30 points. The next game, they would lose to UTEP on a neutral floor, or be swept by a so-so A&M team in two games. The inconsistent play for a team that was considered by many to be top 25 caliber played a big part in the percentage of Vol fans who began to grumble about Cuonzo Martin. Tennessee did just enough to slip into the tournament as possibly the last team selected. In response, they finally played up to their potential and were one possession away from reaching the Elite Eight.

It appeared that with this NCAA run that Cuonzo Martin could finally take a break from the hot seat and focus on improving the Tennessee program. But with his top three players departing, Cuonzo may have foreseen another rebuilding year in store, and the subsequent heat that would accompany it. So he struck while his name was hot, leaving Tennessee for the green grass of Berkeley. In the immediate aftermath, additional players transferred, and the entire recruiting class that Martin had assembled decommitted.

Into this morass stepped Donnie Tyndall, former coach at Morehead State and, most recently, two seasons at Southern Miss where he took the Golden Eagles to back-to-back NITs. With only five returning scholarship players, Tyndall's prospects for his first season in Knoxville did not look promising. To his credit, Tyndall rolled up his sleeves and got to work. He signed eight new players consisting of transfers, juco recruits and high school recruits to insure his first season will be nothing if not competitive. It remains to be seen if Tennessee can put it all together in Tyndall's first season, but they won't struggle due to scholarship numbers. And for that, Tyndall should be applauded for his hard work.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Could Anyone Use My UCLA Tickets

I have to attend a wedding in South Carolina the day before the game and Mrs. Alias refuses to drive all the way back to Tuscaloosa just so I can watch the one team I have waited 40+ years to see play in person.   I will sell the tickets at 75% of face value and mail them as soon as they arrive.

Alternatively, would anyone like to escort a very nice, older lady to a wedding in South Carolina the day before the UCLA game? Please email me if interested in either offer. :-)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Texas A&M Aggies

Alabama will open the SEC schedule at home against the Aggies. This will be the first of two games between the two programs, as Alabama will later travel to College Station for the final game of the regular season on March 7th. A&M won the only match-up between the two last season by a score of 63-48. Like Alabama, the Aggies didn't receive much love in the preseason standings as A&M is picked to finish 9th, just in front of our beloved Crimson Tide, who are picked to finish 10th. However, I think this A&M team is intriguing and could finish a bit higher.

For starters, they return 5 of their top 8 scorers from a year ago, including a steady senior in Kourtney Roberson (6'9, 247 lbs, 9.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and, in my opinion, one of the more underrated players in the league in Alex Caruso (6'5, 184 lbs, 9.0 ppg, 5.0 apg, 2.0 spg). Jalen Jones (6'7, 223 lbs) is a potential impact transfer that was the leading scorer at SMU his sophomore year (14.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg). His arrival should help improve an offense that finished 13th in the conference in scoring. If Houston transfer Danuel House (12.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg) is granted a waiver to play this season, that will give A&M even more firepower.

A familiar face to SEC basketball fans will also be joining the A&M coaching staff this season with Rick Stansbury joining Billy Kennedy's staff as an assistant coach. The hire seems to have already helped in recruiting as A&M currently has a monster class (rated top 5 by some) committed for 2015. It's been a slow start for Billy Kennedy in Aggieland, but the future seems very bright if you're an A&M basketball fan.

Conference openers are always important, but this one will be vital for Alabama as their opening conference schedule will feature 3 of their first 5 games on the road, and the other home game in that stretch is against a Kentucky team that could be a colossus in the SEC this season. With that kind of schedule, a slow start in conference play could be inevitable. Which means that this opener against A&M could be considered a must-win when January 6th arrives.

Monday, October 27, 2014

This article right here sums up the commitment to basketball

He doesn't get it... or maybe he gets it better than all of us. Regardless, I've had the feeling for a year now he is not on the hot seat and unless we repeat last season we will be subjected to more of the same.

From Tuscaloosa News to your eyes.

Friday, October 24, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview: North Florida Ospreys

In case you're wondering, an Osprey is a bird of prey, also commonly called a sea hawk. Anyway, North Florida will be making a trek to Tuscaloosa for a second straight season. Last season, Alabama defeated the Ospreys by a score of 76-48.

Matt Driscoll is entering his sixth season with the program. He was the first coach hired after North Florida made the transition to Division I so the job has been a challenge for him, but he may finally have a team capable of competing for the Atlantic Sun title. 6 of the top 8 scorers return, highlighted by double digit scorers, Dallas Moore (12.4 ppg, 2.5 apg) and Beau Beech (10.3 ppg, 39% from 3-pt). The Ospreys also welcome a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe - Trent Mackey - that averaged 11.0 ppg and shot 44% from 3 as a sophomore at Monroe. They are primarily a perimeter team, but do have some size in Beech, who is 6'8; Romelo Banks (6'11); and Chris Davenport (6'8).

Sandwiched between a big home game against UCLA and the SEC opener against Texas A&M, this could potentially be a trap game for Alabama.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

BBQ and Basketball

I attended the annual Tide Pride/Tuscaloosa Tip-off club preseason open practice yesterday afternoon.  We arrived about 10 minutes early and could hear that practice was already under way.  Upon attempting to enter the arena, we were stopped by an administrator and informed that the coaches did not want anybody to come in until 4:30.  If they are going to have this event, in my opinion our $10 should entitle us to watch an entire practice.

As usual I tried to focus mostly on the new guys, since we have a good sense of what most of our returning players are capable of.  Unfortunately, Kessons and Tarrant were dealing with minor injuries and not able to play.

They started off working on set inbound plays from the baseline against a man to man defense, then against various zones.  Next they ran several 5 on 5 half-court sets, mostly against zone, starting at the top of the key.  They did some 5 on 5 full court, usually 2 possessions at a time, and concluded with a 4 on 4 half court drill with 2 wings and 2 big men in man to man situations.  Practice concluded with free throws, each player shot 2 until a certain number in a row were made.

With Tarrant out, Coleman and Retin ran the points.  Justin Coleman is very quick, and strong for his size.  I was concerned that his lack of size could be a problem defensively, but his quickness allows him to maintain position and be disruptive.  I thought he looked great for a freshman running the point.  He will also be able to score, as he makes up for his lack of size by having a very quick release on his shot.

Riley Norris was much better defensively than I anticipated.  He was matched up against Shannon Hale most of the practice, and he more than held his own, at one point he denied Shannon the ball by deflecting passes and causing turnovers on 2 or 3 possessions in a row.  He's big enough he can guard the 3 or some smaller 4s.  I can see him playing a valuable role on this team.  He has a decent looking shot, but not a very quick release, and he appeared to be somewhat off during most of the practice.

Devin Mitchell is quicker and more athletic than I expected, but at least in this practice does not appear to be the shooter that I was hoping for.  He definitely has the capability of being a great defender at the 2 spot, and is the type of player that should thrive in a full court type of system.

Speaking of which, we didn't really work on the press at all during practice, which surprised me.

Jeff Garrett also has good strength for a freshman.  He's another guy who can play as a big 3 or small 4.  I don't see him as much of a scorer, but he was very aggressive in going after rebounds, which is an area we desperately need to improve.

I am happy to report that we appear to be making adjustments to our offensive sets to better suit the talent on hand.  We did not run any of the high ball screen pick and rolls that was our "go to" play last season.  We ran a lot of 3 out motion offense with various off ball screens, cuts to the basket, and flashes to the elbow and wings.  I felt like we moved the ball better as a team in this practice than we did most of last season.

All of that being said, with the exception of Levi Randolph nobody really shot the ball very well, and we still struggled to score.  Coach Grant is still heavily emphasizing defense.  He really got onto Shannon for failing to switch on a couple of screens and not closing out on shooters.  He seemed more pleased by Rodney Cooper taking a charge during the 4 on 4 drills than anything else.

Overall, this team seems to enjoy playing together and they are clearly working very hard to improve.   Jimmie Taylor appears to have gained some much needed strength in the off season, but his post moves are still a little raw.  Early in the practice he was slow to react to a double team, which would have resulted in a turnover, but he did a better job against the same defense after speaking with the coaches.  Levi had a great day, and I think he is going to have a special senior season for us.  He was not afraid to shoot the ball, and he knocked down several threes, played outstanding defense as usual, and was effective driving to the basket.

Keep in mind all of these observations are based upon about an hour or so of watching the drills described above, and play was generally stopped after each possession to set up the next one, etc.

Coach Brannen did the bulk of the coaching, while new coach Witherspoon probably did not offer more than 5 minutes of instruction throughout the practice.

After the practice, Coach Grant spoke and took questions from the crowd.  He began by introducing the players by class, and then dismissed them to take care of "academic obligations."  Last season I speculated there might be some friction between Coach Grant and Coach Brannen based on their demeanor during games on the sideline.  Perhaps I am reading too much into things, but when Coach Grant introduced his staff, he said a nice blurb about each staff member and assistant coach and what they bring to the program, but for Coach Brannen he only gave his name and title as Associate Head Coach.  Coach Grant said that Coach Witherspoon brings years of head coaching experience to the staff that we've been missing without Coach Hipsher, and also said he has brought some new ideas to help our offense.

Coach Grant seemed more relaxed and confident at this event than he has in years past.  He actually cracked a few good jokes in response to some of the questions .  He spoke of the schedule and said he wants to challenge his team early on.  He believes the SEC can be much improved this year, and said he thinks we can get 5 or 6 teams into the NCAA tournament.  He specifically mentioned Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, and LSU as teams to watch.

About half of the questions came from little kids asking things like "who is the tallest player?" and "how do you pick the starters?"  It was cute the first time, but quickly got old after the 5th or 6th such question.  One guy asked if we've used any of the software programs to improve our free throw shooting like Duke utilizes.  Coach Grant responded that we do not, but tried to describe some of the things we do to work on free throws.  If the players would not have made a certain number in a row, each shooting 2 at a time, they would have had to run at the end of practice.  I like the peer pressure drill because it sort of simulates a game situation, where you need to make 2 shots at the line with your teammates counting on you.  He also said they do a "rapid fire" drill where they try to shoot as many as they can in one minute to work on muscle memory.  Honestly, I don't like that at all, while repetition is important, I believe free throw shooting is as much about mental technique and consistency as it is physical.  Successful free throw shooters have a routine, and I believe all practice should involve the entire routine, rather than just quickly throwing up shots.

Coach Grant also said that for the first time we have a team captain.  The team unanimously voted Levi Randolph to be the captain.  He said Levi is a great leader, but there are plenty of other guys taking leadership roles on the team.  Coach Grant seemed genuinely pleased with the leadership roles the upperclassmen have assumed as well as the new guys eagerness to learn and work ethic.

The event was well attended, but maybe only slightly down from last year.  My takeaway is that we have a great group of guys who are working hard as a team every day to get better.  At the end of the day, that's really all you can ask for.  Hopefully everybody will be healthy and ready to go November 10th against Montevallo.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview: UCLA Bruins

One of the blue bloods of college basketball will make their first trip to Tuscaloosa as UCLA highlights the non-conference home schedule for Alabama. UCLA had a very solid season in Steve Alford's first year as head coach, reaching the Sweet 16 before falling to Florida. They lost some key players to the NBA draft, but at UCLA they don't believe in rebuilding seasons so the expectation is once again to compete for the PAC 12 title and reach the NCAA tournament. In a non-conference schedule for Alabama that features the majority of their toughest tests away from home, this game could prove to be Bama's last chance at a quality non-conference win.

Despite losing 3 of their top 4 scorers to the NBA draft, along with seniors David and Travis Wear, UCLA will still have a very talented roster. In addition to experienced returning players in Norman Powell, Tony Parker and Bryce Alford, UCLA signed a very impressive recruiting class highlighted by Kevin Looney, Thomas Welsh and Isaac Hamilton (originally signed with UTEP, opted out, and sat out last year as a result). Jonah Bolden was another highly-rated recruit, but he did not qualify and will have to sit out this season. Two other returning players who could have a greater impact this season are Wanaah Bail and Noah Allen.

There is a lack of depth in the Bruin backcourt, and who will man the point guard spot is still up in the air, but one thing UCLA will have plenty of is size. Alabama's biggest weakness on paper appears to be its lack of size so UCLA will present a serious challenge. UCLA by comparison has five players at 6'9 or taller who will likely be in the rotation. Alabama's big men will have to hold their own, while the perimeter game will have to be on target.

The only unfortunate aspect of this game is that it was scheduled for 12/28, which falls during the holiday break for the students. Nevertheless, the hope is that with a team of UCLA's history and stature, the fans will turn out in force and help our guys notch a big win.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hoops on the Quad.

The men's and women's team hosted the first ever "Hoops on the quad."  First the coaches spoke, introduced the new players and generally talked about how excited they were for the season and encouraged the fans to lend their support.  There were a number of competitions where teams consisting of a male and female would compete at scoring from different points on the court and also some dribbling/passing/shooting drills.  I was a little surprised there was no dunking competition.  There was a 3-point shooting competition, that was won by one of the girl's players with 11 points.  Shannon Hale and Levi have the best looking perimeter shot from what I could see.  I was disappointed that Norris and Mitchell did not fare better.  Norris threw up a couple of air balls, and Shannon, despite having the highest score amongst the men at 10, started things off by hitting the side of the backboard from the corner, twice.  To put the low scores into perspective, I won the intramural 3 point shooting contest my sophomore year with a score of 14, and I'm no Steve Kerr.

In fairness, these guys aren't used to playing outdoors. The events ended with a short, defense optional scrimmage that featured a lot of ridiculous alley-oop attempts.

The weather was perfect and it drew a large crowd from those tailgating nearby for the football game.  You couldn't tell much about the team, but that wasn't the purpose of this event.  Everybody seemed to have a good time, it was well organized and put together, and perhaps they piqued the interests of some more casual fans.  All in all, this was a success and something that should have been done a long time ago.

It was nice to see our fearless leader, Bobbyjack in attendance.  Hopefully he will post his impressions as well.

I plan to attend the annual Tide Pride BBQ/practice Tuesday afternoon and will hopefully have something more substantive to report at that time.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Christophe Varidel has left the team for medical reasons

I wish him the best of luck.  Frankly, I think people's expectations for him were inflated based on one fluke game against BYU.  He averaged 6-9 ppg at FGCU, which despite their tournament run is not the highest level of competition, and then he went to Division 2 Chaminade where he averaged 19 ppg.  Expecting him to be an impact player in the SEC was probably a stretch.

That said, losing him does hurt our depth, but with Devin Mitchell, Riley Norris, and Justin Coleman coming in, plus Shannon and Levi returning, we have plenty of guys who should be able to make the 3.

2014-15 Schedule Preview: Stillman Tigers/Appalachian State Mountaineers

With the days passing quickly, I'm going to have to start doubling up some of these previews in order to finish them before the first game tips.

After a tough road trip to Wichita, Alabama will return home for a four-game homestand to close out the non-conference schedule. The first of these games will be against their neighbor, Stillman, a member of NCAA Division II. These two played last season as part of the NIT Season Tip-Off, with Alabama notching a 102-65 victory.

Stillman made a coaching hire in the offseason, hiring Donte Jackson who was previously the head coach at Central State University in Ohio. He compiled a 68-42 record in four seasons at Central State. Stillman returns 3 of their top 8 scorers form last season (plus an additional player who averaged 5.1 ppg). The leader of the pack should be Markeith Madison, a senior from Tuscaloosa who averaged 16.8 ppg and 7.5 rpg last season.