Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Western Carolina Catamounts

Western Carolina had a solid 13-14 season, winning 19 games. They were playing their best at the end of the season in the Southern Conference Tournament, knocking off conference champ Davidson before falling in the tournament title game to Wofford. A win would have resulted in just the second trip to the NCAA tournament for the program.

It was a solid run to end the season, but can the Catamounts build off of it? The program returns only half of their top 8 scorers from last season. Their top two scorers from last season have departed, leaving only one returning player who averaged double figures (James Sinclair/11.8 ppg). Head Coach Larry Hunter returns for his 10th season with the school. After only averaging 11 wins his first three seasons, the program has averaged 17 wins per season. They have been solid, but postseason play has been elusive, with the program only playing in the CBI during Hunter's tenure. However, Hunter appears to have the confidence of his AD as the school awarded him a contract extension in June.

With Davidson exiting the conference to join the A-10, the Southern Conference appears to be wide open this season. Perhaps Western Carolina can fill that vacuum, and prove that their run to the tournament championship a year ago wasn’t a fluke.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Towson Tigers

The season officially kicks off on Friday, November 14th when Alabama hosts the Towson Tigers as part of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. Alabama will play two games in Tuscaloosa as part of the event before traveling to Kansas City for the remaining games.

Towson head coach Pat Skerry may not be well-known to the casual college basketball fan, but the job he has done at Towson so far suggests that he’s going to attract more attention in the years ahead. When Skerry took over the Towson program prior to the 2011-12 season it was, quite frankly, a program in disarray. Lacking talent and momentum, while also suffering through APR [Academic Progress Rate] penalties incurred by the previous staff, the program went 1-31 in Skerry’s first season. In the following two seasons, the program performed a miraculous turnaround, winning 43 games. The 2012-13 team finished 18-13, which was the best single season improvement in the history of NCAA basketball. Unfortunately, the team was unable to compete in the postseason due to the lingering APR issues. In 2013-14, Towson won 25 games, finished 2nd in a tough CAA conference, and advanced to the quarterfinals of the College Insider postseason tournament.

However, after losing the top four scorers from last season’s team, Towson will have to reload in order to remain a contender in the CAA. This team returns the remaining 4 of their top 8 scorers from last season (highlighted by Four McGlynn, a guard who made 40% of his 3-pt shots and 91% of his free throws in 13-14), and welcomes two transfers in 6’9 post player Alex Gavrilovic (Dayton) and a 6’6 guard, A.J. Astroth (Vanderbilt). The CAA lost a lot of talent from last season so the entire league appears to be in flux. As a result, don’t be surprised if Pat Skerry, based on the success he’s enjoyed in his first three years, is able to overcome the roster turnover and keep this Towson team near the top of the CAA.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Montevallo Falcons

The Alabama men’s basketball program has released their 2014-15 schedule. Alabama fans have been anticipating a new season after suffering through a very tough 2013-14 season, which resulted in a 13-19 record, and has left the program at somewhat of a crossroads during the Anthony Grant era. Either Coach Grant is able to regain the momentum and promise he showed in his first four seasons in Tuscaloosa, or else his seat could become unbearably hot. 

Perhaps with that in mind, the 14-15 schedule is noticeably lighter on power teams than what we saw last year. In the opinion of this writer, that is a good thing. While the schedule last season was admirable in its ambition, the truth of the matter is the program was (and is) not yet in a position to confidently tackle a schedule like that. The end result – a 6-7 non-conference record in 13-14 – should be the only argument necessary to back up that opinion.

That’s not to say the 14-15 schedule is cupcake city; far from it. Alabama will play a combination of Iowa State, Maryland and Arizona State in Kansas City as part of the CBE Classic, welcome traditional power UCLA into Coleman Coliseum, and will play in two of the more intimidating road environments in college basketball at Xavier and Wichita State. In conference, Alabama will face Kentucky twice and travel to Arkansas and LSU, two teams who should be projected in the top half of the league. The hardwood version of the Iron Bowl is also expected to become more interesting in the wake of Auburn hiring Bruce Pearl.

Anthony Grant is not running away from challenging himself or his team, but there’s a fine line between challenging yourself and putting yourself in a no-win situation. After a tough lesson learned last season in regards to non-conference scheduling, it appears that Anthony Grant is content to remain in the middle of the road.

Starting today, I will post a preview of each of Alabama’s 2014-15 opponents in anticipation of the upcoming season. I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

2014-15 Roster Preview: Guards

Trevor Releford has left the building. Over the course of four years, Trevor became one of the best players in Alabama basketball history, finishing in the all-time top five in points and the all-time leader in steals. Last season, he was the only offensive option for the team on most nights. Despite that adversity he had a stellar senior season, but the overall struggles of the team probably cost him a well-deserved SEC Player of the Year award. You can’t replace a player like Trevor, but the hope is that a deep stable of guards will be able to soften the blow of his departure.

And Alabama will be deep at the guard spots. In addition to experienced returning players such as Levi Randolph and Retin Obasohan, the team adds experienced transfers in Ricky Tarrant and Christophe Varidel, while Grant and his staff also brought in two top 100 guards in Justin Coleman (most recruiting sites listed him as the top high school player in Alabama) and Devin Mitchell. All six players are capable of filling needs for this team and will serve as the backbone for the 2014-15 squad.

Friday, September 05, 2014

2014-15 Roster Preview: Wings

Though post depth continues to be an elusive luxury for the Alabama basketball program, Anthony Grant and his staff were able to add some much-needed players at the wing and guard positions for the upcoming season, which should make Bama as deep at those positions as they’ve been under Grant. This preview will focus on the wings.

Monday, September 01, 2014

2014-15 Roster Preview: Post Players

With the release of the 2014-15 schedule, we can now start looking forward to a new season. Things can obviously change, but it also appears that the Alabama basketball roster is now in place for the 2014-15 season. While Alabama did not avoid the attrition bug altogether following the departures of Carl Engstrom, Algie Key and Nick Jacobs, this off-season has been relatively tame compared to what we saw last summer when Bama lost two starters in Trevor Lacey and Moussa Gueye as well as a promising young player in Devonta Pollard.

Anthony Grant and his staff recruited very aggressively this past year, bringing in four promising freshmen while also adding Florida Gulf Coast/Chaminade transfer, Christophe Varidel. These players, along with the now-eligible Ricky Tarrant and Michael Kessens, will combine for a total of seven new players in the program this season, not counting walk-ons. The hope is that an infusion of new talent and energy can help turn around the fortunes of a program whose momentum came to a grinding halt following a 13-19 season.

The coaching staff also underwent some changes as former Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherspoon joined the staff. Witherspoon had a solid 14 year run at Buffalo and will bring some much-needed experience to a staff that arguably lost some cohesion after Dan Hipsher left for the head job at Texas Pan-American. Grant has played a lot of hands in the aftermath of that 13-win season that saw a growing number of Tide fans calling for change. If Grant is going to turn things around, it must happen this season or it's not likely to happen at all. Another disappointing year and fan pressure will most likely be too great to retain Grant for another season. What is defined by a "successful season" is up for debate, but it is this writer's opinion that Grant has to find a way to return the program to the NCAA tournament in order to reduce the temperature under his seat.

There were multiple reasons for Alabama’s rough season in 2013-14, but the biggest culprit may have been a lack of rebounding. Alabama finished dead last in the conference in overall rebounding numbers and a disappointing -2.1 rebounding margin. Many, including myself, pointed out Alabama’s poor shot defense numbers throughout last season. However, upon repeat viewings of those games, it was evident that Bama’s first-shot defense remained as solid as ever, but it was rendered moot by the fact that Bama frequently gave up 2nd and 3rd chance opportunities to their opponents, which frequently led to baskets and hurt Bama’s overall defensive numbers. In order for Bama to reverse their fortunes this season, they must rebound better.

Unfortunately, while Grant and his staff had a very productive recruiting year, they were unsuccessful in filling one important need, and that was post depth. As a result, Alabama will still be thin in the post, putting a larger emphasis on the play of guys like Jimmie Taylor and Michael Kessens. Also of importance will be guys like Shannon Hale and Rodney Cooper, who are typically more comfortable on the perimeter, but have shown the ability to mix it up inside and rebound when necessary. Freshmen such as Jeff Garrett and Riley Norris could also be counted on to provide help on the boards.

Let's take a look at what Alabama will have in the post. Check back later for previews for the wings and guards.