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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dazon Ingram commits to Alabama

Dazon Ingram, a 6'5" combo guard from Theodore, AL chose the Tide over Wichita State, Houston, and UAB.  It is rumored that he will not sign until the late signing period in April.

2014-15 Schedule Preview: Wichita State Shockers

Alabama will hit the road again, this time for Wichita, Kansas. Charles Koch Arena (capacity: 10,506) will not be a welcome venue for our guys. The fan support for this Wichita State program is enviable, and with an SEC school coming to town, Alabama should expect one of the most intimidating environments they will likely see all season.

There's been plenty for Shocker fans to cheer the last four seasons as the program has enjoyed an unprecedented run of success. In 2011, they defeated Alabama in the NIT final to win that tournament. In 2012 they returned to the NCAA tournament, but were knocked out by a VCU team that reached the Final Four. The following season, Wichita would be the upstart, knocking off Pitt, #1 Gonzaga, LaSalle and Ohio State before losing a tough, close game to eventual national champ, Louisville. Last season, Wichita proved that run was no fluke by going 35-0, before losing by two points to eventual runner-up, Kentucky, in the second round.

Head coach Gregg Marshall has done a fantastic job with this program (and Winthrop before that), and at this point has to be considered, at least, one of the top 10 coaches in the college game. And, as one would presume, Wichita State is the early favorite in the Missouri Valley conference, and expected to be a top 25 program yet again. 

Wichita State will return 4 of their top 8 scorers from last season. The three that will garner the most attention coming into the season are Fred Van Vleet (the 2013-14 MVC Player of the Year, 11.6 ppg, 5.3 apg), Ron Baker (13.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.1 apg) and Tekele Cotton (10.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg). Cotton could be primed for a breakout season with star player Cleanthony Early moving on. Wichita State will also have to count on some new guys to produce. Marshall brings in a 6-man class (two jucos and 4 freshmen), plus returns two redshirt freshmen. All of them will need to produce on some level to help keep Wichita among the nation's elite.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview: Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles

Alabama will return home to play Tennessee Tech from the Ohio Valley conference. Tech won 17 games a year ago, but failed to make the postseason. They return 4 of their top 8 scorers from last season, including their leading scorer and top returning rebounder, Dwan Caldwell (10.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg). At 6'8, 245 lbs, Caldwell could present challenges for Bama in the post.

Rebounding will be a key stat in this game. In addition to Caldwell, Tech will bring three other players with size into the game, ranging from 6'9 to 6'10. As a result, Alabama's overall lack of size could play a factor. On the perimeter, Tech will return veteran guards in Jordan Johnson (5.3 ppg), Javon McKay (5.3ppg) and Josiah Moore (7.5 ppg), along with a potential impact juco recruit in Torrance Rowe (14.3 ppg, 3.6 apg and 3.0 rpg at Eastern Florida State College).  

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Alabama Basketball Presents "Hoops on the Quad" on October 18th

The men's and women's basketball teams are coming together to promote the two programs on October 18th with the Hoops on the Quad event. It will take place at noon prior to the Texas A&M football game. An outdoor court will be set up for the event, which will be an hour long. According to "The 1 hour event will be held on a special outdoor court and showcase both the men's and women's teams as they participate in a variety of activities that is sure to be entertaining for fans. Among the list of activities are a special team introductions, skills competition, a three-point shootout, a brief scrimmage and other surprise entertainment. Both teams will remain on site following the show to sign autographs for fans"

This is a good idea. There have been many at this blog and elsewhere that have called for the basketball teams to promote themselves more diligently. This is certainly a step in the right direction of doing that. And holding the event on the Quad before what should be a huge football game should draw a lot of fans to the event. It doesn't guarantee higher attendance for games this season (it will take more wins for that to happen), but it certainly should elevate interest in Bama basketball four weeks before the season begins.

I'm hoping one of the crack staff will be attending the A&M game, and will be able to provide a recap of the event. If any readers attend the event, please respond in the comments section with your version of events.

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Xavier Musketeers

Alabama will play its first true road game of the season at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio against the Xavier Musketeers. The game is a return game in a home-and-home series, which began last season in Tuscaloosa. Xavier overcame a 12-point deficit in the 2nd half to defeat Alabama, 77-74. For Alabama, it will be an opportunity to notch a quality road win for their resume, something they were unable to do last season, finishing 0-11 in true road games, and 0-15 overall in games played outside of Coleman Coliseum.

In the last 30 years, Xavier has been one of the most consistent programs in the country. During that time, the program has averaged 22 wins per season, and has played in 22 NCAA tournaments and 3 NIT tournaments. Last season, the program became a member of the new Big East conference, after spending the previous 18 years in the Atlantic 10. The Musketeers finished 3rd in their new conference, were selected for the NCAA tournament, but were beaten in the opening round in Dayton by N.C. State.

Despite losing 3 of their top 4 scorers, Xavier's consistency isn't expected to wane this year. For starters, they have 5 of their top 8 scorers returning, add a transfer from Indiana, and welcome in arguably the best recruiting class of head coach Chris Mack's 5-year tenure. Factor in one of the best home court environments in college basketball, and Xavier seems likely to remain in place as one of the top teams in the Big East.

Xavier's biggest strength may be their balance. In the post, they return Matt Stainbrook, Jalen Reynolds and James Farr. Stainbrook was the leading rebounder for Xavier last season, while Reynolds and Farr are expected to take on a bigger role this season. They were the 4th and 5th leading rebounders for the team a year ago at 4 rpg. By comparison, Alabama's leading rebounder was Rodney Cooper at 4.9. Oh, and they also add two 6'10 freshmen who were rated 3-4 stars coming out of high school. Size for days.

In the backcourt, they also return quality, experienced guards in Dee Davis and Myles Davis (no relation). They're also hoping for increased production from Brandon Randolph, a sophomore who was a 4 star recruit out of high school, as well as Remy Abell, a transfer from Indiana. And I may have mentioned that they have a really good recruiting class coming in as well.

Factor in a talented roster, coaching staff, and what should be an intimidating environment, and Alabama will be challenged to put an end to their road losing streak. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - South Florida Bulls

The December portion of the schedule begins with a visit from the South Florida Bulls, in a return game from last season when the Bulls beat Bama 66-64 in Tampa. That was one of the few bright spots for South Florida, as they finished 12-20, and fired head coach Stan Heath. The school offered Manhattan head coach, Steve Masiello, but were then forced to take back their offer when it was discovered that Masiello's resume was inaccurate, as he never actually graduated from the University of Kentucky, despite his resume stating differently. Masiello was able to retain his position with Manhattan, assuming he completed his undergraduate degree.

Forced to turn elsewhere, South Florida hired Orlando Antigua, formerly an assistant at Kentucky under John Calipari, and current head coach of the Dominican Republic national team. Aside from that experience, this will be Antigua's first college head coaching job.

As expected in the transition period between coaches, the Bulls program saw several players transfer out, meaning the Bulls will be forced to lean on several young guys this season. One cause for optimism is that the team did return some key guys from last season, including guards Corey Allen, Jr. and Anthony Collins along with a potential star big man in Chris Perry. These three players will all factor heavily into South Florida's success or failure this season.

Collins may be the most important returner. He only played in 8 games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The Bulls were 6-2 with Collins, 6-18 without him. You do the math. Collins isn't a prolific scorer, more of an old school pass-first point guard (he was averaging 6 apg prior to his injury), but he has been a critical player for this program during his career, and his decision to stay will provide Antigua with needed leadership on the floor. Allen, Jr. gained valuable experience filling in for Collins, and averaged 9.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 2.8 apg. Perry had a very good freshman campaign, with averages of 8.9 ppg and 5.3 rpg. He destroyed Bama in the game last season, with a stat line of 14 pts, and 14 rebs. The only thing that hindered Perry last season was his weight. If he's in better shape, he has the skill to be a big-time player for Antigua this season.

It remains to be seen if Antigua has the head coaching chops to lead South Florida to respectability, but he's off to a good start as far as recruiting goes. The expectations for this team will be low, but there's enough talent on this roster that no one should take them lightly.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Maryland Terrapins/Arizona State Sun Devils

Alabama will close the CBE Classic against one of these two teams, providing our beloved Crimson Tide with back-to-back opportunities to notch non-conference victories against Power 5 conference schools.

Like Alabama, 2013-14 was a disappointing year for the Maryland Terrapins relative to the talent on their roster. While the Terrapins did finish the season with a winning record (17-15), the preseason expectations among the fanbase were much loftier as the program made its farewell tour through the ACC before leaving for the Big Ten. In the aftermath of the season, five players who averaged between 13-30 minutes per game transferred. The fan backlash was severe. As a result, head coach Mark Turgeon enters this season firmly on the hot seat.

It will not be an easy task for Turgeon and his staff. The transfers left only 3 of the top 8 remaining scorers from last season. Depth will also be an issue as there are only 10 scholarship players on the roster, and one of those is a transfer from Georgia Tech who will most likely be forced to sit out this season. Therefore, Turgeon and his staff will have to lean heavily on a handful of freshmen, all while beginning play in the Big Ten conference, considered by many to be the best college basketball conference from top to bottom.

Despite the challenges, the ray of hope is that the team may not be deep, but it is talented. The 3 returning players - Dez Wells, Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz - are seasoned players with a lot of games under their belts. Wells has the talent to be an All-Big Ten performer if he remains healthy. The incoming freshman class was rated Top 10 by some recruiting services. They will have to be, as all of them will be required to play major minutes.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Iowa State Cyclones

The CBE Classic will resume in Kansas City on Monday, November 24th. Alabama will have an opportunity for a major statement against what should be a top 25 ranked Iowa State program.

Former Cyclone and current head coach Fred Hoiberg has done a stellar job in rebuilding this basketball program. In just four seasons, Hoiberg has won 90 games, and taken the program to three straight NCAA tournaments. Last season, the Cyclones won the Big 12 tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16 before bowing out against eventual national champion, Uconn.

Hoiberg employed an unconventional approach in building the program, taking in transfers from other programs before the practice became commonplace in college basketball. However, he and his staff have also developed their share of young players, such as former star, Melvin Ejim, and current star, Georges Niang.

While the program lost star players Ejim and DeAndre Kane from last season, they return Niang, who should be one of the top 25 players in the college game. Overall, the team returns 5 of their top 8 scorers from last season. And, as expected, Hoiberg adds some impact D-1 and Juco transfers to the roster. It all adds up to what should be a very strong Cyclone unit capable of competing yet again in a strong Big 12 conference.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

2014-15 Schedule Preview - Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Before they embark on their trip to Kansas City to resume the CBE Classic, Alabama will host a tricky opponent in Southern Miss. Alabama will return the favor next season with a trip to Hattiesburg. The casual fan may not realize how good the Southern Miss basketball program has been in recent years. In the last three seasons, the Southern Miss program has 81 wins, and has advanced to one NCAA tournament as well as 2 NIT tournaments. Not too shabby.

Unfortunately, success has a price. For Southern Miss, it's been a revolving door of head coaches. After he rebuilt the program and reached the NCAA tournament, Larry Eustachy left for Colorado State. His replacement - Donnie Tyndall - took the program to two straight NIT tournaments, and watched fan attendance rise in each of his two seasons. And then Tyndall left for the Tennessee job.

To their credit, Southern Miss moved fast, making yet another great hire in Doc Sadler, whose previous experience was as head coach at UTEP and Nebraska, and most recently as an assistant under Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State. Sadler is a respected coach in the profession. His teams at UTEP and Nebraska were typically blue-collar teams that won with grit and defense (not unlike Grant's teams at Alabama). While his tenure at Nebraska did not go smoothly, I think an argument could be made that the facility upgrades and the success that current Cornhusker coach Tim Miles is enjoying are, at least partially, a result of the foundation that Sadler and his staff laid. I think Southern Miss is a good fit for him, and he will keep the program moving in a positive direction.

With that said, his first season may be a bit of a rebuilding job. The top five scorers from last season's team are now gone, meaning Sadler and his staff will have to lean on some veteran players who were previously role players, along with a handful of newcomers. That's a lot of moving pieces for a first-year head coach. In a Conference USA that currently appears to be solid at the top, maintaining their place at the head of the league could be difficult for Southern Miss, at least this season.