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.