Alabama will open conference play at Ole Miss at that low hanging fruit of a facility know as the "Tad....." Wait. No, that's right, the "Tad Pad" has been retired. The "Pavilion at Ole Miss" is the new home of Rebel Black Motorcycle Club Bear Cub basketball. I for one will not miss the "Tad Pad" for the simple fact that the place was typically a nightmare for Bama teams in the past. I feel about the Tad Pad the way Johnny Cash felt about San Quentin ("May you rot and burn in hell...").
The flip side of that coin is that Alabama will likely walk into a tough atmosphere tomorrow night as the Ole Miss faithful celebrate the opening of the new facility. The word is the game is sold out, and I'm going to make a wild assumption that Bama fans were not greedily buying those tickets. Not the ideal situation for Avery Johnson and this team to open conference play, but it's just one of many tests awaiting this team in the coming weeks.
Stefan Moody currently leads the SEC in scoring at 23.7. He's the type of guy who you think is contained, and suddenly he breaks out for 10-15 quick points. Last year in Coleman, he exploded in the 2nd half en route to a 25 point game, half of which he gained at the free throw line. That tells you that, despite being listed at 5'11, he's not limited to just playing on the perimeter. It will be a full time job for Alabama on defense to try and limit his production. He also averages a little over one steal per game so he can be a nuisance on the defensive end as well. After a slow start, Kennedy put Moody at the point and the team has been much better since. While there are other guys that Bama will have to account for, the key to winning this game is limiting Moody.
Sebastian Saiz has grown into a very solid player. He's currently averaging 11.7 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.2 bpg. For an Alabama team that has struggled on the boards, Saiz will be a thorn in their side. Another key to this game for Bama is winning the rebound battle, limiting second chance opportunities for the home team, while creating second chances for themselves on the offensive end. Saiz is going to make that difficult with the physical way he plays around the rim. Saiz and Moody are the only two double figure scorers for this team, but there is balance as six other players currently average between 5.6 and 8.9 points per game.
Give Andy Kennedy some credit. This is not an easy program to turn into a winner, but Kennedy has led this program to the NCAA Tournament two out of the last three seasons with a win in both trips after most of his first six seasons were spent in the NIT. To make it back to the NCAA Tournament, Moody will have to do most of the heavy lifting for this team. Avoiding an 0-2 start in league play is important in taking a step towards that goal. But with Alabama hosting Kentucky on Saturday, a win here would be nice to take a little pressure off that game on Saturday. That makes this a big game for both teams. The numbers are similar between the two. It's the road environment and the league's leading scorer that swing the edge to Ole Miss. Can Alabama overcome both, and spoil the grand opening of the Pavilion?