Every college basketball season, teams with dreams of being selected for the NCAA Tournament have specific games on their schedule that can be considered "swing games". The results of these games go a long way in determining who makes the field of 68. For Alabama, the first of these games is tomorrow when the preseason A-10 favorite Dayton Flyers visit Coleman Coliseum for a 12:15 PM tip as part of ESPN's 24-hour college basketball marathon. The game will be televised on ESPN 2. The hope is fans and students in the Tuscaloosa area will turn out to have lunch with basketball. Dayton is a tough,seasoned, well-coached team so our guys will need all the help they can get.
My Two Cents: The Dayton program is enjoying a nice run under Archie Miller's leadership. The program has been to the NCAA Tournament three straight years, and is once again expected to be a top program in the A-10 conference. They have owned the SEC in recent years, posting a 9-2 record against the conference (including a 3-0 mark against Alabama) the last five years. Needless to say, Dayton will come into this game expecting to win. How can our guys prevent that? For starters, they must rebound the ball better. Seems like we've been saying that for years (because we have), but they struggled on the glass once again on Friday. For all of their strengths, Dayton is not a big team (only two players on the roster are taller than 6'7). Alabama has to use their height advantage and play physical on the glass. If Dayton is allowed multiple possessions, and are able to control the tempo, it's going to be another long day vs the Flyers.
Prediction: Dayton embarrassed Alabama a year ago, skull-dragging our guys by 32 points on national television. I gotta think our coaches and players circled this game on the calendar as a result. The early start time makes me anxious about the crowd turnout, but regardless of how many butts are in the seats, Alabama should have some motivation entering this game to not only pay back Dayton for the loss a season ago, but to make an early mark in year two under Avery. I think our guys get it done. Alabama - 80 - Dayton - 64
Player(s) to Watch: Shannon Hale played just 15 minutes on Friday, despite starting the game. Maybe it was just due to the match-ups on the floor, or maybe Avery was trying to send a message to the senior. Whatever it was, this team needs Shannon engaged and playing well to reach their full potential. Shannon turned 22 on Sunday, and I expect the birthday boy to show up tomorrow. Jimmie Taylor is quietly off to a solid start in his senior season. The experience of the seniors for this Alabama team will be key against a veteran Dayton team. Jimmie is always good for a few WTF performances per season. Can he put one together tomorrow?
Senior Charles Cooke went nuts in the first game of Dayton's season. He scored 31 points on 11-17 shooting (5-10 from 3), while dishing out 3 assists and blocking 2 shots. Not allowing him a similar performance would be a good start towards winning this game for Alabama. Another key player for Dayton - Kendall Pollard - sat out the opener with a leg injury. It's unknown if he will play tomorrow.