Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Starting Five: Michigan

Five stats, facts and people you need to know while watching 'Bama against the Wolverines.

Alabama vs. Michigan
The Milk House, Orlando, FL
4pm CT
  1. Preventing fouls a must for Alabama. Just as I mentioned before the Florida State game that JaMychal Green had been great about staying out of foul trouble, he only managed to play 30 seconds in the final 10 minutes against the 'Noles because he was racking up the fouls instead of points. Sure, the officials seemed against him from the get go, including Doug Shows knowing Green had four when he called the final one on him with 4:45 remaining in the game. Alabama doesn't have the depth available to get in foul trouble on a nightly basis as they have so far in the Old Spice Classic. The same goes for tonight's game against Michigan, who has four guys of 6-10 or taller.
  2. Ben Eblen looks to be a project. After being used early on as a second option at point guard, it seems as if Eblen will have to be molded for most of this season and see little time in tense and tight moments. In the past three games, Eblen has seen a total of 12 minutes in the past three games against Providence, Baylor, and FSU. The minutes seem to be going to Anthony Brock and Andrew Steele, most of them to Brock. Eblen showed he could get the ball up the floor quickly, but still doesn't have a grasp on the game yet. This may all change by the time the SEC schedule rolls around with only two of Alabama's next eight games coming against high major teams. There should be plenty of time for Eblen to learn in the next month, but will it be enough to help out this season?
  3. Rebounding needs to be a priority. Alabama hasn't exactly struggled this season on the boards, but there should be a concerted effort to focus on rebounds Sunday. This does go hand-in-hand with keeping out of foul trouble, but it also means the perimeter players need to crash the lane. Alabama are going too many possessions with one shot chance, and in order to compete this season, that number will need to decrease. On the season, Alabama has been out-rebounded on the offensive boards. This may not be the Anthony Grant style (to crash the boards), but that would mean Alabama needs to make more shots fall.
  4. Don't let Manny be Manny. To put it plainly, Manny Harris is a beast of a player. The 6-5 junior from Detroit already has a triple-double to his name this season and was just one rebound away on Friday from posting his second one. Harris has averaged 21 points, 9.5 rebounds and seven assists on the season. He has been a one man wrecking crew during the Old Spice Classic and there is no reason to believe that will change tonight. He has been lethal from outside and inside, driving and dishing. He will no doubt be the target of Senario Hillman, but the Tide must stay home and rotate quickly in their defense if they want to keep the game close against a ranked opponent. Laval Lucas-Perry, shooting near 50% from downtown this season, will have the Tide's attention all game long as well.
  5. Alabama needs to play their game. Against Baylor, the Tide got the Bears to play their game. Against FSU, Alabama was the team adapting their style. In a game against Michigan, the Crimson Tide will need to play their way for 40 minutes even when Michigan goes on a run. The Wolverines have gone down early in both games so far and streaked back with a fierce rally both times. If Alabama gets ahead early, they will need to keep working to put UM away. If Michigan scores quickly, come down and set up the offense for a great shot. Even though Grant's offense aims to run the floor, a track meet with a top 15 team would not end well for the Crimson Tide. If Alabama rebounds well and continues their great defensive effort, they should find themselves in this game late with a chance to come away with the win.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Starting Five: Florida State

Five stats, facts and people you need to know for when you briefly change the channel from the Iron Bowl to watch the Tide take on the Seminoles.

Alabama vs. Florida State
The Milk House, Orlando, FL
4pm CT
  1. JaMychal Green having the season he needs. At the beginning of the season, Alabama's success was built on the if of whether JaMychal Green could have an All-SEC type season. So far, Green has delivered for the Tide. Through the first four games, Green has played up to his potential under head coach Anthony Grant. Green has two double-doubles on the year and is averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds per game. His 19 points in the first half against Baylor was important considering the size of the Bears. The biggest accomplishment for JaMychal this year, though, has been his ability to stay out of foul trouble. Thursday night, Green didn't have a foul the entire first half. Green must continue to stay out of foul trouble today against a Florida State team looking to advance.
  2. Tony Mitchell's status in the air. With about seven minutes left in the game, Tony Mitchell took an elbow to the bridge of the nose and ended up on the media sideline after stumbling away from the play, bleeding profusely. Mitchell would return to the bench with what is believed to be 20 stitches between his eyes and a bandage over the cut, but never returned to the game. After the game, Mitchell was fine, and coach Grant joked with him about wearing a mask over his face until he is completely healed. Despite that little quip from Grant, it is still unknown if Mitchell will play this afternoon against Florida State. Alabama needs all the depth they can get, so don't expect if Grant does all he can to get Mitchell on the floor today.
  3. Turnovers staying at a minimum. After compiling 45 turnovers in two exhibition games, the Crimson Tide only have 41 turnovers through four games, averaging to just over ten per game. Anthony Brock and Tony Mitchell have not turned the ball over this season so far.
  4. Seminoles have some height as well. The Crimson Tide have already faced some tall competition this season, and this afternoon will be no different. Florida State boasts two sophomore sensations in 6-11 Xavier Gibson and 7-1 Solomon Alabi. Both of these guys are a presence in the lane on the defensive end, but they lack something that both Baylor and Cornell didn't have: strength. The Bears and Big Red were both stocky down low, but Florida State is all height and no size. The Crimson Tide should be able to push Alabi and Gibson around down low and potentially get them into foul trouble. Alabama must also keep a hand in the face of FSU's Delividas Dulkys. The sophomore hit back-to-back threes against Iona last night in what was a very ugly game and Bama has traditionally struggled with perimeter defense, but that issue seems to be dwindling.
  5. Crimson Tide's resume could get a real boost. With two straight wins over the Big East and Big XII, Alabama could get their third straight victory over a BCS/high major conference if they can take down Florida State of the ACC. The season may only be in November, but these early season tournaments are prime time to build a tournament resume for March. With a win, Alabama would then have a chance for a second win against the Big East or knocking out another conference in the Big Ten depending on the Marquette/Michigan result. For a team who hasn't tasted the post-season in any aspect the past two years, the Crimson Tide could be looking at a situation where an 8-8 conference season would mean a tournament trip by the end of this week.

The Starting Five: Baylor

Five stats, facts or people you need to know before the Tide tips on Turkey Day against the Bears.

Alabama vs. Baylor
The Milk House, Orlando, FL
5:30 CT
  1. Brock back on the squad. After serving a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules, Anthony Brock is now back in good standing in the eyes of coach Anthony Grant. There are two thoughts about Brock coming back at this time: either what Brock did was not too detrimental to the team, or Grant needs all the depth he can find for the games in Orlando this week. It is easy to believe it could be a little bit of both, but to believe Brock will not be needed against some tough competition in the Old Spice Classic is thinking this team is much better than they actually are.
  2. Eblen, Mitchell take a seat in crunch time. Despite having great games against Jackson State, Ben Eblen and Tony Mitchell, Alabama's two freshmen, only posted 17 minutes between them in the game against Providence. Mitchell exploded for 23 points against the Tigers, and Eblen dished out three assists in his time on the floor. Against the Friars, however, Eblen had his first turnovers of the season, and Mitchell only managed four points in ten minutes on the floor. Most people can agree Mitchell can help this season, but as much as I like Eblen, the jury is still out on him. These next three games will give a good indication about their playing time this season from this point forward.
  3. Torrance accepting the senior role. With Anthony Brock not in the game, Mikhail Torrance was the only senior on the floor with Alabama battling Providence for a victory last Friday. Torrance took over at the end of the game, tallying six of Alabama's final eight points, including a steal and 3-4 from the free throw line. The Tide finished the game against the Friars on a 10-2 run, and obviously Mikhail was the main man behind this finish. In his final season, Torrance is averaging 50% from the field in 30 minutes of play for an average of 18.3 points per game this season. No doubt if he keeps this up, he will find himself on the All-SEC roster come March.
  4. LaceDarius Dunn could doom the Tide. The Baylor Bears are in the midst of rebuilding their program after the scandal that rocked college basketball when player Patrick Dennehy was murdered by teammate Carlton Dotson in 2003. The Bears are on the rise under head coach Soctt Drew, who has managed to increase Baylor's win total from four in 2005 -06 to 24 last season and a trip to New York for the NIT Final. The Bears lost to Penn State in that game, but are looking for their second NCAA bid in three years this year. The Bears have two centers who top off at seven feet tall and are led by junior guard LaceDarius Dunn. So far this season, Dunn has averaged 25 points per game and shot 46% from behind the three-point line. He will most likely be the assignment of Senario Hillman for the Tide this evening.
  5. Old Spice Classic a great test for Bama. With teams such as Michigan, Florida State and Xavier in this tournament, as well as opening with a Baylor squad who should make noise in the Big XII this year, the Crimson Tide are going to learn a lot about their team in the next four days. With a win tonight, Alabama would more than likely face Florida State on Friday, a team who has already lost to Florida this week. Both Baylor and FSU have players of seven feet, something that gave the Tide trouble against Cornell in the first game of the year. Rebounding and defense will be the key tonight against the Bears for Alabama, and as always, around the perimeter is key.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Starting Five: Providence

Five stats, facts and people you need to know before Alabama's game against the Friars.

Alabama vs. Providence
Tuscaloosa, AL, Coleman Coliseum
Tip Time: 7:00 pm CT
  1. The Anthony Brock suspension. It was an unpleasant surprise on Tuesday night when word began making it around Coleman Coliseum that another Crimson Tide player would be unavailable, this time by suspension. As many people know by now, Anthony Brock has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules and been told he can not participate in any basketball related activities. The loss of Brock now puts Alabama down to ten players, nine which have played so far this season. It also cuts down on the number of scoring options outside of 20 feet from the basket. The most disheartening part of Brock's suspension is the indefinite part. No one knows what he has done, and more importantly, with the Old Spice Classic next week and Purdue looming, Brock's presence or lack there of could be the difference for Alabama in some games.
  2. Scoring off the bench. This season, it won't be a surprise to see Alabama's starting lineup fluctuate game to game, which means the scoring off of the bench this season could set a Crimson Tide record in that category. Through two games, Alabama has scored 75 points off of the bench, thus averaging 37.5 points from guys getting secondary minutes. With the Brock suspension, the starters have all been players who were at Alabama under Gottfried, means that...
  3. Fresh faces making an impact. Anthony Grant's use of last year's recruiting class has been a huge difference so far this season. His rotation of Charvez Davis, Chris Hines, Tony Mitchell and Ben Eblen, Grant's first recruit, has allowed Alabama to succeed offensively so far this season. Davis hit 5 three's against Jackson State on Tuesday night, a good sign with Anthony Brock suspended. Tony Mitchell led the Tide with 23 points Tuesday plus two electric dunks. Hines has put up valuable minutes to give JaMychal Green and Justin Knox time to rest. Eblen has been a steady defender, ball handler, and gets the ball up the court quicker than any of the Tide guards, allowing more time for Alabama to run the offense. Eblen has also gone three games, one exhibition and two regular season, without a turnover, something that has definitely made Anthony Grant happy.
  4. Providence a question mark. Under second year head coach Keno Davis, Providence graduated 67% of their scoring and rebounding from last year's team. Sharaud Curry is the leading returning scorer with 11.7 points per game and hit a team high 57 shots from beyond the arc last season. As for this year's team, the Friar's are being led in points by Marshon Brooks with 17 points per game and shooting 50% on the season. In the post, Sophomore Jamine Peterson is averaging 12 points and 11 rebounds so far. The returners are doing well carrying this team in some lackluster home games leading to this point, so how the Providence freshmen adapt to a road environment will be the biggest key for a Friar victory.
  5. Pivotal game for Alabama on many fronts. Not only does the Crimson Tide need this win to move above .500 heading into a tough early season tournament next week, but the support and recognition of Alabama this season hinges on this game. For starters, defeating a Big East school, no matter where they may finish in conference, would be a feat to draw attention to the program. The Big East is currently 35-0 on the season, and Alabama would be known as "that team" to give the best conference in college basketball their first loss on the season. Also, support for this team would grow from its own fan base after most still don't recognize how good of a team Cornell will be this season. On top of all of this, Alabama would get the first win of a resume they could put forth to making any postseason tournament this season. The NCAAs may be a stretch, but for a team that has gone no where in two years, the NIT is a success.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Starting Five: Jackson State

Five stats, facts and people you need to know about the Tide's matchup with the Tigers.

  1. Where was Mikhail Torrance? After starting both the exhibition games and being the new face, it seemed, of the Anthony Grant system this year, Torrance was not one of the starters against Cornell. Torrance still tallied 24 minutes in the game against the Big Red, but wasn't quickly taken out in the first half with two fouls. He played the entire second half without fouling, and the Crimson Tide's offensive production definitely improved. There is no doubt that Torrance will stay on the floor for most of the game, but the biggest puzzle is trying to figure out why he was not a starter.
  2. From one conference favorite to another. After Cornell came in as the two-time defending Ivy League champ, and the favorite for a three-peat, Alabama welcomes in Jackson State, the preseason favorites in the SWAC. The Tigers finished just one game behind last year's conference winner Alabama State and are expected to have this season's player of the year in the SWAC on their team. Grant Maxey returns for his senior season after averaging 17 points and seven rebounds last year. The Tigers, just like Cornell, return the best rookie in the SWAC from last year in guard Rod Melvin. The SWAC is not on the same level as the Ivy League, and the experience is not as high as it was for the Big Red, so the chemistry will not be as prominent with Jackson State.
  3. Perimeter defense is once again at a minimum for Alabama. After struggling all season last year against the three, Alabama once again struggled against a well-shooting squad in defending downtown. Cornell finished with a 55% clip from beyond the arc, including three straight to open up the second half. It was nothing new to see another team start off on a huge run to begin the second half, either. Both of these are cultural changes that Anthony Grant seems to still be up against and may not be able to change until late this year if at all. Grant will surely put a focus tonight on coming out strong out of the half as well as defending the outside as the Crimson Tide are still looking to find their groove from that range.
  4. Turnovers worth the watch again. Alabama managed to only turn the ball over 13 times against Cornell, a huge improvement from the exhibition games, but tonight is worth watching to know if the first game was an aberration or if Alabama is getting better on that front. Conversely, the Crimson Tide scored 17 points off of the 14 turnovers they caused, including seven steals. Anthony Grant has already stated he wants to play 94 feet, and if the Crimson Tide can play in the press against an experienced team like Cornell, things bode well for Alabama down the road. Alabama changed it up between a man and a zone press, finding most success with the zone trap and hands up.
  5. Another beatdown coming for the Tigers. The Crimson Tide and these set of Tigers have only played once before, a 2005 beating to the tune of 101-66. Alabama will probably not reach a hundred tonight, or this season, but a significant difference in the final scores should be expected. Alabama needs to have a strong defensive effort as they showed in the exhibition games in order to achieve this beatdown tonight. Giving up 45 points in the second half to Cornell was not a great accomplishment for this team, and it will not be something Alabama can afford to do this season after having a horrific track record these past three seasons in games in which they give up 40 points in one half. It will almost certainly spell doom if it comes in the first half, but the second half is still no better. Nonetheless, 40-point halves should not be an issue tonight for the Crimson Tide in what looks to be Anthony Grant's first victory as Tide coach.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The SEC's Image Problem is Worse Than Expected

While attending the Alabama-Mississippi State game in Starkville on Saturday, there were two things I learned.

The first was clear to anyone in that stadium: Alabama played their most complete game of the season in a 31-3 rout of the Bulldogs.

The second couldn't be realized from the press box. Those on the field wouldn't discover it, either. You had to be sitting in the stands to figure this out.

The second thing I learned was that the image of the SEC is in worse trouble than it could have ever imagined.

Sure, there are irrational fans in every stadium and in every section of said stadium.

However, both calls on Saturday that were fifty-fifty went the way of Alabama.

Chad Bumphis stepped out of bounds. Mark Barron did catch that interception.

To those in the stands, of course, these did not stand well with the crowd, and that's understood, but the excuses were laughable.

"Of course he caught it. Its the conspiracy in action."

"The SEC is already airing commercials for undefeated vs. undefeated. They are protecting those teams."

One guy even went as far to blame me because I had "Alabama" across my chest, and told me and my girlfriend, "You're gonna get it when you play Florida. Oh yea, its coming."

Let it also be known that State has a huge inferiority complex to Alabama, but that's just a small dose of why their fans feel this way.

The majority of it is because of the actions of those who are on the field and the resulting articles from those in the press box.

The scrutiny on officials this year has been at an all-time high, due in part to their mistakes.

It also hasn't helped that the questionable calls have gone in favor of the top two teams, Alabama and Florida.

It is unfair to believe that these calls are being made on purpose in the age of replay, which makes any conspiracy theory or theory on a theory ridiculous.

At the same time, though, these calls need to be right. Having a lack of HD televisions in the booth is not the problem. Its the fact this keeps happening week after week.

As for those in the press box, they actually shoulder more of the blame for this.

Instead of choosing to write about great performances, spectacular plays and the implications of game results, they decide to harp on a missed call which, at times, doesn't affect the games outcome.

Best example is the column that Andy Staples wrote after the Alabama-Tennessee game. Even though this article denounces the idea of a conspiracy, it also fuels the concept by saying a flag should have been thrown when it wasn't.

Instead of talking about Terrance Cody's impressive blocks of Daniel Lincoln field goals, Staples spends most of the column talking about how the flag that should have been thrown but wasn't meant nothing but everything. Seems pointless, right?

None of the national media dared to take the stance to stand up for the officials. How dare humans make mistakes. No one took their side until Nick Saban went on a patented rant about what I just summarized in the first line of this paragraph.

Dan Mullen, Bobby Petrino, Lane Kiffin and Urban Meyer all managed to be reprimanded for their negative talk, even to the point that Mike Slive had to implement fines as metaphorical muzzles for his most prolific coaches.

Of course, Slive is the one to blame for all of this ultimately, according to Jim Dunaway. When I interviewed him a few weeks ago, he pointed to Slive making public apologies for his officials, essentially selling them out. This loaded the gun that has been going off every other week.

In other words, there is a long road for this issue being resolved, even if this is fixable.

Some people have been calling for NCAA officials, releasing conference ties, and hiding any chance of conspiracy theories even beginning.

As a commissioner who has been at the forefront of may movements in the past decade, Slive may need to head this one up as well just to save the image of his conference.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Starting Five: Cornell

Five Stats, Facts, or People you need to know heading into the game against the Big Red.
  1. The Anthony Grant Era begins. After much anticipation, speculation, and deliberation, Coach Grant will finally put a product on the hardwood when it really means something on Saturday. It has been seven and a half months since Grant first landed in Tuscaloosa to a large crowd (by basketball standards) at the Tuscaloosa Airport. He has mentioned he wants an up-tempo style of play and a defense that covers 94 feet of the floor. The jury is a long ways out on the offense, but the defense seems to be working quite well so far. In two exhibition games against Montevallo and D-II power Augusta State, the Tide gave up an average of 54 points per game. Say what you want about the competition, but holding a team in Augusta State who shot 50% from the field last year to 55 points was a feat in itself.
  2. Turnovers are going to haunt the Tide early. As I said, the jury is still out on the offense after two exhibition games. The points weren't too hard to come by in game one, but game two saw a struggle from the Crimson Tide on offense. Alabama has turned the ball over 45 times in two exhibition games while trying to learn the new offense. The Tide have thrown many errant passes as well as some that are ill advised in trying to play at a much faster pace. Mikhail Torrance said in the pre-season that the goal is to score 100 every time out. Right now that is not feasible, and the sooner the Crimson Tide figures this out, the better off they will be sooner.
  3. JaMychal Green needs to show up in the first half. I have said numerous times in the pre-season that in order for Alabama to sniff any post season tournament, JaMychal Green must play at an All-SEC level this season. The second half of games, Green can be considered All-American at this point, but he doesn't show up on the stat sheet until the second frame of twenty. Green scored 30 points between the two exhibition games and 28 of those points came in the second half. He only missed one free throw in the exhibition games, going 10-11 from the charity stripe. Producing in the first half will be huge for Green and the Tide, but he must stay on the floor and out of foul trouble. Green sat early against Augusta State because of fouls, and he knows to do his best to avoid foul trouble since the Tide is not deep in the post this year.
  4. Cornell is not your basic lower tier school. Many schools want to believe they are beginning the year off with an easy win, just something to set a foundation. The truth is, not every team can play Alcorn State to begin the year. There are going to be those teams, like Rider and Niagra, who will give you a run for your money. Cornell is beyond those squads. The Big Red are the two-time defending Ivy League champions. They are the first school other than Penn or Princeton to ever win back-to-back league titles. When breaking down their team, the question arises of where to start. You can start at senior guard Louis Dale, who has been the Ivy League Player of the Year for two years now. Or maybe last season's Rookie of the Year in Chris Wroblewski. How bout Cornell's most prolific three point shooter in school history Ryan Wittman. The list goes on and on for a team who returns eight of their top nine scorers from a year ago.
  5. Don't be shocked by a Big Red victory. With everything that was mentioned about the Tide's woes and the Big Red's strengths, do not be surprised if the Crimson Tide drop their season opener for the second straight year. Cornell is going with a smaller lineup to try and combat the Crimson Tide's fast paced offense, but Alabama still plays a good half-court set when they choose to pass the ball inside. The Crimson Tide will not only force turnovers, but will give the ball away themselves. This game will come down to who can shoot the ball the best, and Cornell seems to be that team. It also doesn't hurt that the Big Red have a lineup laden with seniors who are full of experience in their current system.