The University of Alabama men’s basketball team is looking to avoid last year’s slow start in non-conference play and will face its first big test of the young season with a very busy week, including the high-profile Puerto Rico Tip-off.
The Crimson Tide will host Oakland on Monday night at Coleman Coliseum, and despite playing in the Summit League the Golden Grizzlies will be a tough test for an Alabama team still looking to get into a rhythm in the early season.
Oakland finished second nationally in scoring (85.5 points per game) and third in field-goal percentage (49.2%) last season en route to a second consecutive Summit League title and NCAA tournament berth. Oakland is 34-2 in conference play over the last two seasons, and has put together three straight 20-win seasons.
“We're going to have to be at the top of our game on the defensive end to be able to prevent the things that they do,” Coach Anthony Grant said. “They'll put four three-point shooters on the floor, they'll spread you out, and try to drive you. They've got multiple things they do to free their guys up. It'll be a very difficult challenge for us on the defensive end.”
Oakland point guard Reggie Hamilton has been a major reason for the team’s success. A preseason mid-major All-American, Hamilton averaged 17.6 points per game last season and 5.3 assists. The popular college basketball magazine Lindy’s ranks Hamilton as the fourth best point guard in the country.
“He's just a very athletic, skilled player combined with a fierce competitor. Just watching him on film, you have to admire how hard he plays, and the way he imposes his will onto his team, and tries to impose his will on the opponent's team,” Grant said about Hamilton. “He's definitely the leader of their group and a phenomenal player.”
Alabama point guard Trevor Releford is anxious for the challenge.
“I definitely look forward to match-ups like this,” Releford said. “Just playing against another good point guard, one of the top point guards in the country, to see where I'm at and go from there.”
Tip-off will be at 7 p.m. (WVUA-TV and Crimson Tide Sports Network).
Tide takes its game abroad
Alabama will learn a lot about its young team in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The Tide will play Maryland in the first round, a perennial NCAA tournament team, looking to rebound after a disappointing 2010-2011 season.
“That's gonna be a great tournament,” Releford said. “You've got a lot of good teams in there, we're looking forward to playing in there. It's just really gonna let us know where we're at.”
In the second round, Alabama will square off with either Colorado or Wichita State, two teams the Tide faced in the NIT last season.
“Having played both of those teams at the end of last year, I think there will be a healthy respect on both ends in terms of the quality of teams we'll be playing,” Grant said.
While there is certainly a lot to learn from last year’s disaster in the Virgin Islands, there are a lot of new faces on this year’s team, and Grant thinks that having a young team will help them not dwell on the past.
“We've got a new team, it's a new year,” Grant said. “You would hope our veteran guys would have a sense of urgency in terms of what we need to get done, but I don't think for our team this year, that we can hang over their head what happened last year.”
The team leaves Tuesday for the tournament.
Grant on what he saw after watching film from Friday's victory against North Florida: “I thought our guys did a good job of playing with the energy that we want to see. I thought our offensive execution was like I thought after the game: wasn't where it needs to be, obviously we've got to get better from that standpoint. But I thought the effort we played with was really good.”
Releford on becoming a leader for Alabama: “Me and Coach Grant, he basically told me in a meeting this year, that that's what he wanted me to do. [He] basically just gave me the keys to the car and told me to lead the team and that's what he wants me to do and that's what I've got to do as a point guard.”
Releford on feeding off the energy of the crowd: “I think our team feeds off the crowd. When there's a big crowd, and they've got a lot of energy, I think that gives us a lot more energy on the defensive end when we're in the press. It just makes you want to make big plays to keep them going.”