The Crimson Tide basketball team returns to action tonight for a big in-state clash with the South Alabama Jaguars. The game, scheduled to tip off at 7:30 C.T., will not be televised. The game will however be streamed live on rolltide.com via TideTV and will also be broadcast on radio around the state via the Crimson Tide Sports Network (local listings here).
Alabama, of course, is still trying to get things back together after a disastrous trip to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam. Although the Tide went 0-3 on that trip, the team is 3-0 at home, all coming against mid-major opponents. Tonight they will try to make it 4-0 in such games, although South Alabama should be a bit tougher than some previous opponents Bama has seen thus far in Coleman Coliseum.
The Tide may very well be without the services of leading scorer JaMychal Green once again. Grant informed the media earlier in the week that he had met with Green to discuss what he needed to do to come back, but that as of a few days ago nothing has changed as to his status. Green was also suspended for a game last year, and when he returned to the team the following game he was left out of the starting lineup and played only sparingly. Don't be surprised if that's the case tonight.
Although some casual fans may not realize it, South Alabama is traditionally a very strong mid-major basketball school. In fact, they are tied for third with Auburn among in-state schools with 8 NCAA tournament appearances. In one of those appearances, the first round of the 1989 tournament, the #11 seed Jaguars upset the #6 seed Crimson Tide 86-84. In fact, current head coach Ronnie Arrow was the coach of that 1989 team, and after a 13-year absence, he's now back at the helm. Arrow led the Jags to an NCAA tournament bid in 2008, and was one game away from returning in 2009. Last year (2010) saw the Jags slip a bit due to several key injuries and suspensions, but they're hopeful to return to the top of the Sun Belt conference this season.
South Alabama brings a 2-3 record into the game, with wins over newly-Division I Spring Hill and Central Michigan and losses to Southern Miss, UAB, and LSU. Their most recent game was an 80-65 loss to LSU, another rebuilding SEC team, so they are certainly a team Bama can beat if we play well. Playing well is certainly no guarantee though, as we saw all too painfully in the Virgin Islands, and while South Alabama isn't as strong as they were 3-4 years ago, they have enough talent and experience to beat us tonight if we play poorly.
The Jaguars are led offensively by two returning starters on the perimeter, who together attempt about 42% of the team's shots. The leading scorer is senior guard Tim Williams, who is averaging 16.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Williams is a solid scoring guard and a very good rebounder for a guard. Sophomore wing Martino Brock is second on the team with 13.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. He's a versatile playmaker and is also the team's best defender, averaging 2 steals a game.
At point guard, the Jaguars have two experienced players in junior Allyn Cooks and senior Raymond Sims. Neither are prolific scorers but both can handle the ball well and Cooks, the starter, is particularly good at protecting the ball. Gary Redus, a senior wing player, is a key contrbutor who can play both inside or out and contributes in rebounding and scoring. Arrow also brought in two JuCo transfers: P.J. Reyes, a versatile combo guard, and Rico Sanders, a deadly sharpshooter from the arc.
The Jaguars are led in the post by redshirt freshman Augustine Rubit, who had to sit out last year due to eligibility issues. He leads the team with 7.8 rebounds per contest and is third in scoring at 9.4 points per game. Javier Carter, a sophomore forward, is an excellent shot blocker who has also improved his scoring touch this year. Depth is provided by sophomore DeAndre Hersey.
The Jags have some nice experienced players on the perimeter, and they have several athletic 6'6"-6'7" players who can make plays defensively and are capable of playing on the perimeter. However they are fairly undersized with their biggest players at only 6'7". South Alabama's other weakness has been an inability to get good shots. They rank 329th out of 347 in assists per game and rank 319th in shooting percentage.
If Green plays, Bama should have plenty of opportunities to get things going offensively with him, given our size advantage in the post. If he doesn't play, it will be all the more important for Bama to limit easy transition buckets for the Jaguars and to create some of our own to get the offense rolling. The Tide needs to avoid any home non-conference losses, so winning this is imperative, but don't expect anything less than South Alabama's best shot.