"I think last year we took the trip more as a vacation instead of a business trip," point guard Trevor Releford said. "All the guys that went to the Virgin Islands last year learned from that. This could change our season. We can’t take anything for granted, we have to come out and play hard every day." Head coach Anthony Grant added, "There was an awakening while we were there, but again, this is a brand new team. This has nothing to do with last year’s team. I understand the relationship there, but it has no bearing here. We have to prepare for this year."
"Our players are young, and sometimes they don’t say things in exactly the right way," Grant said. "I don’t think our players took last year’s tournament as a vacation, but I also don’t think they realized how hard they had to work to be successful at that time. But it turned into an experience that allowed our team to grow. "I understand why you (reporters) ask about last year, but it really isn’t relevant to this year’s team. It is a totally different team and a new year, and what happened last year doesn’t matter."
The tournament's 2011 installment possess similar potential to stagger squads with high expectations. This should be Alabama's tournament. The Crimson Tide return one of America's top trios in JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell and Trevor Releford. They just missed the NCAA tournament last season, but excelled against their snubbed brethren on their way to the NIT championship game, which they lost to Wichita State. The reigning NIT champion is one of three dangerous mid-majors in this year's Puerto Rico Tip-Off field. Iona and Western Michigan join the Shockers as under-the-radar programs that are capable of shaking up the tournament.
The mood was light during Maryland’s open practice at Puerto Rico’s biggest basketball arena. But business gets serious Thursday, when Maryland faces the first of its three opponents in the four-day Puerto Rico Classic. Turgeon would never have scheduled such a grueling, early test of stamina had he known his roster would be so depleted, culled to just seven scholarship players as a result of Howard’s broken foot and center Alex Len’s 10-game NCAA suspension. Maryland committed to the tournament well before Turgeon was named Gary Williams’s successor in May, anyway.
Alabama (2-0) is in its third season under coach Anthony Grant and this looks like his best team. Three preseason All-SEC selections are back - JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell and Trevor Releford. Green suffered a hyperextended elbow and did not play for the final 10 minutes of Monday's 74-57 win over Oakland, but Grant indicated his top scorer is OK. The coach felt his team played well in his star's absence. "It was good to see," Grant said. "We are obviously a better team with him on the floor, but I was really proud of the way our young guys responded."
The No. 16/15 University of Alabama men's basketball team begins competition in the three-game Puerto Rico Tip Off Thursday evening against Maryland. The game is scheduled for a 4 p.m. CST tipoff at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico with the contest being broadcast live by ESPN2. "When you look at the teams in this tournament it will be a great opportunity for us to find out where we are as team against great competition," UA head coach Anthony Grant said. "It'll be a very tough test, having to play three games in four days. You've got to be ready to go once you get there, which can be difficult with a young team."
To support its defensive dominance, the current Alabama squad has a mind-numbing array of auxiliary stats that are the best in the nation -- 66 three-and-outs, 103 first downs, 25.7 percent third-down conversion rate and only 62 plays that have gained at least 10 yards, among them. Wisconsin is second in the nation in the latter stat, giving up 32 more plays that have gained at least 10 yards than Alabama has.
"This is a really challenging preparation, especially for our defense, playing against an offense we have never really played against before," said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. "We have really worked hard to try to get the repetitions we need to be able to do the things that we need to do to stop these guys. They play hard, play tough and execute really well, which is why they have had so much success."
Trent Richardson, Alabama. Richardson had a golden opportunity to seize control of the race, but in the end he only did fine in the Tide's 24-7 win over Mississippi State. He did what was needed: he ground out 127 yards on 32 carries (he also caught two passes for 26 yards); with the Bulldogs gaining only 131 yards all game, 'Bama didn't need explosive play, only efficient, time-consuming offense. He gave them that. He just didn't create any Heisman moments at a time where a couple of highlights would have gone a long way.
Furthermore, one has to make the assumption that the voters - the coaches voting in the USA Today poll, or the varied assemblage that votes in the Harris Poll - will actually do their job. That means they are analysts, not matchmakers. They should vote for the best teams as No. 1 and No. 2, without trying to make the "best matchup" under some set of rules other than those of the BCS. Hopefully, that will be the only agenda at work. That doesn't mean that Alabama will be one of the two deserving teams at the end of the year - there is too much football to be played to guess at that. And it's futile to worry too much about it until December.
Some recruiting classes at Alabama have been bright constellations. The class of 2008 was and is a twinkling galaxy. "Those guys to this point have won 45 games," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "That's probably as many as anybody around here has ever won in their career. I don't know the stats. I don't look at that stuff."
It was the University of Alabama's 2008 signing class that attracted the limelight and produced such star players as Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Dont'a Hightower, Mark Barron and Marcell Dareus. But the class that preceded it, in 2007, also had a strong hand in Alabama's rise from a two-year stretch of .500 football (13-13 from 2006-2007) to one of the nation's elite programs. Members from both classes will be honored on Senior Day Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. But it's the fifth-year seniors such as wide receiver Brandon Gibson who have been with the Crimson Tide from the very beginning of the Nick Saban era as part of the 2007 class. "It's definitely gone by fast. I can remember the first day I stepped on campus five years ago," Gibson said. "It's been a great time. I've had fun times I'll remember for the rest of my life."
"Some of those runs he had Saturday night were highlight-reel runs, they really were," center William Vlachos said. "It's tough to get injured at running back because you've got to have everything to make those cuts and moves they are asked to do. When you're banged up at running back it's harder to play through than if you're a banged-up right guard."
Saban was asked Wednesday for an update on Hart's status. Here's what he said: "When our players have personal issues -- Dee Hart is still part of the team," Saban said. "He's doing some things he has to do to take care of those personal issues, and when he takes care of those personal issues he'll be back out at practice. "It's not unusual for me when guys have issues or problems that they go manage their problems rather than practicing football. He's doing everything he's supposed to do and taking responsibility in doing it the right way. But I don't really think it's the public's business what he did."
It’s all part of the game, confident Alabama wide receiver Marquis Maze said. "Yeah, it’s mostly a mind game," said Maze. "You try to get in their head. You try to make them do stupid things, like commit penalties. It’s just a mind game. I talk a lot. Last week, I didn’t talk as much. Coach told me they wanted to throw a flag on me against LSU, so I didn’t say anything this past week." And the nature of his barbs? "I just call them sorry, stuff like that. Most of the time, I’m just talking," Maze said. "Half the time, I don’t even know what I’m saying."