The Crimson Tide basketball team will return to postseason action tonight, hosting the New Mexico Lobos in the 2nd round of the NIT. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:00 CST, with the game set to be televised nationally on ESPN.
As a #1 seed, the Tide has the good fortune of hosting the game in Coleman Coliseum, where Bama is a perfect 17-0 this season. However, the Tide has easily the toughest 2nd round opponent of any #1 seed in the tournament, drawing a New Mexico team that is the 2nd-highest rated NIT team in the Pomeroy ratings (Virginia Tech is 1st, Alabama is 3rd). Although the Lobos finished a disappointing 8-8 in the Mountain West Conference--a league that was rated higher than the SEC in virtually every computer rating system--their pair of wins over top-10 ranked BYU show they are capable of playing at a very high level.
New Mexico faced a tough opening round NIT matchup at home against the UTEP Miners, but prevailed in impressive fashion despite playing without their best player, Dairese Gary, who tore his ACL in the Lobos' loss to BYU in the Mountain West Tournament.
Despite the loss of Gary, New Mexico still has three other players averaging double figures this season. 6'9" junior forward Drew Gordon averages 13.0 points and 10.8 rebounds despite easing his way into the lineup after missing nine games this season. Gordon will be a handful for Green and Hines on the defensive end and on the glass.
6'3" freshman guard Kendall Williams has had an extremely impressive rookie campaign, averaging 11.4 points and 4.1 assists each game while shooting 43% from the arc. He's about as good an all-around freshman guard as you'll see almost anywhere. He can score, penetrate, shoot and distribute. He will be relied on even more heavily in the absence of the injured Gary.
6'5" junior wing player Phillip McDonald is the third double-digit scorer, averaging 10.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Like Williams, he averages 1.5 made treys per game, but he shoots a lower percentage from long range.
The other two starters for the Lobos are 6'8" junior forward A.J. Hardeman (7.5 points, 4.3 rebounds), who starts alongside Gordon in the post, and 5'9" sophomore guard Jamal Fenton (5.4 points, 1.8 assists), who is expected to replace Gary in the starting lineup.
As a team New Mexico is good but not great on each end of the floor. They rank 45th nationally in overall offensive efficiency, and 54th nationally in overall defensive efficiency. Their biggest strength on both ends of the floor is rebounding.
Alabama came out and played extremely well in the NIT opener against Coastal Carolina. This opponent however will not lay down on the road. A loss would end Bama's season in disappointing fashion, while a win would move the Tide into another home game on Wednesday night for a chance to advance to Madison Square Garden, so there's plenty to play for in this one. New Mexico will challenge Alabama on both ends of the floor, and if the Tide wants to keep its season alive and play for a chance to go to New York City, they will need to play with the same intensity and focus that has led the team to an undefeated home record thus far.