Fresh off winning the early-season 2K Sports Classic tournament last week in New York's Madison Square Garden, the Alabama basketball team will be returning home tonight to try and keep its unbeaten record alive against Charleston Southern of the Big South Conference. Tip-off is slated for 7:00pm CT. The game will not be televised, but will be available via radio on the Crimson Tide Sports Network.
The Buccaneers were expected to be the Big South favorites this season, and may well still be, but they have started the season off with a disappointing 1-3 record, including a two-point home loss to East Tennessee State on Tuesday. Their other losses both came on the road in games they were not expected to win: against Charlotte (by ten points) and Arizona (by nine points). Their only win came against a Division II opponent.
Though their record is disappointing, the fact that they remained competitive on the road against Charlotte and Arizona shows that this team will not be a pushover, though Alabama of course will be favored. In other words, a blowout should not be expected, but a win should be.
The Buccaneers are best known for the barrage of three-pointers they shoot each game. They have the highest ratio of three-point attempts:total attempts of all 347 Division I basketball teams, taking over 30 attempts from beyond the arc each game. Obviously defending on the perimeter will be a real key for the Tide defense, but perhaps even more importantly, all those long shot attempts create a big challenge for opposing defenses to collect rebounds. As a result, Charleston Southern is one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country, a big concern for an Alabama team whose biggest weakness may well be defensive rebounding.
The Buccaneers are led by a pair of sophomore guards, 6'1" Arlon Harper and 5'8" Saah Nimley. Harper leads the team with 13.0 points per game, while Nimley averages 12.0 points per game but leads the team in minutes played, assists, and three-point shooting. All of the Buccaneers guards shoot from the arc at a high rate, but none more so than Nimley, who averages eight attempts from the arc each game. Senior Mathiang Muo, a 6'5" wing player, is the third double-digit scorer on the roster with 11.3 points per game. Muo is the team's second-leading rebounder and second-leading three-point shooter.
Charleston Southern is one of the most undersized teams in all of Division I--one of the reasons they rely so heavily on outside shooting. Their most important post player, sophomore Paul Gombwer, stands only 6'6", though he still manages 8.5 rebounds each game. Other key players are 6'2" senior guard Jeremy Sexton and 6'0" junior guard Sheldon Strickland, both of whom, as you may have guessed, are three-point threats. The rotation is rounded out by 6'5" sophomore Cedrick Bowen, 6'7" junior Allie Fullah, and 6'5" freshman Malcolm Bernard.
Charleston Southern's unique style of play will present Alabama with some challenges, especially if they get hot from the perimeter. The four-guard lineup Anthony Grant has employed for most of this season might seem like a great matchup for this game, and it probably will be, but the Tide still needs to do a good job rebounding on the defensive end. If Charleston Southern can get hot with the barrage of three's they're sure to launch, and if they can keep possessions alive with a lot of offensive rebounds, they can challenge Alabama and even win this game. However if the Tide rebounds well and defends well from the perimeter, it shouldn't take an outstanding offensive performance from Alabama to remain unbeaten.
Charleston Southern is not a bad team; they'll probably be in the top 150 or so in the RPI when all is said and done. A win in this game won't turn any heads, but it will be a decent win to have on the resume, especially if the Buccaneers, as expected, go on to win their league. A loss wouldn't be completely devastating, but it would certainly blunt the momentum built up from the wins in New York last week. Like several other non-conference games that will be coming up in the next few weeks for this team, this is a losable game, but one that Bama should win. Hope for the best.