Two things that you may find hard to believe:
1) College basketball season starts tonight. I know, it snuck up on me too. I didn't even have time to prepare any season preview articles due to a hectic couple of weeks at work. In any case, the Crimson Tide will open at home against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits at 8:00 CT tonight, with the game set to be televised nationally on ESPNU.
2) South Dakota State is a very good team, and Alabama will have great difficulty in winning this game. How good are they? The preseason Pomeroy ratings have the Jackrabbits ranked in the top 50--higher than nine of the SEC's fourteen teams. If these preseason rankings hold, that means tonight's game will be more difficult than thirteen of the eighteen SEC games that the Tide will face later this season. It could also be the third toughest nonconference game of the season, behind only the road trips to Cincinnati and VCU.
To make things even trickier for Bama tonight, the Tide will be without backup point guard Retin Obasohan, who is doubtful due to a laceration on his hand that required ten stitches. Senior guard Andrew Steele and junior center Carl Engstrom are also both questionable with injuries of their own. That will leave Alabama with just seven scholarship players: junior point guard Trevor Releford; sophomore guards Trevor Lacey, Levi Randolph, and Rodney Cooper; sophomore forward Nick Jacobs; freshman forward Devonta Pollard; and junior center Moussa Gueye. Alabama will also dress several walk-ons who may be forced into action with the depleted roster. One in particular to watch for is transfer wing player Dakota Slaughter, who has impressed in the team's scrimmages thus far.
South Dakota State meanwhile returns four starters from a team that made the NCAA Tournament a year ago and fought hard against a very good Baylor team in the opening round. The key player to watch for is senior guard Nate Wolters, who has actually appeared on a few pre-season All-America lists. He will likely be the best player on the floor tonight, and the Tide defense will be tested in a big way in trying to slow him down. Wolters averaged a blistering 21.2 points per game last season as a junior.
In some ways, the Jackrabbits are your stereotypical top-tier mid-major team: they are loaded with experience and highly efficient perimeter shooters. They averaged over eight three-pointers per game last season as a team while shooting a staggering 39% from the arc. If the Tide is to win this game, it will have to do so in spite of likely being outscored by a wide margin from the perimeter.
Alabama is expected to be a solid, if not great, SEC team this season. Playing at home tonight, the Tide is favored to win the game--but only by a measly six points. Vegas expects this game to be very close, and it could easily go either way, especially with Alabama facing so many injuries on an already thin roster. A loss tonight is not devastating, but a win could really get things started on the right foot for Alabama in what will likely be one of the team's toughest nonconference games this season. Hope for the best.
(feel free to use this post as tonight's game thread)