Remember the Shockers? If you're a college basketball fan, well, of course you do. They're the team that took eventual national champion Louisville to the wire in the Final Four just last season, eventually falling 72-68 (Wichita State also led at halftime of that game).
What does any of that have to do with Alabama? Just that Wichita State is one of several tough non-conference opponents on the Tide's non-conference slate this year, which the university just recently released. And in case you've forgotten, Alabama owes the Shockers a little something for their last meeting, the NIT championship in 2011.
Alabama has plenty of other concerns between now and then, though. The season opens with an attractive Big XII matchup against Oklahoma in Dallas, Texas. The Sooners finished the year with a respectable 20-12 record and a trip to the Big Dance where they lost 70-55 to SDSU. OU played two SEC teams last season, losing a close game at Arkansas before beating Texas A&M. The crowd in Dallas will likely be pro-Sooner, and the Tide squad would be well advised to play with intensity from the opening tip until the final horn.
Bama returns from that game to play its home opener as part of the SEC/Big XII Challenge, a seemingly favorable matchup versus Texas Tech. The Red Raiders finished last season with an abysmal 11-20 record, and they were only one of eight away from home. Still, as we know all too well from last season's losses to teams like Tulane and Mercer, Alabama can ill afford to take any team for granted (pun not intended).
On November 18th and 19th, the Tide will host two games at Coleman in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The opponents for these games will be announced at a later date, but other host teams include Arizona, Duke, and Rutgers.
Alabama then has games versus both North Florida and South Florida, as well as Charleston Southern, before hosting Wichita State, which should easily be one of the toughest teams the Tide tangles with all season. If you're planning on attending this game, I would advise you to get your tickets early.
The Xavier Musketeers come to Coleman next to finish the home slate. Xavier had a disappointing 17-14 record last year and an even more disappointing one-point loss in the Atlantic 10 Championship game to St. Joseph's that would have sent the Musketeers to the Dance.
Before finishing the non-conference portion of the season with another home game against Robert Morris, the Tide will travel to Pauley Pavilion to play UCLA in the first year of a home-and-home matchup with the Bruins. UCLA won 25 games last year and was especially tough at home. They ended their season with a second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Minnesota.
In short, Alabama will have plenty of opportunities to add strong non-conference wins to their resume before January. With a tough conference slate awaiting, as well as some tough criticism of the coaching staff from last season's disappointing finish, Coach Grant's 2013-14 team could use wins in as many of these games as possible. Hope for the best. Roll Tide.