The Crimson Tide basketball team returns to action this evening in the Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands. Bama will play its second major-conference opponent in 24 hours when they face the Iowa Hawkeyes of the Big Ten conference at 5:00 pm C.T.
After dropping a close game against a quality Seton Hall team yesterday, this is a game the Tide needs badly. Bama won't get to play any of the top teams during the tournament after being relegated to the consolation rounds, so closing out the trip with two wins is imperative.
While Iowa is certainly a big-name team, they are a rebuilding big name right now. The team lost a school-record 22 games last season, finishing 10-22 on the year with a 4-14 Big Ten record. Head coach Todd Lickliter was fired at the end of the year and Fran McCaffery was brought from Sienna, where McCaffery had turned them into a perennial NCAA participant in recent years. While Iowa wasn't very impressive last year, they do return 4 starters from a young team, so there is potential for improvement this time around.
The Hawkeyes have started this year out 1-2, with a lopsided win over Louisiana-Monroe sandwiched between a disappointing home loss to South Dakota State and last night's 86-73 loss to Xavier. Their leading returning player from a year ago is versatile 6'5" junior guard Matt Gatens, who averaged 12.4 points last season. Eric May, another versatile 6'5" guard, was on the All-Big Ten freshman team last season after averaging 9.0 points. Another key player who started as a freshman last year is point guard Cully Payne--who was a long-time commitment to Alabama before former coach Mark Gottfried was let go. While all three of these backcourt starters are solid and have at least a year's starting experience under their belts, they aren't extraordinary and don't offer the kind of firepower we saw from Seton Hall's backcourt yesterday. Depth in the backcourt is provided by three newcomers: JuCo transfer guards Bryce Cartwright and Jordan Stoermer, and freshman wing Roy Marble.
In the post, senior Jarryd Cole returns as the leader after starting last season and averaging 8.1 points and 5.2 rebounds. Freshman Melsahn Besabe is the other starter in the post, while junior Andrew Brommer, JuCo transfer Devon Archie, and freshman Zach McCabe provide depth. Both starters in the post are only 6'7", so Bama will have a size advantage there.
Iowa is a Big Ten team with a starting lineup consisting mostly of players with a good deal of starting experience. As such they are certainly capable of beating us if we don't come out and play to our standard. That said, there is a reason they only won 4 conference games a year ago and a reason they already have two losses this year. They lack both size and athleticism in the post and their guards, while solid, are not gamebreakers in the mold of Seton Hall's backcourt. We should be able to exploit them in the post; JaMychal Green, forced to miss most of the game yesterday due to foul trouble, should make up for lost time by seeking to dominate this game inside. Outside, if we play our game and keep the defensive pressure up, we should have some success on both ends.
After such a close, hard-fought loss yesterday, the Tide needs to bounce back today and get things back on track. A victory would give the Tide a win over a major conference opponent and set things up to leave the Islands with a winning record in the Paradise Jam. Anything less at this point would have to be considered a major disappointment, and a loss to any of the teams in the consolation side of the bracket would do some significant damage to our young tournament resume.
Join us at 5:00 in the open thread, where I'll be offering commentary and updates as usual.