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Observations from first basketball scrimmage

The Crimson Tide basketball team completed its first exhibition scrimmage last night, taking on NAIA Talladega College. It looked at times like, well, a scrimmage, as both offensive and defensive execution were lacking for large chunks of the first half, and many of the fresh faces looked lost and out of position at times. Still, you have to be impressed by the defensive intensity shown from whistle to whistle in both halves.

Yesterday we examined a series of questions about the Tide basketball team ahead of the first scrimmage. Let's see how each of those can be addressed after last night's exhibition.

What is the situation at point guard?

As expected, true freshman Trevor Releford got the start and the bulk of the minutes at the position. Grant said afterwards, "he's earned it". In case there was any doubt, Releford is your starting point guard this year. Period. As for his performance, I'd suggest not reading too much into it as we were facing NAIA competition, but his stat line was nothing short of delicious: 17 points, 7 assists, 1 turnover. I'll be shocked if he averages anything close to that scoring-wise this year, as he simply will not be able to have his way around the rim given his small size once he hits D-1 competition, but still, his performance was extremely encouraging. He pushed the ball well, and ran the fastbreak more effectively than anyone could last year. He only attempted one 3-pointer, so his shooting is still a question, and he'll need to prove he can knock some shots down before defenses just start playing off of him. Overall though, it was a very promising showing, and it looks like Releford will be the engine on offense.

It looks like sophomore Ben Eblen will be given the first shot at the backup job. I'm not completely sold on his ability to be productive at this level yet, but I'm not willing to write him off either. We'll see more of him I assume in the next exhibition. Other alternatives are newcomers Kendall Durant and Charles Hankerson, who have gotten work in practice at the position but didn't get any time there last night.

How ready are the newcomers in the post?

As expected, veterans JaMychal Green and Chris Hines were the starters in the post. I don't expect that to change any time soon. Green looks to have bulked up, and Hines was as usual very active on defense and on the boards. We know what to expect from them.

Also as expected, 7'1" true freshman Carl Engstrom was the first post player off the bench, and he saw plenty of action. Having only played basketball for two years, he was often out of position on both ends of the floor, but the attributes he brings to the team can not be ignored. He was able to gobble up 6 rebounds and contribute 6 points in 16 minutes of action, leading the team in rebounds per minute. Had he been in better positions on each end of the floor, he could have had a double-double. He should only get better each and every game this season. The only other scholarship post player, true freshman Jason Carter, saw 12 minutes of action. It would seem he's behind Engstrom in the pecking order, but he'll likely see a few minutes off the bench this season for depth purposes. Both freshmen seem to have a lot of potential, but they also both have room to improve to be as effective as they can be coming off the bench this year.

What will the perimeter playing rotation look like?

As predicted, senior guard Senario Hillman--who may have been the most impressive player in the scrimmage--and sophomore small forward Tony Mitchell were the starters. I don't expect that to change any time soon. The question moving forward is, how have they improved their game since last year? Particularly, as two of the best athletes in the SEC, how have they improved in their awareness and ball skills in the offseason?

Behind those two starters though, things are very much up in the air. Both senior sharpshooter Charvez Davis and sophomore guard Andrew Steele were held out of the scrimmage. As one of the SEC's best shooters, Davis is sure to play a significant role this season off the bench. Junior college transfer Kendall Durant, true freshman Charles Hankerson, and the aforementioned Steele are all players who could play just about anywhere on the perimeter, and how they will fit into the rotation is anyone's guess at this point. Both Durant and Hankerson got plenty of minutes in the scrimmage, but who knows how things will shape up when Davis and Steele return. Hankerson showed his versatility and scoring ability, contributing 9 points and 6 rebounds, while Durant showed a good deal of quickness and comfort handling the ball. Expect a big battle for playing time out on the perimeter. All these guys can't get major minutes. The only way things open up is if the staff elects to go with a smaller lineup at times during the season, and move Mitchell to the post, thereby opening up an extra spot for a guard. This is an interesting possibility, and one the staff is sure to ponder as the season approaches and even as individual games and opponents dictate.

The Tide will hold its second and final exhibition scrimmage next Monday night when they face Division II UAH.

Oh, and for the record, Alabama outscored Talladega 96-60.