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Basketball Schedule Notes and Observations

The Alabama basketball schedule for the upcoming season was released yesterday. There were a few surprises, but mostly about what was expected.

Of course, most of us diehard Crimson Tide fans are anxiously awaiting the start of football season--now a mere eight days away--but in case you missed it, we began previewing this year's basketball team position-by-position a couple weeks back. You can read all about the point guards, the shooting guards, and the wing players for this year's team in our previous articles. After a bit of a hiatus due to end-of-summer vacation time, we'll finish up with the other two position breakdowns in the coming days.

Looking at the schedule, two things seem to surprise people most. First, there is a clear lack of a marquee non-conference home game. Not a single major-conference or big-name opponent comes to Tuscaloosa until the SEC home opener against South Carolina on January 12th. Some might argue that this isn't necessarily a terrible thing, given the sometimes lackluster attendance for Alabama home games--even for marquee games--during football season and during the students' winter recess. I wouldn't completely disagree, but still, it's nice having those one or two big games at home squeezed in there during the gap between the SEC football Championship and the bowl season to get people excited about basketball a little bit earlier, and into the Coliseum before the season is half over when the SEC teams start visiting in January.

The second surprise is the appearance of a certain in-state program on the schedule. Now, it's not uncommon for Alabama to schedule mid-major in-state schools. In fact, it happens very frequently. Troy and Alabama A&M appear on the schedule once again this year following other multiple recent appearances, and the Tide has also met Alabama State, Samford, Jacksonville State, and Birmingham Southern (when they were still D-1) in regular season meetings recently. There are two in-state schools, however, conspicuously absent from that list, and they happen to be by far the two most successful mid-major in-state programs. In fact, both of those programs have matched or surpassed our dear SEC colleagues on the Plains in terms of NCAA appearances.

In-State School NCAA Appearances
1) Alabama 19
2) UAB 13
t3) South Alabama 8
t3) Auburn 8

We know that UA has a long-standing and much-talked-about unwritten (or is it written?) rule against scheduling UAB in both major sports. Although it hasn't received as much attention, the Tide has also managed for years to avoid scheduling the other successful mid-major in-state program: the South Alabama Jaguars. The two were once paired up in the first round of the 1989 NCAA tournament, an ill-fated game that saw the #11 seed Jaguars upset the #6 seed Crimson Tide in an 86-84 game that lives on as undoubtedly the greatest moment ever in South Alabama sports--their only NCAA tournament win in school history, and against the in-state school that won't schedule them in the regular season no less. Seeing South Alabama finally on the Tide's regular season schedule after all these years is a big shock to many, myself included. Oh yeah, and they're also easily our toughest non-conference home opponent this season, not that that's saying a lot, but still.

Alabama's scheduled appearance in the early-season Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands is old news for those who follow basketball closely, but nevertheless it bears repeating. The tournament will take place the Friday-Monday following the Thursday night Georgia State football game in late November--perfect timing for Bama fans, as this will be a slow weekend for us football-wise. The Tide opens on Friday night against a rebuilding Big East opponent, the Seton Hall Pirates, and then follows up with a big marquee second round game Saturday night against either the Iowa Hawkeyes or the Xavier Musketeers, depending on Friday's results. The final game will then be played at some point on Monday against one of the four teams on the opposite side of the tournament, with possibilities including Clemson and Old Dominion.

Looking at the rest of the non-conference schedule, the only other big news is the three marquee road games on three successive Saturdays in December. The first two were very predictable, as they are both return trips from games played last year in Tuscaloosa. The Tide will travel to West Lafayette, IN, for a rematch with the Purdue Boilermakers on December 4th, with the TV and time TBA. Yes, this is the same day as the SEC Championship game, but if we have to worry about the two games conflicting, it will be a good problem to have. The following weekend Bama will travel to Providence, RI, for a rematch against the Providence Friars of the Big East conference. The third marquee road game will come the weekend after that, with a trip to the Oklahoma City Thunder's arena to face the Oklahoma State Cowboys on ESPN2.

Aside from the three marquee road games and the three tournament games in the Virgin Islands, the remaining eight non-conference games will all be played at home against mid-major opponents. Those opponents will be, in chronological order: Florida A&M, Troy, Alabama A&M, South Alabama, Southeastern Louisiana, Lipscomb, Pepperdine, and Toledo. Not much to get excited about there, aside from the previously mentioned novelty of playing South Alabama.

The SEC schedule remains the same format as always, with two games (home and away) against each of our five Western Division rivals, and one game each against our six Eastern Division rivals. I'd personally love to see the SEC get rid of this format, since the divisions serve no purpose in basketball, and the Eastern Division has the stronger programs right now. There was talk of changing the format at last year's conference meeting, but as of yet there are no definite plans to change. We'll have to deal with another year of dangerous road games in Fayetteville, Baton Rouge, and Auburn that could seriously derail our hopes of returning to the Dance, while we only get one crack each to knock off the Eastern powers like Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Florida.

One more note: as was the case last season, every single SEC game all season will be televised. Thank you Mike Slive and ESPN.