Before it started to sizzle last season in January and February, the Alabama basketball team fizzled in November and December. It lost six of its first 13 games, and the poor nonconference start haunted the Crimson Tide when it didn't receive an at-large NCAA tournament berth. Now veterans are stressing to newcomers a need to press and impress early and often as a new season tips off at 7 p.m. today with a home game against North Florida. "It's definitely a real big sense of urgency, because last year we started off so slow, and that really cost us in the end when it came to tournament time," sophomore guard Charles Hankerson said.
"Our fans and everybody have big expectations for us this year," said Green, who scored 21 points in a 67-60 exhibition win over Division II Alabama-Huntsville on Monday. "They want to see us in the tournament and make it into the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four. We've got a lot on our shoulders this year. "Fans have been coming up to us telling us how excited they are about the upcoming season. Now, it's a football and a basketball school."
As one of six returning players, Hankerson is expected to come off the bench with freshmen Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper penciled in as starters. Those two, plus their three freshmen classmates who came off the bench, learned a lesson about the pace of play at the next level. "I saw, kinda like a deer in headlights a little bit," Hankerson said. "But I think they still had a good performance. All of them played hard, and that's the most important thing."
The University of Alabama men's basketball team opens up the 2011-12 season on Friday evening when it welcomes North Florida to Coleman Coliseum. Tipoff between the No. 19/17 Crimson Tide and Ospreys is scheduled for 7 p.m. Both teams enter the season opener with an exhibition win under their belt as the Crimson Tide defeated an extremely talented UAH squad, 67-60, on Monday evening while the Ospreys handled Flagler, 84-67, on Nov. 1. "They come in with a veteran team and have a lot of guys that played here in the game two years ago," UA head coach Anthony Grant said of UNF. "They're a team that, towards the end of last year, was playing really good basketball. They're picked to be among the top of their league this year so I think it'll be a very good test for us."
Before anyone starts having a panic attack, let’s get this out of the way early: The likelihood that Mississippi State beats Alabama on Saturday – even a wounded Alabama team suffering from multiple injuries and a Cajun-flavored hangover – is very low. However, stranger things have happened, and often they happen in Starkville. Mississippi State nearly derailed Alabama’s 1992 national championship bid, a game that turned on a controversial call in Bama’s favor that today, would probably have been reversed by replay. In 1996, the Bulldogs played a part in ending Gene Stallings’ career, as a shocking loss led to a widely-rumored locker-room confrontation between Stallings and then-athletic director Bob Bockrath. And by the way, no one needs to bring up a certain 6-3 loss at the tail end of Paul Bryant’s Alabama coaching career.
Afew millennia from now, when archaeologists from an ascendant Brazil or Turkey or wherever sift the shards of American civilization and find the ruins of the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., they will wonder why a 109,901-seat entertainment venue was attached to an institution of higher education. Today, the accelerating preposterousness of big-time college football is again provoking furrowed brows and pursed lips. But there probably were few of either among the 20 million who Saturday night watched the University of Alabama’s student-athletes play those of Louisiana State University.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said in his weekly press conference on Monday games like this Saturday's are the reasons to play and coach the game. "I know our (players) have been looking forward to it, and I know our coaches are looking forward to it," said Mullen. "This is why you love being in the Southeastern Conference, to play in these big games." After beating the Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Martin on consecutive weekends, the Bulldogs come into its matchup with Alabama boasting its first winning streak of the 2011 season. With its record now 5-4, State is only one win away from being bowl eligible for the second consecutive season for the first time since the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Among notable statistics this season, the Bulldogs rank third in the SEC in scoring defense, fourth in rushing offense and fourth in total offense. One of State's primary weapons on offense is senior running back Vick Ballard, who compiled 102 yards on 11 carries and scored his first touchdown in five games against UT Martin last Saturday. For the season, Ballard has rushed 134 times for 790 yards and has scored seven touchdowns.
Johnson (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) has been labeled a run-stopping specialist and tends to feast on running backs. He led the Tide in tackles for two of the past three games, including the six he had in a 52-7 win at Ole Miss. "Offenses have been coming out and running more regular, meaning that there's been more power-set backs," Johnson said. "They've been trying to run the ball more. Fortunately, I'm on that personnel, which is regular. I got more plays than I usually get. It worked out for the good, but it didn't because we lost last week."
"I've always said this, so I don't want anybody to think it's sour grapes about overtime," he said, and then he referenced the fact that he coached extensively in the NFL. "I think we should just continue playing the game. Flip the coin. Somebody kicks off. Somebody receives, and you just keep playing the game until somebody scores. So you'd have to be able to move the ball and be the better team to get it into field position or get a turnover. ..." There would be less emphasis on the coin toss and who plays defense first, Saban said. "One mistake won't cost you the game," he said.
What does it take to put together a simple 90-minute road trip for the University of Alabama football team? Start with 113 hotel rooms for the Crimson Tide's overnight stay on its way to Starkville, Miss., to play Mississippi State. Add three conference rooms for coaches to brief and quiz players on the game plan. Throw in four buses to transport the team, and another for managers and athletic trainers. That's not to mention three meals, all planned by a team nutritionist - varying between buffet-style and set menus. And enough snacks to fill a hungry football team between meals. This, the least expensive of Alabama's road trips this season, comes in at a total cost of just over $44,000 for the travel party of 174, according to figures provided to The Tuscaloosa News by UA.
Q: For several weeks, there was a lot of talk about what was needed in the first Alabama-LSU game for there to possibly be a rematch in the BCS Championship Game. In your mind, did enough happen last week to warrant that possibility?
"We had always talked under the assumption that the ideal scenario was for the road team (LSU) to lose because you could be more forgiving to a road team than a home team. But aside from that, it played out exactly the way you would have scripted it if you're trying to set up for a rematch. Not only do you finish watching the game not totally sure who the better team was, but the stats from the game were on the side of the losing team. "There are plenty of reasons to believe that the result could go the other way if they played again, which I think is the No. 1 factor you need for voters to be willing to set up a rematch. Certainly, with Alabama losing at home, that's going to be one mark in the column against them. But if you play out the scenario where Oklahoma State and Stanford both lose, which is what would have to happen, then everybody in contention for that spot is going to have check marks and reasons against them, and Alabama might have the strongest argument."
The child sex-abuse scandal that has roiled Penn State this week is a wake-up call on the dangers of outsized reverence for sports programs, and could trigger NCAA sanctions for unethical conduct, Mark Emmert, the association’s president, told The Chronicle in an interview on Thursday. If an NCAA investigation does result in penalties for the university, it would be a first for Penn State: The Nittany Lions are one of only four Division I programs that have never faced a major NCAA rules violation.
Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne feels certain his school's football traveling party and fans will be safe at Saturday's game at Penn State. Still, he thinks folks might want to keep their red Cornhuskers gear at home, or at least wear a different colored coat over it. "I just don't know if it's a good idea in this circumstance to stand out," Osborne said Thursday night.
Despite learning months earlier that scout Willie Lyles had requested $3,000 from a University of Texas booster to ensure a recruit's visit, the Longhorn football program paid $15,000 to a recruiting service that employed Lyles in 2008-09, according to documents obtained by ESPN's "Outside the Lines."