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Oakland will provide major test for Tide tonight

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The Crimson Tide basketball team will return to the court tonight for its second game of the non-conference season, a very tough test at home against one of the top mid-major teams in the country: the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. The game is scheduled to tip off at 7:00 pm CST and will be televised locally on WVUA. As usual, we'll have a live game thread here at RBR for those who want to comment and to update those who can't watch.

Last season the Grizzlies dominated the Summit League en route to an NCAA Tournament appearance, where they lost an 84-81 heart-breaker to Texas in an opening round game they really should have won. They also knocked off Tennessee on the road and came within a single point of doing the same to Michigan State in non-conference play. They finished the season ranked 66th in the efficiency ratings, which would have put them exactly in the middle of the SEC.

Clearly, as Texas learned in the NCAA Tournament, Oakland was not a team to take lightly last season. They won't be one to take lightly this season either. The Golden Grizzlies return three starters and are a unanimous choice to win the Summit League for the third straight year. With loads of experienced players who have had success playing against college basketball's elite, they will provide a stiff early-season test for the young Crimson Tide at home.

The big name on the Grizzly roster is 5'11" senior point guard Reggie Hamilton, widely considered to be one of the best all-around point guards in all of college basketball. Hamilton does everything you could possibly want a point guard to do: he can score from deep or around the rim (averaged 17.6 points/game last season and dropped 25 on Texas in the NCAA Tournament), and even more importantly he sparks the entire offense and creates chances for his teammates (a whopping 5.3 assists/game last season).

While Hamilton is clearly the star, the Grizzlies also return their other two backcourt starters from last year's NCAA Tournament team. 6'5" sophomore guard Travis Bader is a superb sharpshooter. He averaged 10.5 points/game last season as a freshman, with nearly every single one of those points coming from the 3-point line, where he shot an eye-popping 44% while hitting over three treys each game. 6'5" junior Drew Valentine also returns as a solid all-around wing player in every facet, averaging 7.9 points and 5.6 rebounds/game last season in addition to being a nice defensive player.

The Grizzlies will also be adding two other quality experienced perimeter players in 6'3" junior Blake Cushingberry, a one-time starter who missed last year due to injury, and 6'2" senior Laval Lucas-Perry, a transfer from Michigan. There is little doubt that at least half the coaches in the SEC would trade their backcourt for Oakland's. They are that talented, that experienced and that deep.

If the Golden Grizzlies' frontcourt was as good as its backcourt, they would easily be a top-25 team. However, they lost both of their starters from last season, one of whom (Keith Benson) was selected in last year's NBA Draft. Unfortunately for them, they have no one to step in this season with any experience. Instead, they will rely primarily on a collection of four unproven freshmen forwards and centers to carry the load inside. They may, like Alabama, even play for large portions with a four-guard lineup.

The Tide will be in a tough battle with the Oakland guards, particularly when it comes to containing Hamilton and limiting the 3-point looks for Bader. If anything, the Grizzlies' experience on the perimeter should give them an advantage in this game, especially one played so early in the season against such a young group of Bama guards who are still feeling their way into the college game.

Whatever advantage may be found for Oakland on the outside, though, should be more than made up for on the inside, where JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell will be matched up against an even more inexperienced Oakland frontcourt. The biggest key to the game may be the extent to which the Alabama coaches and players can leverage this advantage. That means keeping Green and Mitchell out of foul trouble and involved in the offense as much as possible. If they can stay on the court and involved in the offense, it should give the young Tide guards enough margin for error against Hamilton and company for the Tide to come out on top.

Last season Oakland had the nation's 12th ranked offense, but ranked a lowly 203rd in defensive efficiency. The Tide defense will be challenged in a big way by Oakland's backcourt, and in any game Bama plays, especially early in the season, defense will be what this team builds its success on. That said, the real key for a Bama victory tonight is to execute at a higher level offensively than the team has in its scrimmage game against UAH and its season-opener against North Florida. If Alabama plays smart and executes on offense, they should be able to find enough success with Green and Mitchell inside against a defense that was already Oakland's weakness last year--before they lost all of their experienced post players. If the Tide plays sloppy again on offense, though, all bets are off and Reggie Hamilton and the Golden Grizzly guards are more than good enough to carry Oakland to an upset of 15th-ranked Alabama. Hope for the best.