The Crimson Tide basketball team opened play at the 2011 Puerto Rico Tip-Off in dominating fashion, smothering an out-manned Maryland Terrapins team from the outset. The game was never in doubt, as Bama built an 8-1 lead before the first media timeout and never allowed Maryland to get closer. The lead was 16 at halftime and got as high as 23 early in the second half, and after a lot of ugly play the final score ended 62-42.
Due to the quick turnaround before the second round tonight, we'll just offer a few quick thoughts about yesterday's game:
- We knew Maryland was down, but they are a bad ACC team, or at least they were yesterday. It felt good to beat a major conference team (and one that's won a national championship in the last decade) that soundly on a neutral court on national television, but really after watching them play I fully expect the Terps to end the season at or very near the bottom of the ACC. Let that temper all assessments from yesterday's game.
- Maryland's weakness notwithstanding, you couldn't help but be impressed with that fact that the Tide barely skipped a beat defensively when JaMychal Green missed nearly the entire first half due to foul trouble. Just as important, and perhaps even more encouraging, was the fact that the Tide offense still found a way to get good shots in the latter stages of the first half when both Green and Trevor Releford were on the bench with foul trouble. No way we would have been able to say that at any point last season.
- Maryland players were clearly seeking to get Green in foul trouble from the opening tip. They flopped every time he contacted them on offense, and they looked to drive right at him and draw contact on defense. It worked to perfection. Both of the offensive fouls called on Green early were questionable flops that the refs bought hook, line and sinker, but still Green and the coaches have to figure out a way to keep him on the court. Bama managed to win easily without its best player yesterday, but that won't be the case against better teams.
- In Green's absence, Tony Mitchell stepped up in a big way. For the most part, he was his usual self, extremely active on offense and on the boards and making hustle plays in every facet of the game. However, when he actually knocks down his open looks from the arc he's downright scary, and that was the case yesterday. The NBA scouts (who presumably aren't doing anything else anyway) have to love seeing that from him. Mitchell's performance was especially timely given that the other two pieces of the "Big 3" were on the bench for so much of the game.
- By far the biggest pleasant surprise from this team so far has been how quickly the freshmen have bought in and adjusted to Grant's defensive system. For the most part, Lacey, Randolph and Cooper all understand where they're supposed to be and what is expected of them on that end. They haven't been flawless by any means, but for this early in the season it's been a very nice surprise to see how quickly they've integrated into the system on the defensive end. On the offensive end, each of those three freshmen has provided exactly what was advertised: shooting and playmaking. They are still a little hesitant at times, but as they get more comfortable on that end they should get even better.
- Another pleasant surprise has been the production of Carl Engstrom, who provided 15 big minutes yesterday in the absence of Green. Sure, it's usually not very pretty, especially when he has the ball in his hands (or attempts to have the ball in his hands), but his contributions were positive in balance. What fans need to understand is that he doesn't need to score to help the team. His size, his activity inside, and his much-improved understanding of the game have made him exactly what he needs to be: a big nuisance in the paint. He's like that 350-pound nose tackle who rarely gets tackles or shows up in the box score. He's so big and active that he demands attention and eats space, occupying defenders inside and freeing up space outside and lanes to the rim for other players. The same applies in rebounding; even if he doesn't get the ball he does a pretty good using his size to box out and clear space for others to grab rebounds. Ideally he won't play as much as he did yesterday in most games, but he is a player who can help the team in short playing spurts, especially given Bama's lack of depth inside.
- Bama returns to action tonight at 8:00 pm CST on ESPN2 for the second-round game against Wichita State, the team that knocked off the Tide in last season's NIT final. We'll have a short preview up later today.
- 3-0. Roll Tide.