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Tide returns to action against Jacksonville

The Crimson Tide basketball team will return to action tonight after an 8-day break for Christmas vacation, hosting the Jacksonville Dolphins of the Atlantic Sun Conference in the final non-conference home game of the season. The game will tip off at 8:00 pm CST and will be televised regionally on CSS while being streamed worldwide on ESPN3.

The Dolphins enter the game with a lowly 2-9 record thus far this season. Nine of their eleven games have been on the road, and three have been against projected NCAA Tournament teams (Florida State, Florida, Marquette), but they were smoked by Florida and Marquette and lost to FSU by 12. They have also suffered losses to the likes of Savannah State, North Florida, Furman, and Wofford, not to mention UAB and Winthrop.

Barring a complete bed wetting, this game should be a formality for Alabama. The Dolphins are not especially adept on the offensive or defensive end, ranking in the mid-200's in efficiency on both ends. This is the kind of game that the Tide needs to not only win at home, but also set a tone early on both ends of the court to get the team jump-started following the holiday break.

Following tonight's game, things will get real for this young team. Beginning next week, the schedule will call for 17 major-conference opponents over the course of the next nine weeks. The Tide's final non-conference game will come on the road next Tuesday night at Georgia Tech, which will essentially lead right into the start of the 16-game SEC slate the following Saturday.

We've seen this team show some promise, but also signs of youth through the first dozen games. We've also seen a hot start and high national ranking come crashing down with a 1-3 stretch that shook player and fan confidence alike. Now, with a confidence-boosting win over Oklahoma State in the bag heading into the holiday break, the team has a chance to make some last, final adjustments and get their minds and their games in order heading into the January gauntlet beginning next week. It's time to see if this team can take some needed steps forward now heading into the New Year--a New Year that Bama fans hope will bring some long-awaited major success for this program. Hope for the best.