The Crimson Tide basketball team will resume early-season play with a pair of nationally televised games against major conference opposition over the next two nights in New York City's Madison Square Garden. First up will be tonight's clash against the Oregon State Beavers of the Pac 12 conference. The game is scheduled to tip off at 6:00pm CT and will be televised on ESPN2.
Both teams will enter tonight with 2-0 records, each having downed a pair of mid-major foes at home last weekend. Alabama of course needed a big comeback and dramatic finish to knock off a good South Dakota State team before dismantling Division II opponent West Alabama. Oregon State meanwhile prevailed in a high-scoring shootout with Niagara in their opener, winning by 19 points, and then followed up with a nine-point victory over New Mexico State in their last game.
The Beavers have struggled as a program for some time now, but finally showed some signs of life last season when they finished in the middle of the pack in an admittedly very "down" Pac 12 conference. However, after returning four starters from their respectable squad from last year, they probably have more hope entering this season than they have in quite some time. They should at worst be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Pac 12 once again this season, and could make a run at an NCAA berth if things break their way.
In short, the Beavers are no world-beaters, but they should provide the Tide legitimate, major-conference-level opposition tonight in the Garden. Vegas has the game as a near toss-up, with the Tide favored by merely 2.5 points.
The big name to watch on Oregon State is junior point guard Ahmad Starks, who has exploded out of the gates in his first two games this year, scoring a combined 51 points in his two appearances thus far. He's also claimed twelve rebounds, six assists, and four steals in those two contests. Starks is a big-time player. He'll be on the court nearly the whole game, and he'll be able to hurt Bama's defense in a variety of ways. He's only 5'9", but Starks has proven he can be deadly, so containing him is clearly the biggest challenge facing the Bama defense.
Starters for Oregon State in the post are 6'10" senior Angus Brandt and 6'10" sophomore Eric Moreland. Moreland is the stronger rebounder, but Brandt is a more dangerous scoring threat. Neither is an all-star but both are experienced and Brandt will challenge Bama's questionable frontcourt with his scoring prowess, while Moreland could exploit Bama's potential weakness on the glass. 6'8" junior Devon Collier will provide depth on the inside for Oregon State. This will be the best test yet for the Tide's pair of 7-foot centers, as well as the banged-up Nick Jacobs.
On the perimeter, 6'3" junior guard Roberto Nelson and 6'7" wing player Joe Burton round out the Oregon State starting lineup. Nelson is the team's second-leading scorer and like Starks, is a threat from the arc. Burton is more of a versatile player, but is less dangerous from the arc. 6'3" sophomore guard Challe Barton and 6'7" freshman wing player Jarmal Reid provide depth on the perimeter.
Overall, Oregon State may not be an elite-level team, and may have struggled in past seasons, but they have the look of a very solid major-conference team this year that could force their way into the NCAA Tournament conversation, especially if they manage to win a few games like the one tonight. This will be Bama's second significant test in its first three games, and anything less than a good performance tonight will likely spell defeat. While an early-season game like this is far from do-or-die, this is one of only about a half-dozen key nonconference games the Tide will face this season, and so the result will have a fairly significant impact on the Tide's nonconference resume come postseason time. Hope for the best.