It may not be the epic football clash that fans from around the country have been craving to see, but there will be some quality basketball being played in Birmingham Monday night when the Oregon Ducks (9-2) visit the heart of Dixie to take on the Crimson Tide (7-2). Avery Johnson's young team continues to defy all expectations with their continued success no matter the setback. With a dangerous mid-major in town last Wednesday, starting forward Shannon Hale was scratched at the last minute for an undisclosed medical reason. Normally that would have spelled danger for Alabama. However, after a half of play feeling the Eagles out, Johnson pulled all the right strings and the Tide rode Justin Coleman and Jimmie Taylor to a blow-out of a second half and an easy win. The next tall task will be another tough one, as the Ducks have one of the more talented rosters Alabama will face all season.
Dana Altman has been the head coach at Oregon since 2010, and has led the Ducks to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. This year's Oregon team has the same level of expectations, as they were picked to finish fourth in a very good PAC-12 by the media this preseason. Though they haven't played the most difficult schedule in the country, Oregon has been very successful, and boasts a strong win over #16 Baylor on the resume.
- PG 6'3 Casey Benson (5.6 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 3.3 APG, 0.5 SPG)
- OG 6'4 Tyler Dorsey (14.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.1 SPG)
- WF 6'6 Elgin Cook (14.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.8 SPG)
- SF 6'5 Dillon Brooks (15.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG)
- C 6'10 Chris Boucher (12.0 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 3.5 BPG, 0.8 SPG)
- G 6'0 Kendall Small (3.2 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- F 6'7 Dwayne Benjamin (10.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG)
- F 6'7 Jordan Bell (6.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.3 BPG)
- F 6'9 Trevor Manual (1.3 PPG, 0.9 RPG)
- C 6'10 Roman Sorkin (1.7 PPG, 1.0 RPG)
What to Watch For
- Birmingham Bound. The Crimson Tide make their first appearance in Birmingham for a basketball game since 2011, when they smoked the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Vulcan Classic, as it's been officially dubbed, is rumored to become a staple of the program moving forward. This is a great idea that was spear-headed by Avery Johnson, who is looking to build a better relationship with people in the surrounding area of Alabama's most populous city. There may not be a student section like in Tuscaloosa, but many Alabama students are currently in Birmingham for Winter Break, so there could still be a nice student presence. Plus, many Alabama alumni reside in Birmingham, and there will also be plenty of high school coaches and players from the talent-rich area who will be on hand to watch the Tide play live. This is a big game for the program.
Three Keys to Victory
- Someone Needs to Step-Up. When Dazon Ingram broke his foot in practice the week of the Clemson game, Obasohan had a career night in leading the Tide to a big win three days later as he dropped 23 points. With Hale getting the late scratch just before tip-off last Wednesday, Coleman and Taylor each had one of their best performances in a Crimson Tide uniform to help break-away from Winthrop. With Hale also out for Monday's game, someone will need to step up yet again and bring some offensive production to help fill that void. Any one of those three could provide another big spark for the Tide.
- Offensive Efficiency. Oregon feasts on creating turnovers on the defensive end of the court. The Ducks are 30th in the country in steals and 6th in blocks this season. With their overall length and quickness, they can really create problems for offenses that aren't efficient with the basketball. Alabama needs to slow it down and make sure that they take care of the ball. Good passes and high-percentage shots will be a must in this game. If Alabama can limit their turnovers, they can frustrate the Oregon defense and get them to start pressing a little bit, which opens up all kinds of backdoor and off-ball cuts.
- Rebounding. Alabama has won the last two games in large part because they finally won the rebound battle convincingly each time. Avery's group hasn't been great in this category all year, but the back-to-back strong performances may be an indication of continued improvement on that front. If Alabama can keep Oregon off of the boards, they will have a good shot at coming out with another quality non-conference win.