The problem with analyzing basketball scheduling is how the pieces come slowly trickling out over the course of half a year or so: here a game, there a preseason invitation; the SEC announces opponents one month, then six weeks later you see whether you’re getting a split or a road or a home date.
Unlike the Tide’s 2021 blockbuster schedule, 2022-2023 has been following that path moreso than usual. We’ve already covered the SEC slate — and for a change, it looks manageable. Today, we’re going to look at the out-of-conference equation. Because, I don’t know if you’ve paid attention or not, but this card is getting filled up mighty quickly, mighty quietly, and it will be double-stamp day at the IGA before you know it.
While we don’t have the October tune-up games just yet, we do have practically all of November and December, as well as the major invitationals, already sorted out. Here they are:
- 11/7 — Longwood
- 11/15 @ South Alabama
- 11/18 — Jacksonville State
- 11/24 — Michigan State: Phil Knight Invitational (Eugene)
- 11/25 — UConn or Oregon: Phil Knight Invitational (Eugene)
- 11/27 — TBA: Finals Phil Knight Invitational (Eugene)
- 12/4 — South Dakota State
- 12/10 — @ Houston
- 12/13 — Memphis
- 12/17 — Gonzaga
- 1/28 — @ Oklahoma: SEC/Big 12 Challenge
The thing that jumps out at you is how more manageable this schedule seems over last season’s, despite having probably even more brand names on the roster. There is still the week from hell, with two of the AAC’s finest and Gonzaga; there’s still a tough OOC tilt in Eugene. But, what’s notably lacking are all those other very hard lower-major games that were just nightmare fuel in ‘Bama’s schedule last season.
Take just one early stretch for Alabama:
They didn’t look like much at the time, but your Ionas and Drakes and Louisiana Techs wound up being killers. Two of those would play for their conference title; they all had 23-plus wins; and all three went on the CBI or NIT tourneys. And those were the games we just sort of ignored, given that they were wedged into the blockbusters. A lot of those types games are missing this year, and in their place, the Tide are handed the relatively “easier” task of punching cross-wise at similarly positioned Power 5 teams.
Call me crazy, but I’d rather play a team like Oregon, who can compete for their conference, but otherwise you are just another name on the schedule, than a team like Iona that wants to make a reputation off of slaying giants — because last year, they did. And Alabama’s 2020 and 2021 schedule was littered with them.
You will also notice that a lot of those perimeter teams that gave Alabama fits last season are mostly gone. The teams Alabama draws in 2022 are far more conventional lineups, with conventional balanced rosters, though with more of an emphasis on post play.
Other specific lineup notes:
- Longwood (NET 137) is quietly a pretty good team. They finished 26-7 last season, one ahead of Louisville in NET and RPI. They earned a 14-seed and have gone to two straight postseasons, despite having a program just 9 years old.
- Alabama gets another visit from feisty SoDak State (NET 60). Baylor Scheierman is heading to Creighton. But the Jacks return plenty of talent including Charlie Easley, and it will be a sixty-minute game.
- Alabama makes the SoCon / SBC in-state tour, hosting an always-talented Jacksonville State team, and then spending a night at the beach vs. South Alabama (NET 156). In-state road trip obligation complete. Rich Riley has a decent team at USA, nothing to write home about. But Jacksonville State earned an at-large (No. 15) last year as the A-Sun runner-up.
- Alabama has one helluva week on tap, including a road-trip to NET No. 2 Houston, hosting NET No. 1 Gonzaga, and hosting NET No. 31 Memphis. Alabama smacked around Gonzaga last year, had a game for the ages against the Cougs, and got absolutely mauled by Memphis. Expect some vengeance to be on the line for all four of these teams at some point, for some reason. That Memphis game in particular was the beginning of the end last season for the Tide. If Alabama ever wants to be a routine Top 10 program, it must demonstrate that it can handle talented big, physical rosters. So far, that has been one of their bugaboos. Memphis humiliated them.
- The Phil Knight Invitational actually is very winnable if ‘Bama comes to work. Oregon (NET 76) is fast and athletic, but nothing special. Sparty (NET 38) looks to be another Houston-type grinder against a strong defense team that will try and stymie them for forty minutes: good shooting will be a must. And UConn may (NET 18) be the most talented of the bunch, but they also play at a faster pace, and the Tide will get their chance to dictate tempo there, as the Huskies are also a bit slow in transition.
- The final OOC game is a road trip, and a bit of a wild card. Last season the Sooners (NET 39) didn’t quite have the year they were expecting, but were very competitive in a tough B12. But this year, they’ve got a little more returning talent, as well as a new head coach, as they were able to talk Loyola Chicago legend Porter Moser into heading to Norman. It will be a different team, for sure. More emphasis on defense and transition, than pure shooting and tempo.
In all, the schedule is still daunting, don’t get me wrong. But given the absence of your usual Elons and Ionas and Drakes, it is also a bit easier by my lights. Just one of the low-majors scares you. And the midmajor toughies are replaced with Power 5 teams facing tough conference grinds of their own.
Alabama should be able to wrangle a 9-4, 8-5 record out of this slate, at the worst.
Degree of Difficulty: 88 / 100
What figures to be the unexpected toughest game for ‘Bama in out of conference play?