The University of Alabama basketball team has already exceeded many pundits’ expectations. After a 9-3 record in non-conference play, including wins over then-ranked opponents Wichita State and Notre Dame, the team that was picked to finish next-to-last in the SEC stands as the 5th-ranked team in the conference by ESPN’s RPI.
It’s not just commentators’ and fan’s expectations that have been exceeded, either.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, so I didn’t know if we would be 9-3, 12-0 or whatever we would be,” senior captain Retin Obasohan said. “One expectation I did have was that we would give everything we have and that’s what our guys have done. I’m proud of what we’ve done and the way we’ve been on the court and off the court, bonding with each other. In that aspect, we’ve actually exceeded expectations–just how hard guys actually work. As to the record, that’s just a testament to how dedicated our coaching staff and players are to the process.”
Now, the Crimson Tide puts a four-game road winning streak on the line when it opens conference play in Oxford, Mississippi tonight, the first game in one of the toughest opening stretches for any SEC team. Alabama will be the visitor for the opening of The Pavilion at Ole Miss, a brand new 9,500-seat stadium that cost around $96.5 million to build, where the “road warriors” will attempt to spoil the Rebels’ opening night.
“I want to say we’re warriors, period,” Obasohan said. “I’d like to keep that to road and home. I’m proud of our guys. I’m proud of how some of the young guys deal with playing on the road. It’s not easy going into a stadium filled with 15,000 fans that want to see you lose. That’s not an easy task to deal with, especially if you’re a freshman coming in who hasn’t seen that before. Just the way that our guys have come and handled the pressures that come with the game has really been big time.”
Alabama currently ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring defense, giving up just under 65 points per game. That defense will be stretched as much as it has been all season against Ole Miss guard Stefan Moody, who leads the SEC and ranks seventh nationally in scoring, averaging 23.7 points per game. Moody leads Ole Miss in nearly every statistical category.
“He can do it all,” coach Avery Johnson said. “He can score in bunches. He’s not a guy that you can easily handle one-on-one. he’s good at taking the ball to the basket, he’s a very confident player. He has a lot of confidence in his abilities. He can be a one-man wrecking crew so we’ve got to do a good job of trying to contain him as best we can.”
Offensively, Johnson has stressed his team’s turnover tendency for the past several games, and the Crimson Tide’s last-in-conference 0.8 assist-to-turnover ration could expose his team against a quick-scoring team like Ole Miss, but Obasohan said the team is getting closer to understanding its best floor spacing.
“One of the biggest things we work on in practice are “bailouts” –That’s what coach Johnson calls it, just being in the right spots with the right movements on the court,” Obasohan said. “I guess you could compare it to a chess game. If I go right, I know Jimmie’s going to move slightly to his left, I know Riley’s going to the corner, I know certain things that certain guys want to do when I make a move.”
Obasohan said Johnson wants his players to be able to “pass blindly,” instinctively knowing where each player will be without having to check–but being able to throw a no-look pass in practice is different than trying it in a game.
“Now we want them to take the mask off when they’re passing so they can see their teammates,” Johnson said. “The idea of having correct spacing on the floor, if you couldn’t see, you should be able to make the pass, but we’re not the most effective team at doing that right now. We have to be organized, we have to make sure everybody gets to the right spot because our team doesn’t like to talk a lot. They like to text. Unfortunately they can’t use their cell phones during games or we’d probably be able to cut back on turnovers. Hopefully they’ll talk a lot more and we’ll be able to get organized.”
Win or lose, the Crimson Tide will have just 48 hours to bounce back before hosting No. 9 Kentucky on Saturday. After that, it will host No. 22 South Carolina on Wednesday, Jan. 13.
“The opening slate is whatever the SEC felt like we needed to do,” Obasohan said. “I’m excited for the challenge. We’ve got some good games lined up but at the same time, you’ve got to take it one at a time. I heard a great quote that said ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ How do you deal with one of the toughest five-game stretches in the SEC? One game at a time. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Source:: The Crimson White Sports