Alabama Basketball Goes Into Deep Water

For former Alabama Basketball Coach CM Newton, the non-conference schedule was designed to be a tough one. “To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” was his philosophy.

There’s more than one way to be successful in the approach to the non-conference schedule. Wimp Sanderson, who would succeed Newton and continue Crimson Tide basketball success, seemingly scoured the college basketball landscape to find teams that would be easy pickings for early season games as he developed his team.

Bama basketball in the early part of this season hasn’t been in the baby pool, but it has been in the shallow end. Beginning Tonight it is in deep water.

Nate Oats believes in a tough non-conference schedule. Last year it was judged the most difficult in the nation, and it will be that conversation again this year as the Tide will be taking on the likes of Houston, Gonzaga, and Oklahoma.

And Michigan State, the Crimson Tide’s Thursday night opponent in the opening round of the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon. The Spartans are already in the category of playing a really tough schedule and will be the first true test for Bama.

Tipoff will be at 9:30 pm CST (7:30 Pacific time) in the Moda Center, home of the Portland Trailblazers. ESPN will televise the game. Don’t blanch, but the announcers are Roxy Bernstein and Bill Walton.

Potential follow-up Bama opponents in Portland are Oregon and UConn.

Michigan State (3-1) is ranked 12th in the nation, Alabama (4-0) 18th.

The Tide has had an easy time in disposing of four mid-major opponents, Longwood, Liberty, and Jacksonville State in Tuscaloosa and South Alabama in Mobile.

Michigan State has negotiated a more difficult road, After a 73-55 tuneup against Northern Arizona, the Spartans lost a heart-breaker, 64-63, to No. 2 Gonzaga, then defeated No. 4 Kentucky, 86-77 in double overtime, and Villanova, 73-71.

“We have been tested enough,” Oats mused going into tonight’s game. “We’ve played three good mid-majors. That’s not Gonzaga, Kentucky.

“They are 3-1 and should be 4-0. They’ve played tougher teams, but we’ve played decent teams and played well.

“With a young team, I think we did it right.”

Alabama, indeed, is a young team, a team of newcomers. Bama has started the season with the same lineup in every game – 7-0 sophomore center Charles Bediako (4.3 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game), junior transfer guard Mark Sears (15.3 ppg), soph guard Nimari Burnett (9.3 ppg) , 6-10 freshman forward Noah Clowney (6.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg), and 6-9 freshman forward Brandon Miller (20.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg). The Tide has gotten good bench production, including freshman guards Jaden Bradley (8.89 ppg) and Rylan Griffen (10.3 ppg).

Veteran Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo Returns nine lettermen from last year, including Seniors – forwards 6-8 Malik Hall 12 ppg) and 6-9 Joey Hauser (14 ppg) and guard Tyson Walker (13.5 ppg) – who have played a collective 278 games with 177 starts.

Comparative statistics don’t mean much considering the disparity in competition, but Alabama is averaging 84.8 points per game, Michigan State 73.8. The Tide allows 57.5 ppg, the Spartans 66.8. Alabama leads the nation in rebounds per game (56), offensive rebounds per game (19.5), and rebound margin (24.5). Michigan State pulls down 38.5 per games, its opponents 35.3.

Alabama and Michigan State have met only two times previously, Alabama winning in December, 1983, by 81-69 in Atlanta, the Spartans winning in December, 1988, by 75-58 in Hawaii.

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