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Stemming the Tide

I am wondering who I pissed off in the blogging community this week. Twice I reached out to the resident Alabama blog here at SBNation to do some sort of a preview, but I was met with stone silence each time. It looks like we'll be headed into this game with my normal statistical analysis and that alone. That's okay. Maybe it is because we have no hope of keeping up with SEC speed since we're a slow Big Ten team.

Truthfully, I kind of view this as our first major test of the season. We break out the black uniforms for the first time. We beat a legitimate top 10 SEC team in Tennessee, but that was in a neutral venue. To maintain our high ranking and quest for a #1 seed we must have a win on the road in a hostile venue that is not in the Big Ten. A loss tomorrow night opens us up to all kinds of criticism. Suddenly the Big Ten won't be able to play on the road. Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota each lost non-conference road games as ranked teams. We cannot fall into that trap.

2009-10 Record: 6-2

2008-09 Record: 18-14 (Lost to Tennessee in SEC Tournament)

Blog Representation: Roll Bama Roll (Hasn't updated Basketball in a year)

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 3-2

Last Purdue win: 83-73 on 3/19/94 at Lexington, KY (NCAA tournament Second Round)

Last Alabama win: 85-77 2OT on 3/23/01 at Purdue (NIT quarterfinals)

Last Game in Tuscaloosa: Alabama 97, Purdue 80 on 11/26/76

Common Opponents: Michigan W 68-66, Tennessee (January 19th)

I remember our last game against the Crimson Tide very well. Injuries to Rodney Smith and John Allison had decimated us in Big Ten play, forcing us to the NIT. Both had returned for wins over Illinois State and Auburn before a home quarterfinal against the Crimson Tide. Alabama survived a pair of overtimes and a Blackout of Mackey Arena that I attended in black shoes, socks, pants, and shirt. It was the last good postseason run by a Gene Keady coached team at Purdue. At least it meant I got three more home games as a student that year.

This year's Alabama team is different from that 2000-01 squad. Coach Anthony Grant has taken over and stresses full-court pressure from his defense. In a way, this will be a bit like our trip to Missouri two years ago. That experience, especially for our juniors and seniors that made that trip, will be invaluable. He is in his first season at Alabama, but in three years at Virginia Commonwealth he took the Rams to two NCAA Tournaments and had a first-round upset of Duke. He was also an assistant on Florida's 2006 National Championship team.

His defensive philosophy is to cause full court pressure and generate offense from defense. Alabama averages almost 8 team steals per game. They are scoring about 73 points per game. That tells me that they aren't lighting up the scoreboard, but they aren't afraid to score either. Their schedule thus far has yielded some interesting results. They have a couple of quality wins over Michigan (when the Wolverines were ranked #15) and Baylor in the Old Spice Classic. The two losses came against Florida State in the same Old Spice Classic and in the season opener against Cornell. Those losses aren't as bad as you think. Cornell and Florida State were both NCAA Tournament teams a year ago and are favored to be again this year. It might be wise for us to take an Andy Bernard look-alike with us just to be safe.

Alabama is led in scoring by 6'5" senior guard Mikhail Torrance (15.1ppg) and 6'9" sophomore forward JaMychal Green (14.4ppg). Both players should be interesting matchups for us. Torrance will remind us of the bigger guards that Tennessee had. Green is almost strictly a post player who could be a tough matchup if JaJuan Johnson gets in foul trouble. Torrance is also a playmaker, leading the Crimson Tide with 45 assists in eight games. That is better than five per game, so he does look to get his teammates involved. Green leads the team in rebounds with 6.9 per game. Perhaps a more apt comparison for the two is that they are like DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris at Michigan. When the two teams played Sims and Harris outscored Torrance and Green 42-31, but the Tide won the war.

6'6" freshman forward Tony Mitchell (10.3ppg, 4.5rpg) is a nice complimentary player for the duo. He is a reliable third option that had 23 against Jackson State earlier in the year. Bigger name opponents have kept in check though. 5'9" guard Anthony Brock (8ppg) is a dangerous 3-point shooter, hitting 12 of 26 attempts in just six games played. Senario Hillman (7.8ppg, 2.6apg), Charvez Davis (7.4ppg), Justin Knox (5.2ppg, 4.4rpg), and Chris Hines round out Alabama's main rotation. Ben Eblen has also played in all eight games, but averages less than 10 minutes.

Alabama does not have an overwhelming amount of size, relying on quickness from its guards. Knox is a 6'9" junior from Tuscaloosa, while Hines is 6'8". This relative lack of size translates to just 35 team rebounds per game. JJ should have some room to operate in the middle, but that can change quickly if he gets into foul trouble like he did against Tennessee. The Crimson Tide averages a modest 12 turnovers per contest.

Brock and Davis are the main three points hooting threats. Each player hits better than 41% from long range. Davis is more a specialist from long range with 41 attempts and 17 makes. Torrance is also an excellent free throw shooter (36 of 39). If Alabama has a late lead they will look to get the ball in his hands, but he will already have it a lot anyway. Knox and Torrance are the only players over 80% as free throw shooters, and they barely get the team average over 69%.

This is a very balanced basketball team. Other than Torrence they don't rely on any one player to do everything. Torrance also spreads himself nicely between scoring and distributing the basketball. They have the early look of being an NCAA bubble team come March. As a result, they are going to want this game pretty badly for their resume.

It is a good test for us as well. The Big Ten is shaping up that every game not involving Indiana, Penn State or Iowa will be a battle. Even the Nittany Lions and Hoosiers have had their moments this year. Alabama is probably at least as a good as a Michigan, Illinois, or Minnesota in the middle of the Big Ten. Therefore, winning this game will be a good sign for those opponents. Since this is our first road test it will be interesting to see how our freshmen respond in a hostile environment. We are a long way from the days of our epic road losing streak though.

Keys to the Game for Purdue:

  • Handle Alabama's helter-skelter press
  • Don't let the crowd get involved
  • Keep JJ out of foul trouble
  • Keep shooting well from the perimeter
  • Limit second chance opportunities

PREDICTION: Purdue 74, Alabama 68