FTRS: We've asked every blog we've dealt with about expansion. What are the sentiments of the Bama faithful with regards to SEC expansion? Are they happy to see the SEC center of gravity shifting West?
Matt: Generally, most Bama fans preferred the status quo. We like the SEC as it exists now, and as fans didn't really want to see a change, nor did we think it was needed. However, there seemed to be a pretty broad understanding of why the changes were made (conference expansion momentum elsewhere and of course $$$), and whatever criticism there was was more of the groaning acceptance kind. Further, once it seemed as though SEC expansion was an inevitability, every Bama fan had their own opinion of who the new schools should be. Most preferred to add some combination of football powers from the Big XII and/or ACC, such as Oklahoma, Texas, Florida State, or Virginia Tech. Once it became apparent that none of the ACC schools (including not only FSU and VT but also Clemson and, yes, Georgia Tech) would be options for various political reasons, and that there was no real mutual interest with regard to Texas or Oklahoma, it became pretty obvious that Texas A&M and Missouri were indeed the best options available from a competitive aspect and a monetary aspect. Because of this, there was little animosity from the Bama faithful. At the same time, however, no one I've heard from is excited about the new schools either. The attitude generally has been, "well, we suppose it had to be done, and if so, given all the various restraints, these two schools were the best options out there." I suspect they will be integrated into the league pretty seamlessly, and within a few years people will forget how they got there (see Arkansas and South Carolina).FTRS: Bama is 10-3 with three losses to Georgetown, Dayton, and Kansas State. Was there a common theme for the three losses or did Bama just meet a superior team on the court those three games?
Matt: Yes, there was a common theme: terrible 3-point shooting and lackluster half-court offense generally. In those three losses, the Tide was 9 for 46 from the arc (19.6%).These shooting performances were not flukes, either. Although Bama is shooting a little better than that on the season, our 27.4% rate ranks 321st in college basketball. The good news is that the Tide has hit 13 of 30 treys in its two most recent games, wins against Oklahoma State and Jacksonville. In losses that were all competitive well into the second half, shooting 19% instead of, say, the college basketball average of 34% equates to about 6 fewer points in a game. But it's not just the lost points, it's also the fact that the players lose confidence in the ability to even attempt shots from outside, and opposing coaches begin to clog the paint, where our team usually thrives. We've been particularly inept at attacking zone defenses, and in general the offense has simply been lackluster when defenses can keep our best players from getting the ball in the paint.FTRS: Are there any updates on JaMychal Green's status before the game? What does he bring to the Bama lineup?
Matt: As of Monday evening the latest official word is that Green is day-to-day. Of course, he's missed the last two games with a shoulder injury and has been receiving medical treatments to deal with the pain. He is Alabama's best player. When he is in the game, the half-court offense is much more effective. Green is a power forward who can score not only in the paint as a post player, but can also hit jumpers at an extremely high rate from about 20 feet in. Simply put, he is far and away the most efficient scorer on Alabama's team. However, he is notorious for getting into foul trouble and missing large portions of games. This, in conjunction with Alabama's slow pace (36th slowest according to Pomeroy) leads to his raw statistics not looking all that impressive, but make no mistake he is a big-time offensive threat, which is crucial for a team like Alabama that struggles to score against good defenses in half-court sets. His availability (or lack there of) for this game will be a huge key to say the least.FTRS: Tell Tech fans about the other Bama feature players in Tony Mitchell, Trevor Releford, and Levi Randolph. What are their roles on defense and offense for this 2011-2012 Bama unit?
Matt: Tony Mitchell is one of the best athletes you will see play college basketball. He is a terror in the open court, can rebound and defend well beyond his 6'6" size, can fly around on defense, and is versatile enough on offense to both hit open 3's and consistently score in paint. In fact, he's actually been the Tide's best 3-point shooter this year, which speaks to both his improvement in this area and the Bama guards' weakness from the arc. He leads the team in minutes and scoring and is probably a 1st-team All-SEC player if he keeps it up.FTRS: What is the postseason goal for Bama?
Trevor Releford is the motor of the offense. He was Freshman All-SEC last year after playing nearly every minute as the team's point guard. When he has a quiet night, the offense struggles, and when he creates, the offense usually is active enough to make Bama a very tough team to beat. He's not a great shooter for a point guard, only hitting 6 treys in 13 games, but he is an excellent ballhandler and playmaker when he's moving toward the basket. Keep him from moving toward the basket, though, and the Bama offense often grinds to a painful halt.
After Green, Mitchell and Releford, the Tide deploys four true freshmen as the next in line in the primary rotation. Levi Randolph, a lanky 6'5" guard, starts and plays the most minutes, but is typically fairly quiet on the stat sheet. Trevor Lacey, a 5-star recruit who is essentially a combo-guard, has a lot of promise and has shown flashes of being a very good scorer. He has started the last two games in Green's absence and seems to be getting more and more comfortable. Nick Jacobs (an Atlanta native) is a wide-bodied 6'8" power forward who plays an old-school back-to-the-basket game. He's been playing more and more minutes inside and has really started to become a go-to option on offense. Rodney Cooper, a 6'6" wing player, began the season as a starter and looked like the most game-ready freshman a couple games into the season, but he really seems to have lost a lot of confidence recently, especially in his outside shot. He still has tons of potential given his frame and shooting ability, but he's probably seen more freshman struggles recently than the other three.
Other players who see limited action in most games are Charles Hankerson, a 6'5" sophomore guard, Carl Engstrom, a 7'1" sophomore center, and Ben Eblen, a 6'0" sophomore point guard. Also look out for two players who are just making their return to the team after long-term injuries. Moussa Gueye is a highly touted 7'0" center from the JuCo ranks who dressed out for the first time in last game against Jacksonville after recovering from ACL surgery. Andrew Steele is a junior guard who was just cleared to play again after being told this summer he had to give up his playing career after suffereing a fourth concussion since his high school days. Both of these returning players will likely play significant minutes by the time SEC play heats up, though it's doubtful they play major minutes against Georgia Tech.
Matt: Obviously the big focus is to end the painful 5-year NCAA Tournament drought. That's the absolute minimum. But considering that the squad returns three All-SEC performers from a team that was NCAA-caliber (though not NCAA-worthy thanks to some serious RPI screwage) and added a top-5 recruiting class to the mix, most fans are hoping to land a solid (say, top-6) seed in the Dance and make a run into the second weekend. The quick 7-0 start and #12 national ranking had fans very optimistic for this latter goal, but when the offense ground to a halt and the team suffered three losses in a four-game stretch, many re-adjusted their expectations and/or began to fear the Tide would even accomplish the former goal.FTRS: Predictions for tonight?
Matt: Alabama is in all likelihood a better team this year than Georgia Tech. As such, if Bama plays well and hits some shots the Tide should leave Atlanta with a big road win to wrap up non-conference play in very strong position for and NCAA Tournament bid. However, Bama has had several games this year where it has neither played well nor hit shots. If Georgia Tech can limit Bama's easy looks inside on the offensive end and the Tide can't respond with some answers from the backcourt, Georgia Tech is probably good enough to beat this team, especially on the road. However, given that the Tide has responded with some better shooting and some better play from its very, very young guards these last two games, I predict that the Tide will do just enough offensively to get a big road win. It won't be pretty and it won't be a blowout, but I'll say won't come down to the last shot either.Thanks to Matt and RBR. Game tips tonight at 9:00PM on ESPNU. Go Jackets!