[SPORTS] Alabama basketball off to a 3-0 start

Creative title, eh?

Finally got a chance to watch the Alabama basketball team live for the first time this season on ESPN2 as they played Oregon State in the 2K Sports Classic. I was surprised when I saw Trevor Releford, a 2 year starter at PG, come off the bench. The starters for Alabama last night were Trevor Lacey, Rodney Cooper, Levi Randolph, freshman Devonte Pollard and big Senegalese Moussa Gueye. At one point, there was a whole new starting 5 on the floor for Alabama, including big men Nick Jacobs and Carl Engstrom, guards Releford and Andrew Steele and even Retin Obasohan got in the game.

The announcers tried to make it sound like head coach Anthony Grant was still trying to find a starting five that worked, as well as decide what sort of roles each player will play. But commentator Len Elmore made a nice point…it’s not who starts the game but who finishes it. Late in the 2nd half, I saw both Releford and Lacey on the floor at the same time, and I love that combination at guard. It means less playing time for a guy like Andrew Steele though, but that can’t be helped really.

You need to play guys like Pollard, Cooper and Randolph because of their length and ability to guard multiple positions, and Lacey’s ability to hit the 3 is crucial to this team’s ability to score points. They have decent post players and Releford is about as good off the dribble as anybody in the country, and especially good going to the basket and finishing. But Lacey is far and away the key to the offense. If he’s hitting his shots, this Alabama team is going to be tough to stop.

The freshman Pollard is going to be a nice wing player, in the mode of a Tony Mitchell-type who can rebound, defend, slash to the basket, etc. I think he’s got a nice outside shot but it wasn’t on display last night. He was missing and I think that consistency will come with time. You can see his basketball IQ in the way he defends and rebounds though, so I think the rest of his game will mature as he gets more and more experience at this level.

Releford is so good off the dribble…I saw 4 or 5 possessions last night where he just made a good defender look awful and when he gets in close, he’s so good at finding ways to make his shots, be it taking it to the rim or laying up floaters like a Chris Paul or Steve Nash might. His only weakness is his tendency to lose focus on defense and his lack of a consistent outside shot. I like him coming off the bench though…his ability to provide instant offense is a nice thing to have.

Of the three big men for Alabama, Nick Jacobs continues to be the best offensive weapon of the group. While he struggled at times in the post last night, he was facing a team that had guys in the 6’10” and up range in the post all night long and he won’t face that type of height all year long. His short-range hook shot is a nice one for him and if he can continue to develop his face-up game, he’ll be a nice asset as the season progresses.

Anthony Grant has a nice squad so far this year and it seems like there’s a lot more cohesion and less “all about me” with the personalities of this team. Even though they lost two highly talented players in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, I expect this team to match or exceed the 21 win season of 2011 and make it back to the NCAA tournament again this year.

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