Tide Hopes To Open 2-0 Starting SEC

It seems like a long time ago. In 2002, the Alabama men's basketball team won the Southeastern Conference championship and finished eighth in the final poll of the season. Remarkably, that is the last year the Crimson Tide opened with victories in its first two SEC games.

Alabama has the opportunity to open 2-0 this year, thanks to a surprising 75-57 upset of Mississippi State in Starkville to start conference play on Saturday. The Crimson Tide will host South Carolina at 8 p.m. CST Wednesday with regional television coverage. South Carolina is also 1-0 in SEC play, having taken an 83-75 overtime victory over Vanderbilt in Columbia Saturday.

In 2002, Bama opened the SEC portion of the schedule with home victories over LSU and Vanderbilt.

Alabama's victory over State Saturday was the Tide's first road win of the year. In Coleman Coliseum, though, it has been a perfect year. Bama is 9-0 in home games and 10-6 overall this year. South Carolina is 10-4 overall.

The key for Alabama is defense. Bama is allowing only 56.5 points per game and holding opponents to 35.9 per cent field goal shooting. Bama is eighth in the nation in scoring defense and leads the SEC by nearly four points per game. Bama has allowed only two opponents to score 70 or more points, while 10 opponents have been held to 60 or fewer points. But the Gamecocks average 73.6 points per game. South Carolina has connected on an impressive 36.4 per cent of its three-point shots.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant said the reason for Bama's good defensive play "starts with the players. They have done a good job of locking in. They have done a good job of paying attention to the scouting report."

The Tide coach said that South Carolina will bring a different tempo to the game, a style that is hurry-up and also encourages the opponent to play fast.

That speed can play a factor in an area where Alabama has been improving: turnovers.

Although Bama is still a tad on the high side for turnovers (14.7 per game, same as South Carolina), the Tide is a slight positive, forcing 15.8 per game. "We stress taking care of the basketball," Grant said. He said that turnovers are more likely when the team gets in too big a rush.

"We've done better of late," he said. He added that the team is "maturing, but I'm not going to say we're there yet. With every practice and every game we grow a little, and that's what you want to see – continued growth."

A key to ball security is often the play of the point guard. Bama is playing with a freshman at the point, and Grant has seen Trevor Releford do "a very good job of leading our team. I think he's taken care of the ball much better. He has a better understanding of what we're looking for."

Releford has 34 turnovers, but also has a team high 56 assists and 21 steals. He's averaging 9.7 points per game.

Releford is expected to be joined in the starting lineup by forward JaMychal Green, who is averaging a team high 14.9 points and also 7.5 rebounds per game; forward Tony Mitchell, averaging 14.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game; forward Chris Hines, 5.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per game; and guard Charvez Davis, averaging 10.2 points per game.

Alabama won both games against South Carolina last year, a regular season win in Columbia and a victory in the SEC Tournament.

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