Tide Hosts Vandy In SEC Opener

Statistically, Alabama's men's basketball team played the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation. The bad news is that the Crimson Tide did not fare well against that schedule. Southeastern Conference competition begins Tuesday, and one can understand the Tide looking forward to a "fresh start." Bama is the only SEC team that had a losing record in non-conference play.

No one can question the tough schedule that Alabama played in preparation for the SEC schedule, which begins when the Crimson Tide hosts Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. CST Tuesday in Coleman Coliseum. The problem is that Alabama didn't win any of those tough games.

It is impressive that Coach Anthony Grant's Bama team took on the likes of Oklahoma, Duke, UCLA, Wichita State, and Xavier. But it would have been more impressive if the Crimson Tide could have won perhaps one game against a quality opponent. Bama's non-conference record of 6-7 included wins only over poor teams. Alabama's most recent outing was a struggle to overcome a Robert Morris team that was 5-9 when the Colonials came into Tuscaloosa.

Grant said, "We've been able to talk about turning the page, closing one chapter and opening another chapter to our season and taking the lessons we learned from non-conference into the new season."

Most would say that Alabama drew a nice schedule to start SEC play. After hosting Vanderbilt , the Tide will play at Georgia on Saturday and then host Mississippi State Jan 15. As bad as Bama has been, a 3-0 conference start is not out of the realm of possibility. Of course, neither is an 0-3 start.

Tipoff against Vandy Tuesday is at 8 p.m. CST with television coverage by ESPNU.

Alabama is led by Trevor Releford, the SEC's leading active scorer with 1,503 career points. He is the Bama record-holder in steals and is the first Tide player to record at least 1,000 points, 300 assists, and 200 steals in a career.

Releford is almost a certain starter for Bama. "Almost" because he didn't start in a game at UCLA because of a rules violation, but "almost certain" because he scored 34 points in that game at Pauley Pavilion.

Releford, a pre-season All-SEC performer, ranks sixth in the league in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He's eighth in field goal percentage, first in free throw percentage, and third in three-point shooting percentage. He's second in steals...and teammate Regin Obasohan is first in the conference in steals. Obasohan is Bama's second-leading scorer at 12.8 points per game, but is not necessarily ticketed to start.

The perimeter starters this year have included Releford and Obasohan, but also Levi Randolph, Rodney Cooper, and Algie Key. Inside starters have included true freshmen Jimmie Taylor and Shannon Hale and Nick Jacobs and Carl Engstrom.

Alabama is averaging 72.6 points per game and surrendering 66.7 points per game, a scoring margin of plus 5.9. Vanderbilt is averaging 70.8 points, giving up 66.4, a scroing margin of plus 4.4.

Eight of Vanderbilt's nine scholarshipped players have reached double figures in scoring this year. The Commodores are coached by Kevin Stallings, who became Vandy's all-time winningest coach when he got his 279th win earlier this season.

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