Three-On-Three

Once upon a time, basketball teams were made up of two guards, two forwards and a center. Not anymore. There are no rules. In the Southeastern Conference, several teams operate with a point guard, a couple of wing players, a low post player and a high post player. That has been the basic Alabama alignment for most of the past few decades.

And if everyone was the same, one problem for coaches would be eliminated. That concern is defensive match-ups.

This year Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried worried about the match-ups when Bama played Tennessee, a team with three or four guard types. As it turned out, the Crimson Tide rolled to a 92-79 win, perhaps Bama's most decisive win of the year. Now Tennessee is a two seed and Alabama a ten in the NCAA Tournament.

But it's not a match-up with Tennessee that concerns Gottfried today. It's Marquette, a seven seed. That's because Marquette is the first hurdle in Alabama's quest to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

Alabama, 17-12 overall (the worst record of any NCAA Tournament team), will meet Marquette (20-10) of the Big East in first round action from San Diego Thursday. Tipoff is at 11:40 a.m. PST (local time in San Diego), which is 1:40 p.m. CST (Alabama time). The winner plays Saturday against the winner of highly-favored UCLA and Belmont.

Marquette, the Warriors in the Golden Era of Coach Al McGuire, now goes by the nickname Golden Eagles under Coach Tom Crean.

Both Alabama and Marquette have three so-called "scorers"–men averaging in double digits–in their starting lineups.

Marquette has one of the nation's best players in 6-10, 220-pound senior forward Steve Novak. It will probably fall to Bama's Jermareo Davidson, also 6-10, 220, to guard Novak, who averages 17.5 points per game. The problem is that Novak doesn't always operate where Davidson is accustomed to defending, down in the paint. Novak is an accomplished outside shooter, easily his team's leading three-point artist.

And because Marquette goes with a three-guard line-up, when Novak steps outside that will put pressure on Bama to guard four perimeter players.

The concern is not just the outside shot. That situation lends itself to backdoor players, and while Alabama has been a pretty solid defensive team, there are several Tiders who have been victimized by opponents cutting to the basket for easy layups.

Davidson may also have Novak guarding him when Bama is on offense. The Golden Eagles ordinarily play a halfcourt defense, which could be helpful to a Bama squad short on depth. Davidson needs to get better than his average of 14.1 points per game in this setting. Novak is also Davidson's leading rebounder at 5.9 per game, considerably under Davidson's 9.0 average.

An inside match-up will have Alabama freshman Richard Hendrix, 6-8, 265, 9.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, against Marquette's Ousmane Barro (6-10, 235, 4.1 points, 2.8 rebounds).

Bama starts the game with Brandon Hollinger at point guard, but the 5-11 freshman doesn't see much playing time. If Bama didn't use him much when Kentucky was pressuring the ball in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Hollinger probably won't be on the floor much in San Diego Thursday.

On the other hand, Alabama's best player, 6-2 sophomore guard Ron Steele, likely will be on the floor the entire game. He brings a 13.8 points per game average, but will be meeting a very talented point guard in Dominic James, a 5-11 freshman averaging 15.1 points and 5.4 assists per outing.

Evan Brock is a senior starter for the Tide, but rarely contributes at the wing spot. An inability to make the outside shot limits Brock's effectiveness. His place will likely be taken by Jean Felix, a tenacious defender and streaky shooter. Alonzo Gee will log most of the remaining minutes at a wing spot. He, too, is a very good defender (though sometimes caught freshman napping) and has been an effective offensive weapon in a number of games.

The Marquette wing players are 6-3 freshman Jarel McNeal, who averages 11.1 points, and 6-4 senior Joe Chapman, 5.9.


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