This season's edition of Alabama basketball was frankly not supposed to make it this far. After losing post players Erwin Dudley and Kenny Walker to graduation and point guard Mo Williams to the NBA, 2003-04 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But the Tide toughened up early, playing the toughest schedule in the nation. And as the year went along and all its players got healthy, Alabama developed into a dangerous squad.
The Tide owns out-of-conference wins over Charlotte, Oregon and Wisconsin. Playing in arguably the toughest league in the nation, Alabama was only 8-8 in SEC play. But that mark includes a very respectable 4-4 record on the road and includes a victory and loss (by one point) to second-seeded Mississippi State, one of the toughest teams in the nation.
Those fans that watched the Tide's one-point win over Southern Illinois are familiar with Antoine Pettway's penchant for heroics. The former walk-on (he's barely 5-1 and 170 pounds) worked his way into the starting lineup, and in the process has made a habit of hitting clutch shots. Pettway made the lay-up two years ago to beat Florida that gave Alabama the SEC title. Earlier in the year prior to a shoulder injury he was also a very dangerous three-point shooter, but his point production has gone down in recent games. However he's obviously still a threat to score, not to mention being the emotional leader of the squad. Pettway can be a tenacious defender, but Bama really has no other true point guard to spell him, so fatigue (and occasionally fouls) can be a factor.
At shooting guard Earnest Shelton (6-3, 200) has developed into one of the top athletes in the SEC. He's averaging 15.8 points per game, but when the Memphis native is "on" he can be deadly from beyond the three-point arc. This year the junior has also added a dribble-drive to his game, making him that much more dangerous. Shelton is not the most gifted athlete in college basketball, but he's very smart and plays hard. When a strained MCL sidelined him for several games mid-season, Bama went on a losing streak. When he got healthy again, the Tide regained its winning form, which shows his value to the team.
If his ankle is well enough, expect Demetrius Smith (6-2, 210) to provide some relief for Pettway at the point. But he did not play against Southern Illinois. No other Tide guards have seen game action recently, except in Bama's first-round blow-out win of the SEC tournament.
Small forward Kennedy Winston (6-6, 205) is probably the one Tide player with the best chance to play in the NBA. He's a long, lean athlete with a deadly jump shot when he finds his rhythm. Winston is also developing some post moves, and if his defender overplays his jump shot he's very capable of putting the ball on the floor and taking it to the basket. Over the last several games of conference play, Winston at times was virtually unstoppable on offense. A solid ball handler, he has the ability to get his jump shot off almost any time he wishes.
Winston's one weakness has been a still-healing knee, which was operated on in the pre-season. He's had to nurse it along through the season, and two days rest may or may not be enough to let him play Saturday at 100 percent.
Emmett Thomas (6-4, 205) can be a dangerous outside shooter. He led Alabama in three-point shooting this year at .450 percent. On occasion he displays other offensive skills, and he's valuable on defense.
Listed at 6-9, 200 pounds, Evan Brock occasionally drops down inside, but he's most effective when playing and defending the wing. He's more of a slashing player than Bama's other swing men. Brock's jump shot can be erratic, but he's capable of scoring with a pull-up jumper or by driving to the basket.
Like most college teams, Alabama doesn't have that aircraft carrier on the inside, capable of physically imposing his will on other teams. But several players rotate back and forth between center and power forward.
Sophomore Chuck Davis (6-7, 230) usually starts at power forward but slides inside, depending on the personnel grouping. He's blessed with extremely long arms, which allows him to play much bigger than his height. When Davis gets off early on offense and avoids foul trouble, he's a tough match-up for any team in the country. However he can sometimes be taken out of his game with double teams, and fouls have sometimes been a problem. Even though he's just begun to reach his potential, Davis can be a dangerous scorer around the basket.
True freshman Jermareo Davidson (6-10, 210) normally begins the game at center. His game is better suited to physical play, though he's still very raw. If Davidson can hang in with Stanford's talented inside men, then Bama has a very good chance.
If the Tide is looking for someone to bang around, grab a few rebounds and maybe give away a foul or two on the inside, then Reggie Rambo (6-7, 225). Rambo excels at nothing, but he'll play hard and give you all he's got.
If Alabama's inside/outside scoring offense is working, then the Tide can play with anyone in the country. Specifically, watch to see if Chuck Davis and Jermareo Davidson are contributing a reasonable amount of offense while also staying out of foul trouble on D.
Four Bama players, Antoine Pettway, Earnest Shelton, Kennedy Winston and Emmett Thomas, are capable of getting hot and filling it up from long range. If even two of those four are "on," then the Tide can score with anybody.
Several Tide players are talented, but Kennedy Winston is capable of putting the team on his back and carrying it to victory, which he's done several times this year. If his knee is in good shape and he's hitting his shots, then Cardinal fans should worry.
In recent games Alabama has gone no more than three players into its bench. If any reserve other than Emmett Thomas, Evan Brock or Demetrius Smith sees much action--and the game isn't out of hand--then either injuries or fouls are a problem. And it could become a long night for the Tide.
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