By Chris DePew
Oct. 8, 2015
Alabama basketball opens the Avery Johnson era in a little more than a month with a Friday the 13th home opener against Kennesaw State. It’s the first of 12 non-conference games for the Crimson Tide.
But not all games are created equal, or are equally interesting. Out of the opponents locked into the schedule, these five should provide the strongest clues to where Bama stands before SEC play begins.
- Oregon (Mon. Dec. 21, at Birmingham, ESPNU) – After a surprising runner-up finish in the Pac-12 last season, the Ducks start the year as a likely Top 25 squad, a darkhorse pick to win their conference and very likely the stiffest test Alabama faces outside of Kentucky. Oregon plays the style of basketball Avery Johnson wants to bring to the Capstone: fast paced, high scoring (75.4 points per game last season, good for 23rd nationally) but without sacrificing shot quality (the Ducks hit 46.3 percent of their field goals). Whether Bama can or should try to match that pace is debatable, but either way this is hopefully a preview of coming attractions.
- Louisiana-Lafayette (Fri., Nov. 20, at Tuscaloosa, SEC Network Plus) – Easily the best non-conference team visiting Coleman Coliseum, the Ragin’ Cajuns (coached by one-time Tide assistant Bob Marlin) locked up the title of Sun Belt favorites when do-everything center Shawn Long turned down a legitimate opportunity to enter the NBA Draft in order to play his senior year. Long (16.4 points, 10.2 rebounds) turned heads by beating out several higher-profile college players to make the U.S. team for this year’s Pan American Games. If Bama’s Jimmie Taylor is truly ready to break out, this is a prime opportunity to shine.
- Dayton (Tues. Nov. 17, at Dayton, Ohio, ESPN) – Hope you have an understanding boss, or better yet, one who’s a fellow Bama fan and willing to join you for a long lunch in order to catch a noon Central tip on a weekday. If you make it out of the office, you’ll be watching the Crimson Tide battle the Atlantic 10 favorites and possibly the nation’s most underrated coach. Archie Miller took the Flyers to the Elite 8 in 2014, but may have done an even better job last season, when he coaxed 27 wins and a Round of 32 appearance out of a seven-man rotation with no starter taller than 6-foot-6. Dayton returns four starters from a team that held opponents under 61 points per game, and is adding more depth and height.
- Xavier (Thur. Nov. 26, at Lake Buena Vista, Fla., ESPN2) – If you think talking your way into watching the Dayton game was hard, good luck clearing your family schedule for an 11 a.m. game on Thanksgiving to open the AdvoCare Invitational at Walt Disney World. The Musketeers finished sixth in the Big East but caught fire late last season to reach the Sweet 16. Star center Matt Stainbrook graduated, but Xavier returns three starters from the league’s best-shooting team and lists four players at 6-foot-10. Should Bama pull an upset here, its likely reward is a Black Friday rematch with recent nemesis (and likely Top 10 team) Wichita State. It really is a small world after all.
- Clemson (Sun. Dec. 13, at Greenville, S.C., ESPNU) – Here’s a description that should sound (a little too) familiar to Bama fans: a team that finished 8-10 in conference play, struggled to create scoring chances and frequently misfired from long range. The Tigers did well to stay in the middle of the ACC pack after finishing below No. 300 nationally in 3-point percentage and assists. Things aren’t much more promising this season, but a pillow-soft early schedule means Clemson could be 8-0 when the teams meet after a week off for finals. But if the Crimson Tide expects to make a postseason tournament, it should be able to overcome a stingy defense and notch a road win.