Alabama isn’t new to early-season signature wins.
Just last year, the Crimson Tide racked up notable wins in the non-conference over VCU, Detroit, Wichita State (neutral floor), Purdue (neutral floor) and Maryland (neutral floor). They had Georgetown on the ropes but squandered the game on a Hollis Thompson 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
During the 2009-10 season, Anthony Grant’s first at the school, Alabama knocked off eventual Elite Eight participant Baylor (neutral floor) and then-No. 15 Michigan (neutral floor). It was quite a feat for a team that lost 15 games on the year and failed to make a postseason appearance of any kind.
Grant’s team is back to its usual tricks in 2012, this time winners of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden. As the old Frank Sinatra song “New York, New York” goes: “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.”
And judging by Alabama’s performance so far in the young season, that mantra could accompany the team to Tuscaloosa when conference play tips off in January.
Led by 25 points from breakout sophomore Trevor Releford, the Tide rolled through Villanova 77-55 in the championship game of the two-day 2K Sports Classic. Rodney Cooper added 17 points (7-10 FG) and Alabama head Villanova to 32-percent shooting from the floor.
In a tournament field that appeared to be flush with talent coming in, the Crimson Tide proved to be a cut above the rest. If Friday night was any indication, the Tide will be a tough out in the SEC.
The losses of JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell inside have been heartfelt. Rebounding issues could become a familiar refrain over the course of the season, as could interior defense. But Bama is getting big enough improvements out of its perimeter players to compensate.
With the Trevors—Releford and Lacey—starring and sophomore Rodney Cooper breaking out, the Tide have a strong nucleus of backcourt talent in place to build around over the next two seasons and possibly more.
It’s early—too early for thorough evaluations—and the competition hasn’t been particularly steep, but the Bama backcourt has been the biggest surprise storyline in the SEC thus far. Releford (26.1), Lacey (24.1) and Cooper (23.6) have combined to average more points per 40 minutes (73.8) through four games than any other backcourt in America.
You read that right. Four games into the young season, Alabama—not Indiana, Missouri, Florida or San Diego State, as you may expect—owns the most prolific starting backcourt in college basketball.
That will change soon enough, but the winning in Tuscaloosa may not this season. As long as the Crimson Tide guards are playing at this level, and as long as the defense continues to hold high-major opponents to 30-percent shooting from the floor, Anthony Grant’s fourth year as Alabama head coach figures to be his best.
Alabama athletics is teeming with optimism, and for the first time in recent memory, the bright future of the basketball program is one of the reasons why.