Those four teams – Alabama, Oregon State, Purdue, and Villanova – were pre-selected to host the first two rounds and then advance to the semifinals and championship rounds at Madison Square Garden in New York. So it was no surprise that Tide Coach Anthony Grant knew those four teams.
Where Grant gets credit is that he did not know how Villanova or Purdue had done in their first two games.
That’s because Alabama will be playing Oregon State on Thursday. Grant did know that the Beavers went 2-0 in their first two games (Niagara and New Mexico State). Bama and Oregon State will face off at 7 p.m. EST (6 p.m. central time) Thursday with ESPN2 televising the game. On Friday, the winner of the Alabama-Oregon State game will play the winner of the Villanova-Purdue game at 7:30 p.m. EST (ESPN2), following the consolation game between the two Thursday losers at 5 p.m. EST (ESPNU).
For the record, Purdue is 1-1. The Boilermakers lost to Bucknell, but came back to defeat Hofstra. Villanova posted wins over UDC and Marshall.
“Our attention is solely on Oregon State,” said Grant.
For the most part, if Alabama fans know anything at all about Oregon State basketball it is that the Beavers head coach, Craig Robinson, is First Lady Michelle Obama’s brother and, therefore, brother-in-law to the President.
Grant knows more than that.
Oregon State starts with 5-9 junior guard Ahmad Starks, who is averaging 25.5 points per game with 33 points against New Mexico State. He was named Pac-12 Player of the Week in The Opening week of competition.
The Beavers also have size with a pair of 6-10 men inside. Angus Brandt is averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds and Eric Moreland is averaging 9 points and 9.5 rebounds and also has 8 blocked shots in two games. Also averaging in double figures in scoring are forward Joe Burton (11.5) and guard Roberto Nelson (15.5). Starks, Nelson, and Brandt are hitting almost 50 per cent of their three-point attempts.
Last year, Oregon State led the Pac-12 and ranked 10th in the nation in scoring. This year, the Beavers are holding opponents to below 40 per cent field goal shooting.
Alabama’s starting lineup is tough to judge. Junior guard Trevor Releford is the only Tide player to have made an All-Southeastern Conference pre-season team and the only Bama player to have played in Madison Square Garden, but Releford has not started for the Tide this year, even though he is averaging 16 points per game coming off the bench.
Alabama’s starting lineup in the first two games has been:
Sophomore Trevor Lacey, who can play point or wing, has been the starting point guard and hit the winning buzzer-beater three-pointer in the Tide’s win over South Dakota State and led Bama in scoring with 23 against West Alabama.
Sophomore wing Rodney Cooper is averaging 16.5 points per game, sophomore wing wing Levi Randolph is averaging 6 ppg, freshman forward Devonta Pollard 4.5 points, and junior post player, 7-1 Moussa Gueye has not yet scored.
Alabama is holding opponents to 58 points per game on 40.6 per cent shooting.
Alabama and Oregon State have played only one time, Bama defeating the Beavers, 59-49, in the Pearl Harbor Classic in Hawaii on Dec. 22, 1998.
This will be Oregon State’s first appearance in Madison Square Garden. Alabama, which is beginning its 100th year of basketball this year, has played in both NIT and other tournaments in the famed New York City arena. Grant, whose Dayton team never made it to Madison Square Garden in the years Grant was a player for the Flyers, said he is emphasizing that all basketball courts are 94 feet by 50 feet with rims 10 feet up.
Asked if the team would be doing any fun things on the trip, Grant said, “Yes. Playing basketball.”
Still, Grant said it is exciting to be going to New York. He noted that Oregon State returns 7 of its top 8 players in scoring and rebounding from last season. He called the Beavers a “well-coached” and “veteran” team.
As for Bama, Grant said there were many areas where the Crimson Tide can improve, but added “There is a lot to like” about the squad. “They have had some adversity, and the players have responded,” the coach said.
He also said that Nick Jacobs, one of the top players off the bench, had recovered from an injury to the extent he had practiced Monday.
In addition to Releford and Jacobs, others seing significant playing time for Bama this year are senior wing player Andrew Steele, junior inside player Carl Engstrom, and redshirt freshman point guard Retin Obasohan.
While Grant is not looking past Oregon State, he did say that assistant coaches would be preparing scouting reports on the other teams in Madison Square Garden, Purdue and Villanova.