Alabama Basketball: Tide Beginning to Peak in NIT


Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team that we have seen in the first two games of the NIT is the team we all hoped to see all season long. This team is an NCAA Tournament team. This team has played its most complete basketball of the season so far in its two NIT games. This team is peaking at the perfect time, and looks like the favorite to cut down the nets in Madison Square Garden as NIT Champions.

A lot of people say it’s dumb to care about the NIT, but the added practice and chemistry the team is developing will go a long way toward future success in Tuscaloosa. True freshman Devonta Pollard and redshirt freshman Retin Obasohan are playing more minutes than they have all season, and both are improving with each minute of playing time.

This is the team that we will see next season with Andrew Steele officially being out for the season after undergoing ankle surgery. Steele was the lone senior. The eight guys in the rotation will all be back in Tuscaloosa next season, along with two four star recruits and 7-footer Carl Engstrom who will be back after suffering a torn ACL earlier in the season.

Alabama opened the NIT with a 62-43 win over Northeastern; a win that included a 22-0 run in the second half by the Crimson Tide in the best stretch of offensive basketball we’ve seen all year.

Alabama one-upped itself in Saturday’s 66-54 win over the defending NIT Champion Stanford Cardinal. The Crimson Tide didn’t shoot the ball very well, only managing a 39% clip from the floor to go along with only making 4-for-12 from three. But, Alabama relentlessly attacked the basket and earned trip after trip to the free throw line. They made 22 of their 26 attempts from there.

Alabama played with a tremendous amount of energy for forty-minutes. Their defense was at its absolute best and it flustered Stanford’s offense possession after possession. They held the Cardinal to 31% shooting and forced 14 turnovers. They held Stanford’s leading scorer, Dwight Powell, to 2 points and 8 rebounds on 1-for-6 shooting. Alabama got Powell into foul trouble early as he managed only 24 minutes on the afternoon.

Alabama’s two leading scorers — Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacey — combined to go 5-of-15 from the field for a combined 15 points. In games that both Releford and Lacey struggled, more times than not Alabama lost this season. But not today, because Alabama got big contributions from some unsung heroes.

Levi Randolph and Retin Obasohan came up huge for the Crimson Tide as both have continued to play their best basketball of the season lately. Randolph was the leading scorer for the second straight game with 16 points and 6 rebounds. Obasohan scored 14 points and snagged 6 rebounds while doing the majority of his damage from the free throw line (8-for-8).

Nick Jacobs and Devonta Pollard each had strong games on the inside. Jacobs bullied his way to 10 points and 6 rebounds while Pollard was particularly effective on defense and on the glass as he grabbed 8 rebounds (3 offensive). He only scored 4 points, but he had a clear impact on the game.

Anthony Grant has finally found a formula that is working. The emergence of Obasohan has been key with the injury to glue-guy Andrew Steele. Obasohan has arguably been an upgrade over Steele with his ability to score, rebound and defend. His progression has been fun to watch all year long, and if he continues to improve at this pace over the offseason, then he’s going to be a major contributor on what should be Anthony Grant’s best team to date in 2013-14.

For now, the future can wait because this season isn’t over yet. No, the NIT isn’t as glamorous as the NCAA Tournament; and no, at the end of the day winning it doesn’t really mean all that much. But the extra time playing together is going to mean a lot for the future in Tuscaloosa. This team is starting to play very well together, and they are getting fans excited for the future of Alabama basketball.

On Tuesday, the Crimson Tide will look to take another step toward cutting down the nets in New York. They’ll welcome the Maryland Terrapins to Coleman Coliseum in a Quarterfinals matchup with a spot in the NIT Final Four on the line.

Like Alabama, Maryland has been playing very strong basketball here lately, and they have two impressive wins over Duke on their resume. But, with home court advantage on their side, and with Alabama beginning to peak at the perfect time, I like their chances of getting the win and moving on to Madison Square Garden.

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