After escaping what would have been one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Duke basketball program, the Blue Devils head to New York City to continue in the Preseason NIT Tip-Off Wednesday night with a semifinal game against Alabama in Madison Square Garden. The Crimson Tide enter with a 3-1 record while Duke is 5-1 and the No. 6 team in the country. The game is scheduled to start at 9:30pm EST and will air on ESPN2.
For a better perspective on this Alabama basketball team, we had a chance to talk with Roll ‘Bama Roll, the SB Nation blog for all things ‘Bama. We appreciate them taking some time to answer our questions and look forward to a great game against the Crimson Tide in Madison Square Garden.
How do you think the Crimson Tide will handle the atmosphere of playing against Duke in Madison Square Garden?
This is going to be a huge stage for the Tide, but it won’t be as tough as having to play at Cameron Indoor, thankfully. I’m actually not as worried about Alabama handling the atmosphere as I would have been last season. We have a veteran team that has played on some pretty big stages; Trevor Releford has even played in MSG with a NIT Championship on the line. I know y’all may not be familiar with what that is, but basically it’s a tournament where the rest of us play to make ourselves feel better. The crowd will obviously be a lot more pro-Duke than it is Alabama, but again, not playing this game in Durham will make a huge difference.
With the Alabama football team having so much success and a huge showdown with Auburn looming, do Crimson Tide fans have much interest in a big basketball game against Duke?
Well it depends on who you ask, really. There is a decent portion of us who do care a good amount about basketball, and needless to say, we are very interested in this game. It’s huge for us. But your stereotypical Alabama fan probably doesn’t even know that basketball season has started yet. I would say that the majority of the fan base falls somewhere in between those two extremes. I’d imagine it’s the antithesis of Duke fans when there is a big Duke football game during basketball season. Say a showdown with your hated rivals with a berth in the ACC Championship Game on the line. I’d venture a guess that it’s a fair assessment to compare Duke fans’ interest in their football game this coming Saturday to Alabama fans’ interest in the basketball game Wednesday night.
It seems like Trevor Releford has been a great player for Alabama for the past decade. Describe what he means to the program.
Trevor Releford is a special player. He has meant more to this program than any one player since Ronald Steele was healthy and leading the Tide to multiple NCAA Tournament appearances in the mid 2000’s. Releford is not only by far our best player, he is the senior leader on this team. In our only loss of the year so far, Releford was limited by foul trouble, and it cost us. He can create plays so well for Alabama. Whether he takes it to the basket or pulls up from three, there is a good chance something good is going to happen. He is one of those players that makes his teammates better. I have said before that he is the best point guard in the SEC, and I have no reservations about that statement. We are going to miss this guy a lot next year. If Alabama has any chance of winning this game, T Relly is going to have to have a big game.
Under Anthony Grant, Alabama has been known as a very physical team that plays tough defense. How have the new points of emphasis in officiating changed this defensive approach?
To be totally honest, I think the sample size of games played is too small to really tell what his adjustments will ultimately be. But I haven’t noticed too much of a change in how Alabama approaches defense. The Tide still wants to force its opposition to take low percentage shots and get them out of their comfort zone by creating pressure and forcing turnovers. Grant has actually used a bunch of different looks so far this year, but he usually alternates between a half court man-to-man, an aggressive 2-3 Zone, and the occasional full court press with a half court trap. Grant has said that the new officiating won’t force him to change his style too much, just that our players will have to be much smarter about how to apply pressure on the offense. The hand check rule in particular has probably had the biggest effect, but with the exception of the Oklahoma game, Alabama hasn’t had too many problems with that. Expect to see Alabama really try to get Duke’s young players out of their comfort zone. I noticed that the 2-3 Zone was working relatively well against Duke in the ECU game, so Alabama could use that as the primary look. The Blue Devils are a ridiculously efficient offensive team though; this will truly be a huge test for Alabama’s defense.
Duke is built around Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood this season and both players are extremely difficult to defend. Which player do you think Alabama should focus on stopping first?
As I was alluding to in the previous question, y’all can straight score. Parker and Hood are both incredibly gifted basketball players. They are matchup nightmares with their long frames and ability to shoot. Both will be playing in the NBA, and Parker in particular will be extremely successful. With all of that said, I think Grant will want to try and contain Parker first and foremost. As gifted as Parker is, he is still a freshman. I think for Alabama to have a chance the Tide will have to limit one of the two, and the only way I can see that happening is if Parker finally plays like a true freshman should play this early in his career.
Who is the potential x-factor for the Crimson Tide that could give them a chance to pull the upset if he plays well?
Trevor Releford would be the obvious answer, so I’ll do you one better. Junior forward Rodney Cooper could be the x-factor for Alabama. His length can make a difference on defense against Parker and Hood, and he also happens to be our leading rebounder, even though he is only 6’6. Alabama doesn’t like to rebound, apparently, and it has been our biggest weakness in recent years. Cooper will have to have his fair share (as well as our actual post players) in order for Alabama to have a chance.
What’s your prediction for the game?
I would give Alabama about a 10% chance of winning this game. Duke is just too good for us at this point, although watching the ECU game the other day gave me a little bit of hope. I think that Alabama will hang tough with the Blue Devils for a while, but Coach K with that kind of talent is a terrible combination for opponents. Duke’s offensive prowess will help them pull away in the second half.
Duke 80 Alabama 67