Alabama (0-0) vs. Oklahoma (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, November 8, 5 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: American Airlines Center (19,200) -- Dallas, Texas. Television: FSN SW, MASN, Sooner Sports TV. Home Record: Alabama 0-0, OU 0-0. Away Record: Alabama 0-0, OU 0-0. Neutral Record: Alabama 0-0, OU 0-0. Conference Record: Alabama 0-0, OU 0-0. Series Record: Oklahoma leads, 4-2.
GAME NOTES: A pair of 20-win programs from a season ago will open the 2013-14 campaign in Dallas on Friday afternoon, as the Alabama Crimson Tide take on the Oklahoma Sooners at American Airlines Center.
After earning a berth to the NCAA Tournament following the 2011-12 season, the Crimson Tide actually improved in 2012-13, going 23-13 with a 12-6 mark in the SEC play, but following a quarterfinal-round exit in the conference tournament to Tennessee (58-48), they were on the outside looking in come selection time. In the NIT, Alabama won a pair of games before falling to Maryland in the quarterfinals (58-57).
The second season under coach Lon Kruger was a successful one for the Sooners, as they finished 20-12 overall and 11-7 in the Big 12, and thanks to a few signature victories, including a 72-66 triumph over Kansas, they were able to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. Oklahoma's run in the Big Dance was short-lived, however, as it lost to San Diego State in the second round, 70-55.
These two programs have met just six times before, with Oklahoma holding a 4-2 advantage.
In Anthony Grant's fifth season as Alabama's coach, the team boasts the return of three starters, including First Team All-SEC guard Trevor Releford (14.9 ppg), who, in addition to being the top scoring option, is also an elite defender, logging 2.1 steals per contest. Rodney Cooper (10.2 ppg) and Levi Randolph (8.1 ppg) give Alabama plenty of experience and depth in the backcourt. The Tide appear to be a little light at forward, but they hope to have addressed their deficiencies down low with the addition of a pair of talented recruits in Jimmie Taylor (6-foot-9, 240 pounds) and Shannon Hale (6- foot-8, 220 pounds).
Oklahoma will find it difficult to repeat last season's success considering it lost its top three performers. Romero Osby (16.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Amath M'Baye (10.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg) made up a strong foundation in the frontcourt, while Steven Pledger (11.6 ppg, 71 3-pointers) has also moved on. With more than half of last season's scoring output no longer on the roster, there's plenty of opportunities for returning talent to step up, starting with Buddy Hield (7.8 ppg) at guard, who will need to improve upon a lackluster field goal percentage (.388) if he wants to be the go-to guy. Je'lon Hornbeak (5.6 ppg) started 29 of 32 games in 2012-13, and Cameron Clark (6.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg) will see a big increase in minutes as a senior.
While Alabama returns a strong core that should help the team be in the thick of it in the SEC all season, Oklahoma has many more questions and may need a few weeks for the new lineup to come together. Expect the Tide to use their strong defensive pressure to give the inexperienced Sooners fits in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Alabama 63, Oklahoma 57
11/08 10:43:43 ET