South Dakota State (0-0) at Alabama (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, Nov. 9, 9 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Coleman Coliseum (15,316) -- Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Television: ESPN U. Home Record: SDSU 0-0, Alabama 0-0. Away Record: SDSU 0-0, Alabama 0-0. Neutral Record: SDSU 0-0, Alabama 0-0. Conference Record: SDSU 0-0, Alabama 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The South Dakota State Jackrabbits and the Alabama Crimson Tide will tip off the 2012-13 season tonight at Coleman Coliseum as part of the 2K Sports Classic.
The Jackrabbits are coming off their best season since joining Division I, as they went 15-3 in the Summit League and 27-8 overall in 2011-12. Although they finished second in the conference standings behind Oral Roberts during the regular season, they won the league tourney and advanced to their first-ever NCAA Tournament, where they gave No. 3 seed Baylor a run for its money in the second round, losing 68-60.
After a handful of disappointing seasons, Alabama bounced back in 2011-12 to be one of the strongest teams in the SEC, going 9-7 in conference and 21-12 overall. The Crimson Tide qualified for their first NCAA Tournament since 2006, earning a No. 9 seed in the Midwest Region. It was head coach Anthony Grant's third trip to the Big Dance.
Tonight's tilt marks the first-ever meeting between these two teams on the hardwood.
South Dakota State was the second-highest scoring team in the Summit League a year ago (77.3 ppg) thanks in large part to its outstanding three-point field goal percentage (.393). It also did a great job keeping opponents off the scoreboard, as it logged a scoring margin of +10.3. With eight players returning to this year's squad, there is plenty of optimism. After being named the 2012 Summit League Tournament MVP, Nate Wolters (21.2 ppg, 5.9 apg, 5.1 rpg) comes in as the Preseason Conference Player of the Year pick. He was just the fifth player in NCAA history to average at least 20 points, five assists, and five rebounds per game in a season. Also returning is Jordan Dykstra (11.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg), Chad White (10.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Brayden Carlson (7.3 ppg), all of whom connect on more than a three-pointer per game at better than 40 percent accuracy. One of five true freshmen joining the team this season is 6-10 forward Connor Devine, who is the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year in Alaska.
Last year's Alabama squad wasn't known for its scoring prowess (64.7 ppg), but it held opponents to just 58.1 ppg, which was the ninth-lowest yield in the nation. For a team that struggles to put points on the board, losing its two best performers in JaMychal Green (14.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Tony Mitchell (13.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) is a huge blow, but it returns four players with starting experience, led by junior guard Trevor Releford (12.0 ppg, 2.8 apg, 2.0 spg). While Trevor Lacey (7.3 ppg), Levi Randolph (6.5 ppg) and Andrew Steele (6.6 ppg, 2.7 apg) will all undoubtedly continue to play big roles this season, perhaps the most important member of the Tide is freshman Devonta Pollard. The 6-8 forward was a five-star recruit and a McDonald's All-American after putting up insane numbers as a senior at Kemper County High School in Mississippi (23.8 ppg, 15.7 rpg, 5.1 bpg). Moussa Gueye (7-0, 255) will also play a big role in the UA frontcourt after spending much of last season recovering from a knee injury.
Alabama shouldn't take the Jackrabbits lightly. They may be a small program, but after the experience they gained last season, they are poised for another NCAA Tournament run, but starting the season on the road against a hard-nosed SEC team is about as tough a challenge as the team will face this season. Figure the Tide to feed off the excitement at home and get off to a solid start.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Alabama 67, South Dakota State 61
11/09 10:34:13 ET