| NEWS Alabama Basketball: 5 crucial games on 2019-20 schedule to look out for - Bustin Brackets


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The 2018-2019 season for the Alabama basketball was a wild and exciting one that eventually ended in major disappointment. Alabama missed out on the NCAA tournament because of some key non-conference home losses and their inability to win SEC game on the road. Avery Johnson was fired and was replaced by Buffalo’s head coach, Nate Oats.

Going into the 2019-2020 season, the Crimson Tide once again have tournament hopes. Top players Kira Lewis and John Petty return, but losing key role players like Donta Hall, Tevin Mack, and Dazon Ingram will hurt the Crimson Tide. Alabama needs to take a step up if they want to make some noise in the SEC.

In order to make that step up, Alabama needs to win games they are expected to, plus some. While that may sound obvious, the Crimson Tide failed to do that last season. Bad out of conference loses to Northeastern and Georgia State and going 2-6 on the road in the SEC does not make the NCAA tournament. To add to that, if Alabama was able to beat Central Florida, a tournament team, at home, and the Crimson Tide may have been dancing in March instead of crashing out of the NIT first round.

This season, the Crimson Tide face another uphill test in the SEC with the conference remaining deep and talented. The road tests do not get any easier, on the non-conference schedule is more difficult than last year. Here are five games on the Crimson Tide’s schedule to look out for that could determine Alabama’s fate this season.

Penn State (A) – Dec. 14
Playing in Tuscaloosa last year, the Crimson Tide beat Penn State 73-64 at Coleman Coliseum. While the Nittany Lions finished the season 14-18, towards the end of the year, they showed a lot of promise. Starting the Big 10 season out 0-10, Penn State ended the year 7-3 with big wins against No. 6 Michigan and No. 16 Maryland. Falling short in overtime to eventual tournament team Minnesota in the Big 10 tournament, Penn State ended the season by building a lot of momentum for this season.

Penn State went 9-6 at home last season and ended the year winning four in a row at home. As mentioned above, the Nittany Lions beat ranked Michigan and Maryland at home, but they also beat No. 13 Virginia Tech in Happy Valley, 63-62. They have shown that it is not easy to come into the Bryce Jordan Center and go home with a win. Only three of Penn State’s 14 wins came on the road and Alabama may have used that to their advantage last season.

Losing players like Rasir Bolton and Josh Reaves will hurt this team, but leading scorer and rebounder Lamar Stevens returns for his senior season. The Crimson Tide did a good job containing him last season, holding him to 6-19 shooting and 12 points. The rest of the roster looks eerily similar to last season’s for the Nittany Lions and will be a legit NCAA tournament team.

While this game is not a must-win for Alabama, a win in Happy Valley would be a huge one for Nate Oats. Beating Penn State anywhere this season would be a good resume builder. Having that be one of your signature road wins and you’re starting the season with a resume to build on, not a resume to build.

Auburn (H) – Jan 15
I do not care what sport Alabama is playing, getting swept by Auburn is not going to go over well. The Tide lost to the Tigers twice, including an 84-63 beatdown in the Plains. Yes, Auburn went on to make the Final Four, but losing to Auburn twice is not acceptable.

Bruce Pearl’s team is losing a lot from last year’s Final Four team. Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, and Chuma Okeke going to the NBA will leave a huge gap in the Auburn offense, as those three players scored a combined 43.2 points per game. Brown, in particular, will be a huge loss as he shot 41% from three, was sixth in the SEC in scoring, and played the second-most minutes in the entire conference.

The two in-state rivals will play in Tuscaloosa first this year and a win for Alabama is as near to a must-win as you can get. Early in the SEC schedule, Alabama will get their shot against the Tigers in mid-January. While they lose a lot, Auburn’s guard play is going to be excellent again. John Petty, Kira Lewis, and Jahvon Quinerly (assuming the NCAA grants his waiver) will need to be excellent for the Crimson Tide to win.

Beating the Tigers at home is important before Alabama has to travel to Auburn will be crucial. Not only would they be a great win on Alabama’s resume, but a rivalry win in front of the home fans would gain respect for Nate Oats.

Vanderbilt (H) – Jan 22
Starting the SEC schedule on the road against Florida and Kentucky, those two games are most likely going to be rough for the Crimson Tide. Vanderbilt did not win a game in the conference last year, going 0-18 in the regular season and losing by 17 to Texas A&M in the SEC tournament.

Head Coach Jerry Stackhouse will return his Saban Lee and has brought in a solid recruiting class. Three different three-star recruits should have the Commodores at least somewhat better than what they were last season.

While this is not a game Alabama may struggle with, getting their potential first road conference win is crucial. It will set up the rest of the season on the road for the Crimson Tide. If they lose against Vanderbilt, there will be major cause for concern for Nate Oats’ squad.

Kansas State (H) – Jan 25
In this year’s Big 12/SEC challenge, Alabama will host the 2018 regular season Co-Big 12 Champions Kansas State Wildcats. A tournament team last season, the Wildcats lost in the first round to UC Irvine. Their three leading scorers, Barry Brown, Kamu Stokes, and Dean Wade, all will not return for the Wildcats.

Those three players were huge players for the Wildcats, especially Dean Wade, who averaged 12.9 points per game and 6.2 rebounds per game. This Wildcat team will now be lead by seniors Xavier Sneed and Makol Mawien. They will not be Big 12 championship level like they were last season but still have a chance to make some noise in the conference.

Alabama was 1-1 in the Big 12/SEC challenge under Avery Johnson, losing to Baylor on the road last season and beating Oklahoma at home the year before. Playing the Wildcats at home this year, this could possibly be considered a bad non-conference for the Crimson Tide.

Coming in the middle of the SEC schedule, the Wildcats will be a different type of team. A defensive team that will physically dominate you, Alabama must be prepared for a game in the paint. From this game, we will learn at what level the Crimson Tide stand midseason.

LSU (H) – Feb 15
Consider this a revenge game for most Alabama fans, as most were hoping top recruit Trendon Watford from Birmingham would commit to Alabama. Beyond that point, LSU is going to be one of the best teams in the SEC. Will Wade has done an outstanding job turning a primarily football school into a national contender in basketball.

What makes this team so dangerous is their backcourt. Javonte Smart and Skylar Mays have the chance to be the best backcourt in the country. The two players averaged 24.5 points, 4.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds in 2018-2019. CBS Sports Insider Jon Rothstein thinks the Tigers have a chance of being similar to Auburn’s Jared Brown and Bryce Brown.

The Tigers are going to be one of the favorites to win the SEC in 2019-2020 and a win against them would be huge for the Crimson Tide. Much like the Auburn matchup, this will be a game that can be controlled by guard play. While Alabama’s guards may not have the talent of LSU, they must be able to step up big time.
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