After an offseason during which Alabama lost Justin Knox
(North Carolina) and Demetrius Jemison
(Manhattan), two big men who were able to play immediately elsewhere because they graduated with eligibility remaining, some preseason prognosticators may have overlooked the Crimson Tide because of a perceived lack of depth in the paint.
Jemison (10.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and Knox (5.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg) have fit in well with their new teams, but Alabama hasn’t missed them. One game removed from being a third of the way through Southeastern Conference play, the Tide has put together a 4-1 record, good enough for first place in the Western Division and tied with Florida for best in the conference.
There is no secret why the Tide has ascended to that lofty spot.
“We understand that we have to defend to give ourselves a chance against the competition we’re going to face in the SEC,” coach Anthony Grant
said. “Our guys have done a pretty good job of that.”
Actually, Alabama has done a very good job of that. Here’s why the Fast Break can make that statement: The Tide’s key defensive numbers as good as or better in SEC games as they are in all games. That means those statistics weren’t inflated by picking on patsies.
Alabama is holding its opponents to .360 shooting from the floor, first in the SEC and second, behind only Florida State (.350), in the nation. Other key numbers including scoring defense (57.3 ppg), first in the league, eighth in the country; steals (9.5 spg), first in the SEC, 10th nationally; three-point percentage defense (.297), second in the league, 21st in the country; and blocked shots (5.4 bpg), fifth in the SEC, 23rd in the nation.
Those stats are nearly identical in league play, which means the SEC is getting smothered just like Florida A&M (which scored 37 points against Alabama), Southeastern Louisiana (38) and Toledo (41) did.
In SEC games only, Alabama is first in scoring defense (59.6), field-goal defense (.359) and steals (9.2), third in three-point percentage defense (.279) and fourth in blocks (5.2).
Grant isn’t employing much full-court pressure the way his friend and former boss Billy Donovan
did for years at Florida. Alabama is grinding it out in the half court, applying pressure whether using man-to-man or zone. Five players, led by Senario Hillman’s 34, have made at least 22 steals, and three players, led by JaMychal Green’s 34, have blocked at least 22 shots.
Alabama is setting an example other teams would do well to follow: contest every shot and you’ve always got a chance.
: Through two and a half seasons of his career at Vanderbilt, junior forward Lance Goulbourne
had never come up with a double-double. After last week, he’s got two on his resume.
Goulbourne racked up 14 points and 16 rebounds in an SEC win over Ole Miss, and followed that with 15 points and 10 boards in a win over then-No. 22 Saint Mary’s. All five of his career double-figure rebounding games have come this year.
"He has a gift that helps someone be a great rebounder,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings
said. “He's an excellent two-foot jumper. He can rebound above the rim and can rebound in areas that aren't his own."
Goulbourne has another advantage that few SEC players save for perhaps Georgia’s Gerald Robinson
have. Goulbourne is a former ranked junior tennis player. He was so good that in 2002 he was one of only two New York City juniors to receive the Mayor David Dinkins Scholarship, which enabled him to attend the Prince Edwards Tennis Camp in Bradenton, Fla.
That little bonus gave Goulbourne a chance to compete against top players from around the world and helped him get even better in tennis, but after transferring to the Hun School in New Jersey, Goulbourne got hooked on hoops.
He credits the footwork and mental toughness he learned while competing in a solitary sport like tennis with helping him on the basketball court.
Goulbourne has stepped up in a time of need. Vanderbilt is down to eight scholarship players, and some of those aren’t 100 percent. Forward Andre Walker
has missed several games after suffering a severely sprained ankle. Two weeks ago, center Festus Ezeli
aggravated an MCL sprain he suffered during the summer, and he hasn’t been nearly as explosive. Forward Steve Tchiengang
has also been hobbled by ankle problems.
The Commodores are also red-shirting three players: senior Darshawn McClellan
and freshmen James Siakam
and Josh Henderson
Last week’s handiwork on the boards helped Goulbourne earn SEC Player-of-the-Week honors. He’s the fourth Commodore to win that award this season, and, surprisingly, preseason All-SEC pick Jeffrey Taylor
isn’t one of them.
DAWGS GET ON THE GLASS, TOO:
Georgia coach Mark Fox
wasn’t too pleased that in the Bulldogs’ homecourt loss to Tennessee last week, they were out-rebounded for just the fourth time all season. Suffice it to say rebounding was emphasized when Georgia returned to the practice floor.
The result was impressive: in their next game, the ‘Dogs hammered Mississippi State—a team that traditionally is among the SEC leaders in rebound margin—on the glass, 48-23. Georgia beat those other Bulldogs on the offensive boards 17-2, a staggering margin.
Not surprisingly, Georgia won, 86-64.
Watch out for freshman Marcus Thornton
, who could be a key cog in Georgia’s stretch run. The freshman—who originally signed with Clemson but asked out of his scholarship when former Tiger coach Oliver Purnell left for DePaul—has been playing an ever-increasing role. In the Mississippi State game, he led Georgia with nine rebounds, four on the offensive glass.
KNIGHT TRAIN KEEPS ROLLING:
Kentucky freshman Brandon Knight
might not be the equal of former Wildcat freshman sensation John Wall, but he’s continuing to do things even Wall, who wound up as the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA draft, didn’t accomplish in his lone college season.
Knight has been remarkably consistent as a shooter/scorer, having reached double figures in 14 straight games. He’s also racked up eight 20-plus points games and is closing in on the Kentucky freshman record set by Patrick Patterson
and Rex Chapman
Knight is fifth in the SEC in scoring (17.6) and seventh in three-point percentage (.407). Kentucky coaches have been trying to get Knight to focus more on his role as a set-up guy and a floor leader, and he’s done that. But his offensive skills have been important to a young team that’s had to find different ways to score than it did a year ago.
No less an expert than Georgia’s Fox has said he thinks Knight is “a better player in the half court than John Wall,” because of Knight’s shooting ability.
Knight¹s latest SEC Freshman-of-the-Week honor, bestowed upon him this week after he averaged 18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals against Alabama and South Carolina, is his fourth of the season. There¹s plenty of time for Knight to catch or pass Wall, who won that award five times.