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Analysis: Dissecting the 2012-13 Men’s Basketball Schedule

The University of Alabama Men’s Basketball team released its complete 2012-13 schedule Friday afternoon, just a few hours after ESPN and the Southeastern Conference released the first conference schedule to feature 18 games. The 31-game regular season slate features 17 home contests, seven teams who went to the NCAA Tournament in 2012, three Sweet 16 squads and the defending National Champion, the Kentucky Wildcats.

Alabama will begin the season against a still undetermined opponent on Friday, November 9, in Coleman Coliseum as a part of the 2K Sports Classic.  The Crimson Tide will make 13 appearances on national television, including two appearances on ESPN’s Super Tuesday during conference play. Below is a breakdown of both the conference and out-of-conference schedule, as well as the schedule as a whole.

Out of Conference
Alabama opens the season in the 2K Sports Classic, an event that traditionally matches quality mid-major teams with high-major squads in a four-team bracket tournament in New York City. While the Crimson Tide does not know who its first two opponents will be at the moment,  Alabama is sure to be challenged early as a young team feeling itself out.

The game against Oregon State in New York may seem easy, but the Beavers have the best team, on paper, of the schools assured a spot in The Garden, and if Coach Grant and company can make it past OSU, they should win this tournament.

While there is no marquee home game before conference play begins, Alabama will still face quality mid-major squads who will not walk into Coleman and take the Tide lightly. Anthony Grant challenged his team in this same manner in 2011, and games against Dayton, Lamar, Mercer and Oakland will be no different this year. The home schedule is also RPI-friendly, avoiding assured 30-point victories in favor of getting better and keeping the post-season in mind.

The best move Coach Grant made with this schedule, however, is putting his team on the road against stiff competition. The Tide will play four high-major opponents away from home, and that doesn’t include a return trip to Grant’s former employer, VCU, which may be the most difficult game of the non-conference schedule when team and atmosphere are both taken into account. Those five games will give the 2012-13 team a chance to experience big arenas and hostile crowds before conference play, where both will awaiting them on every campus.

Grant will also be looking to overturn a trend that has wounded his team over the past three seasons. The Tide is currently 1-7 against high-majors in the month of December under Grant, a stat that hurts seeding (or selection) for the NCAA Tournament.

Conference
Alabama will play in the first game of the new 14-team, 18-game SEC when it opens conference play on January 8th in Columbia, Mo., on ESPN’s Super Tuesday. It is the Tide’s only scheduled game against the newest Tigers of the SEC, but that game kicks off a difficult month for Alabama.

Five of Alabama’s seven games in January appear on the ESPN family of networks. Two of those games will be on Super Tuesday (January 8 at Mizzou, January 22 vs. Kentucky), and two others will be against the Tennessee Volunteers, one of five teams the Crimson Tide will face twice as a part of the new conference rotation. Georgia, Mississippi State, LSU and Auburn are the other four teams UA will face twice. Alabama finishes the month at home against Mike Anderson’s Arkansas Razorbacks, a game where home court could be the difference.

After what looks like a rough beginning to the SEC schedule, Alabama’s final 11 games are perceived to be an easier stretch. The Tide will face only two teams who had winning records in the conference in 2012, but both of those games are on the road. Florida will host Alabama on March 2, exactly a month after Alabama tries to end a 23-year drought in Nashville against Vanderbilt. Despite a winning SEC record last year, the Commodores lost all five starters, giving the Tide a great chance for their first win in Memorial Gym since 1990.

Alabama’s other six opponents from February on went 35-61 in the confernece play last year, which comes as both a blessing and a curse. The ease of schedule should allow Alabama to get on a role heading into the postseason. However, if the Tide’s RPI is in trouble late in the season, as it was in 2010, Florida will once again be the only chance for it to improve, and any slip could be a detrimental blow.

Overall
As a whole, Alabama’s 2012-13 schedule fits the team well. While there is experience on this squad, the Tide is still a relatively young team. Anthony Grant did a good job creating a schedule that builds towards a goal of the postseason and is designed to test his team every step of the way.

While many fans may feel that a marquee home game would have been nice, there is nothing wrong with scheduling for growth and learning experiences to come in the comfort of home. It is a move that will pay off in the SEC where those experiences will be called upon to make the difference late in games.

According to reports from CBS, the Crimson Tide’s non-conference slate may have gotten easier compared to its 2011 non-conference schedule. If true, the Crimson Tide could have slight reason for concern. When looking at the Tide’s home-and-home opponents, four of whom are not expected to factor strongly for postseason play, it is believable. If the Tide is a bubble team when March arrives it could hurt them as it did two years ago.

Overall, Alabama has a schedule that is worthy of an NCAA Tournament berth. That is, if the Tide takes care of business. However, should the December drought against high-majors continue and the Crimson Tide is not able to take advantage of an easy back end to its SEC schedule, Selection Sunday could be a stressful afternoon that ends in heartbreak once again.

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