Alabama Basketball: Taking a Closer Look at the Tide's First 5 Conference Foes

Damon YoungCorrespondent IIDecember 29, 2011

Alabama Basketball: Taking a Closer Look at the Tide's First 5 Conference Foes

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    Alabama sits at 9-3 coming off a solid beating of Oklahoma State before Christmas.

    The Tide will face two more non-conference games before entering SEC waters: a gimme game against Jacksonville and an absolute must-win in Atlanta against Georgia Tech.

    After that, the conference schedule didn't do Alabama any favors right out of the gate.

    Anthony Grant and company are on the road for three out of the first five games with the last three games coming against Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. All of the last three were ranked at one point this season—with MSU and UK both sitting in the Top 14.

    Looking realistically at this early slate, Alabama should be able to take some combination of three out of five.

Alabama at Georgia

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    The Bulldogs are off to a streaky start to the season. 

    At 8-5, they've already been through winning and losing streaks of four games. Their biggest victory at this point came with a 61-57 victory over 8-5 Notre Dame.

    Most recently, the Bulldogs struggled to a six-point overtime victory against a 4-9 Winthrop team—at home no less.

    Georgia has a bit of jumbled lineup with the injury to Marcus Thornton. Thornton recently underwent surgery for a knee injury sustained against Furman, and could be out three to five weeks. He was the Bulldogs' leading rebounder averaging 5.8 per game.

    The Bulldogs did get a boost from freshmen forward Nemanja Djurisic against Winthrop, as he poured 17 points and snatched nine rebounds.

    Still, with a healthy JaMychal Green and budding freshmen Nick Jacobs, Alabama should have a decided advantage in the post.

LSU at Alabama

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    LSU started out the season with two terrible losses to Coastal Carolina and Northwestern.

    Since then, the Tigers have embarked on a six-game winning streak and look to finish off the month of December unbeaten.

    The feather in this winning month is an upset over then-No. 10 Marquette.

    LSU is finding success the way Alabama is finding it: with defense. The Tigers have held their last six opponents under 60 points.

    LSU is led by junior center Justin Hamilton at 11.8 points per game, but is this Tiger team for real?

    While this matchup lacks the drama of the January 9th contest between the Tide and Tigers' football teams, it will be a good test to see where this Bayou Bengals basketball team actually is if they can steal a win in Coleman Coliseum.

Alabama at Mississippi State

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    For Alabama, their trip to Starkville is one of those dreaded Wednesday to Saturday turnaround games.

    The Tide and Bulldogs have established a rather bitter basketball rivalry over the years, and if the SEC was still split into divisions, they would most likely battle it out for the west.

    MSU has beaten two ranked teams in Texas A&M and Arizona. They took No. 7 Baylor to the wire 54-52. The head-scratcher is an early loss to Akron at home.

    Up until the Baylor loss on Wednesday, MSU had rattled off 11 straight wins.

    The Bulldogs are led by junior forward Arnett Moultrie, who is averaging a double-double this season with 16.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.

    Last season Alabama opened conference play with an eye-popping 18-point win at Humphrey Coliseum.

    So far this season, the Tide have proved to be shaky at best on the road with losses at Dayton and in Kansas City against Kansas State.

Vanderbilt at Alabama

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    The Commodores began the season with lofty expectations and a No. 7 ranking.

    Since then, Vanderbilt has stumbled to an 8-4 record with puzzling losses to Cleveland and a home defeat to Indiana State, coupled with some tough losses to Xavier and Louisville.

    The good thing for Alabama is that they get Vandy at home, which dramatically boosts the Tide's odds for a win.

    While Alabama should be toasting Jacksonville tonight, the Commodores will be tested yet again with a game against No. 13 Marquette.

    In their two puzzling losses to Indiana State and Cleveland, Vanderbilt shot less than 40 percent from the field. Vandy is led by junior guard John Jenkins with 20.7 points per game. His biggest scoring output came in a win against NC State when he dropped 28 on the Wolfpack.

    Can the Commodores be consistent enough to come into Coleman Coliseum and get a win?

Alabama at Kentucky

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    The odds aren't exactly in Alabama's favor when they travel to Lexington. The Tide's last win in Rupp Arena was a 68-64 triumph in 2006.

    What can you say about Kentucky that we don't already know?

    Outside of the loss at Indiana, the Wildcats have looked strong with wins over Kansas and North Carolina.

    They're young, but make up for that with the superior talent brought in each year by John Calipari. Their four leading scorers are either freshmen or sophomores.

    It's hard to see Alabama pulling off the upset in Lexington: It's one of the toughest venues in college basketball. So far this season Alabama's road prowess has been less than intimidating. Still, by the time this game rolls around, the Tide will have a chance to improve their mettle away from home with games at Georgia Tech, Georgia and Mississippi State.

    This would be a huge win for Alabama, but even a tough loss here wouldn't really hurt the Tide.