Crimson Tide sizing itself up in Puerto Rico
For most, going to the Virgin Islands one year and Puerto Rico the next would be quite the enjoyable experience. For Alabama basketball, going to Puerto Rico is not a vacation, but a chance of redemption.
Alabama is now in San Juan for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, and will look to right the wrongs from its last trip outside of the United States, when the Crimson Tide lost three games in four days to Seton Hall, Iowa and St. Peter’s in last year’s Paradise Jam.
“I think last year we took the trip more as a vacation instead of a business trip,” point guard Trevor Releford said. “All the guys that went to the Virgin Islands last year learned from that. This could change our season. We can’t take anything for granted, we have to come out and play hard every day.”
Head coach Anthony Grant added, “There was an awakening while we were there, but again, this is a brand new team. This has nothing to do with last year’s team. I understand the relationship there, but it has no bearing here. We have to prepare for this year.”
The Tide will open up the tournament with one of the biggest names in college basketball, the Maryland Terrapins.
“Maryland is certainly one of the more storied programs in the country with the success they’ve had,” Grant said. “I have a lot of respect for their program and their team.”
Dependent on the result against Maryland, the Tide will either play Colorado, the team that Alabama beat in the semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament last year, or Wichita State, the team that beat Alabama in the NIT Championship Game last year.
Competing against familiar faces is an opportunity to see how the team has improved from the previous year, a way to measure itself against the team that barely missed the NCAA tournament last season.
“I think every game is a measuring stick for us,” Grant said. “This tournament is a great opportunity. We try to take it one game at a time, so right now all the focus is on Maryland, but we also have the opportunity to face some very good competition down the road.”
While college basketball fans normally salivate over the fields that compete in big-time tournaments like the Maui Invitational and the Atlantic Coast Conference-Big Ten Challenge, the field at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off is very underrated.
Alongside the Terrapins, the Buffaloes, and the Shockers, Purdue will have a serious presence in this year’s Tip-Off after being denied its third straight Sweet Sixteen appearance by the cinderella story of the 2011 NCAA tournament: VCU.
Iona and Temple are also underrated teams, seeing as the Owls have made four straight NCAA tournaments as well as having two straight 14-2 conference records in the Atlantic-10, playing consistent tournament threats such as Xavier, George Washington and Dayton.
With such stiff competition waiting them, the players are ready to make a reputation for themselves.
“It’s a good challenge every game,” Releford said. “They are some of the best teams in the country. We’re going to give it our best and see where we are with them.”
Putting together strong performances in the tournament atmosphere is easier said than done, with a key part of Grant’s preparation being absent: several days to practice, instead of maybe only one in this tournament.
“That’s one of the toughest things, not having the preparation and teaching time in between games,” Grant said. “It’s coming to you really fast in these tournaments. You hope the preparation you put in up to this point is enough and your guys are prepared for everything that they’ll face.”