Usually when a mid-major program visits a nationally-ranked team
from a BCS conference early in the season, the mid-major views the
game as a chance to see how it stacks up against one of the
Alabama coach Anthony Grant sees it as being the other way
around Sunday night, when the 13th-ranked Crimson Tide host a
Virginia Commonwealth team that shocked the nation last season by
reaching the Final Four.
Alabama (6-0) has already beaten a couple of traditional powers
in Maryland and Purdue en route to winning last weekend’s Puerto
Rico Tip-Off Tournament, but Grant believes his team will receive
The Rams (3-2), one of the last at-large teams selected to the
NCAA tournament field of 68 as a No. 11 seed, became one of the
biggest stories in college basketball in years last March when they
beat Southern California, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and
Kansas before losing to Butler in the national semifinals.
Although VCU coach Shaka Smart only has one of his top five
scorers returning from last season – Bradford Burgess – the Crimson
Tide know not to take the Rams lightly.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to play a quality opponent, and
test ourselves to see where we are right now and what we need to do
to continue to improve,” Grant said.
Grant’s team didn’t receive much of test Wednesday, easily
beating Alabama A&M 82-45 despite playing mostly freshmen and
substitutes. Charles Hankerson Jr. led five Crimson Tide players in
double digits, scoring 16 points. Alabama’s top three scorers, Tony
Mitchell (14.7 points per game), had two points in eight minutes,
Trevor Releford (12.0) scored six in 16 and JaMychal Green (14.4)
The Crimson Tide, off to their best start since opening 7-0 in
2006-07, won their 23rd straight home game and 21st in a row at
Coleman Coliseum over unranked, non-conference opponents.
VCU arrives in Tuscaloosa as an unranked foe from a mid-major
conference, the Colonial Athletic Association, but that doesn’t
mean much to Grant.
“You’ve got great teams no matter the conference affiliation. We
understand that and we respect that,” Grant said. “For us, it’s
just about making sure we do the things that we need to do to be
Grant knows what it is like to be on the other side, having
coached at VCU for three seasons prior to taking the Alabama job in
Burgess played for Grant when he coached the Rams, and the lone
senior for VCU is averaging a team-best 11.2 points. He had 16
points and five rebounds in Wednesday’s 68-45 win over Western
Kentucky, the Rams’ second victory over the Hilltoppers in four
VCU was sound defensively Wednesday, allowing its fewest points
in 97 games while limiting Western Kentucky to 35.0 percent
shooting in the second half (7 of 20) and one point in the final
“I’m proud of the defensive effort our guys gave, particularly
in the second half,” Smart told VCU’s official website. “We had
struggled the past four games with our second half defense, it was
an area that we were really focused on and I thought we did a good
job of that. It was good to see this team take another step
Defense has been the key for Alabama’s strong start. The Crimson
Tide are allowing an average of 50.7 points and 30.7 percent
shooting. They matched a season high Wednesday forcing 18 turnovers
leading to 23 points.
Alabama has won the first three meetings with VCU, but the teams
haven’t met since 1996-97.