VCU-Alabama Preview

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

best.

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

another test.

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)

didn’t play.

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

successful.”

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

March 2009.

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

days.

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

3:56.

“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

forward.”

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.