Alabama is off to its best start in five years thanks in large part to its defense, but it hasn’t faced an opponent that could pose as difficult of a challenge as its next one.
The 12th-ranked Crimson Tide host Georgetown on Thursday night in the Big East/SEC Challenge.
Alabama improved to 7-0 after defeating Virginia Commonwealth 72-64 on Sunday. JaMychal Green returned after missing the previous game with a hip bruise and finished with season highs of 21 points and 14 rebounds while Tony Mitchell scored 13 points.
The Tide forced nine turnovers in the second half after trailing by one at the break. They finished the game on a 12-4 run over the final four minutes.
“During the last four or five minutes of the game, our guys really stepped it up on the defensive end,” coach Anthony Grant said.
Grant has placed a big emphasis on defense and it’s paid off. His team is giving up 52.6 points per game while allowing teams to shoot 32.0 percent - both of which rank among the top 10 in Division I.
Alabama is looking to win its first eight games for the first time since opening the 2002-03 season at 9-0.
Green and Mitchell are a big factor defensively, averaging 8.0 and 7.6 rebounds, respectively, along with a combined 3.0 blocks. The Tide’s inside game, however, could face a much tougher challenge from Georgetown’s bigger lineup.
The Hoyas start three players 6-foot-8 or taller, including 6-10 center Henry Sims, who is averaging 13.5 points, 5.8 boards and 1.5 blocked shots.
“They have the ability to put four guys 6-8 or bigger on the floor together,” Grant said. “Any time you look at a team with that kind of size and skill, you certainly have to pay attention.”
Grant’s biggest concern is on the glass. Alabama has been outrebounded only once, but it’s giving up 14.1 offensive boards per game - though that number is at least partially inflated by its opponents’ many missed shots.
The Hoyas (5-1), however, might be able to take advantage. They’re averaging 82.0 points - among the top 25 in the nation - and have three players scoring in double figures, led by senior guard Jason Clark (17.0 points per game).
Georgetown has won three straight and picked up votes in this week’s AP Poll. It is 1-1 against ranked opponents, suffering a 67-63 loss to then-No. 14 Kansas on Nov. 21 at the Maui Invitational before defeating then-No. 8 Memphis 91-88 in overtime two days later.
Georgetown shot 57.1 percent in the second half after taking a one-point lead into the break. Coach John Thompson III said the key to the turnaround, though, was his team’s defensive improvement.
“We weren’t getting enough stops or rebounds to start talking about our transition offense,” Thompson said. “Once we got stops and rebounds, then we do want to get out (and run).”
The Hoyas have three new starters, including Sims, but they appear to be adjusting quickly. They are also getting impressive play off the bench - particularly from 6-8 freshman Otto Porter, who is averaging 9.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals.
Georgetown beat Alabama 70-60 in 2007 to even the all-time series at two apiece.