What comes to mind when you hear Sweet Home Alabama? Is it a thoroughly mediocre rock song that has been so overplayed as to have reached saturation level? Maybe it’s an early 2000s Reese Witherspoon movie in which Patrick Dempsey is the bad guy and a dog drowns. (Or doesn’t drown, I forget the specifics.) Perhaps Alabama just brings to mind the stifiling humidity we are currently experiencing. Any road, all of those impressions can be cast aside, because the team Sweet Home Alabama is hitting the Cintas tonight, and bad rock songs and cookie cutter movies (did the dog maybe learn how to swim?) won’t be the focus of attention.
What will be the focus of attention is the home team. The lower bowl of the Cintas was three quarters full to watch what was barely a glorified exhibition earlier this week, so expect a crowd tonight. Xavier Nation isn’t large, but it is rabid. The returning players are going to get a hero’s welcome when they take the court at 8pm.
Leading the returning Musketeers will be the spine of a team that won the lone NCAA tournament one seed in program history. JP Macura, Trevon Bluiett, Kaiser Gates, and Kerem Kanter all come from arguably the best team in Xavier history, as does coach Paul Scruggs. All three have been playing overseas where Tre has slipped in and out of the lineup for Hamburg but both JP and Kerem have had success, scoring in double digits for their respective clubs. Gates arrived in town last night after NBA summer league action and has developed into a dangerous pick and pop four in the G League.
Step back a bit further into Xavier history and you find Matt Stainbrook, Mark Lyons, Justin Martin, and Dee Davis. Joining those bridge players is Semaj Christon. Dee is playing in Cyprus and dominating there as a point guard averaging over 20 points per game. The Stain Train in playing in Mexico and looks to be incredibly fit based on shots coming out of Zip Em Up practices. That’s good, because he’s essentially the only pure post on the team. Mark Lyons has been carving up the Israeli League. He logged major minutes and points for Zip Em Up last year and figures to slot in as a shooting guard for extended time.
Semaj Christon, perhaps one of the best players on Xavier teams that weren’t that great, played in the Eurocup for his German club this season and scored in double digits in all but one game. He’s still very good. Justin Martin is something of an old head on this team and has played in both Kosovo and Cyprus this season. He’s still a shooter and still, I’m assuming, looks utterly unbothered by life. Jeff Robinson logged big minutes last year and will figure to take some of the post pressure off Stainbrook.
You already know Nate Johnson and you can get a break down on the two non-Xavier guys below.
The hard part about previewing The Basketball Tournament is that there is no tape on these teams. One guy who figures to be prominent for Sweet Home Alabama is Derek St. Hilaire. He played for New Orleans (Privateers, not Pelicans) last season and averaged over 20 points per game carrying a bad roster. Justin Knox is an overseas big who has had an excellent career in Europe and will give Zip Em Up problems in the paint. David Godbold is a familiar name, but he played for the Potowatami Fire of The Basketball League this season. TBL is apparently a minor league that exists here in the US, but kudos to you if you knew that.
What is important to note is that a lot of SHA has Euro experience as well. This team may be new to TBT, but they aren’t basketballing neophytes. They will give Zip Em Up a serious game. The winner of this one will also get a serious game, because this bracket is loaded. The second road game will feature the winner of Sideline Cancer, a perennial TBT power, and another deubtante in Defeat Diabetes.
Tonight, look for X to go guard heavy. That is where this team is deep and it’s where they can hurt people. JP is fit and firing in Europe and looked smooth against Nasty Nati in the warmup games. Trevon Bluiett will also see big time with a rotation of Lyons, Davis, and Christon distributing the ball. Down low, the heavy lifting will fall to Stainbrook and Kanter, with Devin Davis spelling them. Kaiser Gates and Justin Martin will also slot in at the swing spot.
Finally, the Elam Ending also comes into play in the Tournament. It was designed to prevent the drudgery of the constant fouling that comes at the end of close games. At the first whistle after the four minute mark to go in the game, the clock is turned off. The teams then play to a target score of eight points more than the leading team currently has. Obviously if the game is tied it becomes a contest of first to eight. This ending guarantees that the game will end on a made bucket.
The game starts at 8PM on ESPNU. Out Twitter will be live, just like we are for every Xavier game. It’s time to Zip Em Up.