After missing out on their second straight NCAA Tournament, the No. 3 seed Illinois Fighting Illini (19-13, 9-9) are in Tuscaloosa to face the No. 6 seed Alabama Crimson Tide (18-14, 8-10) in the first round of the 2015 National Invitational Tournament. The Illini would normally be hosting this game in Champaign, but the ongoing State Farm Center renovations have rendered the venue unusable until December.
Alabama fired head coach Anthony Grant on Sunday after six extremely disappointing seasons. The Tide have yet to name an interim for Tuesday night's game, but we'll make sure to provide updates as the situation unfolds.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p>RT <a href="https://twitter.com/GoodmanESPN">@GoodmanESPN</a>: Alabama's John Brannen is the interim coach and will coach team in the NIT.</p>— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) <a href="https://twitter.com/Champaign_Room/status/577665484671356928">March 17, 2015</a></blockquote>
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In case you missed it, we published a quick Alabama scouting report Sunday night. After starting the season 12-3, the Crimson Tide proceeded to finish 6-11 which includes a first round loss to Florida in the SEC Tournament. Senior guard Levi Randolph leads Alabama in scoring (15.2PPG), assists (2.4APG), and steals (1.4SPG) and he's also the team's second-leading rebounder (5.0RPG). Junior guard Ricky Tarrant (13.1PPG) and senior guard Rodney Cooper (10.6PPG) are a few other players to look out for on the offensive end.
Alabama and Illinois shared only one common opponent this season--the Missouri Tigers. Illinois, of course, defeated Mizzou in dramatic fashion at the annual Braggin' Rights game back in December thanks to a buzzer beating three-pointer by Rayvonte Rice. The Crimson Tide only faced the Tigers once this season and beat them 62-49 in Tuscaloosa.
The winner of No. 3 Illinois/No. 6 Alabama will face the winner of No. 2 Miami (FL)/No. 7 NC Central on Friday night at 6:00pm CT. Illinois could potentially play three more road games this season, which is less than ideal because the Illini are 2-8 in true road contests this season.
The semi-finals of the NIT are played at New York City's Madison Square Garden. You may recall that the Illini played Villanova at that venue earlier this season in the Jimmy V Classic; they lost that game by a final score of 73-59.
Here's the 2015 NIT Bracket in its entirety:
Illinois Fighting Illini:
- Ahmad Starks | SR
- Kendrick Nunn | SO
- Rayvonte Rice | SR
- Malcolm Hill | SO
- Nnanna Egwu | SR
Alabama Crimson Tide:
- Levi Randolph | SR
- Retin Obasohan | JR
- Rodney Cooper | SR
- Riley Norris | FR
- Jimmie Taylor | SO
Alabama's Four Factors:
|Effective FG %||50.4 (104th)||47.8 (115th)|
|Turnover %||19.1 (174th)||19.1 (170th)|
|Offensive Rebounding %||30.0 (206th)||31.5 (200th)|
|FTA/FGA||44.1 (31st)||40.0 (237)|
Overall, Alabama's pretty good on the offensive end as their adjusted efficiency is 60th in the nation. The Tide make their living inside the three-point arch as 46.4% of their points come from two-point range and another 24% comes from the free throw line. Alabama's FTA/FGA of 44.1 (31st) indicates that they draw fouls and get to the line at a high rate; once at the charity stripe, they shoot 72.2% as a team (72nd).
I haven't watched a single second of Alabama this year, but according to the statistics the way to beat them is to sag off and make them shoot threes. The Tide shoot 32.1% from behind the arch, which is 258th in the country. Other than their slight deficiency in creating second chance opportunities via offensive rebounding (206th), three-point shooting appears to be their only 'weakness'.
The Crimson Tide's defense isn't as good as their football team, but it's still a solid unit. They're giving up 64.0 points per game (110th) and opposing teams have an effective FG% of 47.8% on the year (115th). Overall, though, I'd say that Illinois should be ok as long as they're not careless with the ball. Alabama doesn't generate too many turnovers (19.1%) so that shouldn't be a problem.
John Groce Previews 2015 NIT: