Red-hot Alabama basketball is ready for its “first real test” next week

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After devouring its early season appetizers, No. 18 Alabama basketball is ready for the main course of its non-conference slate.

The Crimson Tide cruised past Jacksonville State, 104-62, on Friday night, improving to 4-0 on the season. The Gamecocks suffered the same fate as Longwood, Liberty and South Alabama before them, being bullied by Alabama’s length on the boards while failing to contain its athleticism. The Crimson Tide also posted season highs with 21 3-pointers and 23 assists in what was easily their most dominant performance of the season.

“It was a flow for everybody,” Alabama guard Nimari Burnett said after the game. “As soon as the first one dropped, everyone started flowing. It was just a fun night.”

So far, it’s been a fun season for Alabama as well.

All four of the Crimson Tide’s wins are by double digits as they outscored their opponents by an average of 84.75-57.5. That’s encouraging, but next week should provide more of a litmus test as to where the team is at.

For the regular season, Alabama will enter an early season showcase with an unblemished record as it travels to Portland, Ore., next week to take part in the Phil Knight Invitational. The Crimson Tide will open the tournament on Thanksgiving Day against a Michigan team that swept No. 4 Kentucky this week. Other teams in the invite include No. 1 North Carolina, No. 25 UConn, Villanova, Oregon, Iowa State and Portland.

“This will be our first real test against a top seed,” Alabama head coach Nate Oates said. “Michigan State had some real tests. They have already played some tough teams. We will be playing in a high major for the first time, so we have to be really ready. We have to have a great week in training and be ready to go on Thursday.”

Alabama started 4-0 last season before suffering its first loss to Iona in the first game of the ESPN Events Invitational. During that game, the Crimson Tide tallied just seven assists and struggled to make adjustments on the offensive end.

After four games, Alabama doesn’t look like a team ready to experience similar disasters next week. Despite revamping its roster with eight scholarship newcomers this year, the Crimson Tide looked like a team that has been playing together for years in Friday night’s win.

“I feel like our bond is everything,” said freshman forward Brandon Miller, who scored 28 points Friday night. “We’re in the gym together. We are together outside the gym. It just makes it even better and more fun on the court.”

The winner of Thursday’s game between Alabama and Michigan State will play the winner of the game between UConn and Oregon. The losers of both games will play in the consolation bracket. Each team in the tournament is guaranteed to play three games over the weekend.

Alabama and Michigan State are set to tip off Thursday at 9:30 p.m. CT inside the Portland Veterans Coliseum. The game will be televised on ESPN.

“We are very excited to play one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Marks Sears said. “We rebounded the ball at a high rate, and to see our offense play as well as we did today, I feel like we finished it off on a good note going into the tournament.”

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