March 13 - Montevallo nudges out UAH for the #6 ranking in the final Alabama rankings due to All-Peach Belt Conference player Freddy Little leading Montevallo to a shocking 84-70 upset of #2 seed Mount Olive in the first round of the NCAA Division II tournament today. The Falcons will face SC-Aiken tomorrow at 4 p.m. UAH almost joined them in the second round today when freshman Jamie Smith and Zane Campbell combined for 29 points before falling just short of their own upset in a 59-57 OT loss to Rollins.
Tuskegee, which lost to host Arkansas Tech today in the opening round, breaks into the Top 10 due to Clark Thomas leading them to their first SIAC title since 1979 to make the tourney. I ranked all 40 Alabama programs below, after a week that included Troy and UAB both falling one basket short of making the Division 1 tourney against North Texas and UTEP, respectively.
Long before the Division I brackets would be announced, the state already did claim two national titles when All-American Kerry Harvis led the Talladega College Tornados to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association national title over Virginia Southern, and the Talladega women also won the national title.
UAB, Stillman and Troy were three of the nice surprises in the state, playing much better than expected this year.
How do I rate the teams?
I had taken a couple of pokes at the Top 10/25 earlier in the season, but today was able to dump every game played during the season by any of the 40 Alabama teams into a spreadsheet to really do some number crunching. I do want to thank Massey Ratings (http://www.mratings.com/rate.php?lg=cb) which had these games in a format that meant I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.
I focused the most on the 159 games played between two Alabama schools on this list. For example, Alabama would be favored if they were to meet Troy in the NIT due to their overall tougher competition in the SEC vs. the Sun Belt. However, I gave the most credit for games played against other state teams, I give Troy the No. 2 ranking because they went into Auburn and won, while Alabama went there and lost.
The other thing I weighed was how a team finished. For example, a few weeks ago I would have ranked Sanford as clearly the 5th best team in the state, and Tuskegee the 20th best team in the state. However, I dropped Samford to No. 11 because Chattanooga was the only team they beat in their final 12 games, while Tuskegee caught fire at the end to catch their first conference title since 1979 and advance to the NCAA Division II tournament, so I moved them all the way up to No. 10.
This doesn’t mean I ignore games against non-state teams, for example Montevallo shocked Augusta State, the #1 Division II team in the state, before the huge upset today. I start with a very objective calculation of all of a team’s games, but from their I use a more subjective evaluation of the 159 in-state games and how the team finished to move teams up or down in the rankings below.
Here is the rundown:
Final Top 40 Alabama Hoops Teams
The following list includes the team’s ranking, their record in in-state games and overall, and then what I consider their most impressive showing against another state team, whether it be a win or keeping it close against a good team. Finally, I add notes on the team:
1, UAB Blazers (in Birmingham) 4-0, 23-7; beat Jacksonville State 87-62 on 11/14/2009 (on road) – one more basket at UTEP in the conference regular season finale probably would have given UAB a bid to the NCAA tournament. However, with 6-foot-6 Elijah Millsap coming back for another year of picking opponents clean and driving to the hoop, and 5-8 Aaron Johnson whipping passes in to set up scores again next year, the Blazers can win Conference USA in 2011. Hopefully they can make an NIT run as well. Since UAB picked up basketball in 1978, they have battled Bama for state supremacy most years, and that should continue.
2, Troy University Trojans (in Troy) 3-2, 20-11; beat Auburn 81-77 on 12/1/2009 (on road) – One more 3-pointer against North Texas would have put them in the NCAA, but winning the regular season Conference USA title guarantees them an NIT bid. Hopefully seniors Brandon Hazzard, Michael Vogler, Richard Delk and Antywan Jones can rain in threes and 6-9 senior Yamene Coleman can give them enough inside to shock someone in the NIT to keep their careers alive.
3, Alabama Crimson Tide (in Tuscaloosa) 2-1, 16-14; beat Auburn 73-61 on 3/3/2010 – It took a little while for Anthony Grant to get his pressure style working in Tuscaloosa, but clearly Bama is playing the best basketball in the state right now and would be favored if they get an NIT bid and play Troy or UAB. The two wins over South Carolina and good fight against Kentucky at the end indicate that 6-9 JaMychal Green should be putting in a ton of points his junior year, and Senario Hillman and super freshman Tony Mitchell should have plenty of steals to give Bama a huge year next year.
4, Auburn Tigers (in Auburn) 3-2, 15-16; beat Alabama 58-57 on 1/27/2010 - This year was a big letdown after last year’s NIT run, but a great new arena, a new coach and good new recruits on the way, the future looks much better. With the rest of the starters graduating, Frankie Sullivan could be babysitting all freshman and sophomores next year but freshman walk-on Josh Wallace could provide a great backcourt with him as he handled full court pressure incredibly well this year.
5, South Alabama Jaguars (in Mobile) 3-3, 17-15; beat Troy 69-67 on 1/14/2010 – It’s been a tougher two years since the incredible Brandon Davis and Domonic Tilford graduated after an incredible 26-7 team got an at large NCAA bid. However, with 6-5 freshman Martino Brock picking opponents and driving to the hoop, and 6-7 sophomore Gary Redus swatting shots, it’s clear USA is still drawing the caliber of players they need to continue the tradition of going to four NCAAs and two NITs in the past 14 years.
6, Montevallo Falcons (in Montevallo) 4-0, 24-7; beat Concordia 100-67 on 12/1/2009 – I’m sure Division I programs won’t agree with having Montevallo and UAH ranked 6th and 7th, however when the computer’s crunch the numbers on all the games played, they come out virtually even with the Division I teams in the state except for the Top 4. Division II teams do defeat Division I teams in basketball, and with Montevallo finishing the season by beating the No. 1 Division II team and then following up by beating a team near the top today, I am confident this is where they belong.
7, Alabama Huntsville Chargers (in Huntsville) 6-0, 23-7; beat North Alabama 97-79 on 3/5/2010 (on road) – I actually think it was a very close call between Montevallo and UAH for the top spot of non-Division I schools. All UAH did was have their best record ever in Division II at 23-7, and when you consider that much of their success was the result of two FRESHMAN dominating (see note today on Jamie Smith and Zane Campbell combining for 29 points in the NCAA game today), the Chargers should be SCARY good the next few years.
8, Jacksonville State Gamecocks (in Jacksonville) 1-1, 11-19; beat West Alabama 93-64 – The Gamecocks had really put together a nice 7-7 start in a tough Ohio Valley Conference and then gave a GREAT Murray State team a run before losing. However, they lost their last six to drop a bit. Hopefully Nick Murphy and Jeremy Bynum will keep up their great shooting and Trenton Marshall will keep getting to the hoop so the three can have a great senior year and their first winning season since the great Walker Russell Jr. graduated in 2006.
9, Alabama State Hornets (in Montgomery) 5-1, 15-14; beat Alabama A&M 80-76 on 2/8/2010 (on road) – after being hit hard by graduation from the only state team to make the NCAA in 2009, Alabama State started 9-13 but then played great the rest of the way. They closed the season by winning six straight and then dropping a 1-point heartbreaker to Jackson State in the regular season finale. The Hornets then beat A&M for the third time, and lost a heartbreaker on a last second turnover to Arkansas Pine Bluff in the SWAC tourney, or they might have snuck back to the tourney. The Hornets do lose three key seniors, BUT Tramaine Butler should have a dominant senior season after being one of the top players in the country at stealing the ball and then driving to the hoop. If he can just improve his 54% free throw shooting, he should be a star.
10, Tuskegee Golden Tigers (in Tuskegee) 3-3, 20-11; beat Miles 70-39 on 1/14/2010 – As I said in the intro, Clark Thomas’ heroics took the Golden Tigers to their first SIAC since 1979 with a huge upset of Clark Atlanta that led to the fans storming the court. They did lose today in the opening round of the NCAA Division II title, but it was an almost impossible matchup playing 25-1 Arkansas Tech, the top seed, in Arkansas. Hopefully getting a taste of the tournament will lead to a return trip next year.
11, Samford Bulldogs (in Birmingham) 1-2, 11-20; almost beat UAB 52-55 on 11/14/2009 (neutral court) – in late January the Bulldogs were clearly the 5th best team in the state, and could have been higher except for a 52-55 loss to UAB on a neutral court. However, from then on they lost 10 games while only beating Chattanooga twice to fail to regain the late season magic of 2009. Josh Davis (6-4) and Andy King (6-8), who hit 129 treys between them, will be back for their senior years.
12, Stillman Tigers (in Tuscaloosa) 4-2, 18-12; beat Alabama A&M 77-75 on 11/21/2009 (on road) – oops, had to fix this from the email some of you read. I had Stillman #13 and A&M #12, but since the Tigers went into A&M and pulled out the win, I have to flip them. It was a great year in which Stillman was picked finish last in the SIAC but finished 3rd, including beating Tuskegee at the end of the season before Tuskegee went onto win the conference tourney. One of the most exciting teams around, leading the conference in steals and scoring.
13, Alabama A&M Bulldogs (in Normal) 2-5, 11-15; beat Tuskegee 73-51 on 11/28/2009 – You can’t keep Coach Pettaway down for long. The program hit rock bottom at the beginning of the 2008-09 season with losses to non-Division 1 teams Oakwood and Talledega at home en route to an 8-19 season. It looked like more of the same when Stillman came in to beat A&M early, but it turned out Stillman was much better than anyone thought and 6-5 sophomore Casey Cantey was one of the best defensive players in the country as they improved to 11-16 despite playing South Carolina and Auburn. Hopefully, Cantey can lead the Bulldogs to their first winning season since superstar Obie Trotter graduated in 2006.
14, Mobile Rams (in Mobile) 6-3, 18-14; beat Faulkner 75-72 (on road) – Mobile had a great start that pushed them to the top of non-Division 1 schools in my early season stab at a ranking, and then went onto sweep Faulkner and go 17-11 in the GCAC. They beat three teams going to the NAIA DI tourney in #17 Life, #25 Tougaloo and #26 Belhaven. They also beat William Carey when they were ranked #18 in the country.
15, Wallace State CC Lions (in Hanceville) 12-3, 20-4; beat Marion Military 94-65 on 1/28/2010 (on road) – Wallace State avenged last year’s defeat against Shelton State with a 77-70 OT win on March 6 to advance to the National Junior College tournament against Butler CC . Unfortunately, the tournament is held in Butler’s home state of Kansas on March 16 at 8:30. Some four year schools may question me ranking Junior College teams this high, but the fact is many of the top players go the Junior College route for their first year or two, and L.A. Farmer (17.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.0 apg); Sergio Crow (11.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.0 apg); and Darrick Thomas (10.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.2 apg) would be able to beat many four year colleges.
16, Shelton State CC Buccaneers (in Tuscaloosa) 17-3, 25-3; beat Faulkner St 97-66 on 11/17/2009 (neutral court) – as noted above, Shelton State was basically dead even with Wallace State, but fell in overtime after beating the Lions last year. However, I should note that Wallace State also beat them in January 67-71 on their home court, so it was a sweep even though both were nail-biters.
17, North Alabama Lions (in Florence) 3-4, 13-16; beat Concordia 116-78 on 1/20/2010 – three time victims of the outstanding UAH team, the Lions had a strong win at Miles and destroyed Concordia in state play. Basically, they were dead even with West Alabama, losing by two on the road and winning by one at home, but looking at all the games I give them a slight advantage over the Tigers.
18, West Alabama Tigers (in Livingston) 4-5, 13-15; beat SE Bible 107-61 on 12/14/2009 – Almost pulled off a huge upset at Alabama State on December 22. See above on North Alabama. Concordia played them more competitively than they played North Alabama, but they were basically tied with North Alabama for 17th in the state.
19, Faulkner Eagles (in Montgomery) 8-3, 18-13; beat Talladega 92-78 on 11/21/2009 (on road) – had a solid season, but getting swept by the University of Mobile was the biggest setback to where I rank them.
20, Talladega Tornados (in Talladega) 7-3, 18-15; beat Concordia 79-51 on 1/5/2010 (on road) – Kerry Harvis was named USCAA (United States Collegiate Athletic Association) All-American and led the Tornados to another national title. Phil Wood was the tournament MVP. He had 17 points and 9 rebounds in the championship, while Kenny Irby added 23 points and also had 9 points. They also registered one win this season against a Division I team, beating Southern (which did lose by double digits to Alabama State and Alabama A&M, but then came within seven points of A&M at home). The Talladega women also won the title.
21, Auburn-Montgomery Senators (in Montgomery) 3-4, 14-13; beat Spring Hill 71-46 on 11/20/2009 – well, I jumped the gun on this one, initially ranking AUM in the Top 10 really based on their reputation from the great NAIA run in 2009. Once I got all dumped the data for all games in the system, I realized there were another 11 teams that were really better than them this year, but I’m sure they will be back in 2011.
22, Spring Hill Badgers (in Mobile) 6-6, 15-19; beat AUM 82-70 on 11/14/2009 – Spring Hill came out and established themselves early with wins against Talladega and AUM, and wrapped up a nice season with a win over Mobile at the end of February.
23, Birmingham Southern Panthers (in Birmingham) 2-0, 20-5; beat Huntingdon 89-76 on 12/12/2009 (on road) – As the state’s only Division III school, the Panthers are the hardest team to rank against other state schools. One thing for sure is that they were dominant in winning the SCAC conference, leading the conference in scoring (77 points), scoring margin (+10.7), assists (15.2), steals (9.2), turnover margin (+3.7) and 3-pointers per game (8.6). They could be higher, and did beat Huntingdon in their only two games against state teams, but since those were close games and both Faulkner and West Alabama beat Huntingdon by double digits, I can’t quite put them in the Top 20.
24, Oakwood Ambassadors (in Huntsville) 3-7, 16-11; almost beat Alabama A&M 81-86 on 11/13/2009 (on road) – Forward Landon Bertram was named USCAA Division 1 All-American, and the only problem the Ambassadors had was having to play eventual national champion Talladega three times.
25, Alabama Southern Eagles (in Monroeville) 14-3, 24-4; beat Faulkner St 63-58 on 2/4/2010 (on road) – The Eagles beat up on most of the state’s junior colleges, including beating Faulkner State on the road to claim the 25th spot over the Sun Chiefs. The only double digit loss they had was to eventually national tournament team Wallace State 75-61.
26, Faulkner State CC Sun Chiefs (in Bay Minette) 16-4, 20-8; beat Jefferson Davis 81-44 on 1/14/2010 – another strong junior college team, not to be confused with Faulkner. Three of their four state losses were against the last two year’s national tournament teams in Shelton State (twice) and Wallace State).
27, Southeastern Bible Sabers (in Birmingham) 0-6, 8-16; hung with Mobile 77-97 on 11/2/2009 (on road) – In the email, I originally listed the Sabers one spot behind Huntingdon, but I had to flip them based on the Sabers beating the Falcons 108-92 last year. The two didn’t play again this year, so with neither team winning a state game, I have to give the Sabers the tie-breaker based on last year’s head-to-head.
28, Huntingdon Falcons (in Montgomery) 0-3, 11-14; almost beat Birmingham Southern 60-64 on 2/13/2010 (on road) – The Falcons improved during the year, losing badly at home to Birmingham Southern on December 6, and then coming back to almost beat them on the road February 13.
29, Lawson State CC Cougars (in Birmingham) 4-4, 6-6; beat Wallace State 77-74 on 2/1/2010 (on road) - Lawson State was clearly the best of the Junior Colleges that play the shorter season, with a huge upset of national tournament team Wallace State. They lost the other matchup with Wallace State, and were swept by Shelton State, but were close in all four games and put up 121 points against the Wallace State team from Selma.
30, Snead State CC Parsons (in Boaz) 0-4, 1-4; almost beat Shelton State 72-74 on 1/28/2010 – Playing just a few games and winning only one may look bad, but their four state games were all against junior college powers Shelton State and Wallace State, and three of those four losses were by single digits, so they were close to three major upsets.
31, Gadsden State CC Cardinals (in Gadsden) 5-7, 5-7; beat Wallace State 73-65 on 2/20/2010 (on road) – perhaps the most exciting team in the state, scoring 100 points twice and 90 points five times including a thrilling 102-101 win over Jefferson Davis.
32, Marion Military Institute Tigers (in Marion) 3-6, 3-8; beat Chattahoochee 84-73 on 11/27/2009 (on road) – Almost stunned Shelton State on the road, and swept Jefferson Davis.
33, Miles Golden Bears (in Fairfield) 0-7, 3-24; almost beat Stillman 48-57 on 1/16/2010 (on road) - could have made their season if they’d pulled out the defensive battle with Stillman, or a single digit loss to Tuskegee, both in early January. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the year they were losing by pretty lopsided margins.
34, Concordia Hornets (in Selma) 1-11, 3-24; beat Oakwood 102-86 on 1/21/2010 – a decent offense that scored 100 points in the one big win of the year, but gave up 100 three times, and 98 and 99 on two other occasions, to make five state opponents who scored between 98 and 116 points.
35, Chattahoochee Valley CC Pirates (in Phenix City) 1-8, 2-11; beat Marion Military 49-44 on 11/17/2009 (on road) – five of their eight losses in state were by single digits, so just a little improvement could move them way up next year.
36, Wallace CC Patriots (in Selma) 1-8, 3-8; beat Marion Military 92-87 on 12/1/2009 (on road) – Not to be confused with the powerhouse in Hanceville, the Selma version of Wallace Community College was not as successful this year. Seven of their eight losses were by double figures, but they did come close against Alabama Southern.
37, Jefferson Davis CC Warhawks (in Brewton) 2-8, 2-12; almost beat Gadsden 101-102 on 11/5/2009 (neutral court) – like Concordia, if they can improve the defense a little they score enough to improve next year. In addition to the thriller against Gadsden, they gave up 100 to Alabama Southern and Shelton State.
38, Enterprise-Ozark CC Boll Weevils (in Enterprise) 0-5, 1-12; almost beat Faulkner St 63-67 on 2/8/2010 - While they didn’t win in state, they did pull out a thrilling 76-75 win on a neutral court against Gordon out of Barnesville, Georgia.
39, Lurleen B. Wallace CC Saints (in Andalusia) 0-8, 1-11; almost beat AL Southern 65-71 on 1/28/2010 – while they missed the big upset against Alabama Southern, they pulled off a big upset 55-54 over Pensacola, which won 11 games and is ranked in the top half of all college teams at any level.
40, Bishop State CC Wildcats (in Mobile) 0-4, 0-10; almost beat Faulkner St 61-67 on 1/28/2010 – I put them last because they didn’t win in the short season, but they almost started off the season with a road win at Meridian (MS) CC, losing only 78-70 in the home opener for each.