The key to Alabama's success has been the work of their forwards, JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. Green in particular, is one of the country's underappreciated players and consistently scores and hits the boards. Mitchell has been a good supporting player and the Tide was won the rebounding battle in all five of their league wins. Their defense on opposing frontcourts has been very good as well. 'Bama is vulnerable to teams with really good backcourts--they haven't won 3-point scoring in any of their wins, and their own guards, Trevor Releford and Charves Davis need to pick it up or defenses will collapse down low and suffocate the offense. But both guards, especially Releford, have shown flashes of what they can do. There's potential for improvement for here.
Overall, the SEC is not a strong league, so the fact that Alabama rebounds consistently and gets points down low works in their favor for the rest of the conference schedule. Those are things you can count on each night and don't run hot and cold. There's two more road tests, at Tennessee and at Florida, but the Tide is done with Kentucky and has only manageable conference games the rest of the way. If they win seven of ten, that's a 12-4 conference record and in all likelihood gets them a championship.
Alabama isn't the only football school having some surprising success on the basketball court. Nebraska is showing some fight in the much more competitive Big 12. The Cornhuskers are 3-3, with wins over NCAA Tournament contenders Colorado and Texas A&M, and tough losses to Kansas and Missouri. They don't do it on the star system in Lincoln--Lance Jeter is the closest thing this team has to a star and he rarely scores more than 10-12 a night, focusing instead on distributing the ball from the point. Nebraska plays low-scoring games and the key to success in February will be taking care of the ball, and getting consistent contributions from center Jorge-Brian Diaz. When it comes to football schools playing good basketball, I had intended to include Penn State in this discussion, after their run of home wins over Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin and their narrow road losses to Purdue and Ohio State. But the Lions were beaten decisively last night in Illinois and have fallen to 12-9. They're still a handful at home, but they have to get scorching hot to overcome a slow start that included losses to Ole Miss and Maine.
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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on the NFL playoffs and coverage of college basketball.