Davidson Inspires Alabama to Paradise Jam Finals

Davidson Inspires Alabama to Paradise Jam Finals
Nov 20, 2006, 12:47 am
Alabama 72, Iowa 60

With his Crimson Tide rallying around him after a series of horrific family tragedies, Alabama C Jermareo Davidson not only made it on the court but led his team to a 72-60 win over a scrappy Iowa team and a spot in the 2006 Paradise Jam Final with an inspiring all-around effort.

Alonzo Gee provided the spark with consecutive intercepted passes that led to ferocious fastbreak dunks and then got behind the Iowa zone for three more vicious half-court throw downs over the remainder of the game, but it was the steady hand of Steele and the quiet opportunism of Davidson that kept the Hawkeyes at bay.

Davidson, who finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds 4 assists and 4 blocks, sent Iowa shot blocker Kurt Looby to the bench almost immediately by drawing two early fouls in the paint, while Looby’s replacement Cyrus Tate met the same fate even more quickly in his attempts to contain the senior.

With Iowa’s two most imposing interior players on the sidelines, the powerful Gee was able to attack the rim without fear. Iowa go-to scorer Adam Haluska fired up bricks the entire game and Iowa wasn’t able to hold an early lead past the opening minutes.

The game remained close for a large chunk of the second half until Looby picked up his fourth foul with just over ten minutes to play. Davidson asserted himself on the offensive end for a couple of interior scores, and Steele hit several timely shots to help the Crimson Tide build a bit of a cushion.

Down the stretch Iowa would creep to within six, but Steele immediately responded with one of his four 3-pointers and the Hawkeyes wouldn’t come any closer. Davidson essentially sealed the win by connecting on a baseline 3-pointer that stretched the lead to double digits with under 3 minutes to play.

Iowa struggled offensively with Haluska’s cold shooting, but freshman Tyler Smith followed up a 28-point effort with 19 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Gee led the Crimson tide with 21 points coming almost exclusively on dunks or drives to the basket, while Steele finished with 18 points.

6’10 C Jermareo Davidson, senior, Alabama - Davidson came through with a performance that should make any fan of Alabama basketball proud. He showed the ability to score in a variety of ways – fadeaways and midrange jumpers in the lane, traditional low block hooks, and the one make from beyond the arc. Davidson contributed as a passer and shot blocker, really changing the game without taking an excessive number of shots. He has quietly developed his game over the past four seasons and still won’t blow you away in a single area, but now displays a quite complete all-around game. Davidson plays more like a 5-man in an NBA 4’s body, but his ability to shoot and run the floor should be enough if he can put on a bit more weight. Davidson’s willingness to play within the team and history contributing without taking a lot of shots should make him a solid NBA roleplayer at the very least. At this point, it appears the first round is a legitimate possibility.

Scouting the Crimson Tide: It isn’t totally clear exactly how good Alabama can be this season, with some encouraging signs as well as a few causes for concern appearing in tonight’s game. Last year’s unbalanced squad was headed for the NIT before senior stud Chuck Davis went down with a knee injury and Alabama turned things around. Steele put in several heroic clutch performances, and the Crimson Tide nearly upset UCLA in the 2nd Round of the Tourney. Everybody returns this fall and Mark Gottfried now has the bodies to get his key players a breather every now and then, but missing out on several key in-state recruits means Alabama will likely continue to struggle with the lack of a traditional wing presence. This team is still clearly vulnerable to a properly executed zone defense, and will be quite vulnerable on nights when Ron Steele isn’t hitting from the outside.

Still, it is hard to see anyone other than the Crimson Tide as the favorite in the SEC West. Steele and Davidson give Mark Gottfried as much valuable experience as any coach in the country, and both are should put in All-America caliber seasons. Hendrix and Gee could be right around the corner. The real question is whether Alabama has another player on the roster. The roleplayers can compete athletically, but this team needs a zone buster to emerge to have a true shot at a final four run.

Gee gave the crowd a workout with his assortment of highlight dunks, but his game remains somewhat limited. He relies almost solely on athleticism and isn’t enough of an interior presence to make up for his lack of a perimeter game.

Richard Hendrix is a player won’t make much noise for long stretches and then surprise with a short stretch of excellent basketball. Once again, there isn’t much

6’7 SF Tyler Smith, freshman, Iowa – Smith’s career got off to an inauspicious start with a legal incident before his first game, but his impact on this Hawkeye team is going to be huge nonetheless. Smith is still completing the transition to full-time perimeter player, but he already looks very comfortable matched up against opposing guards. Smith’s jumper is silky smooth, and he started things off on the right foot tonight with a beautiful pull-up eighteen footer in transition. While Smith wasn’t able to successfully assault the rim the way that Gee did tonight, Smith had his moments. On one fast-break runout, he attacked Davidson at full speed, taking to the air earlier than anybody in the gym expected and forcing the Crimson Tide post man to commit a hard foul. Smith has a great feel for how to score in the lane. He likes to slash and float to the basket from the midpost, and should continue to take advantage of his size and bulk advantage closer to the basket against smaller defenders.

The one thing Smith clearly needs to work on is his ballhandling and first step explosiveness. He isn’t going to blow past many perimeter defenders in the halfcourt, even though he clearly displayed to connect off the bounce from the perimeter. Smith didn’t attempt to force the action tonight, unlike many young, raw athletes making the transition to the perimeter.

Smith could end up as Iowa’s best player sooner rather than later, especially if Adam Haluska can’t find his outside shot. He is Iowa’s best NBA prospect since Ricky Davis and as long as he continues to develop, a future at the highest level awaits.

Scouting the Hawkeyes: Much has been made about Iowa’s lack of an inside presence, and Alabama certainly had their way in the paint tonight. At the same time, Gorney, Looby, and Tate appear capable of giving Iowa a serviceable interior presence. The 7-foot Gorney hit several outside jumpers and battled admirably against Davidson at times, while Looby is a rangy athlete who might go further in replacing departed shot blocker Erek Hansen’s presence than anybody expected. Tate is your traditionally-shaped 4-man – thick, strong, and athletic.

Adam Haluska is an excellent athlete, a very good defender, and finds ways to make plays through grit and hustle. At the same time, his struggles as a go-to scorer (4-28 on the island) aren’t a new development. Haluska will go through stretches of looking like a big time outside shooter, but hasn’t developed the consistency to lead a Big Ten team offensively. The ability of Smith to keep up the scoring volume becomes that much more crucial.

Tonight Iowa was a very effective defensive unit when the bigs weren’t in foul trouble, showing that last year’s lock-down squad was no fluke. Steve Alford has clearly made a commitment to teaching team defense, and even this young group did a phenomenal job of rotating and helping each other out against an Alabama team that will see plenty of zone this year.

Keep in mind that Mike Henderson, Iowa’s starting point guard and best perimeter defender, is still out with an injury. When he returns, Iowa will feature one of the most athletic starting fives in the Big Ten.

Xavier 71, Villanova 66

While the A-10 is clearly improved this year, Xavier still needed to make sure business was taken care of in the non-conference slate. Tonight the Musketeers passed their first test, downing Villanova 71-66 in the semifinals of the 2006 Paradise Jam in a hotly-contested, explosive contest.

Stanley Burrell led the Musketeers with 26 points on 9-17 shooting, displaying a beautiful off the dribble shooting stroke and plenty of range from deep. However, it was senior defensive specialist Justin Cage making plays down the stretch. He crucial drive to the bucket in the closing minutes accounted for his only field goal of the game, but his emphatic block of a Curtis Sumpter attempt on the ensuing Villanova posession was even more important.

The game featured plenty of hard-fought perimeter defense between two teams featuring plenty of returning experience but also integrating new key pieces.

Transfer Drew Lavender did a good job running the show for the Musketeers, committing just 1 turnover in 36 minutes. Sumpter passed his first true test since returning to the court after a 2005 knee injury, despite having his shot blocked twice in the final minute. The senior scored 17 points on 8-18 shooting. Touted Villanova freshman Scottie Reynolds scored scored 8 points and dished out 4 assists in 26 minutes.

Villanova was able to bother Xavier in the first half with their halfcourt pressure, but the Musketeers were able to adjust behind Burrell’s shooting exploits and led most of the second half.

Sophomore forward Shane Clark scored 17 points on 6-9 shooting, including several second half 3-pointers that kept the Wildcats within striking distance.

Scouting the Musketeers: With the way Xavier played down the stretch last season and the impressive Paradise Jam performance thus far, it is fairly clear that this is a Top 25-caliber squad. Sean Miller has plenty of talent, depth, versatility and experience to work with here. There is no true post scoring presence, but the Musketeers should be able to spread the floor enough to get by – and last year’s team really took off once space eater Brian Thornton went down with an injury.

I mentioned versatility above for a reason, as there are plenty of multi-position players here. Burrell is an explosive scoring guard that has some NBA combo potential. He gets great elevation on his jumper and can hit from anywhere. Junior Josh Duncan is capable of playing three positions, and can do a bit of everything. 6’9 Justin Doellman can probably be categorized as a big man, but really likes to step out and shoot it and can do a lot of nice things facing the basket. Derrick Brown and BJ Raymond are more inexperienced, but both are physical, athletic wings capable of making a physical impact both inside and out.

If you are looking for the next Bobby Jones-style defensive specialist to get picked up in the second round, there could be worse players to focus in on than Justin Cage. The senior made two huge plays down the stretch tonight, and has the body to become a lockdown defender in the NBA. His offense is behind the curve and he won't get the chance to prove differently this year, but he could be a guy that impresses at the pre-draft camps...

Drew Lavender is obviously a huge upgrade over what Sean Miller had to work with last year at the point, but his ability to fit in could be the difference between Xavier being good and great. Tonight, his lack of size made him somewhat of a non-factor on the offensive end.

Scouting the Wildcats: It should be an interesting year for Villanova fans, as Jay Wright will roll out a team quite a bit different from the one he had last year. The halfcourt pressure will still be around, but the 4-guard sets are a thing of the past now that Curtis Sumpter is Wright’s starting SF. Sumpter’s recovery from two ACL surgeries is nothing short of remarkable, as he appears to be more explosive than he was two years ago as a junior. The 5th year senior is still limited in terms of attacking off the bounce on the perimeter, but he is definitely getting there. His first step is very much improved, and while he missed more outside shots than he made on the night, the jumper looks very impressive.

Starting next to Sumpter are two 05-06 holdovers, senior Will Sheridan and soph Dante Cunningham. Neither one has a legitimate back to the basket game, but both found ways to contribute tonight. Sheridan has sweet-looking baseline jumper that should open up slashing lanes for Villanova’s athletic group of forwards. Cunningham is an outstanding athlete and very long, though he’s still working on coming up with a bread and butter quality.

The Wildcats should be just fine on the perimeter, where it looks like Michael Nardi has spent some time improving his bounce in the offseason. Scottie Reynolds had an up and down game, but should be fine by the time conference play rolls around. The lack of depth could be an issue, as the other three true guards to get into the game tonight played a combined ten minutes.

The underclassman who appears most likely to take up the torch for Sumpter next season is sophomore Shane Clark. Clark is long, lean and athletic, but further along in terms of skill development than Sumpter was at the same stage. His 3-point shot looks nice, but he needs to work on being more active in other areas of the game. Clark can play three positions, but he certainly isn’t ever going to be Wright’s ideal shooting guard.

Championship Game (8:30 EST, FoxSports)

Tomorrow night’s game could be a barnburner. Alabama could have the advantage in terms of play style, as Xavier isn’t exactly well-suited to exploit the Crimson Tide’s lack of an outside shooter. Alabama will have the advantage in the paint, and Xavier will have to spread the floor and hope for another great shooting night out of Burrell. It should be interesting to see how Xavier’s stable of multi-positional athletes hold up against Alabama’s advantage in pure size and power in the paint.

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