Tide Basketball Set to Tip-Off Season
The Alabama men’s basketball team is getting set to tip off their 101st season at the Capstone. Head coach Anthony Grant is entering into his fifth season with the Tide and expectations are high for this year’s team. Grant was able to lead the team to its third-consecutive 20-win season during the 2012-2013 season, a feat last accomplished by Wimp Sanderson in the 90, 91, 92 seasons.
The Tide will return eight players from last year’s NIT Quarterfinal team, three of which were starters. They will be led by First Team All-SEC and All-District performer senior guard Trevor Releford. The Kansas City, Mo., native topped the Crimson Tide last season in scoring (14.9 ppg), steals (2.1 spg), three-point field goal percentage (.407) and minutes (33.2 mpg). Junoir guard Rodney Cooper is back as the team’s second-leading returning scorer, averaging 10.2 points per game and leading the team in rebounding with 4.5 boards per game. Junior guard Levi Randolph (8.1 ppg and 4.2 rpg), is also returning to add in the needed quickness and scrappy play.
A primary concern in the 2012/13 season was the depth chart. With Carl Engstrom out with a knee injury, garnishing a medical red-shirt, and inexperience down low Alabama didn’t have a strong balance of speed and power, but with Junior Nick Jacobs returning and the “Sweed” back this should help.
The Alabama will also welcome five newcomers – three of which are eligible to suit up for the upcoming season and should contribute well to the needed depth:
Shannon Hale (6-8, 220, F, Johnson City, Tenn./Christ School), comes in as a four-star recruit averaged 17.1 points and 6.0 rebounds a game as a senior at the Christ School. He was named first-team all-state and the CAA conference player of the year in 2013. Algie Key (6-4, 175, G, Decatur, Ga./Barton (Kan.) CC), a two-time JUCO All-American at Barton Community College averaged 17.6 points and 6.2 rebounds a game last season and 18.7 points and 6.5 rebounds a game as a freshman (2011-12). Key should fill the shoes of transferring Trevor Lacy and compliment returning sophomore guard Retin Obasohan. The final eligible newcomer is Jimmie Taylor
(6-9, 235, F/C, Greensboro, Ala./Greensboro HS), who averaged 13 points, 11.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game as a senior was the No. 1-rated prospect in the state of Alabama and listed among the Boys Super 5 and first team all-state. Taylor is the cousin of former Tide standout and Southeastern Conference Player of the Year (2002) Erwin Dudley.
Junior guard Ricky Tarrant (Pleasant Grove, Ala./Tulane) and sophomore forward Michael Kessens (Nyon, Switzerland/Longwood) both transferred from other Division I schools will have to sit out the 2013-14 season per NCAA rules. The duo will be eligible to suit up for the 2014-15 campaign.
The Crimson Tide fell short of making the NCAA Tournament last season but if they can get through their non-conference schedule undefeated that will likely not be the case in 2013-14. Alabama finished last season with 23 wins and an SEC record of 12-6 which is usually good enough to at least get an invitation to the NCAA Tourney. But the Tide had some key losses in their non-conference schedule last year and a couple of other “bad” losses on the year that made them seem less desirable.
That is not the case this year though as the Tides out-of-conference schedule is pretty challenging to say the least. Alabama will have to play Wichita State who made the Final Four last season and look to make a similar run this year with the returning talent. The Tide will also play a UCLA team this is rebuilding but usually competes for the Pac-12 title and a win here is a good quality win. Both of these games are early in the season with other tough non-conference games against Oklahoma and Xavier coming later on.
In order for the Crimson Tide to make it to the dance this season, Grant will need to rely on what has worked well for his teams in the past. He has proven that defense is a focus for his team as Alabama’s defense led the SEC in three-point field goal percentage defense (.308), ranked second points per game allowed (58.4), third in steals (8.2) and fifth in field goal percentage defense (.405). This is no doubt another focus this season as the past has proven that during head coach Anthony Grant’s tenure, the Alabama men’s basketball team has fared well when holding the opposition to 60 points or below. Since the 2009-10 season, Grant’s first year at the Capstone, the Crimson Tide has won over 80 percent of the time when it achieves the <60 feat.
This year’s Alabama basketball team has a good mix of experience with three returning starters, others return with significant playing time, and newcomers providing depth. If the Tide can manage to stay healthy, make it through their non-conference play relatively unscathed, and make an impact in the SEC who knows that expectations may lie ahead.
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