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2013-14 Alabama Basketball Preview

The Alabama Crimson Tide Men’s Basketball team is getting set to tip off the 2013-14 season in less than two weeks. The Tide will travel to the American Airlines Center in Dallas to open the year against the Oklahoma Sooners next Friday, November 8th.

It was a tumultuous offseason for Alabama that saw two heralded recruits, among others, ditch Tuscaloosa for greener pastures elsewhere. The 2013-14 season was thought to be Anthony Grant’s best team to date before key transfers gutted the roster for the upcoming season.

Now, Grant, entering his fifth season as the Tide’s basketball coach, will try to right the ship and re-energize a fanbase and program that seems to be stuck in neutral after failing to get back to the NCAA Tournament last season, and being a no. 1 seed in the NIT for the second time in three seasons.

I know everyone is getting sick of hearing “wait until next year,” but that seemingly holds true once again. With a strong recruiting class lined up, and a couple of big-time transfers who are sitting this season out, the 2014-15 Crimson Tide looks to be the best team of Grant’s tenure.

Can the fanbase sit through another underwhelming season; one where Alabama was picked to finish sixth in the SEC? That remains to be seen, but patience is the word around this program.

Key transfers Ricky Tarrant and Michael Kessens won’t be eligible until next season, and Alabama will bring back pretty much everyone outside of Trevor Releford. And, at the moment, Grant and company have put together an impressive recruiting class for next season.

I’m not sure anyone will believe it, but brighter days lie ahead for Alabama basketball under Anthony Grant.

The Coach

Head Coach: Anthony Grant

Record at UA: 86-52, 39-27 in SEC

NCAA Tournament Appearances: 1 (2011-12)

Former Alabama Athletic Director Mal Moore made a bold hire by bringing Grant to Tuscaloosa in 2009. Grant was a former star assistant under Billy Donovan at Florida, helping lead the Gators to a national championship. After that, Grant spent three successful seasons as the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth, leading them to two NCAA tournament appearances. He compiled a 76-25 record there, and led the Rams to three consecutive regular season Colonial Conference titles. In his first season, he led VCU to an upset of Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Grant began the rebuilding process in Tuscaloosa in the 2009-10 season with a roster that wasn’t very talented. The team went 17-15 and missed out on postseason play altogether for the third year in a row.

The next season, however, was a bit of a turning point for the program and ignited a spark in the fanbase as real progress was made. The team won 25 games, narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament due to a rough beginning to the season, and made it all the way to the NIT Championship game before losing to Wichita State.

In 2011-12, Grant ended the Tide’s NCAA Tournament drought as 21 wins earned the Crimson Tide a nine-seed in the Big Dance. They lost in the first round to Creighton by a single point, but just getting into the tournament was a major accomplishment, especially considering the midseason suspensions of star players JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell, Trevor Releford, and Andrew Steele.

Alabama took a disappointing step back last season, as mediocrity continued to rule. Alabama missed the NCAA Tournament once again by a slim margin, and ended up losing to Maryland in the NIT quarterfinals at Coleman Coliseum.

Frustrations over style of play and lack of player development have led to some calling for Grant’s head, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the team has won at least 20 games three years in a row, and at this moment, the program is in a much better place than when Grant first arrived.

Even though this season is likely to wring even more frustration out of fans, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The program is getting ready to shift out of neutral and into drive as Grant pushes the team forward.

The Roster

A lack of depth will once again likely plague the Crimson Tide this season. The two biggest recruits Grant signed in Tuscaloosa are now gone. Trevor Lacey delivered a stomach punch to Tide fans by leaving to play for former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried at NC State. Lacey was the biggest recruit in years for Alabama, and he was supposed to be the one who led Alabama back to prominence.

Instead, he never developed as the player everyone expected. We’ll see if his lack of development is on him or Grant when he takes the floor for the Wolfpack in 2014-15.

Devonta Pollard, another five star recruit hauled in by Grant, left the team amid an odd legal battle that involved him being charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Pollard has since resurfaced at East Mississippi Community College, but is still facing charges that could carry up to five years in prison.

Lacey and Pollard were the big names to leave, but Moussa Gueye also transferred in the offseason to Valparaiso where he will be immediately eligible as a graduate student. Gueye didn’t provide much in the way of offense, but his 7-foot frame was valuable defensively and on the glass. The loss of him, along with Pollard, seriously hurts Alabama’s depth in the frontcourt.

Enough of who left. Let’s talk about who is still here, and who will be donning the crimson and white this season, and what we could expect to see out of them.

Guards

Trevor Releford
Senior

2012-13 Stats: 14.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.1 SPG, 48 FG%, 41 3P%

Alabama basketball in 2013-14 begins and ends with Trevor Releford, the only scholarship senior on the roster and a preseason first team All-SEC selection. With Lacey gone, more will be asked from Releford this season, which is a tall order considering he was the team’s leading scorer and far and away the team’s most efficient shooter last season.

Last offseason, Releford made it a point to develop an outside jumpshot, and he did just that. He shot under 28% from three in his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa, but raised that percentage to over 40% in his junior season. A 50-40-90 season is probably a bit of a stretch for the senior, but it should be something for him to strive for in his final season at the Capstone.

Releford’s newly found outside jumper makes his offensive game deadly. He already had an impressive knack for getting the rim with a quick first step, and now defenders can’t play off of him because of his ability to knock down open jumpers.

Releford’s ability on defense, however, is what really makes him one of the best overall players in the SEC. He finished 2nd to LSU’s Anthony Hickey last season in steals per game in the conference at 2.1, which marked the second consecutive season he averaged at least two steals per game.

Defense is Anthony Grant’s staple, and nobody epitomizes that more than Releford. He’s the heart and soul of this team, and he’ll likely be an ironman for the Tide this season. He averaged over 33-minutes per game last season, and with depth concerns once again plaguing this team, there’s no reason to expect that number to be lower.

Levi Randolph
Junior

2013-14 Stats: 8.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, 43 FG%, 34 3P%

No stat epitomizes how hard Levi Randolph plays, or the overall lack of quality big men for the Tide last season than the fact that Randolph was the team’s second leading rebounder. Randolph does the dirty work for Alabama that doesn’t usually earn that much praise from college basketball pundits.

Randolph hustles on every play, rebounds well, and is a strong perimeter defender. He’s the kind of guy that every team needs. Randolph’s offensive game progressed from his freshman year also, as he became a more consistent shooter as a sophomore. His three point percentage went up from 27% in 11-12 to 34% in 12-13. Another sizable jump up would be huge for the team this year.

He had a bit of a coming out party in the NIT last season, as he led the Crimson Tide in scoring in three games at just under 15 points per game.

Unfortunately, Alabama will be without Randolph at the beginning of the season. Randolph suffered a knee injury in preseason practices, and is out indefinitely. Alabama will be without him for at least the first part of the season, but the real hope is that the knee injury isn’t something that will linger and affect him all season long. He’s too valuable to the team to be hobbled for most of the year.

Rodney Cooper
Junior

2012-13 Stats: 10.2 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.7 SPG, 40 FG%, 30 3P%

Cooper was the team’s third leading scorer and leading rebounder a year ago, but it’s safe to say that his season overall was a disappointment. After a hot start to the season, Cooper struggled in SEC play and down the stretch of the season.

Cooper is probably the most inconsistent player on the roster. At times, he can shoot the lights out, but other times he couldn’t hit a shot from deep even if the rim was a few feet wider. Cooper came to Alabama with the moniker of being a lights-out three point shooter, but he has been one of the worst shooters on the team in his two seasons in Tuscaloosa.

Credit to Cooper thought, that through his struggles with his jumper he has found a way to contribute. He uses his long wingspan to corral rebounds, and is consistently asked to play out of position because of Alabama’s lack of depth on the interior.

That’s likely to be the case once again in 2013-14, but hopefully we’ll get to see Cooper in a more comfortable role more this season, and hopefully he spent the whole offseason working on his jumper.

Retin Obasohan
Sophomore

2012-13 Stats: 3.9 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.9 SPG, 37 FG%, 29 3P%

No player on the roster improved more over the course of last season than Retin Obasohan, who enters his sophomore season as a clear part of the rotation. There were times last year when Obasohan couldn’t get on the court, but by the end of the year he was an integral part of the team.

He was still incredibly raw last year, and played faster than his skill-level at times, but the energy he brought to the team off the bench cannot be overstated. He has worked his butt off since coming to Tuscaloosa via Antwerp, Belgium, and has earned every single minute of playing time he’s gotten to date.

Obasohan is a freak athlete, with the potential to be a lockdown defensive player. He harrasses the guy he is guarding every second he’s on the floor, and if he can add some polish to his offensive game, then he’ll take a major step forward.

Look for Obasohan to absorb some of the minutes left by Levi Randolph while he recuperates from the knee injury. His development will be interesting to watch, and he could be a major asset if he improves at the rate he did last season.

Algie Key
Junior

2012-13 Stats (Barton CC): 17.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 4.5 APG, 44 FG%, 15 3P%

Key transferred to Alabama from Barton County Community College and is immediately eligible to play this season. Key is a welcome addition after the loss of Trevor Lacey and the injury concern surrounding Levi Randolph.

His stat line at Barton is impressive and shows a well-rounded game with the ability to score, rebound, and assist at a higher rate than anybody on Alabama’s roster last season. Of course, it’ll be a big step up in competition from a community college to Division I college hoops.

Key is lauded as a gifted athlete who excels at getting up and down the court and to the rim. Obviously, the majority of his scoring last season came within the three point-line as evident by his paltry shooting from outside the arc.

It’ll be interesting to see the minutes allotted to Key, because he isn’t someone who brings anything to the table that the returning players didn’t already. He’ll likely carve out a role, but I’d have to see more of him to determine whether or not he could supplant anyone currently in the rotation.

Forwards

Nick Jacobs
Junior

2012-13 Stats: 7.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 0.1 APG, 1.1 BPG, 54 FG%, 60 FT%

Nick Jacobs had a slow start to the season, but finally kicked it in gear in conference play. He averaged right around 10 points per game in SEC action, and had a coming out party against Kentucky in January. Matched up against Nerlens Noel, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Jacobs more than held his own with 14 points and 5 rebounds in Alabama’s win over the Wildcats.

Anthony Grant would like to see more consistency out of Jacobs this season as he is the best frontcourt player on the roster. Hopefully, Jacobs spent all offseason working on his right hand, which his lack of is holding him back from becoming one of the better players at his position in the conference.

He has a beautiful baby-hook shot with his left hand, which can be unstoppable when used at the right time, but defenses have figured out that he always goes in that direction, which makes it all the more tougher to get him the ball on the block and for him to do any damage. If his right hand ever catches up, then watch out, because he has a beautiful assortment of post moves in which to work with.

Dakota Slaughter
Junior

2012-13 Stats: 1.1 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 0.2 APG, 0.2 BPG, 40 FG%

The feel good story of the offseason was Dakota Slaughter earning a scholarship. The scary part, however, is that with the lack of bodies in the paint, Slaughter has a pretty good shot at some decent minutes this season.

Slaughter is a hard worker, but he isn’t likely to bring anything special to the table this season. His 215 pound frame prevents him from really being a banger on the inside, and hopefully he has put on some weight in the offseason if he expects to see much playing time.

Jimmie Taylor
Freshman

The true freshman will likely be thrown into action immediately as a true freshman, even though his game is still very raw. The best sign for Taylor playing early is the fact that he has seemingly added 20 pounds since his senior year of high school. He was listed at 220 pounds by recruiting services, but is up to 240 pounds according to the official Alabama basketball roster.

At 6-10, Taylor adds much needed size to the Crimson Tide’s frontcourt. He wasn’t known much for his offensive game in high school, but his ability to defend the rim will be a welcomed asset for the Tide this year, and he’s probably already an improvement offensively over Moussa Gueye.

Taylor has great length and quickness, with a frame that can still add a few pounds. He is a terrific shot blocker, with a lot of potential. He likely will be asked to play defense and rebound mainly for the Crimson Tide, and anything he could add offensively would be a nice bonus.

Shannon Hale
Freshman

Like Taylor, Hale is a four star prospect according to rivals and should provide a lot of versatility to Alabama’s lineup.

Hale can stretch the floor, and has great size and length that will allow him to play inside and out for the Crimson Tide. Hale won the three-point shootout at the Future150 Camp he attended, which is a nice sign for a team that seriously lacks outside shooters.

If Hale can be a consistent outside shooter, then he’ll without a doubt find a spot in the Tide’s rotations this year.

Center

Carl Engstrom
Junior

2012-13 Stats: 3.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 0.1 APG, 1.0 BPG, 69 FG%, 83 FT%

Carl Engstrom gave Anthony Grant and company a lot of good minutes early in the season before tearing his ACL against Cincinnati and being lost for the rest of the way. He looked much improved from a rocky beginning to his career in Tuscaloosa.

The Swedish Hammer figures to be an integral part of the rotation this year due to his size. If he used his rehab time wisely, and took another step forward in his development, then he could be a key player for Alabama this season.

Much like Jimmie Taylor, he’ll be called upon to crash the boards and play defense, with anything he can bring to the table offensively being a bonus. A healthy and improved Engstrom could allow Nick Jacobs to log more minutes as the four, which is the more natural position for him.

The Schedule

A lack of quality wins and poor schedule strength has plagued Alabama’s NCAA Tournament resume in recent seasons, but that isn’t likely to be the case this year. Anthony Grant and company made it a point to beef up the out of conference schedule.

It all starts with the neutral site opener against Oklahoma, and also features games against Texas Tech, Wichita State, Xavier, and a road trip to UCLA. That’s not to mention the fact that the Crimson Tide plays in the NIT Season Tip-Off, which also features the likes of Duke, Arizona, and Rutgers. If Alabama can make it past Stillman and the winner of Georgia State/McNeese State, then they’ll more than likely face off with Duke in the semifinals with Arizona likely waiting on the winner of that game in the championship.

There will be several opportunities for quality wins early in the season, and Alabama will need to get a couple if they plan to make it to the NCAA Tournament.

It won’t get much easier in SEC play either as Alabama gets both Florida and Missouri twice, along with a road trip to Kentucky in March.

Prediction

Even with Lacey and Pollard gone, I think Alabama is still good enough to finish in the top half of the SEC. I could see anywhere from fourth to seventh. I think Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee are the three best teams in the conference, but Alabama could very well sneak into the fourth spot this year. They’ll be battling with Missouri, LSU, and Ole Miss for that spot in all likelihood, which would probably be good enough to get them into the NCAA tournament depending on how the out of conference slate goes.

I expect more of the same this season that we’ve seen over the last two. The potential is there for the Tide to make the Big Dance, but I figure this season will end much like the last three, with Alabama fans sweating out Selection Sunday to see if the Crimson Tide can snag a bid.

A berth into the NCAA Tournament would likely be enough to keep the heat off of Grant going into next season, which looks like the most promising one since he took the job.

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