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Alabama has the talent to challenge for an SEC title. In hoops!

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Previewing the #5 team in the SEC, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-South Carolina vs Alabama Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama Preview

#5 Alabama Crimson Tide

Last Season: 19 - 15 (10 - 8 in conference) #56 kenpom

My Prediction: 22 - 9 (11 - 7, 5th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 10.9 - 7.1 (4th in conference)

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Avery Johnson | third season 37-30

Credit Avery Johnson for how the Crimson Tide now appear to be in place to challenge for an SEC title. Yes the league is still Kentucky’s league, and Florida is right behind them, but over the last few years the SEC has struggled to find a consistent threat to either. Johnson has Alabama poised to move up from the middle of the pack and into front runner status. When Johnson was hired many questioned how an NBA lifer would adjust to the challenges of high major college recruiting. But Johnson slipped right in and started landing good players right away, and recently landed one of the most heralded recruits in Alabama history in Collin Sexton. He’s completely flipped the roster save for just senior forward Riley Norris.

After two relatively mediocre seasons, it’s this year when Alabama fans can start to see the payoff as the Tide welcomes Sexton and a helluva recruiting class to go with an established roster of players. Johnson has overachieved with his roster the last two seasons, now we get to see him work with a roster that’s expected to be a contend.

Seat Temp: COOL

It’s been six years since Alabama has made the big dance, and if you’re the betting type it might be a good idea to take the Tide to break the streak this season. From 96 to 56 in KenPom, if they make another significant jump (and I expect them to) you have to feel like the Tide will be an NCAA lock for the SEC.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Collin Sexton pro 33 68.76% 24.27% 28.99% 24.16%
Braxton Key transfer 26 45.70% 6.99% 8.46% 8.46%
Ar'Mond Davis transfer 0 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
22.89% 31.26% 37.45% 37.45%

The last of some heralded recruits from the Anthony Grant era made their exit from Tuscaloosa last year when Shannon Hale and Jimmie Taylor both exhausted their eligibility. Hale and Taylor never quite made the impact many expected them to early on and ended up being just solid role players in Johnson’s version of the roster. But Corban Collins played an important role starting about half the time and giving the Tide a reliable guard. Nick King transfers after struggling to find a role amongst the plethora of combo forwards already on the roster. Bola Olaniyan, another graduate transfer, provided decent minutes off the bench. Last, Brandon Austin never got on track dealing with a multitude of injuries during his time on the roster.

WHO’S BACK

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Donta Hall SR POST 34 56.15% 13.90% 84.00% 8.56%
John Petty SO WING 36 71.48% 14.13% 57.34% 14.08%
Dazon Ingram JR CG 35 70.15% 13.10% 70.25% 17.09%
Riley Norris R-SR CF 9 11.56% 1.65% 55.16% 1.46%
Avery Johnson Jr SR PG 36 34.90% 5.91% 50.03% 6.10%
Daniel Giddens JR POST 34 31.42% 5.53% 67.62% 2.43%
Herbert Jones SO CF 35 51.62% 5.65% 49.10% 7.18%
Alex Reese SO CF 32 25.78% 4.88% 50.78% 2.85%
Galin Smith SO POST 33 27.73% 3.57 62.62% 1.20%
London Fuller* CG 2 0.35% 0.12% 104.17% 0.06%
Lawson Schaeffer* PG 14 3.90% 0.31% 28.41% 1.53%
Tyler Barnes* 4 0.49% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
Tevin Mack JR WING TRANSFER
77.11% 68.74% 65.66% 62.55%
NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

BRAXTON KEY | SOPHOMORE | COMBO FORWARD

One might assume the leader in the clubhouse for most important player on the roster coming back would be Dazon Ingram, and Ingram will certainly play a big role this season. But the top returning player, almost quietly, was Braxton Key. As a freshman Key led the Tide in scoring and rebounding, and also played the most minutes. As Johnson looks to integrate the incoming freshmen, look for both Ingram and Collin Sexton to rely a lot on the versatility of Key to keep the offense moving consistently. Key is probably one of those players who is thought of as a wing, but is best served in the college game as a small ball four. At the four, Key is capable of taking advantage of offensive mismatches in giving Avery Johnson a lot to work with when it comes to new and interesting ways to score points.

So yes, Key is going to be important this season. But so much of Alabama’s emergence will rely on the playmaking and shotmaking ability of Dazon Ingram. If Johnson’s roster is built on flexibility and versatility it all started with Ingram, the 6’5 lead guard who gave Johnson the big physical NBA style defender and ball handler to make everything go. He’ll be reunited in the backcourt with Ar’Mond Davis who nearly transferred in the offseason after an up and down year. Davis was in and out of the starting lineup but provides a nice offensive spark off the bench. Donta Hall came in unheralded and emerged to take minutes from the elder Taylor. Hall eventually took over the starting position and averaged over 11 rebounds per 40 minutes. Hall became a reliable post defender as well, look for him to play a big role this season, even with the former 5-star post Daniel Giddens becoming eligible. Giddens wasn’t quite ready for the expectations at Ohio State which explains his transfer, but there’s no denying the 6’11 big has emmense talent and could be a major contributor to the Tide this season.

I can’t forget to mention Riley Norris, who no matter who else he’s challenged with on the roster finds a way onto the floor and contribute. Norris isn’t a guy who is going to score a lot, but he’ll defend and hit threes and convert opportunities when he gets them. Norris is the consummate glue guy. Last is Avery Johnson Jr who played a pretty big role a year ago but it will be interesting to see how he does when the Tide transition from a team in need of guards to one with good guard depth.

WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Kira Lewis 6'3 160 ★★★★ 39 PG
Fr Diante Wood 6'4 175 ★★★ 217 CG
Fr Javian Fleming 6'9 230 ★★★ 288 POST
2017 McDonald's All American games Powerade Jam Fest Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

COLLIN SEXTON | FRESHMAN | POINT GUARD

Alabama has a history of landing some elite recruits, but few can touch the excitement of landing a top 5 player like Sexton. Sexton shot up the recruiting charts over the course of a couple years and eventually landed where he did. He’s a high level playmaker who can do basically whatever he wants on the court. If Sexton needs to score he can score, but it’s his passing that draws as many oohs and ahhs as anything else. Sexton will likely start and push Ingram to the off-guard spot, which will make Alabama very, very dangerous this season.

Almost lost with the arrival of Sexton is just how good the rest of the recruiting class is. John Petty is an ultra athletic wing with enough ability to shoot that he can take over a game. Petty was recruited by just about everyone, and even turned down Kentucky and Kansas to stay home. Alex Reese isn’t super explosive but has a knack to getting the ball in the basket with great footwork and a physical presence. Herb Jones and Galin Smith both have potential to be high level contributors eventually, but won’t be counted on early as the Tide’s roster is pretty deep as it is.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Dazon Ingram Kira Lewis
(2) Combo Guard John Petty Avery Johnson Jr
(3) Wing Tevin Mack Herb Jones Diante Wood
(4) Combo Forward Riley Norris Alex Reese Javian Fleming
(5) Post Donta Hall Daniel Giddens Galin Smith

How much is the youth going to play into the minutes this season? It’s very clear Sexton and Ingram are going to run this team, but how much do the youngsters like Jones, Reese and Petty factor in with the veterans of Norris, Key and Hall. With the combination of Sexton, Key and Ingram, Alabama will be a tough matchup for anyone, if the youngsters are ready to roll the Tide become very very dangerous.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 22 - 9 | KenPom Projected Record: 20 - 11

Big 12 Basketball Tournament - Quartefinals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 6 Home Southern 342 W
Nov 11 Home Appalacian State 178 W
Nov 15 Neutral Northeastern 78 W
Nov 16 Neutral Ball State/Va Tech 109/22 L
Nov 18 Neutral - - -
Nov 26 Home Murray State 130 W
Nov 29 Away UCF 70 W
Dec 4 Home Georgia State 89 W
Dec 9 Home Arizona 76 W
Dec 18 Home* Liberty 144 W
Dec 21 Home Penn State 32 W
Dec 30 Away Stephen F Austin 134 W
Jan 26 Away Baylor 40 L
avg 119.36

The non-conference schedule Avery Johnson has put together is a tough but very playable hand for the Tide. They kick things off in Annapolis for the Veterans Classic against Memphis who is still a bit of a mess since Tubby Smith took over. They return back to Tuscaloosa for an easy stretch and then head to New York to face BYU and Minnesota in back to back nights. BYU should be a winnable game but the Minnesota game should be a tough matchup that could go either way. Playing Texas near home in Birmingham should be a tough task, but not as tough as traveling to Tucson to take on what could be the preseason number 1 team in the country in Arizona. And the matchup against Oklahoma in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge isn’t going to be as easy as it might have been a year ago for the Sooner but the Tide have the advantage at home.

CONFERENCE SCHEDULE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Jan 5 Home Kentucky 7 L
Jan 8 Away LSU 50 L
Jan 12 Home Texas A&M 48 W
Jan 16 Away Missouri 43 L
Jan 19 Away Tennessee 11 L
Jan 22 Home Ole Miss 94 W
Jan 29 Home Mississippi St 23 W
Feb 2 Away Auburn 17 L
Feb 6 Home Georgia 101 W
Feb 9 Away Vanderbilt 69 L
Feb 12 Away Mississippi St 23 L
Feb 16 Home Florida 19 W
Feb 19 Away Texas A&M 48 W
Feb 23 Home Vanderbilt 69 W
Feb 26 Away South Caorlina 42 W
Mar 2 Home LSU 50 W
Mar 5 Home Auburn 17 W
Mar 9 Away Arkansas 64 L
avg 44.17

Avoiding Kentucky twice is good, getting them in Lexington is bad. Splitting games against Texas A&M, Auburn and Mississippi State isn’t something you can overlook as all three teams will be much improved from a year ago, but Alabama should be able to sweep LSU. So find a way to split with Florida, A&M, Auburn and MSU and go .500 on the road in the other games and you have a solid path to 12-6, the problem I see is a tough slate of road games which I can see a young team dropping more than they should.

OVERVIEW

Avery Johnson has spent the last two years doing more with less. Winning eight games in the SEC two years ago with Retin Obasohan and little else, then last year 10 games with a mishmash roster led by two freshmen. Now, Johnson has his best roster by far. There’s talent and depth at each position, and maybe the only questions are how do you manage the talent and can you meet expectations?

One thing someone like John Calipari has learned to do is manage the personalities and ego of elite young players. Avery Johnson has experience doing this at the professional level and he’ll get his first real crack at elite players this year. You have to expect he knows what he’s doing in the regard of the personality management. But have the expectations at Alabama ever been higher?

So much has been written this offseason as the hype is grown and with good reason. Elitely talented Collin Sexton lands with his playmaking ability and the hope is he is a perfect compliment to Dazon Ingram. Inside the Tide have the mini-swiss army knife in Braxton Key, a guy who does enough things offensively, as a sort of position-less type stretch four but also possibly a facilitator from the wing kind of guy. Good luck beating that last sentence. Inside with two big physical post players like Daniel Giddens and Donta Hall. And then a lot of talented young guys like John Petty, Alex Reese, Herb Jones and oh, the consummate professional in Riley Norris.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Georgia Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn’t take much to believe in Bama basketball this year. The talent and depth is just too obvious. You really kind of have to squint to pick apart the holes in the roster. Yeah I guess you can point to the fact Daniel Giddens is unproven after a so-so year as a freshman at Ohio State, and Donta Hall hasn’t exactly been gangbusters, but the guard depth the Tide has is so good it shouldn’t matter what sort of production they get from the post as long as the other four guys show up. Grab some rebounds, play some defense, dunk it if you catch it... keep their jobs simple.

I also think you can question the shooting, as Sexton, Ingram and Petty aren’t exactly known for being prolific shooters. Last season as a team Alabama shot just 31.7% from behind the arc and that number will clearly have to be better. But three of the four top three point shot takers from last seasons are either gone or looking at significantly reduced roles. Corban Collins, Ar’Mond Davis, and Avery Johnson Jr combined to shoot a shade over 30%, while Riley Norris took the most threes while seeing a 4% dip in his shooting percentage. Get Norris back up to normal, and swap in John Petty and Collin Sexton and you hope that’s enough to get Alabama back up to around average, which is only about 34.5%.

So expect Alabama to be an NCAA tournament team. Expect Alabama to be in the top five in the SEC, and expect Alabama to be a fun team to watch. Avery Johnson has a full roster stocked with talent and combining it with experience. The Tide are certainly going to be a breakout team this season.


About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.

If you’d like to submit your picks, click here for the Google Form we used.


GLOSSARY

* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player

GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team

%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.