The Alabama Crimson Tide took a tremendous step in the right direction in Anthony Grant’s second season as head coach. The Tide improved from 17-15 in 2009-10 to 25-12 in 2010-11 to prove to all the naysayers that Grant’s system is working and the process is moving in the right direction.
Alabama narrowly missed inclusion in the NCAA Tournament and they ended up advancing all the way to the NIT Championship only to lose to Wichita State. Even though the Tide didn’t receive an invite to the Big Dance, this season was still a big success.
The entire program and fanbase is completely behind Anthony Grant and the future has never looked brighter for the Alabama basketball program. The doubters will say that Alabama is only a football school, but I see no reason why Alabama can’t be a basketball school as well.
Alabama has a wealth of talent returning to Tuscaloosa for next season and they shouldn’t have to worry about being a bubble team much longer. This program is here to stay as long as Grant so chooses to remain at the Capstone. There has been obvious chatter that he will ultimately leave T-Town for a more high profile job, since Alabama will always put the football program first, but I tend to disagree.
While there is a chance that he gets an offer that he just can’t refuse eventually, Grant could end up staying with the Crimson Tide for a long, long time.
Before we dive into talk about the future, we have to go back and evaluate the Tide’s 2010-2011 season.
JaMychal Green: 27.9 MPG 15.5 PPG 7.5 RPG 2.1 BPG 1.4 SPG 51 FG%
JaMychal Green finally showed the immense potential that we all knew he had with a big season. Green was one of the best all-around players in the SEC with a strong offensive game and a knack for blocking shots on the defensive end.
Alabama had the best defensive team in the SEC this season, and Green was a big reason why, averaging over 2 blocks and a steal per game. His presence down low prevented teams from establishing much of anything in the post.
Green’s season got off to a rocky start after the disastrous Paradise Jam Tournament. Head Coach Anthony Grant suspended Green for three games following the tournament, and he came back a different player after the suspension.
Was it a coincidence that Alabama was 4-4 before and during Green’s suspension and 21-8 after the suspension? Green came back a different player and Alabama came back a completely different team.
Green has committed to come back for his senior season in Tuscaloosa and I can’t wait to see what a focused JaMychal Green can do for a full season.
Tony Mitchell: 31.5 MPG 15.2 PPG 7.1 RPG 1.3 APG 1.6 SPG 52 FG%
A lot more was asked from Tony Mitchell in his sophomore season in Tuscaloosa, and he responded in a big way. After playing 23 MPG and averaging 9 points and 6 rebounds per game in his freshman season, Mitchell saw nine more minutes per game and upped his points and rebounds by six and one respectively.
Mitchell came off of being a member of the freshman All-SEC team to being a member of the All SEC 2nd team this season. Mitchell’s defense was a big part of his game as well as he led the conference in steals and was somehow robbed of being a member of the All-SEC defensive team.
Mitchell’s best stretch of the season came during consecutive games against Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Ole Miss where he scored 20+ points in every game. The Crimson Tide went 3-1 during that stretch.
Mitchell is known for his highlight reel dunks, but he is slowly becoming a more complete player. The only thing lacking from Mitchell’s game is a consistent jump shot and if he can ever develop it, then he will be a bona fide star.
Mitchell has also committed to returning to Alabama for his junior season.
Trevor Releford: 31.3 MPG 11.0 PPG 3.3 RPG 3.4 APG 1.6 SPG 48 FG%
Alabama does not take the step forward that they did this season without the play of freshman point guard Trevor Releford. He experienced some freshman struggles this season like expected, but he had a strong season in his first in Tuscaloosa.
Releford was an ironman for much of the season and after he got a feel for starting, he played the majority of the minutes at point guard for the Crimson Tide due to Ben Eblen’s struggles as the backup.
Grant asked a lot of Releford as a true freshman and it’s never an ideal situation to have a freshman starting at point guard, but he exceeded all expectations. Releford had his coming out party in the NIT – especially in his big performances against New Mexico and Miami where he eclipsed 20 points in both games.
Releford has a very bright future and if he can continue gaining confidence in his jump shot, then he is an All-SEC caliber point guard. With Green, Mitchell, and Releford, Alabama has its big three from this season all coming in 2011-12.
Those three guys are the reason I am so excited for next season.
Charvez Davis: 28.2 PPG 8.5 PPG 2.1 RPG 1.4 APG 36 FG% 35 3P%
Charvez Davis’ senior season didn’t go as he and all of the Alabama fans expected it to. He was still Alabama’s top three-point shooter this season, but his 3P% went down from 40% during his junior season to 35% this season while only shooting 36% from the field.
He saw increased minutes this season and was the team’s starting two-guard, but he never seemed to get back to form after his elbow injury. He looked like the same Charvez in home games, but it always looked like there was a lid on the bucket when he shot on the road.
I still can’t figure out why he struggled so much shooting the ball on the road, but the biggest asset for Davis was his ability to defend. He was Alabama’s best on-ball defender and he was rarely subbed out late in the season because of it.
Chris Hines: 28.6 MPG 5.5 PPG 6.1 RPG 1.3 APG 1.5 BPG 48 FG%
The biggest concern for the Crimson Tide coming into this season was the lack of depth on the frontline with Justin Knox transferring to North Carolina and Demetrius Jemison transferring to Manhattan.
Hines was asked to play a much bigger role because of it, and he stepped up in a big way. Hines wasn’t intimidating on the offensive end, but he had enough of a game down on the block to prevent teams from doubling JaMychal Green.
The senior didn’t impress with big stat lines, but he did all the little things to help Alabama win games, like play defense and rebound. Hines’ best offensive performance came in a loss to Ole Miss in late February where he scored 15 points and grabbed 7 boards.
Senario Hillman: 20.9 MPG 6.4 PPG 2.5 RPG 1.7 APG 1.4 SPG
The third and final scholarship senior on this year’s squad was the team’s sixth man, Senario Hillman. Hillman never really flourished in Grant’s system like he did during Mark Gottfried’s final season, his sophomore year, where he averaged 13 PPG, but he did do what was asked of him.
Hillman could provide some instant offense off the bench and he was a scrappy player, often coming up with a big offensive rebound and put back, despite always being one of the smallest players on the court.
Hillman’s highlight of the season came in the NIT against New Mexico when he etched his name in Tide lore by becoming their all-time steals leader. Hillman didn’t quite have the offensive impact that he hoped in his final year in Tuscaloosa, but he was a big contributor.
Hillman, along with Hines and Davis, will forever be remembered as the senior class that bought into Anthony Grant’s system and paved the way for future success for the basketball team.
Andrew Steele: 18.3 MPG 4.0 PPG 2.6 RPG 39 FG%
For most of the year, Andrew Steele was Alabama’s top perimeter defender, until Charvez Davis started to focus more on the defensive end of the floor. Steele missed the first 13 games of the season with an ankle injury and missed the entire NIT due to a concussion he suffered in the loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament Semifinals.
Just like his brother Ronald, Andrew has struggled with injuries throughout his career with Alabama. Steele is a smart basketball player and commits himself to the defensive end. He takes smart shots and he should continue seeing significant minutes in his junior season next year if he is able to stay healthy.
Charles Hankerson Jr.: 11.2 MPG 2.3 PPG 1.2 RPG 30 FG%
With Andrew Steele injured, Charles Hankerson took full advantage of it during the NIT and received a big boost in minutes with Anthony Grant trusting the true freshman later in the season. Hankerson was a highly recruited player out of Miami, and he has a bright future with Alabama.
With two guards, Davis and Hillman, both gone, Hankerson will have a chance to see a significant spike in minutes during his sophomore season in Tuscaloosa. He should compete with Andrew Steele and some incoming freshman to start in the backcourt along with Trevor Releford in 11-12.
Paradise Jam: Ugh. I try not to think about the Paradise Jam Tournament, but it always rears its ugly head when discussing Alabama basketball. If you want to look at the biggest reason the Tide didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this season, then it’s because of their woeful performance in the Virgin Islands.
This tournament was supposed to give the team some much needed experience and allow them to have an opportunity to play some good teams. Alabama used the Old Spice Classic in 2009 as just that. They played Baylor, Florida State, and Michigan in that tournament; going 2-1. But, in the Paradise Jam Tournament, Alabama didn’t get the opportunity to play the upper-echelon teams, because they lost all three of their games to Seton Hall, Iowa, and St. Peter’s.
The three losses in the Paradise Jam was one of the key moments early in the Tide’s season.
Dec. 18th at Oklahoma State: If you want to point toward one game as a turning point in Alabama’s 25-win season, then it was their eight point loss to Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City in mid-December. At the time, the only thing most Tide fans thought about was Alabama blowing its final chance at a marquee out of conference win.
But, in my review of the game, I thought that Alabama may have turned a corner and I turned out to be right. Following that loss to the Cowboys, the Crimson Tide compiled a 20-6 record the rest of the season.
Jan. 18th vs. Kentucky: Tide fans were sure that their team turned the corner when they pulled off a huge, program-defining upset of the then 12th ranked Kentucky Wildcats at Coleman Coliseum.
Alabama was currently 2-1 in the SEC and coming off of a tough loss on the road to Arkansas when they knocked off Kentucky on ESPN. Nobody saw the Tide coming in this game and they built a 20-point lead in the second half, only to squander it, but hold on to a two point 68-66 victory.
At the time, Alabama was just 10-7, but they let the world know on that Tuesday night in January, that they were better than what they showed in their non-conference slate.
Feb. 5th at Tennessee: Those that were skeptical of this team and labeling the win over Kentucky as nothing more than a fluke, were silenced when the Crimson Tide made the trek to Knoxville and beat the Volunteers in overtime on the road.
Alabama and Tennessee battled to the end and the game ultimately went into an extra period and the Tide prevailed 65-60. It was also Alabama’s fifth straight victory as they were rolling after the win over Kentucky.
Feb. 26th at Ole Miss: Alabama needed a strong finish to the season in order to gain an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament, but they fell off the path with a tough loss on the road to the Rebels by five points.
This was a win Alabama needed with an upcoming trip to Gainesville to meet the SEC leading Florida Gators, but Alabama was unable to get it done. If you are looking for a loss that possibly ended the Tide’s chances of an at-large berth then you can look at this loss in Oxford.
Mar. 1st at Florida: If there were doubters remaining about the Tide’s legitimacy, then they were given added ammo when the Tide went to Gainesville and suffered their worst defeat of the season at the hands of the Gators, 78-51.
The most frustrating part of the game was that it was tied at halftime and then Alabama went cold from the field with the Gators seemingly making every shot they threw up.
Mar. 5th vs. Georgia: After back-to-back losses, Alabama was in desperate need of a win in order to keep their at-large berth hopes alive. They got it with a 65-57 win over Georgia to finish the regular season undefeated at home and with a 20-10 record.
SEC Tournament: Alabama won the Western Division of the SEC and thus received a bye in the first round. Awaiting them in the second round was a familiar foe in Georgia who they just played six days earlier. Alabama looked awful for most of the game, but staged a surprising rally to tie the game and force overtime. Alabama took control in overtime and won the game 65-59.
Alabama faced a rematch with Kentucky in the SEC Semifinals, but they were completely overmatched this time around in a 72-58 loss that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. You never want your last game to prove your worth to the selection committee to be a blowout loss.
Selection Sunday: The selection came and went and the Alabama Crimson Tide was left out of the NCAA Tournament with teams like Georgia and USC getting in over the Tide. Alabama ended up getting a #1 seed in the NIT.
NIT: Alabama wanted to prove the selection committee wrong by making a run in the NIT and they did just that. They reeled off wins over Coastal Carolina, New Mexico, Miami, and Colorado before succumbing to Wichita State in the NIT Finals and losing out on their shot at their first NIT Championship.
The future is bright in Tuscaloosa. The process took a major step in the right direction with a 25-win season in Anthony Grant’s second year with Alabama. This is a team on the rise and sweating it out on Selection Sunday shouldn’t be a problem for much longer.
This season should be remembered as the year that everyone bought in to Grant’s system and it yielded results. That will make it much easier for future players to buy into a system that is proven to work. This wasn’t the most talented team out there, but they were well coached and they played hard on the defensive end especially.
I am so excited for what the future has in store for the Crimson Tide basketball program and I will soon do a write-up about the future of the Crimson Tide basketball program and a brief outlook at what next season might have in store for this group.
The 2010-11 Alabama basketball team was a special group. Every now and then, a team goes through that us as fans feel a connection with and that’s how this team was for me. I felt a connection with every player on the roster and I am sad to see the three seniors move on.
But with that sadness comes an excitement for the future of the program that should yield some of the best results in Alabama basketball history.