After such a disappointing finish to the season for the Alabama Crimson Tide yesterday in their one point loss to Creighton in the NCAA Tournament, it is hard to put the loss in perspective and move forward.
Despite the first round loss (I refuse to call it second round), it was a great season for the Crimson Tide. Alabama finished the season at 21-12, and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. There were higher expectations for the Tide entering this season, but all in all the 2011-12 basketball season should be viewed as a success.
Alabama head coach Anthony Grant made major strides with the program in his third season at the helm. He dealt with disciplinary issues with some of the members of the team, but still was able to lead the team to the NCAA Tournament, and within one shot of advancing to the round of 32 without sacrificing the integrity of the program.
The important thing to look at is the Crimson Tide have improved in every year under Grant. After missing out on any postseason play in his first year, Alabama made the NIT Finals last year, and were selected to the field of 68 this season, and the best is yet to come under his leadership.
Alabama had one senior on scholarship this season, and it will be tough to say goodbye to JaMychal Green after an up and down four years at the Capstone. I will always be appreciative of what Green did for this program. Sure he had his rough patches and clashes with Coach Grant, but overall I will remember his four years fondly. He was the lone senior on the squad that returned Alabama to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
Green should be the only player the Tide loses as he works toward making the jump to the NBA. Of course, the future of Tony Mitchell is uncertain after being suspended for the remainder of the season in February, but even if he doesn’t return to the program, Alabama is bringing back a very good team for the 2012-2013 season.
Don’t forget that Anthony Grant signed a top-five recruiting class last season according to rivals.com, and because of that big class along with the return of Andrew Steele to the team midseason, don’t expect much on the recruiting front for Alabama this year. From what I have seen, they are really only targeting one guy and that is five star forward Devonta Pollard from Porterville, Mississippi.
Despite some discouraging news I heard recently, you have to like Alabama’s chances of pulling him in, especially after the coaching change at Mississippi State. If Alabama misses out on Pollard, then don’t be surprised if Alabama doesn’t bring in anybody in this recruiting class. The one new face we should see on the floor next season will be guard Retin Obasohan from Belgium, who redshirted this season.
Among the cast coming back for 2012-13, Alabama will still be relatively young with only two seniors, and possibly a third depending on the future of Tony Mitchell. The other two will be reserve point guard Ben Eblen and starting guard Andrew Steele.
Four juniors will join them highlighted by starting point guard Trevor Releford. Alongside him will be the twin towers of Moussa Gueye and the Swedish Hammer Carl Engstrom, and backup guard Charles Hankerson Jr.
Guards Trevor Lacey, Levi Randolph, and Rodney Cooper along with forward Nick Jacobs will all be sophomores next season, with Obasohan potentially the only freshman after his redshirt season.
Again, depending on what happens with Tony Mitchell, we could see the Crimson Tide start a four guard lineup with Nick Jacobs as the only true forward. Trevor Releford, Trevor Lacey, Andrew Steele, and Levi Randolph seem likely to start next season. That of course could change with the addition of Devonta Pollard or if Carl Engstrom or Moussa Gueye make major strides this offseason.
The real player to watch this offseason will be Trevor Lacey as he moves forward into his sophomore season. In some ways, he had a disappointing freshman season after coming in with such high expectations as a five star recruit out of Huntsville. But, it is easy to forget that he missed some conditioning and practice time with the team while recovering from knee surgery he had during the offseason.
Lacey had flashes where he showed his immense potential, especially toward the end of the season, and he very well could be the Crimson Tide’s leading scorer next season. He is the most talented player on the roster, and he showed his ability to score in a variety of different ways. He has unlimited range from the outside, and he always appears to be in rhythm with his jump shot. I am so excited to see Lacey’s progression as a sophomore.
As a junior, Trevor Releford will look to build off of his All-SEC second team campaign in 2011-12. Releford needs to spend most of the offseason putting up jumpers in the gym. The one hole in his game right now is his inconsistency shooting from the perimeter. If he can improve his jump shot this summer, Releford may be the top point guard in the conference.
Watching Nick Jacobs progress over the course of his freshman season made me very confident that he is going to be a force in the SEC for years to come. He started out the season unable to hit anything on his hook shots in the lane to being an almost automatic two points if he got deep post position. The one problem with Jacobs is that he almost always goes left. He needs to spend most of the summer working on improving his right hand so he can become one of the most dangerous post scorers in the SEC.
Jacobs will also need to hit the weight room and work on bulking up this summer so he can defend the bigger forwards in the league.
Levi Randolph was one of my favorite players for the Crimson Tide this season with the way he was able to impact the game without having to score. At 6-foot-5, Randolph is a great rebounder for his size, and showed an ability to shoot the ball later in the season. If you watched the game against Creighton yesterday, you saw Randolph doing what he does best. He crashes the boards and even when he is unable to corral the rebound, he tips the ball away from the opposing player in the air to a teammate so they can grab the board.
Randolph was also an excellent on-ball defender for a freshman, and he could eventually be an All-SEC defensive team member in the future.
Randolph could stand to add some weight this offseason, and he’ll need to work on his jump shot after shooting just 39% from the floor this season.
Rodney Cooper showed flashes of his ability this season, but he was anything but consistent. After looking like Alabama’s top freshman in the two exhibition games prior to the start of the season, Cooper went quiet and wasn’t heard from until he erupted for 28 points against LSU on February 11th when the Tide was playing without JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell, Trevor Releford, and Andrew Steele.
Cooper has a nice stroke from the outside, but too often this season he seemed to lose confidence in his shot. He needs to regain that confidence this offseason because Alabama needs a guy that they can count on when they need a three-point shot. Alabama was one of the worst three-point shooting teams in college basketball last season.
Look for Andrew Steele to pretty much remain the same guy in his senior year for Alabama. He is a playmaker, and was actually Alabama’s leader in assists per game for the season. He is a do-it-all kind of guy that every team needs. He has the ability to score, rebound, pass, and is a tenacious on-ball defender.
If Moussa Gueye and Carl Engstrom can progress this offseason, it would go a long way in solving Alabama’s size issues. Engstrom improved from his freshman to sophomore seasons, but not enough that he could be counted on as a regular contributor. Moussa Gueye wasn’t even expected to play this season after tearing his ACL, but he showed signs of being a defensive enforcer, especially against Tennessee when he blocked six shots. It’ll be interesting to see what an offseason of working out and playing with the team will do for Gueye as he moves forward as a junior.
Excitement should be high for this team moving forward. The best is yet to come under Anthony Grant and a few years from now we will look at this berth in the NCAA Tournament as just a stepping stone in Grant’s process to build a strong basketball program in Tuscaloosa.
The future is bright for Alabama basketball, and I am excited to see what it has in store with Grant leading the way.