Last season, Alabama became the first SEC team to win more than 10 games in league play (12-4) and not make the NCAA tournament. This season, Alabama shouldn't have to worry about an NCAA snub.
With a strong nucleus that includes three All-SEC candidates -- forwards JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell and point guard Trevor Releford -- and a top-flight recruiting class, the Crimson Tide figure to be among the top teams in the SEC.
Leading the Tide's front line is Green, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound Montgomery native who bypassed the NBA draft to return for his senior season. A former McDonald's All-American, Green led the Tide in scoring (15.5 ppg) and rebounding (7.5 rpg) last season. After an early-season suspension he played the best basketball of his career. Alongside Green is Mitchell, a 6-6 small forward who averaged 16.4 points in SEC games. During one six-game stretch in February, Mitchell averaged 21.5 points while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field.
Coach Anthony Grant expects freshman Nick Jacobs, a 6-9, 250-pound power forward from Atlanta, to make an immediate impact. "He brings a good deal of size and physicality to our frontcourt," Grant says. "As he continues to develop, he'll be a guy at the power forward spot for us that brings the physicality and interior scoring that we need."
Former junior college player Moussa Gueye, a 7-foot native of Senegal who spent two seasons at Lake Land (Ill.) College, will also bring much-needed size to the interior.
Releford started 36 of 37 games last season and proved to be a solid scorer (11.0 ppg) and distributor (3.4 apg). He isn't much of a threat from outside -- he hit only 19 three-pointers for the season -- but he made more than 50 percent of his two-point field goals because of his ability to get to the basket.
Releford will be flanked on the wing by two freshman shooting guards, Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph. Lacey, a two-time Mr. Basketball in Alabama, is not a high-level athlete but he plays with a high basketball IQ and has a nice stroke from the outside. The 6-5 Randolph can handle the ball and fill it up from the perimeter. Both freshmen should play significant minutes right away.
Alabama is young and talented. Grant's team lacks depth, but when you've got three of the better players in the league on your team, you've got a chance to be pretty good. If the Big 3 remain healthy and one of the two freshman guards -- Lacey or Randolph -- emerges as a scorer, the Crimson Tide could be poised to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Rodney Cooper (G, Fr.): Will have trouble finding playing time.
Moussa Gueye (C, So.): Comes to Alabama from Senegal after two years in junior college.
Nick Jacobs (F, Fr.): Counted on for quality minutes at power forward.
Trevor Lacey (G, Fr.): A Parade All-American who should contribute immediately.
Retin Ojomoh (G, Fr.): Belgian guard not quite ready for significant minutes.
Levi Randolph (G, Fr.): Should help on the perimeter right away.