TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Avery Johnson's first Alabama team is used to taking on deeper, often more talented opponents.
That will certainly be the case over the next three games for the Crimson Tide, starting Wednesday night against No. 15 Texas A&M.
The challenging stretch that also includes road games against Southeastern Conference contenders Florida and LSU could either be a big boost or a sizable blow to the team's hopes of making the postseason.
Alabama has knocked off three teams who were ranked at the time, No. 25 Wichita State and currently unranked Notre Dame and South Carolina.
''We have confidence,'' Johnson said Tuesday. ''We feel if we play the right way - because we don't have much margin for error. Our roster is not like Texas A&M's roster. We have to play a certain way. We have a lot of criteria and boxes that we have to check every possession, every practice.
''We've got to check a lot of boxes, and if we don't check those boxes, then we're going to be in trouble.''
The Tide (13-9, 4-6) has won back to back games over Mississippi State and Missouri, the two teams at the bottom of the SEC standings. Now, they'll have to contend with three teams who have a combined 21-9 SEC record, not to mention stars like LSU's Ben Simmons, Texas A&M's Jalen Jones and Alex Caruso and Florida's Dorian Finney-Smith.
Alabama's currently ranked 56th in the NCAA's power ratings, behind only South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Texas A&M in the league. Making the NCAA Tournament would almost certainly require either a huge closing run or an SEC tournament title but a second straight NIT berth is within reach.
''We've got to take every game like it's a championship game, but at the same time this stretch is huge,'' Tide guard Retin Obasohan said. ''As you look at it, it's the only stretch we really have. That's the only thing that's promised, so we've got to handle business.''
Injuries have taken a toll during Johnson's first season. Freshman point guard Dazon Ingram was starting before his season ended with a broken left foot in early December.
Starting forward Shannon Hale has missed the past two games after aggravating a foot injury that cost him three games earlier. Johnson hasn't ruled him out against Texas A&M.
He's intimately familiar with Texas A&M. Son Avery Jr. was an Aggies freshman last season before transferring to Alabama following his father's hiring. Johnson and Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy played in the same Catholic school league in New Orleans growing up and are longtime friends.
That familiarity may not help much, though.
''It really doesn't matter,'' Johnson said. ''Danuel House and Jalen Jones are studs. Even if you try to play them a certain way, they can do something else. Caruso, he's kind of like the John Stockton of the SEC. Just crafty with the ball. Gets assists. Gets steals. He'll go in and get an offensive rebound when you're not paying attention.
''They have probably six guys that can all make 3-pointers, which is problematic. I don't think any advice Junior is going to give us about their team is going to help us solve all the problems that we're going to run into.''
Meanwhile, Obasohan is the only Tide player ranked in the Top 25 in the league in scoring and Alabama doesn't have anybody ranked in the Top 20 in rebounding. Johnson does like his team's consistent effort going into the stretch run.
''We know we're always the underdog,'' he said. ''We're fighting an uphill battle, but they've embraced that. That's what I like about our team.''