Gone: F/C-Chris Hines, SG-Charvez Davis, SG-Senario Hillman, G-Andrew Steele, G-Kendall Durant (transfer), F/C-Jason Carter (transfer-Chipola JC)
Entering his third season as head coach, Anthony Grant has really put his stamp on the Alabama Crimson Tide basketball program. The NIT runner-up a year ago, Alabama figures to take another step this year led by their suffocating defense.
Grant returns his top three scorers, but loses several role players. As a result, he will rely heavily on that trio of JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell, and Trevor Releford.
Green has put together a solid and productive career in Tuscaloosa. He provides a defensive presence in the middle, using his length to be an effective shot blocker and rebounder. Green will log a lot of minutes at center since there are not a lot of options inside to hold down that spot.
Mitchell took a major step forward as a sophomore. He is explosive at the rim and at his best when attacking the basket. If he can become a more consistent outside shooter, it will take his game to an even higher level. At 6-foot-6, Mitchell's natural position is on the wing but he will have to play bigger as he should see some time at the four due to a lack of depth inside.
Releford made an immediate impact as a freshman, starting every game he played in and really looking impressive during the team's NIT run. Even though he is only a sophomore, Releford will be the leader of a very young backcourt. He is at his best when getting to the basket and is not a real threat shooting the basketball.
Likely to join Green, Mitchell, and Releford in the starting lineup are highly-recruited freshmen wings Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph. Lacey was a major get for Grant, choosing to stay home and turning down offers from major powers like Kentucky, UConn, and Kansas. He is a physical guard who knows how to score but also impacts the game in other ways. Randolph is a versatile guard and might be the team's best three-point shooter this season.
JUCO transfer Moussa Gueye was supposed to supply the Tide with a big man inside but suffered a torn ACL during a pickup game this summer and will miss the entire season. That leaves seldom-used seven-footer Carl Engstrom as the only true center on the roster.
With almost half of their team being freshmen, inexperience is the story for the bench. Charles Hankerson could work his way into the starting lineup but if not, will be the team's sixth man. He is a physical wing who will probably see some time at the four. Ben Eblen played in every game last season and knows his role as a distributor and nuisance on defense. After that, freshmen Nick Jacobs, Rodney Cooper, and Retin Ojomoh will all try to work themselves into the rotation. Jacobs will probably need to make the biggest impact since the frontcourt depth is thin and he has good size at 6-8, 250 pounds.
A low RPI stemming from a weak out-of-conference schedule and a couple of bad losses cost Alabama a tourney berth last season. That should not be an issue this year as they play a very competitive non-conference schedule but will still have to come away with a better record than they did a year ago.
The Crimson Tide's success this season will depend on how quickly the freshmen acclimate themselves to the college game and Grant's style of suffocating defense. Alabama has the potential to compete in the SEC with top-10 teams Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Florida, and will be a tough out come tourney time due to their defensive prowess.
Player to Watch: Tony Mitchell, F
Mitchell is an ideal forward for Grant's style of play. Mitchell makes his presence felt on both ends of the floor as he can score, rebound, defend, and block shots. As I've stressed a couple times already, there is not a lot of frontcourt depth meaning Mitchell will have to accept the challenge of being matched up against bigger, more physical forwards which could serve as an advantage on the offensive end due to his attacking style of play.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/17 vs. Maryland (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
11/18 vs. Wichita State/Colorado (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
11/20 vs. Temple/ Western Michigan /Purdue/Iona (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)