SEC Transition Basketball: Alabama Crimson TidePosted by Brian Joyce on August 3rd, 2012
It’s hot out there, and to many of us, college basketball is the last thing on our minds. But here at the SEC Microsite, we’re going to be rolling out mid-summer resets of each of the (now) 14 basketball programs in our league. We’re calling it Transition Basketball, and you can expect we’ll cover three or four teams a week until we’re done. By that time, we’ll actually start to be turning the slight corner into the fall, and from there it’s a smooth slope down to Midnight Madness in mid-October. Today’s update: Alabama.
State of the Program
After being left out of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Anthony Grant and his Alabama Crimson Tide were determined to find its way into the Big Dance last season. The Tide achieved their goal, hearing their name called on Selection Sunday for the first time since 2006 behind one of the best defenses in the country. But it certainly didn’t come easily. Grant suspended his star players towards the end of the season, and then suspended several more. Forward Tony Mitchell was eventually suspended for the remainder of the season, and ultimately dismissed from the team. But Grant established that this was his team, and winning would not come at the expense of the character and integrity of his program.
Alabama has a lot of work to do to hear its name called on Selection Sunday in 2013. Despite Mitchell and graduating senior JaMychal Green moving on, there is plenty of talent left in Tuscaloosa. Grant’s smothering 2-3 zone, a defense that helped hold opponents to 39 percent shooting last season, will again frustrate SEC offenses. But it was a lack of three-point efficiency on the offensive end that allowed opposing defenses to collapse inside, stalling the Tide’s offense. Junior Trevor Releford leads a young core of sophomores Trevor Lacey, Nick Jacobs, and Levi Randolph and freshman Devonta Pollard that needs to find a way to score some points. It simply won’t come easily without an outside shooter to stretch the defense. Does Alabama have a shooter capable of being an outside threat ? Can Pollard and Jacobs replace the inside void left by Green and Mitchell? Grant has a number of questions to answer, but with distractions aside Alabama has an opportunity to build on its success with another taste of the postseason, and this time perhaps the ability to stick around a little longer.
One player doesn’t usually make a class, but in this case, 6’7″ forward Devonta Pollard is the class. Pollard is Alabama’s first five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American since JaMychal Green in 2008, and the only player signed by Grant this offseason. He should immediately fill a need on a depleted frontline and a team in desperate need of replacing a significant amount of scoring and rebounding. Grant expects a huge contribution from Pollard, commenting from the SEC Summer teleconference that, “he has a chance to be a major player in our league, and certainly a big asset to our team. I think he brings a variety of things to our team, from his skill-set in terms of his ability to score; to affect the game defensively; to play multiple positions. He’s a great teammate, really has a very high basketball IQ in terms of understanding what needs to go on during the course of a game.”
In order for Alabama to exceed expectations next season in the SEC, it will need a breakout year from point guard Trevor Releford. Releford has been a consistent force the last two seasons, averaging 11.5 points, 3.1 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game. However, his numbers stayed relatively the same from his first to second year. so 2012-13 could be the year we see a jump. In order to take on a leadership role, the Crimson Tide will need additional scoring and better outside shooting from Releford, and it looks like he is ready for the challenge. He scored in double figures in six of his last eight games last season, and he shot an impressive 52 percent effective field goal percentage on the year and got to the line often with a free throw rate of 43.8. But Releford has to be able to knock down open shots to make the leap to stardom. Despite having plenty of opportunities from beyond the arc, he struggled last year, converting on just 27 percent of his attempts.
Three Questions With Bama Hammer’s Nick Jones
To go in depth on the potential of next season’s Crimson Tide, we sat down with storm-chasing student Nick Jones. Jones is a huge Alabama basketball fan and staff writer for the Alabama Fansided site, Bama Hammer. For more on Crimson Tide basketball throughout the season, follow Jones on Twitter @thatnickjones, but not before you check out his thoughts on next season.
Rush the Court: Scoring wasn’t exactly Alabama’s forte last season, and the Crimson Tide lost their top two scorers (JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell). You have said that incoming freshman Devonta Pollard is a huge get for the program, but can he fill some of that scoring void immediately?
Nick Jones: I believe he can. I don’t expect Pollard to come out and average 13 points per game like Tony Mitchell or JaMychal Green. Although that would be great, that’s tough for anyone, especially a freshman. His value will be measured in opportune scoring, getting baskets when they matter most. Composure and consistency will be key for this talented young man.
RTC: Anthony Grant’s squad had one of the stingiest defensive teams in the country last season partially due to the stellar defense of Mitchell and Green. Without those two guys, does the defensive efficiency drop off this season or are we still looking at one of the top 10 defenses in the country?
NJ: JaMychal Green is a huge loss for the Crimson Tide. Nick Jacobs saw a lot of action, but to me plays way too soft on the inside. Defense on the inside will take a hit, but perimeter defense will be just as strong with Levi Randolph, Trevor Releford, and the catalyst, in my opinion, Andrew Steele. So, with the weakness inside, it’s going to be hard to rank in the top 10 once again. But, don’t be surprised if Anthony Grant’s defense is at the top of the conference once again.
RTC: Ok, the question that’s on everyone’s mind is can Bama hit a three pointer? Is there anybody on this team that can shoot at least 35 percent from outside?
NJ: The million dollar question, I’m sure Anthony Grant would love to know the answer of this one. After watching guys like Levi Randolph and Trevor Lacey play AAU and in high school, I know they can shoot. For some reason, they have lost their touch at The Capstone. Trevor Lacey strikes me as a guy that could do this for Alabama, but he’s got some things to work out before that will happen.
Twitter Style 2012-13 Outlook
Alabama has to develop consistent outside shooting from either Trevor Releford or Trevor Lacey and a solid year from freshman Devonta Pollard to return to the NCAA Tournament again this season.
Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.