Under new head coach Avery Johnson, the Alabama men’s basketball team performed better than expected in the 2015-2016 season. Picked to finish 13th in the SEC headed into last season, the Crimson Tide were able to finish above .500 and start Johnson’s tenure in the right direction.
After advancing to the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, Alabama received a bid to play in the NIT Tournament, where it would ultimately finish their season with a 72-54 loss to Creighton in the opening round, giving them an 18-15 (8-10 SEC) record.
Optimism surrounds the current squad. Picked to finish 7th in the SEC this season, it’s highly likely that they could be seen in the NIT Tournament yet again.
One thing Bama hasn’t had in its basketball program in recent memory is stability. It seems as though head coach Avery Johnson provides that to this team by coaching up current players and picking up some sought-after recruits.
Freshman forward Braxton Key—the No. 33 overall player in the 2016 ESPN 100 rankings—should provide help in the front court for the Crimson Tide. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward from Charlotte received a four-star rating from all four major recruiting services (247Sports, ESPN, Rivals and Scout) and had 25 offers in total—including offers from Kansas, Texas, Louisville, Ohio State, LSU and Tennessee.
Johnson also has starters returning to this year’s squad, including Jimmie Taylor, Riley Norris and redshirt freshman Dazon Ingram, who was sidelined for much of last season with a foot injury.
Ingram showed promise before catching the injury bug by leading the Crimson Tide in rebounds (5.9) and assists (3.3) through the first seven games of 2015. The 6-foot-5-inch guard is expected to start and contribute immediately for the 2016-2017 squad.
Jimmie Taylor and Riley Norris had great seasons a year ago. Norris, a junior, led the team in rebounding (5.3 rpg) and also proved to be a bit of a sharpshooter, shooting 38 percent from three in conference play. Taylor, a senior, led the team in blocks (1.8 bpg) and finished fifth in the SEC in that category.
As a team, Alabama was third in the SEC in blocked shots. The Tide will need to continue to protect the rim if they wish to be successful this season.
Although the Crimson Tide finished the 2015-2016 season much better than expected, it still finished last in many statistical categories in the SEC.
All thirteen other SEC teams finished ahead of Alabama in points per game, assists and rebounds. Only Auburn fared worse than the Crimson Tide in the conference in free throw shooting percentage.
The next step for Avery Johnson and Alabama can only be taken if Bama can find some offense. Unfortunately for Johnson, his best player from last season graduated.
Retin Obasohan was named First Team All-SEC, SEC All-Defensive Team and SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Leading the team with 17.7 points per game, the guard’s production will be difficult to replicate. Obasohan also led the club with 1.4 steals per game.
The lack of production, especially with Obasohan, is concerning. The Crimson Tide will need help from its veterans like Jimmie Taylor and Riley Norris to rise to the occasion if they want to come close to filling the void Obasohan left.
Players to watch
G Dazon Ingram, RS Fr. – The aforementioned Ingram is set to be the primary guard on this team in the absence of Obasohan. While he only played a small part of his first season after being sidelined with injury, Ingram showed his effectiveness on the boards and as a scorer. Avery Johnson has to be glad to have him back.
F Jimmie Taylor, Sr. – Taylor was a co-captain on last year’s squad with Obasohan. His leadership and defense will be looked to this season in his co-captain’s absence. For him to be effective, he’ll need to step up his offensive production, as he only scored 5.2 points per game a season ago. If he can play on both sides of the ball, Taylor is primed to have a breakout season.
F Braxton Key, Fr. – Key was highly recruited across the country, and for good reason. His height and scoring ability make him a threat to defenses everywhere. In college basketball, it doesn’t matter if a player is a rookie or a veteran—Key looks ready to go now.
Matchups to watch
Oregon – Coming into the 2016-2017 season, the Oregon Ducks are the No. 5 team in the country according to the USA Today Coaches Poll. Although that seems like a daunting task, Alabama was able to come away with a 72-68 victory in Tuscaloosa last season. This year, however, the Crimson Tide will have to travel to Eugene, Oregon, on Dec. 11 to take on the Ducks.
LSU – The Tigers and Crimson Tide face off twice this season. With the loss of No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons, LSU may have trouble beating Alabama. This game will definitely have implications for the middle of the SEC—the winning team will likely be on pace for a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The teams split the season series a year ago and will face off on Jan. 14 in Baton Rouge and Feb. 18 in Tuscaloosa
Florida – In their only matchup last season, the Crimson Tide pulled out 61-55 victory in Gainesville. Although this year’s contest is at home, Florida is picked second in the SEC’s preseason media poll. If Bama can pull off a win against the Gators, they will be serious contenders in the SEC.
In the second year of Avery Johnson’s tenure, Alabama should be able to improve off of a surprisingly good 2015-2016 campaign. The loss of Obasohan and lack of offense a season ago is cause for concern, but the Crimson Tide will be able to take advantage of a weak SEC. They’ll finish a few games above .500 like they did last season, finish eighth in the conference and get a bid to the NIT Tournament.
Edited by David Bradford
Featured image by Butch Dill