Talented Tide seek second straight NCAA bid
The buzz wasn’t quite as noticeable during the offseason in Tuscaloosa. A year after the Collin Sexton hype train stoked excitement not seen with this program in at least a decade, a more muted optimism surrounds the Crimson Tide.
Avery Johnson remains bullish in his fourth season as coach. After relying so heavily on freshmen a year ago, Johnson will have a more experienced team that he believes can remain relevant in the SEC.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Avery Johnson
2017-18 RECORD (SEC): 20-16 (8-10)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Villanova 81-58 in the second round
F Braxton Key (7.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
G Collin Sexton (19.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.6 apg)
Alabama saw first hand just how difficult it can be to guard a team with versatile big men when it was bounced from the NCAA Tournament in the second round by eventual champion Villanova. The Crimson Tide aren’t constructed like the Wildcats, but Johnson hopes his bigs can do more damage from the perimeter in 2018-19.
Daniel Giddens started 18 games in his first season after transferring from Ohio State, but he averaged only 13.3 minutes and saw his playing time decrease later in the season as younger players such as Galin Smith and Alex Reese became more of a presence. Reese has more ability to step out and shoot — like the Villanova bigs — while Smith is a more traditional post player.
Donta Hall does most of his work around the basket — he led the SEC with 75 dunks — but he has shown a mid-range jumper that should be more of an asset going forward. The 6'9" forward has long arms that help him serve as a deterrent on the defensive end.
Alabama has a few answers for filling the production lost with the departures of Sexton (NBA) and Braxton Key (transfer to Virginia). It starts with Tevin Mack, a transfer from Texas who led the Longhorns in scoring (14.8 ppg) two years ago but was also suspended twice during his sophomore season.
Johnson also expects to see more consistency from John Petty. The 2-guard from Huntsville shot 50.9 percent from 3 at home during SEC play but only 18.5 on the road against league foes. Without Sexton in the lineup, the Crimson Tide will lean even more heavily on Petty as a primary scoring option this season.
Herbert Jones, a 6'7" guard who averaged a modest 4.2 points per game as a freshman, is a potential breakout player. Jones impressed NBA scouts last season when he helped limit eventual top-10 draft pick Trae Young to 17 points in the Tide’s win over OU in late January. He is a potential 2019 first-round pick.
Johnson can lean on three veterans for quality minutes on the perimeter — fourth-year junior Dazon Ingram and a pair of fifth-year seniors in Riley Norris and Avery Johnson Jr. Norris, who was limited to nine games last season due to injury, was granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA. Ingram, who started 33 games as a sophomore, struggled with his shooting but got to the foul line 177 times, second on the team behind Sexton. Ingram and Johnson, the coach’s son, figure to take on a majority of the ball-handling duties, though freshman Kira Lewis is also an option.
Alabama won’t appear in many (if any) preseason top 25s, but this is still a talented roster. A key will be Mack’s ability to make a smooth transition to his new team and Petty’s ability to make shots on a consistent basis — both at home and on the road. Hall is a proven commodity in the paint, but the Tide will need one of the young bigs to step up and provide some scoring.
The loaded SEC figures to send at least eight teams to the NCAA Tournament. There’s no reason Alabama can’t be in the hunt for one of the bids.
Postseason Prediction: One & Done
SEC Prediction: 9th