10 November 2011
The Alabama basketball team has concluded its preseason and begins its 2011-2012 season Friday night against North Florida. The Tide is a pre-season top 20 team, and is expected by pretty much everyone to finally make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament this season. I've only seen the team play once, during its exhibition win over UAH on Monday, but here are my thoughts:
Bama has a very strong core of three guys that will carry the heavy load. JaMychal Green, Tony Mitchell, and Trevor Releford are solid talents that will lead Bama in points, rebounds, and assists, respectively. They will also likely play 35+ minutes a game.
Beyond them, there is very little returning from last season. And by, "very little", I mean just three other guys - Charles Hankerson, Carl Engstrom, and Ben Eblen. The Tide has six newcomers this season, and all of them could likely play a very important role.
1 JaMychal Green - 6-8 - 240 - SR - I have been critical of JaMychal's toughness in the past. But giving credit where it's due, he showed a lot of toughness during the last 15 games of last season, and it made a huge difference in his game as an individual. It also was a huge reason as to why the Tide was a good basketball team down the stretch. He played with the U.S. National team in China during the offseason, and I hope that the experience helped with his basketball IQ. He has to understand that he can not pick up silly fouls, and he has to keep his cool when other team try to bait him. He will almost certainly lead the team in scoring, and will be Bama's "go to" guy in most clutch situations. He has continued to improve his outside shot, and will likely make 15-20 three point baskets this year.
2 Charles Hankerson, Jr. - 6-4 - 210 - SO - The players on the team have raved about the work he put in during the offseason. With Andrew Steele taking a medical hardship and becoming a student manager, Bama needs a mid-size body that can be counted on to do the dirty work - rebound, dive for balls, play solid defense on the wing. He shot just 23.5% from the 3-pt line last season, and that is the part of his game that must improve. That's also the part of his game that has received the most praise. He hit both attempts against UAH. While that's a pretty small sample size, it's a good start. The fact that he scored 8 points on just 4 shots is also nice. If he can give the Tide 6-9 points per game and play 12-18 minutes, it will be a good season for him.
3 Trevor Lacey - 6-3 - 200 - FR - All that you really need to know is that when Bama had its most crucial possession of the game against UAH - up three with 30 seconds to play, three seconds on the shot clock - Anthony Grant called time out and drew up a play for Lacey to get to the rim. He missed the shot - put back in by Trevor Releford - but he got a really good look. He isn't starting yet, and only played 22 minutes against UAH because he had knee surgery late in the summer, and he is still trying to get his legs underneath him. Once that happens, he will be a vital part of things on both ends of the floor. He isn't an elite shooter, but he is an elite scorer. He is also capable of running the point, and by SEC play is likely to be the primary backup to Releford. I expect we'll ultimately see him as the starting two-guard, and he'll probably score 12-15 points per game.
4 Carl Engstrom - 7-1 - 275 - SO - The good news is that Carl has improved. The bad news is that he still has a long way to go. Bama is thin in the front court, so he will have to play 5-10 minutes a game. At this point it's a stretch to expect him to score much. In fact, he will likely average less than two points per game. But he is a big body that can block shots and clog the middle when JaMychal is either getting a break or in foul trouble. He improved a lot during the course of last season, and has continued to prove himself to be a very coachable player. He likely get enough minutes in the pre-SEC schedule to work on his skill-set at game speed. If he develops into a guy that can give solid minutes for more than 10 minutes a game, this team moves up to the next level.
5 Tony Mitchell - 6-6 - 220 - JR - He is the best athlete on the floor every time he takes the floor. It's simply a matter of him remembering that he has to be a basketball player first. Tony will lead the team in rebounds, and will challenge for the conference lead. He could very possibly be a guy who averages double digit rebounds. While ideally he would be able to play the small forward position, Bama's depth will force him to spend a lot of his minutes at power forward. He is big enough to bang with most of the other power forwards in the league on defense, and he is a match-up nightmare for other teams when Bama has the ball. He got really hot from 3-point range down the stretch, and if he is able to shoot consistently, he is basically impossible to defend. The big thing for him is avoiding turnovers and giving consistent effort on defense. If he improves those to aspects, he'll be a first round pick in the NBA.
10 Ben Eblen - 6-0 - 190 - JR - In 63 career games, Ben has scored 41 points. He averaged just under 10 minutes a game last year, and we're likely to see that again this year. If Trevor Lacey is able to handle the backup point guard job, then we probably won't see much of Ben. He is simply not an SEC caliber player on the offensive end of the floor. Having said that, he is capable of playing SEC level defense. He also works his tail off and understands his limitations as a player. You are never going to have to worry about Ben throwing up eight shots in a game. He made a couple of crucial plays in big spots last season, and the best that we can hope for is that he'll make a couple of big plays for the Tide again.
11 Keon Blackledge - 6-3 - 205 - JR - Keon is the lone walk-on on the team, after transferring in from Morehouse College. He didn't play against UAH, so I can't really say much about him. Bama has several games on the schedule where he'll likely get some minutes, and Friday is likely to be one of those days.
12 Trevor Releford - 6-0 - 190 - SO - He was great as a freshman, and I think we'll see even more from him this season. Simply put, this is the type of kid that you want representing your program. Not only is he a fantastic basketball player, but he is a great kid that works hard and always has a smile on his face. I'm not one of those fans that puts too much value on a player just because he seems to enjoy playing, but it is nice to see. What I do put value in is a guy that can score double digits while leading the team in assists. Trevor needed to work on his outside shot, and he did. When he is making jump shots and teams have to come out to guard him, he will score a ton of points. Despite the fact that he isn't blessed with size (I would guess he's probably closer to 5-10), he is spectacular at getting to the rim. He also shot 75% from the foul line, which helped his scoring a lot. His real value is as the floor general, though. And make no mistake about it, this is his team. He has completely bought in to what Anthony Grant is doing, and the Tide will live and die with how well he plays.
14 Moussa Gueye - 7-0 - 280 - SO - How quickly he recovers from knee surgery and is able to play could determine how long this team plays. If he is able to be back by SEC play, as some people think, then Bama becomes a different team. He is capable of playing center in the SEC, which means sliding Green to the power forward and Mitchell to the small forward. Those guys in their natural positions is a big plus, but Gueye is also capable of making a real contribution himself. He is a big, big body that has a lot of basketball skill. He was a big "get" for the Tide staff, and it's a shame that he suffered a torn ACL in off-season workouts. There is optimism that he'll be back by January.
15 Nick Jacobs - 6-8 - 250 - FR - This is who will get most of the minutes that Gueye would have played in November and December. He isn't likely to be an instant impact post player like Green was, or Erwin Dudley or Richard Hendrix before him. He didn't score against UAH, but he also played 14 minutes without turning the ball over, and only committed one foul. While that seems silly to point out, those are two things that young big guys tend to struggle with the most. He'll unfortunately have to log some minutes at center this season, and he's not quite ready for that. But he gives solid effort on both ends of the floor. His minutes will likely be based on how much time Green and Mitchell spend in foul trouble. But he'll contribute in the minutes he's on the floor. I don't know how much yet, but I saw enough to know that he's capable of play a meaningful role on this team.
20 Levi Randolph - 6-5 - 185 - FR - I don't think Levi could have had a worse beginning to his career than the game he had against UAH. He drew their top scorer and was the victim of several terrible calls that kept him in foul trouble. He also failed to score in 17 minutes. He is an SEC caliber athlete, though, and looks ready to play. He'll likely be asked to play a lot defense, and will likely play a similar role on the team as Charles Hankerson - at least early. Once he gets a feel for the game, I expect we'll see him contribute as a scorer. He can shoot, and having mid-size wings that can shoot is a big deal in college basketball. I expect he'll play 15-20 minutes a game in November and how much he manages to stay out of foul trouble will dictate whether that number goes up or down.
21 Rodney Cooper - 6-6- 205 - FR - He certainly isn't afraid to shoot. He also isn't afraid to crash the boards. He has a very pure shot, and is likely to be Bama's go-to 3-point shooter this year. When teams go to zone, he'll be the guy tasked with breaking it. He'll be the guy that will cause you to hear opposing coaches shouting "shooter" at their defense. He also jumps like he is on a trampoline, and does so with seemingly no effort. He'll be a fan favorite because of his ability to do what it seemed like nobody could do last year, and he'll also have a highlight reel dunk or two. He played 29 minutes against UAH and had 8 points and 7 rebounds. He needs to be more efficient than 8 points on 10 shots, but freshmen shooters typically struggle with shot selection. He and Lacey will battle for the team's freshman scoring honors.
32 Retin Obasohan - 6-1 - 205 - FR - When he signed with the Tide his last name was Ohjomo, so don't let the name change confuse you if you were paying attention over the summer. He only played 2 minutes against UAH, so there isn't much for me to go on. Reviews from practice and from those who watched the scrimmage two weeks ago have indicated that he is capable of running the point in limited minutes and is also capable of playing on the defensive end. He looks like a free safety, and I'm interested in seeing how he is used early in the season. If he steps up and is capable of playing 8-10 minutes, then Ben Eblen isn't likely to play much.
Overall I think we know what we'll get from Green, Mitchell, and Releford. How good this team will be will depend on the health of Gueye and the development of Lacey, Randolph, and Cooper. Basketball is a sport where freshmen can contribute at a high level, so counting on that isn't as much of a stretch as it is in football. Bama plays a very difficult non-conference schedule, and the Tide isn't likely to see the type of catastrophic December that killed it's NCAA Tournament chances last year. Kentucky is light years ahead of everyone and will likely win the league title. But Bama will be in the mix with Vanderbilt and Florida for the next best team in the conference.
Anthony Grant has done a lot in just two years to energize the fan base and improve the level of talent on the floor. He has also done a lot to improve the quality of basketball being played. This team will play hard and it will play that way for 40 minutes every game. This should be a pretty fun season for Tide basketball fans.
I'm terrible at guessing records, so I won't try. What I will guess is that this team is an NCAA Tournament team, with an outside shot at being a Sweet 16 team. If Gueye gets healthy and the three big freshmen develop, the Tide could be better than that.
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