Last Season: 20-16 (8-10 SEC) No. 57 KenPom
My Prediction: 20-10 (10-8, 6th in SEC)
The Masses Prediction: 9.1-8.9 (8th in SEC) No. 51 Ken Pom
HEAD COACH: Avery Johnson | Third season, 37-30
Basketball in Alabama has a pretty underrated fan following to go with a fairly underrated history of success. We know hoops will always rate second in Tuscaloosa, and the Crimson Tide have been trying to find a way to break through a barrier to reach its first Final Four.
When Johnson hired, it was an outside-of-the-box move, but he’s mostly maintained the same level of success as his predecessor, Anthony Grant. Grant had one KenPom Top-30 finish in his time on the job, but mostly had the Tide in the fifties and sixties of the ratings. Johnson has kept that stability while slowing infusing his recruits and overhauling the roster.
Fans hoping for a breakthrough with point guard Collin Sexton, who was taken eighth overall in June’s NBA draft, were likely disappointed. Turning in a performance almost identical to ones without Sexton on the roster turns the heat up slightly on Johnson heading into this season. Yet there’s also a reason for optimism. Only one holdover from the Grant era is around, and this could be the season Alabama finally breaks through.
Seat Temp: COOL
I don’t think this is a make-or-break year for Johnson. However, it’s one where they need to move up the league’s table. Finishing a disappointing 8-10 and sneaking into the NCAA tournament certainly didn’t resolve fans questions about whether Johnson, an NBA lifer, can find success in college.
SO, WHO’S GONE?
Without a doubt, Sexton, who only finished with less than a 30 percent overall usage rate because of missed time due to a mid-season injury, is the Tide’s most notable loss. When he was on the floor, his Sexton’s usage rate spiked to nearly 35 percent, which is in the same neighborhood as fellow lottery pick and Oklahoma star Trae Young. Sexton was the second leading scorer in the SEC last season as a freshman, and the Tide are certainly going to have to figure out how to replace his production.
I was somewhat surprised to see Braxton Key wind up on transfers lists, too. Key was a vital player as a freshman — even declaring for the NBA draft — before falling in line behind Sexton as a sophomore. I love Key’s game as a combo forward playing the four spot, but he saw his production decrease in nearly every statistical category as he struggled to come back from a preseason knee injury. That diminished impact forced him to consider a transfer, and he ended up picking the Virginia Cavaliers.
Ar’Mond Davis redshirted last season before moving on as a graduate transfer.
|Avery Johnson Jr||SR||PG||36||34.90%||5.91%||50.03%||6.10%|
John Petty | SOPHOMORE | WING
To watch John Petty play basketball at home last season was to see a potential breakout star. On the road? Well, Petty was something entirely different. Inside Coleman Coliseum, Petty punished visitors from deep, hitting at a clip of 45.8 percent from the 3-point arc. On the road, though, that plummeted to 21.9 percent. His 2-point shooting splits were even more dramatic: 70 percent in T-Town compared to 16.7 percent in a hostile gym.
There’s little doubt Petty will become more of a featured scorer this season, but what remains to be seen is if the sophomore can find a way to stop turning into Mr. Hyde when he leaves Tuscaloosa.
Senior post Donta Hall has spent the past several years as one of the SEC’s more underrated players. He’s a plus defender on the box and off the ball, and he finishes hard around the rim. Hall was second in the country in two-point field goal percentage at an astounding 72.6 percent, while also becoming one of the top shot blockers in the league. In a way, he was a perfect post compliment to a player like Sexton. Tevin Mack is eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from Texas, where he averaged almost 15 points per game two seasons ago before a suspension ultimately led to his exit. Mack is the prototypical jumbo wing, a capable 3-point shooter that can move between the three and four spots. If his scoring touch remains, he should help fill the gap left by Sexton’s departure.
Despite his dad recruiting over him constantly, guard Avery Johnson Jr. continues to earn valuable minutes. A breakout candidate this year might be the freakishly athletic Herb Jones. Jones wasn’t stellar from the floor, but he was a defensive menace with great length and showed the ability to attack the rim from multiple angles. Both Galin Smith and Daniel Giddens provided defense and beef on the inside, while Alex Reese had a solid if unspectacular freshman campaign.
Keep an eye on Riley Norris, a key cog for two years under Johnson before sitting out after hip injury sidelined him last season. If Norris is fully healthy, the Tide will have another shot-maker they can also count on for big minutes on the wing or combo forward positions.
Dazon Ingram | JUNIOR | WING
There was a lot to get excited about with Dazon Ingram coming into last season, but he quite put all the pieces together. Moving off the ball and shooting woes coincided with the arrival of the ball-dominant Sexton. Instead of complimenting the blue-chipper, Ingram’s woes only meant Sexton had to do more. It’s reasonable to wonder now, though, whether Ingram might be the biggest beneficiary of Sexton’s move to Cleveland.
It’s for these reasons I might be higher on Bama than most prognosticators. Putting the ball back into Ingram’s hands will return him to his playmaking roots, and you’ll see his efficiency return. If it doesn’t, Alabama might be in trouble.
After a huge class last season, Alabama only needed a small group in 2018 to fill in some gaps. The most pressing need was at point guard, and Johnson landed an elite one in Kira Lewis, a four-star talent who reclassified to be on campus in August. Lewis is an extremely high-ceiling player with elite athleticism and bounce who could challenge to start. Diante Wood is a really nice looking wing prospect with the makings of a reliable jump shot. I really like Javian Fleming, a three-star post player from Mississippi. Fleming isn’t going to wow you with skill or athleticism but what stands out is how he uses his lower body to create position and space. That gives him operating room for great footwork and easy shots at the rim.
|(1) Point Guard||Dazon Ingram||Kira Lewis|
|(2) Combo Guard||John Petty||Avery Johnson Jr|
|(3) Wing||Tevin Mack||Herb Jones||Diante Wood|
|(4) Combo Forward||Riley Norris||Alex Reese||Javian Fleming|
|(5) Post||Donta Hall||Daniel Giddens||Galin Smith|
No matter what combination Johnson uses for his starting rotation, the size he can throw out is impressive. A healthy Norris is hard to keep off the floor and may start at the four, while Mack lends the Tide offensive flexibility. Meanwhile, the late addition of Lewis also lets the Tide deploy a small-ball lineup along with Ingram, Petty, Mack, Jones and Norris. Shrinking the rotation, though, robs you of the rebounding and rim protection from quality bigs. There are four reliable ball handlers, three attacking wings who can shoot, four reliable post players and virtually all of them with experience in the program.
My Projected Record: 20-10 | KenPom Projected Record: 15 – 14
|Nov 11||Home||Appalacian State||178||W|
|Nov 16||Neutral||Ball State/Va Tech||109/22||L|
|Nov 26||Home||Murray State||130||W|
|Dec 4||Home||Georgia State||89||W|
|Dec 21||Home||Penn State||32||W|
|Dec 30||Away||Stephen F Austin||134||W|
Aside from the Charleston Classic, the schedule isn’t great. Virginia Tech should be a top-25 team, and the other side of the bracket features Purdue, Wichita State, and Davidson. Arizona looked like a good booking a couple of years ago, but the FBI investigation and exposure temporarily halted the recruiting momentum for one of the country’s top programs Then just about everyone left bailed for the NBA, leaving behind an inexperienced and under-talented Wildcats roster. The Tide lost to UCF at home last year and head out to Orlando for a return trip, which could be a tough game. Penn State is improved but still not great. Oh, and Johnson scheduled a risky road game at perennial Southland Conference contender Stephen F. Austin.
|Jan 12||Home||Texas A&M||48||W|
|Jan 22||Home||Ole Miss||94||W|
|Jan 29||Home||Mississippi St||23||W|
|Feb 12||Away||Mississippi St||23||L|
|Feb 19||Away||Texas A&M||48||W|
|Feb 26||Away||South Caorlina||42||W|
Alabama’s SEC opener against Kentucky is a matter of perspective. It’s either a quality win or a humbling beating on your home floor. Then the Tide follow it up with a tight road contest against LSU — all of which could lead to a bumpy start. The Tide’s home-and-home series pit them against teams also looking to break out: LSU, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. There are also two games against SEC contender Auburn. Texas A&M provides enough of a break, and even then Reid Arena is a tough venue to catch a win.
Usually, when you have a player of Sexton’s caliber make a quick exit, there’s always going to be an expectation of a drop off the following season. Yet Johnson may have built a roster capable of surviving and making a run. With Sexton dominating the ball last year and the Crimson Tide’s inexperience at positions led to an underwhelming result. Now, though, it’s a collection of high-level athletes at each position — easing Bama’s reliance on young guards.
The point guard position will likely be managed by a freshman in Lewis, but Johnson has options. Whether they start Lewis or go with the veteran in Ingram could dictate how quickly Johnson really wants to play. Lewis is a pass-first point guard, while Ingram is a bit more of a tough-nosed combo guard. And that doesn’t even include Johnson’s son Avery Jr. who’s shown he can keep up as well.
Off the ball, the Tide have all sorts of options in Petty, Mack and Jones. That’s also before you consider the presence of Norris, who I love because he’s just so effective on the court.
Johnson has a lot of size on his roster. With Hall, you get a limited offensive arsenal but a very good defender and rebounder. Unseating Hall from the starting lineup is a tall task, one I’m not sure Giddens or Reese can pull off. Even Smith showed some excellent flashes a year ago.
Taken together, Johnson has 13 players who could make a case for extended minutes. But as with any Johnson team, the question is whether he can maximize those pieces to produce an efficient offense. Since taking the helm in Tuscaloosa and recruiting well, Johnson has yet to produce a top-100 offense, according to KenPom. Even with Sexton acting as a bucket-getter, the Tide finished 101st nationally in adjusted efficiency.
Bama’s roster is talented enough to finish as high as third in the SEC standings, but that would require Johnson to finally show some coherence in designing an offense to match that potential. Right now, it’s hard to project the Tide to finish better than fifth. Still, I’m not entirely sure why so many are underestimating Alabama this year. At this point, I just trust Avery Johnson a little less despite the load of talent on the roster.
About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.
If you’d like to submit your picks, click here for the Google Form we used.
* – an asterisk denotes a walk-on player
GP – Games Played
%min – percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury
%ov – offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) – %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team
%poss – percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.
ts% – true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.