No. 4 - Alabama
Editor's note: Alabama is next in Athlon's countdown of the Top 25 NCAA basketball teams, coming in at the fourth position. Check back as we reveal the rest of the Final Four.
Mark Gottfried has been repeating a pet saying these last few years that has turned into somewhat of an in-joke around Alabama basketball.
“We’re not very good,” is the essence of his multi-use quip.
Alabama’s ninth-year coach won’t be able to whip out that line this year. At least not with a straight face.
The Crimson Tide has emerged in Gottfried’s tenure as one of the top programs in the SEC. Alabama has been to the NCAA Tournament five consecutive seasons, and odds are the Tide will be back for a sixth straight time after catching a huge offseason break. Both point guard Ronald Steele and big man Jermareo Davidson elected to return to school after giving consideration to declaring for the NBA Draft. The 6'3" guard and 6'10" power forward give Alabama a veteran inside-outside combo that few teams in the country can match.
The Tide, however, will not be a two-man show. Toss the sophomore tandem of burly forward Richard Hendrix and slashing swingman Alonzo Gee into the mix, and Alabama should be able to match firepower with some of the top teams in the nation.
FRONTCOURT – Davidson and Hendrix developed a fast bond last January after star forward Chuck Davis was lost with a torn knee ligament. Davidson showcased an occasional 18-footer and continued supplying shot-blocking, rebounding and scoring. He stayed on campus over the summer for the first time in his career, and the result should be a stronger and more rugged post man.
“I think as his strength improves, it’ll affect a lot of parts of his game,” Gottfried says. “A lot of things he lacks were a result of his strength.”
Hendrix, who must get stronger with the ball in traffic, did consistent clean-up work in the paint and showed he can be a double-figure rebounder. Hendrix is also brimming with basketball savvy and is destined to be a leader.
For backup help, Gottfried will have to dip into a batch of new blood, including redshirt Yamene Coleman and signees Demetrius Jemison and Avery Jukes.
BACKCOURT – Ronald Steele’s poise, skills and guidance are major assets for a team that will be thin on experience on the perimeter. “He is the most level-headed guy I’ve ever been around, and he’s all about the right things, which are winning and helping his team,” Gottfried says.
Ronald Steele’s value to the program is beyond comparison. When a series of back spasms nearly sidelined him and clearly altered his play during the early portion of the season, the Crimson Tide struggled to a 7–6 start. His return to health coincided with Alabama’s solid SEC run.
Brandon Hollinger evolved into a rookie starter at the 2-guard after other lineup combinations failed. The sub 6-footer showed considerable moxie and contributed in some big wins — like the Tide’s 68–64 victory at Kentucky. Hollinger’s role this year might be as more of a backup at the point, where he’s better suited, but his versatility and tenacity are plusses.
Gee should be ready for increased minutes. His driving and finishing skills were better than the Tide staff expected, but his spot-up shooting didn’t live up to expectations.
FINAL ANALYSIS – Alabama’s core group of stars returns for the first time in several years. Davidson is now the lone veteran who was around when the Tide made its last big NCAA splash by upsetting No. 1 seed Stanford and defending champ Syracuse in 2004, so this group is hungry to make postseason noise as league brethren Florida and LSU did last season.
“I want to win a national championship,” Ronald Steele says. “Knowing that we beat two of the teams in the Final Four and had a chance to beat one more (UCLA), that’s kind of a motivation for us this offseason. We know we have the tools to get to that level.”
The ingredients to handle the rugged SEC regular season appear to be in place for the Crimson Tide, with their ball-handling, rebounding, interior scoring and athleticism considered above average. Alabama’s improvement must come with more consistent perimeter shooting, the development of some quality depth and playing a couple of notches better on defense.
Should the Tide be a favorite in the SEC West? “Nah,” Gottfried says. “We’re not going to be very good.”