Updated: Oct 29, 2021
As hard as it is to believe, college basketball tips off in just a few weeks from now, with the "Champions Classic" getting things rolling on November 9th at Madison Square Garden.
And to get you ready for the season, Aaron Torres Online will be giving you 30 previews in the coming 30 days to get you ready for the start of the year, all written by college basketball nut and recruiting guru Jacob Polacheck.
We are smack dab in the midst of these previews, with thoughts on Indiana, USC, LSU, Maryland Saint Bonaventure, Colorado State, Florida State, Virginia and UConn. Plus, last week, we got an exclusive sit down with Bruce Pearl to preview the Auburn Tigers.
Today we look at the Alabama Crimson Tide - a squad that won the SEC regular season and tournament titles, and went to the Sweet 16 in 2020-2021.
The scary part? They could be just as good in 2021-2022.
Alabama Crimson Tide
How it went down in 2020-2021:
It was a tale of two seasons for Alabama basketball last year.
As easy as it is to forget after a run to dual SEC titles and the Sweet 16, the Tide actually struggled out of the gate. They went 5-3 in the non-conference, falling to Stanford, Clemson and Western Kentucky.
Then SEC play, the light switched and the Tide turned into one of the best teams in college basketball.
Alabama went 9-0 to start off conference play, including road wins over then No. 7 Tennessee and LSU, a home win over Arkansas and sweeping the season series against Kentucky. A loss to No. 24 Oklahoma in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Jan. 30 and a loss at No. 18 Missouri on Feb. 6 couldn’t slow down the Crimson Tide, as Alabama went on to win six of its seven remaining regular season games, entering the SEC Tournament as the No. 1 seed.
Alabama cruised past Mississippi State 85-48 in the quarterfinal before defeating Tennessee 73-68 and then LSU in the SEC Championship game. After winning its first SEC regular season championship since 2002 and first tournament championship since 1991, Alabama entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed.
The Crimson Tide cruised past No. 15 seed Iona and No. 10 seed Maryland en route to a Sweet Sixteen matchup with No. 11 seed UCLA. However, that’s as far as Oats’ squad could go as the Bruins knocked off Alabama 88-78 in overtime to end their season. The Bruins of course, would advance to a Final Four.
Despite the Sweet Sixteen loss, there was a lot to be excited about last year’s Alabama team. The Crimson Tide’s guard play last season was among the nation’s best, led by Jaden Shackelford (14.0 points per game), Jahvon Quinerly (12.9 PPG), John Petty (12.6 PPG) and Jordan Primo (8.1 PPG), it was nearly impossible to slow one of the nation's highest energy and up-tempo squads.
Forward Herbert Jones was maybe the biggest piece however, averaging 11.2 points, a team-high 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Yet it was his work on the defensive end that earned the most acclaim, leading the team in steals (1.7 per game) and blocks (1.1 per game) en route to SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Oh, and he won SEC Player of the Year as well, capping a historic season for the Tide.
What You Need to Know About 2021-2022:
Key Returnees: Jaden Shackelford, Keon Ellis, Jahvon Quinerly, Juwan Gary, Alex Tchikou (DNP last season)
Key Losses: Josh Primo, Herb Jones, John Petty, Alex Reese, Jordan Bruner
Key Transfers: Noah Gurley, Nimari Burnett (Out for Season)
Key Recruits: JD Davison, Charles Bediako, Jusuan Holt
Say this for Nate Oats: The man knows how to develop NBA talent. One year after Kira Lewis went in the lottery, Joshua Primo did the same, going to the San Antonio Spurs. Herbert Jones was drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans and is already playing key minutes for them and John Petty is off to the pros as well.
Yet despite that talent drain, Alabama still brings back a ton of pieces from last year’s roster, including the team’s top two leading scorers in Shackelford and Quinerly.
Ellis, after only averaging 17.5 minutes per game last season, could potentially have a larger role this year. Yet, there would be a lot more optimism surrounding this Alabama roster had the Crimson Tide not lost Texas Tech transfer guard Nimari Burnett for the season after a torn ACL. Burnett was expected to be a solid backcourt piece for the Tide, especially as Nate Oats looks to fill the production lost from the departures of Petty and Primo.
Losing Burnett puts Alabama in a tougher position heading to the season, but they will still boast a very deep lineup that features key returnees in Shackelford, Ellis, Quinerly and Gary, as well as some exciting newcomers in Davison (Mr. Basketball in the state of Alabama), as well as Gurley an athletic stretch big from Furman, Bediako and Holt. Tchikou is also a former high four-star prospect who missed the entirety of his freshman season with an Achilles tear.
This is a very deep Alabama roster that puts them among the best teams in the SEC. Davison, Bediako and Holt make for the nation’s No. 14-ranked recruiting class and with a number of newcomers and transfers coming in, Alabama has a group that can match up with the nation’s best.
Just how tough is Alabama's out of conference schedule? Well, all you've got to do is ask Nate Oats, who readily admitted a few weeks ago that it "might have been a little too much to bite off, to be honest with you."
When the coach says that, you know there are some big games on the docket, and that's certainly the case with Alabama, who might have the toughest schedule in the country when all is said and done.
It doesn't necessarily start out that way, with three games that should be wins at Coleman Coliseum to open the 2021-2022 slate. But then from there, well, it doesn't stop.
It starts Thanksgiving week, when Alabama goes to Orlando for the ESPN Events Invitational. There, they will open with an Iona squad that gave them fits in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year, before getting either Drake or Belmont in the second round. Drake you'll remember, went 26-5 last year and won an NCAA Tournament game, while Belmont returns all five starters off a squad that went 24-3 last year. Oh, and in the championship round, they could face Kansas, a preseason Top 5 team as well.
And here's the crazy thing, that's the easy part of the schedule.
A week later Alabama will fly 3,000 miles to Seattle to face Gonzaga in one of the most highly-anticipated out of conference games in school history, and a week later, get Houston at Coleman Coliseum. Yes, that is back-to-back teams that made the Final Four in a one-week span, and then after that, is Memphis - one of the most talented teams in college basketball - in a game at FedEx Forum. The Tigers are ranked No. 12 in the preseason polls.
Finally, there is a game against Mountain West favorite Colorado State - and that's all before SEC play starts. It also doesn't include a matchup with the... REIGNING NATIONAL CHAMPION!!! That's right, Baylor plays Bama in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.
So let's read that again: The out of conference schedule includes a game against Gonzaga in Spokane, Baylor, Houston, a visit to Memphis, a matchup with Colorado State on a neutral court, either Drake or Belmont (two of the best mid majors in the sport). Oh, and maybe a game with Kansas for you-know-what's and giggles.
All of that is of course before a loaded SEC slate, which will include home-and-homes with preseason Top 25 teams Kentucky and Auburn, as well as projected NCAA Tournament squad Mississippi State. I guess if there is a silver lining to this schedule, it's that they only have to play Arkansas and Tennessee (both ranked in the preseason Top 25) once, and they're both at home. Same as fringe Top 25 team LSU.
Still, if there is a tougher overall schedule in college basketball, we'd like to see it.
What to Expect in 2021-2022:
Expect another high-flying, exciting Alabama team with a great mix of perimeter and frontcourt players. Shackelford and Quinerly are already receiving some preseason love as potential SEC players of the year, while players like Davison and Bediako. Quinerly was recently suspended for breaking an unspecified team rule, but will be back to start the season and is one of the best point guards in college basketball.
This is another Top-25 team with incredible depth. While the losses of Jones, Primo, Petty, Bruner and Reese will be impactful, this team has an incredible collection of guards and wings, giving them no reason to regress. I would expect the loss of Jones to hurt their defensive production, but offense should be of no issue for this team.
A Sweet 16 appearance last year was the Crimson Tide’s first since making the Elite Eight way back in 2003-04, but this season the expectations are much higher.
A Sweet Sixteen appearance is expected once again, but this team has national championship aspirations.
For more college hoops coverage, make sure to follow Jacob Polacheck on Twitter @JacobPolacheck
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