North Florida-Alabama Preview

Alabama’s basketball team is mindful of what happened last

November, and what consequently didn’t occur in March.

The Crimson Tide sports returning stars JaMychal Green, Tony

Mitchell and Trevor Releford, a preseason No. 19 ranking and a

nonconference schedule that could be a big boost when NCAA

tournament invites are being delivered.

Alabama was shut out of the field last season despite flirting

with a regular season Southeastern Conference title going into the

final week. Three straight nonconference losses to middling teams

Seton Hall, Iowa and Saint Peter’s in November and no real

stock-boosting wins outside the league contributed to a low power

rating and an NCAA shutout.

“We just want to get some nonconference wins under our belt so

when it comes down to the decision for the NCAA tournament, we have

some good wins,” said Green, a first-team All-SEC forward.

Chances abound to impress the selection committee before league

play for a program that hasn’t made the tournament since 2006.

Alabama (25-12) opens its season Friday night against North Florida

before later games against Georgetown, Final Four team VCU and

Oklahoma State and visits Georgia Tech and Kansas State besides

playing in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

Despite the loss of key role players and only six returnees,

Grant’s third Alabama team certainly shapes up as the most likely

to be able to fare well in those types of games.

The starting trio of Green, Mitchell and Releford helped the

Tide shrug off the NCAA disappointment and make it to the NIT

championship game. Grant added a strong signing class that included

the state’s two-time Mr. Basketball in Trevor Lacey, fellow guards

Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper and big man Nick Jacobs.

Green’s three-game suspension early last season contributed to

some of the problems but he wound up averaging 15.5 points and 7.5

rebounds. The 6-foot-6 swingman Mitchell (15.2, 7.1) wasn’t far

behind in either of those categories but could have to log more

time at power forward with little experience beyond Green in the

post with the loss of Chris Hines.

Releford was an instant starter at point guard for the Tide and

got some extra seasoning in the NIT.

Alabama also loses its top 3-point shooter Charvez Davis from a

team that made the league’s fewest baskets from beyond the arc.

Defense wasn’t a problem last season, but scoring and perimeter

shooting were.

That’s where the new guys come in.

Lacey, a shooting guard, is Alabama’s most heralded recruit at

least since Green in a state where top recruits like DeMarcus

Cousins and Eric Bledsoe bolted for Kentucky and other locales in

recent years. Cooper and Randolph also could provide early boosts

to the backcourt and some more outside shooting.

Rivals.com rated Lacey as a five-star recruit and the nation’s

24th-best prospect, and he averaged 31.4 points as a senior. He had

knee surgery in June to repair a problem he played through during

his final prep season. Grant said that set him back in

conditioning.

Lacey still arrived on campus for the fall with high

expectations at a position where one of the freshmen is almost

certainly going to have to step up.

“From what I’ve seen, he’s an extremely humble kid,” Grant

said. “He understands it’s a completely different experience. I

think he understands that in terms of what he’s got to do and the

learning curve.”

The 6-8, 250-pound Jacobs was a four-star recruit who could

supply some of the inside muscle lost with Hines.

Carl Engstrom, a 7-1 sophomore from Sweden, saw limited time in

21 games last season.

“The opportunity certainly will be there” for the newcomers,

Grant said. “The fact that we have six guys returning off last

year’s team shows there’s opportunity there.”

Alabama’s 12-4 SEC mark trailed only Florida in the league last

season. A loss to Mississippi followed by a 27-point humbling at

Florida took the Tide out of the running.

It still created some late-season drama that led to sellout

crowds at a school where typically only the football stadium

regularly fills up.

North Florida (15-19) was picked to finish third in the Atlantic

Sun coaches’ preseason poll after going 10-10 and landing in sixth

place in the league last season. The Ospreys return all but one

starter along with junior guard Parker Smith, the team’s leading

scorer at 12.0 points per game despite coming off the bench.

North Florida will certainly have plenty of chances to prove

itself before opening conference play. After the opener, the

Ospreys also visit Florida, Miami, Ohio State, Kansas State, Auburn

and Virginia Tech.

First, though, is trying to contain the Crimson Tide – something

they didn’t do in a 73-51 loss in Tuscaloosa on Dec. 2, 2009. Green

had seven points on 1-of-7 shooting.

“Our fans and everybody have big expectations for us this

year,” said Green, who scored 21 points in a 67-60 exhibition win

over Division II Alabama-Huntsville on Monday. “They want to see us

in the tournament and make it into the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final

Four. We’ve got a lot on our shoulders this year.

“Fans have been coming up to us telling us how excited they are

about the upcoming season. Now, it’s a football and a basketball

school.”

Well, only if Alabama lives up to the hoops hopes.