Alabama Basketball Primed to Contend for SEC Title After Football Title

Erik SchultzCorrespondent IJanuary 12, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 11:  JaMychal Green #1 and Trevor Releford #12 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrate after drawing a foul during the quarterfinals of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Georgia Dome on March 11, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Just two days after dismantling the LSU Tigers for the BCS National Championship, the Alabama basketball team followed suit.

Alabama rolled to a 69-53 win over LSU on Wednesday night in Tuscaloosa.  It was the Tide’s second win in two contests in SEC play, and their fifth straight win overall. 

While the current winning streak has not included wins over any great teams, Alabama has won quite convincingly against some decent competition.  Last week, the Tide won two games in the state of Georgia—over Georgia Tech, then Georgia—by 25 and 15 points, respectively.  Georgia Tech gave Duke a pretty good contest this past weekend, losing by just seven after being within one possession in the game’s final minute.  Tech’s effort against Duke makes Alabama’s blowout in Atlanta just four days prior to that all the more impressive.

Alabama’s run of quality play the past couple weeks has reminded us of the team that nearly cracked the Top 10 earlier this season, and was expected to challenge Florida, Vanderbilt and Kentucky at the top of the SEC this season.  After losing three games to Georgetown, Dayton and Kansas State, respectively, in a four-game stretch, the Tide has rebounded in impressive fashion, thanks to strong defense, the return of a couple key players and the outstanding play of a talented freshman.

After giving up 71 in a loss to Kansas State in mid-December, Alabama has allowed an average of just 53.4 points a game.  Alabama held Georgia Tech to a season-low 48 points in last week’s win, while forcing 22 turnovers.  The Tide held another Big 12 team, Oklahoma State, to just 32.7 percent shooting in a 69-52 win.  Perhaps more impressive was the fact that the Tide played that game without arguably their best player, forward JaMychal Green, who was out with a shoulder injury.    

After missing two games and seeing limited action in another, Green has since returned to the Alabama starting lineup and should be quite a force once again as Alabama moves deeper into SEC play.  Green’s return should take a little pressure off fellow forward Tony Mitchell, who has been the go-to guy without Green on the floor.

Mitchell has been excellent this season, averaging 15 points a game.  With Green back to control things inside, Mitchell can use his athleticism and versatility to make an impact from outside on both ends of the floor.  That should allow the defense to cause even more problems for opposing offenses around the SEC.

In addition to Green, Alabama also welcomed the recent return of guard Andrew Steele.  While Steele is not one of the top contributors statistically, he will provide additional depth and experience to the Tide backcourt.  A redshirt junior, Steele helps bring some meaningful experience to a backcourt that is still relatively young.  Steele’s return should help the talented freshman guards—Trevor Lacey, Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper—the opportunity to continue growing without being overburdened.

One of the aforementioned freshmen has cemented his role in the starting lineup with impressive play of late.  Lacey has averaged in double figures (10.1 PPG) over the Tide’s last five games.  He scored 19 in the win over Georgia, and pulled down 10 rebounds against LSU.  His emergence should take some pressure off Trevor Releford, who has been more of a scorer from the point guard position.

With the return of Green and the play of Lacey, head coach Anthony Grant should have four excellent players he can count on to lead his team through the remainder of the SEC season.  This team has a great chance to finish right behind Kentucky in the SEC, despite a few tough games coming up. 

Alabama will face Mississippi State and Kentucky on the road and Vanderbilt at home within the next 10 days.  However, they only have to face the latter two teams, along with Florida, once for the season since they are not part of the unofficial “Eastern Division” of the league.  That should help the Tide in much the same way it did last season, when they finished 12-4 in the SEC.  

However, unlike last year’s team, Alabama should have no serious questions about making the NCAA Tournament.  After an outstanding start to this season—when they beat Maryland, Wichita State and Purdue to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off—the Tide are once again resembling the team that earned some quality early wins and some very high expectations.

With more experience, depth and another year of experience in Grant’s defense-first system, this year’s Alabama team could finish with an even more impressive mark in the SEC this season.