The Crimson Tide faithful have shed the shadows of Mark Gottfried's mediocrity and are hoping for a resurgence to being once again regarded as a powerhouse in the SEC Western Division, and the conference as a whole. Most respect new head coach Anthony Grant and his job at VCU, and most expect him to turn the Tide against their recent history.
But just how fast will that U-turn be?
If Alabama hopes to compete for the postseason, it will need a quick one.
The Tide slid a long way from their 2003-04 Elite Eight appearance. Since then, the team has won 20 games just twice, flirted with the .500 mark in 2007-08 (17-16) and went 18-14 last year. Despite some talent on the roster, turbulence and a lack of consistency played a major role in the team's struggles.
Gottfried resigned mid-season, shortly after star point guard Ronald Steele announced he was leaving the team and implied being mistreated by his former coach.
This year's team is without a four-year mainstay in do-it-all Alonzo Gee. As a guard, Gee could shoot it and was a great dunker, but was most adept at driving to the basket. Many comparisons were drawn between Alonzo and recent Mississippi State standout Jamont Gordon, and they were largely appropriate. Gee's strength and aggressive attitude provided the squad with some much-needed leadership that will be difficult to replace in 2009-10.
Monstrously inefficient shooter Brandon Hollinger and under-talented big man Yamene Coleman join the list of 'Bama players who don't return.
Filling their spots will be a set of talented newcomers, with highly-respected four-star Tony Mitchell leading the way.
Tony Mitchell (#38 overall, #7 SF, 4 stars)
Mitchell is the highlight of the class. He's 6'6" and 185lbs, quick and athletic. He can shoot and drive the basket and should see a great deal of playing time this year.
Ben Elben (#28 PG, 3 stars)
This 6-foot, 185-pound point guard is the kind of leader Grant needs to take the reins of this year's Alabama squad. Elben fits the hole that Steele left very well, as he is known for his intelligence, patience, and leadership. Though he isn't exactly quick in either his running or shooting, his presence alone should help 'Bama organize its offense better. Expect Elben to push for a starting position from day one.
Charvez Davis (SG, 3 stars)
Junior College transfer known for his three-point accuracy. Should see some playing time if he lives up to his shooting potential.
Chris Hines (3 stars)
Hines is 6'7" and 225 pounds, a thick "small forward" who can shoot. A Junior-College All-American, Hines is three years removed from high-school and should help 'Bama with their lack of depth in the paint.
Returning, though, is a crew that is moderately talented and—with good coaching—could turn 2009-10 into a respectable year.
- Senario Hillman 6'2", 192-pound junior SG
(12.9ppg - 2.5rpg - 42.6% FG - 28.7% 3PT)
Hillman came out of high school with a reputation for lights-out shooting, but hasn't provided on the college court. Hillman is a combined 24.6 percent shooter from three in his career, despite attempting over 101 long-range shots for the Tide last year, easily the most on the team.
He's a great on-ball defender, ranking third-best amongst league returnees in steals per game, but must refine his shot and give Alabama some semblence of a deep threat. Should start.
- JaMychal Green 6'9" 220-pound sophomore F/C
(10.3ppg - 7.6rpg - 51 blks - 71.0% FT)
Green is easily the Alabama player with the biggest upside. He is ultra-reliable, is the sixth-best returning rebounder in the conference, and a formidable shot-blocker.
If he can manage to take care of the ball—he was the most apt to turn it over on the team a year ago—he will prove to be one of the SEC's most reliable and efficient big-men. Should start.
- Mikhail Torrance 6'5" 210-pound senior PG
(10.0ppg - 2.3rpg - 31.9% 3PT - 88.4% FT)
Torrance is a very versatile guard who is particularly adept at handling the ball, with a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. His shooting is average at best, but he's a threat at the end of the game with outstanding numbers from the charity stripe, as he leads all returning SEC players in that category. Should start.
- Justin Knox 6'9" 240-pound junior PF
(5.7ppg - 5.1rpg - 48.3% FG - 22 blks)
Knox has the physical gifts to become a superstar in the Southeastern Conference. He's a big, physical body down low who is one of the league's most efficient rebounders. With a little more aggression, Knox could be a surprise force down low for the Tide. Should start.
- Anthony Brock 5'9" 165-pound senior PG/SG
(5.6ppg - 1.3rpg - 44.9% 3PT - 32 stl)
Brock is a ticking time-bomb, in the best possible way. He has a rare finesse that was under-utilized by Gottfried that should blossom under Grant. He's the team's best long-range shooter by a long shot, and is the league's most efficient returning on-ball defender. Brock could be the "X" factor for Alabama this season. Could start.
- Andrew Steele 6'3" 215-pound sophomore PG
(3.3ppg - 1.9rpg - 1.53 A/TO - 73.0% FT)
The brother of departed superstar Ronald Steele, Andrew has a lot less potential. Andrew was an average shooter in his freshman campaign and only excels in ball-handling, where is he exemplary. A solid backup point guard.
- Demetrius Jemison (6'8" 240-pound senior PF
(3.1ppg - 3.1rpg - 52.8% FG - 62.5% FT)
Jemison is a big body underneath and is a serviceable player, but certainly not one that seems to be challenging for a starting point anytime soon. Jemison is a back-to-the-basket guy and a very efficient rebounder. There are some questions as to his health this season, but I have yet to find anything to verify that.
Grant has a history of success at VCU, where he went a combined 76-25, including a Colonial Athletic Association league title each of the three years at the helm of VCU. Now, returning to the league he once served as an assistant in, hopes are high in Tuscaloosa he can bring that level of success to UA.
He's got the pieces to surprise this year.
- Cupcakes: Jackson St. (H), North Florida (H), LA-Monroe (H), Samford (H), Mercer (H), Tennessee St. (N), Toledo (A)
- Real Games: Cornell (H), Providence (H)
- Marquee Matchups: Baylor (N), Purdue (H), Kansas St. (N)
- Opposite Division: Vanderbilt (H), Tennessee (H), Florida (H), Kentucky (A), Georgia (A), South Carolina (A)
- Predicted Result: (18-12, 7-9), No postseason
- Analysis: Just one true road game in the non-conference portion of the slate might hurt the Tide in the SEC.
- Points: 69.67% (6th - SEC Avg: 73.81%)
- Rebounds: 66.02% (10th - SEC Avg: 75.80%)
While Mississippi State is the prohibitive favorite to take the SEC Western Division crown this year, the Tide seems to be underrated in discussion for that No. 2 spot. While Ole Miss tends to be offered that title, Grant's Alabama team very well could knock the Rebels off of that stoop and challenge for an NIT berth.