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Alabama Basketball 2014-15 Season Preview: Make or Break

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Anthony Grant's career at Alabama faces a crossroads as the 2014-15 season begins

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Whenever the regular season for any sport rolls around, it's common to see many previews catalog a whole list of ifs. "If our under performing junior finally lives up to his potential,"; "if our seniors step up,"; "if that true freshman really is the stud the scouts say he is"; etc. It's a normal thought process that goes through every sports fan's mind before the season gets going. By saying that there are a ton of ifs that will decide how the team performs this upcoming season, you aren't really going out on a limb. However, in the case of Alabama's upcoming basketball season, if can not be over-stated.

There are numerous reasons to believe that the Crimson Tide will have a big bounce-back season this year, after last season's disappointing run. Unfortunately for Bama fans, there are just as many reasons to believe that there won't be much of an improvement. The reason that is the case is because, at nearly every position (including the coach's box), Alabama has a number of potential outcomes that all have nearly the same probability of occurring. In other words, there are a whole lot of ifs.

Backcourt

Any discussion about Alabama's backcourt this year begins and ends with the biggest question: how does one make up for the loss of Trevor Releford? The answer is pretty obvious: one does not simply replace Trevor Releford. Relly is one of the best players to ever don the Crimson Tide uniform, plain and simple. However, if Ricky Tarrant can step in and play the kind of basketball he is capable of, he can lead this team to more success than Releford was able to last year. Tarrant was a very solid point guard and leader for Tulane in his two years there. He has good size (6'2), handles the ball well, and has an effective mid-range. He also gives Alabama a new three-point threat (33.2% 3P%). His effective field goal percentage (eFG%), which is a shooting percentage that adjusts for the fact that three-pointers are worth more than two-pointers, was strong at 47.7%, and he can play good defense.

Levi Randolph is a name all Bama fans are familiar with. Randolph will be entering his senior year as the experienced leader of the team. He came to Alabama as a highly-regarded 4-star player, yet many fans would argue that he hasn't played at that caliber. If Randolph can quiet his doubters with a more successful year offensively, the Tide will be in a very good position. Randolph is a tough, smart player. He plays defense very well, and rebounds at a solid clip (4.0 RPG in his career), due to his 6'5 height. If the coaching staff can do a better job of utilizing his off-ball strengths, and he can improve his offensive output when he is handling the ball, Randolph could be in for a big year. He's got to be able to become the guy for Alabama in the backcourt, and he has the ability to do so.

Retin Obasohan is the best athlete Alabama has, and he honestly is one of the better athletes in the conference. He is a very raw, unpolished player on offense, unfortunately. If Obasohan can improve his mid-range jumper and free throw percentage, he can really become an indispensable asset for the Tide. The reason why is because he is already so good defensively. Obasohan registered 1.8 SPG and 1.0 BPG a year ago, and his on-ball defense is so strong. There is no question he is one of the best defenders in the league. He can also sky over players, and he drives to the hole assertively and with authority. He has got to get better as a shooter though. Imagine if Obasohan could pull up off the dribble and knock back mid-range jumpers, or at the very least, develop a consistent ability to knock his free throws down after he hits the lane like he does.

Freshmen Justin Coleman, Devin Mitchell, and Riley Norris were all very accomplished players at the high school level, and if any one of them can step up and add an extra dimension to this offense, Alabama will be a lot better off for it. Chances are good that at least one of them will. The bigger question may be whether or not they will be able to learn and buy-in to Anthony Grant's defensive schemes.

Frontcourt

The Crimson Tide have really struggled in the frontcourt the last couple of seasons, as a rotating door of transfers and an inability to develop a consistent scorer have plagued Alabama in a big way. Rodney Cooper has been the one constant at forward, usually at the wing spot but occasionally occupying the power forward position. You could take the same script for Randolph and apply it to Cooper, as he is the lone senior in the frontcourt, and will be depended on to provide leadership for this team. He also has been underwhelming offensively, as last season Cooper would make about five of every fourteen shots from the field and only two of every seven from beyond the arc. That inefficiency cost Alabama because Cooper has been a guy that the team has looked to try to generate points when the offense wasn't flowing well. If Cooper can make about one more three and two more shots on average, it could make a huge difference for a team that lost a lot of close games a year ago. His defense and rebounding is already sound.

The two sophomores, Shannon Hale and Jimmie Taylor, proved to be two big assets for Alabama last year. Playing with a small roster (both in number and in size), Hale and Taylor were counted on early in their careers, and for the most part, they delivered. Taylor was a load at center, as he played strong defense for a true freshman (1.3 BPG). Hale gave Alabama a bit of a spark offensively, shooting 43.3% from the field and 35.2% from behind the arc. However, neither player was exactly well-rounded. Taylor was almost non-existent offensively. On average Taylor made about one of his two shots per game. That has to improve. He also only corralled 3.3 RPG, which is as close to bad as you can get when you are 6'10, 240. Neither shot free throws well (Hale: 63.2% ,Taylor: 40.4%), but that usually will improve as a player gets more experience. Hale was also a bit of a liability defensively, but that should also get better after a year in the system. If Hale and Taylor can both make the sophomore leap, Alabama will have two very solid options in the frontcourt.

Finally, Michael Kessens rounds out the post, and he could be the key to Alabama's season. Kessens excelled as a true freshman at Longwood two seasons ago (13.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.3 APG). Obviously, there will be a major step up in competition, but if Kessens can make that transition smoothly, Alabama could have its best post player since JaMychal Green graduated. At the very least, Kessens' ability to rebound will be a major factor for this team. Rebounds translate over well regardless of quality of opposition, so expect him to really make a difference on the glass.

Culminating the Ifs

The upcoming basketball season could go a number of ways for Alabama. At this point, it's a total crap shoot. There are many out there that believe this will be Grant's swan song, and they would have plenty of reasons to back up their prediction. However, the pieces may be there for Alabama to get up off the mat and contend for a NCAA Tournament spot. If certain things develop, like the sophomore duo in the frontcourt maturing well, or Tarrant and Kessens not only living up to but also exceeding expectations, this could be a pretty big year for Alabama basketball. If not, well, things won't be looking too good for Anthony Grant. It's time to put-up-or-shut-up for the head basketball coach, and honestly, nobody truly knows what will happen with this make-or-break season. If only we did.

Alabama opens up the season with an exhibition game against Montevallo Monday night at 7:00 PM CST.