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Jumbo Package: Basketball shines in Tuscaloosa as spring football draws near

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Spring football, rhabdo, NIT coverage and more.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Kentucky vs Alabama Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

5 Questions: Alabama Crimson Tide football Nick Saban Avery Johnson

How close is Tuscaloosa to becoming a basketball town?

Based on the success area teams on the high school and college levels have had of late, we may be closer than any of us realize.

In a span of a few weeks, Bryant High School and Hale County High School won boy's state titles. Meanwhile, the Shelton State men's and women's teams captured Alabama Community College Conference state crowns, qualifying both for upcoming NJCAA Division I Tournaments. Then, on Saturday, the UA women's wheelchair basketball team defeated Texas-Arlington, 57-48, capturing its fifth national title since 2009 in the process.

Five Questions has some football stuff, to be sure. But, in case you missed it in yesterday’s JP, I mainly wanted to highlight the Women’s Adaptive program for its fifth title in seven years. As we said in 2015, when the Tide won its fourth in five years, this is the quietest dynasty on Campus. Roll Tide

Alabama Crimson Tide Basketball wants 'to play some more ball' in NIT Avery Johnson Braxton Key

“Really excited about the opportunity to go to the NIT,” Johnson said Monday on the SEC’s postseason teleconference. “Obviously we wanted to be in the NCAA Tournament, but to be a 3-seed in the NIT, to be able to start at home against a very talented Richmond team, we’re ready to go.

“I’m happy that the game is on Tuesday, not later in the week on Wednesday or Thursday because we need to get back on the floor after playing some of our better basketball in the SEC Tournament.”

Alabama did play some of its best ball the final three games after a late season dip that saw the Tide drop two winnable games at home vs. Georgia and Auburn. In Nashville the Tide lost a close game against Kentucky, had a solid win over the Gamecocks, and blasted Mississippi State like they should have. Tonight’s opponent, Richmond, has a propensity to play teams very close. And, they can win a variety of ways, although they are at their best in high-scoring situations. Alabama will need to assert its will in the post and play good perimeter defense, that latter an issue that plagued the Tide much of the season.

For those curious as to how the schedule plays out: Alabama will host at least this round in Tuscaloosa. It can host the second round if it wins and No. 2 Clemson loses. It can host the regional bubble final (quarterfinal) if it wins two and No. 1 Iowa and No. 2 Clemson loses. As a matter of probability, even if Alabama prevails tonight, Clemson should blast Oakland. And, Iowa is the best in this pod by a long way. I’d expect the Tide to just be hosting one. So, get out to Coleman tonight.

I’ll post an NIT how-to-watch, brackets, and schedule later this morning before I head to Tuscaloosa to Buckle Up. And Parker will have the ‘Bama Basketball Breakdown later today as well.

Alabama Women’s Basketball Selected to host Mercer in First Round of 2017 Women’s National Invitation Tournament - ROLLTIDE.COM - University of Alabama Official Athletics Site

The Alabama women's basketball team earned a spot in the 2017 Women's National Invitation Tournament and will host Mercer in the first round on Thursday, March 16 at 7 p.m. CT in Coleman Coliseum.

The Tide, led by SEC Newcomer of the Year Jordan Lewis, have a tougher-than-it-looks matchup against Mercer on Thursday. The Bears are 25-6 and a conference winner. Like the men, however, the women are playing some of their best ball down the stretch.

Spring Ball

First, let me go ahead and tell you that Bill Connelly has already begun his excellent preliminary season previews over at the SBN College Football Hub. For those with a yen to know about Old Dominion etc., he’s already banging out the bottom.

With spring practice on its way, most of the early beat coverage has been abut the quarterback position. That’s understandable: quarterback article clicks keep the lights on. And, for the fourth year in a row, the Tide may see a fierce quarterback competition. Jalen Hurts had about as excellent a season as you could want from a true freshman, despite the late season warts in the passing game, but his incumbency is no done-deal. The Tide brought in two very good players with the 2017 NSD Class, and they will get a chance to compete for Hurts’ job.

Will Alabama QB Jalen Hurts have to fight for his job this spring? | AL.com

The passing game will be a point of emphasis this spring and offseason after a season of some inconsistencies with a true freshman behind center. Alabama ranked 87th nationally with 210.3 passing yards per game -- its lowest total since 2009 (187.9). To be fair, Alabama also averaged 245.0 rushing yards per game, which was the highest total of the Nick Saban era in Tuscaloosa.

And that’s why the offense likely won’t flip to a pro-style attack under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. With so many offensive-minded coaches joining the program (Daboll, Mike Locksley, Chris Weinke), the focus will center on improving Hurts’ passing while accentuating his strengths. So the offense will still primarily feature spread and run-pass option concepts.

2017 Spring Primer: Alabama Crimson Tide Football's passing game Jalen Hurts Calvin Ridley

Hurts' deficiencies became more apparent toward the end of the season, when he regressed. An uneven performance in the last-second defeat to the Tigers led to intense scrutiny.

And heading into the offseason, Hurts' shaky play prompted questions about his long-term future at Alabama. Fans have openly wondered if Hurts could even lose his starting role to Tua Tagovailoa, the signee who arrived from Hawaii in January after a sterling high school career during which he accumulated a state record 8,154 passing yards.

Tagovailoa, a dual-threat quarterback like Hurts, is the only player who could conceivably unseat Alabama's incumbent starter if new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll plans to keep the basic structure of the system developed under Lane Kiffin.

Man, am I sick of this talking point already: That was a team loss, a coaching loss, a communication loss, and a depth/injury loss. Hurts is going to carry the blame for a lot of it, but Jalen didn’t give up 35 points: playcalling, secondary communication, and so many other things, including Hurts’ accuracy, did. Grumble over.

The unregulated world of strength coaches and college football’s killing season - CBSSports.com

When three Oregon football players were hospitalized in January following a strenuous workout, they were being led by a strength coach certified from a track and field coaches association.

For a $245 fee, the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) offers a 21-hour strength training course to become a certified NCAA strength coach in any sport. By comparison, the widely-used Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCA) requires 30 times as much training -- a 640-hour certification process.

According to the NCAA, that track certification was all that was needed by Oregon football strength coach Irele Oderinde, who was suspended for one month due to the January workout. But should it be? Four industry experts with more than 100 combined years of experience told CBS Sports they don’t consider Oderinde properly certified to be a football strength coach.

Interesting stuff here. The NCAA requires certification for strength coaches, but the rule is so broad as to permit a 21-hour online course rather require than the USTFCCCA and CSCCA certifications. Sixteen players have died in Feb. conditioning drills since 2000. This seems a very easy way to limit liability and protect student interests. While Oregon’s S&C Coach looks to have been a rogue actor, there are others like Oderline out there.

As a football matter, games are won and lost in the fourth quarter. And, those fourth quarters are won in February. While most coaches insist on stringent requirements, their career best interests would be best served by getting the best, most qualified coach you can afford for the Spring “killing season.”

(Scott Cochran, by the way, is CSCCA-certified and was that organization’s two-time Strength Coach of the Year. He earned his accreditation as a grad assistant in 2001-2003. #NoRhabdo)