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Jumbo Package: Johnson “very optimistic” about Hall’s status for Thursday

The latest Crimson Tide news and notes.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Texas A&M vs Alabama Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Monday, everyone. It was a fine weekend on the diamond as the women swept all five of their tournament games and the men took two of three from New Mexico St. Of course, the basketball team is taking the headlines with its first NCAA berth in six years.

Alabama will be an underdog in its first NCAA tournament game since 2012.

According to Vegas Insider’s Consensus, Virginia Tech is favored by 1.5 points in its matchup with the Crimson Tide that will take place at 8:20 p.m. Thursday in Pittsburgh.

Coach Avery Johnson acknowledged on Saturday that he’s “very optimistic” Donta Hall will be able to play in the Crimson Tide’s next game.

“Well, I asked him ‘What’s 2 + 2?’ He said ‘four,’ so he’s doing better,” Johnson said of Hall. “But we’ll re-evaluate him in the morning and see how much he can participate -- if at all -- in practice tomorrow. And if it’s not tomorrow, we’ll check him out on Tuesday.

“The main thing is we’re optimistic, but until I see him jump ball on Thursday at whatever time the game is, I’m just going to keep praying for him. Hopefully he’ll get better and he’ll be able to play.”

It wouldn’t be fair to dismiss Kentucky’s great shooting performance as a function of Hall’s absence, but it did leave Alabama without a shot-blocking presence at the rim.

What’s more, consider this from UK coach John Calipari: when Gabriel was on his second-half 3-point binge, he was actually playing center for the Wildcats (a luxury of talent is that Kentucky could surround him with forwards at 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-10). That meant that either Galin Smith or Daniel Giddens had to guard the quicker player 20 feet away from the rim, far from their comfort zone. Hall might have fared better.

The spread is razor thin, as you’d expect in an 8 v 9 matchup. Tech has a smaller team of the style that Hall has dominated on occasion this season. His status may well be the key to the game.

Of course, for every team that is jubilant about its at large bid, there is one that gets left out.

King averaged 21 points and 8 rebounds for the Blue Raiders on 49% shooting, including 38% from three. It’s a shame that the mysterious lung issue derailed his career in Tuscaloosa.

The basketball team will get some important recruiting news tonight.

A day after getting an NCAA tournament bid, Alabama will learn if it got a big-name recruit.

D.J. Jeffries, a four-star prospect from Olive Branch, Mississippi, said Sunday that he’d narrowed his options to three and he’d be announcing his decision at 7 p.m. CT Monday.

Hope for the best.

On to some football:

Mwikuta’s head coach, Tanner Glisson, says the UA commit spent a lot of time with new defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi. Alabama wide receivers coach Josh Gattis is now Mwikuta’s primary recruiter.

At 6-foot-4, 232 pounds, Mwikuta is rated the No. 4 outside linebacker and the No. 78 overall player in the country, per the industry-generated 247Sports Composite rankings.

Mwikuta is another great looking pass-rusher who seems solid to the Tide, but you can bet that Kirby will stay hot after the Georgia product until he signs. Perhaps Saban can flip the script on him this time around.

“Listen, if I know anything about Nick Saban — and I’ve been around that program quite a bit — they’re going to go out, and they’re going to get grinders and workers in player evaluation and recruiting, first and foremost,” ESPN recruiting expert Tom Luginbill said last month. “The coaching part of it will come second. So that’s been the approach for them, and that might also be one of the reasons why they went a little bit younger in some areas.”

But if you peel away the goofy mottos and the “Champions of Life” cackles, you’ll see that Jones offers plenty for Saban: a capable offensive mind and a personality that produced some of the nation’s best recruiting classes while in Knoxville. He also offers deep insight into the Crimson Tide’s SEC foes and a possible answer for the Volunteers hiring former Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. There are many pluses involved.

The Crimson Tide has hired August Mangin as an analyst, according to sources.

The 31-year old Mangin was a fullback at LSU from 2005-09 and later worked for the Tigers in 2012 and 2013, helping with LSU’s special teams.

You rarely see the level of coaching turnover that went down in Tuscaloosa this offseason without a change at the top. Seeing all of the young blood interacting with the players will be one of the more interesting storylines of the spring.

Jeudy established himself as the biggest threat in this next wave. With Ridley leaving for the NFL, it appears Jeudy will be the next South Florida import to become the primary target. He does a little of it all with speed, route running and instincts.

Smith obviously created an instant legacy with the game-winning catch in the national title game. The Louisiana native also had the go-ahead score in the final minute of the comeback win at Mississippi State proving his ability to perform in the clutch.

And Ruggs had the streak of five straight catches going for touchdowns to open his career as the fastest receiver in the group.

As a group, this may be the best set of WRs of the Saban era. The world isn’t ready for Alabama with an elite passing game.

That’s about it for today. Have a great week.

Roll Tide.