We may still be knee deep in football season, but we now have an elite basketball program to talk about.
Feels great, doesn’t it?
The Tide will open the season on November 9 against Louisiana Tech, and we will have plenty of preview content for you between now and then. For today, we offer a staff roundtable to kick off the conversation.
Chime in with your thoughts on each question in the comments.
1- Alabama lost a bunch of talent and experience with the departures of Herb Jones, John Petty and Joshua Primo to the NBA plus the graduation of Alex Reese and Jordan Bruner. What concerns you the most about the turnover?
Roger: Biggest concern is replacing the veteran leadership that Herbert, Petty, Reese, and Bruner provided. Three players in their fourth year was a great coup for the team.
Josh: Any time you lose as much veteran talent and leadership that this team did, jelling is likely to take a while. Some great new pieces were brought in, but you never know what you have until you see it on the floor. It will be exciting to see how this new group comes together.
CB969: Underneath the hoop is a concern. Alabama is relying on a true freshman, Charles Bediako, to fill that space. Can Alex “FrenTchi” Tchikou stay out of sickbay? Everyone else is 6’8” or less. The Tide struggled last season when Jordan Bruner was out or not quite himself on the court.
BamaBrave4: Besides the obvious time needed for this year’s team to gel and develop chemistry, the biggest concern for me would be trying to replace Herb. He just did so many things for Alabama last season - he could defend at an elite level, score the ball, battle on the glass, and was even used as a secondary ball-handler. There is a reason he’s already starting for the New Orleans Pelicans. Keon Ellis seemingly has taken on a lot of the ‘Herb’ role, but at only 6’6, he simply doesn’t have the same size to bang on the boards or erase opposing players driving the lane like Herbert could. The Tide could be a better team in 2022, but it will be because they were able to mitigate the loss of Herb with relatively larger gains in other areas of the game.
Brent: Alabama lost a bunch of experience and talent to the NBA Draft. What concerns you the most about the turnover?
In terms of individual players, I’m actually not that concerned. Keon Ellis will replicate much of what Herb Jones did in terms of energy and defense (to a lesser extent, of course, but also with better shooting ability). John Petty was hit or miss in any given game anyway, and I think his 3-point volume can be picked up easily. Jordan Bruner and Alex Reese never quite made the impact we needed as big guys, and quite honestly, Josh Primo wasn’t a major factor for the Tide last year despite his obvious flashes of talent.
What does concern me is the overall depth issue created by losing these guys on top of losing James Rojas and Nimari Burnett to injury, plus the uncertainty around Alex Tchikou’s injury recovery from the prior year. Alabama will be playing on thin ice the entire season to not lose any more players to injury, and the high pace of play is only going to increase the chances it happens.
2- Herb Jones was the unquestioned leader of last year’s squad. Who do you hope to see take up that role this season?
Roger: After watching the team practice, and play an exhibition game, I would unquestionably say this is Keon Ellis’s team.
Josh: Since the question is who I hope to see, i’d have to go with whoever becomes the primary point guard. I have always been a big believer in the idea that the man with the ball in his hands needs to be the floor general. Hopefully JD Davison or Jahvon Quinerly can take on this role.
CB969: Jaden Shackelford’s flirtation with the Transfer Portal makes me leery of him. Jahvon Quinerly getting suspended before the first game is even played does not scream leadership. Thus, I am going against the grain and saying Keon Ellis. He only started seven games last year but he made plays whenever he entered a game and should be a starter this season. It may surprise some fans to know he is the returning leader in rebounds, steals, and blocked shots.
BamaBrave4: Speaking of Herb and Keon...haha. To me, Keon Ellis is the obvious answer here. I fell in love with Keon as a player the first time I saw him play against Jacksonville State last year. The guy is just a basketball player. His hustle and basketball I.Q. stood out to me immediately last season, and, as I mentioned in my last answer, if anyone can vacate the void that Herb left behind, it’s Keon. As a senior, Ellis has been around the block for a while now, and he’s got the maturity and experience that is absolutely crucial for a team leader to have. Plus, with the number of play-making guards the Tide will have this year, Alabama will need a wing to keep those guys grounded.
Brent: Well.... It seems I jumped the gun on the last question. Nate Oats has been talking up Keon Ellis as a defensive catalyst kind of player as a tall, lengthy guard. I think some of the defensive energy that Herb brought will also be seen from guys like Juwan Gary, Keon Ambrose-Hylton, and Charles Bediako. Basically, my hope is that the new wave of forwards and centers take on that shot blocking role that Herb Jones had to do as a hybrid guard/forward the last few years.
3- Which newcomer are you most excited to see, and why?
Roger: Duh. JD Davison will dominate this section. One of the top players in the nation that stayed in state is always big. When they have one and done talent even bigger. Davison will be exciting in the way Collin Sexton was.
Josh: I know Davison is the popular pick, but for whatever reason I’ve been intrigued by Noah Gurley every since he announced his commitment. A big man who can run the floor and shoot 34% from three, in this system? Yes, please.
CB969: Is there any doubt? JD Davison! This guy is a human highlight reel. He reminds me a lot of Collin Sexton.
BamaBrave4: J.D. Davison is the clear answer, for obvious reasons. But I’ll go with Charles Bediako. If there is one area the Tide struggled in last season, it was missing a true big who could protect the rim on the defensive end and flush home easy looks around the basket on the offensive end. Imagine last year’s squad with Donta Hall still flying around the glass. Then, toss in a second elite ball-handler in Davison to pair with Jahvon Quinerly. The PnR game with Bediako could be filthy. Good luck to opposing defenses guarding PnRs from JQ and JD with Bediako while Shack and Keon flash for perimeter threes.
Brent: The popular answer, of course, is JD Davison. I think Alabama is definitely going to need him, too. But I’m most excited about Charles Bediako. It’s been a few years since Alabama really had a dominant defensive force at center, and even longer since the Tide had one that can play some offense too. Can Bediako step in and be that guy? That’s what I’m most looking forward to watching.
4- CBS has Alabama’s schedule projected as the toughest in the nation. Nate Oats mentioned that he may have gone a little too far here. What are your thoughts on the gauntlet?
Roger: Wow! What a challenging schedule. I wouldn’t have minded it being toned down just a little bit, but it will definitely build character.
Josh: The big concern is that a schedule like this offers at least some risk of collapse with so many new key contributors, but I don’t expect that to happen. November isn’t a cakewalk by any stretch, but for a team that intends to compete for the SEC crown, it is forgiving enough to allow Nate Oats to figure out his playing rotation. That December, though? Damn. If nothing else, Oats is announcing to the world that we’ve arrived as a powerhouse and plan on scheduling accordingly.
CB969: I love it. It’s great for the fans and it makes a statement that Alabama is a power basketball team, not just a football school. They will probably takes some lumps. But in the end, the Strength of Schedule will be an asset mentally and as a perception to the Selection Committee (and future recruits).
BamaBrave4: If there’s anything we’ve learned about Nate Oats, it’s that he doesn’t mince words. So, I believe him. The non-conference slate is easily one of the toughest in the country, and the SEC could challenge for the title of strongest conference in basketball this year. Remember, the Tide got off to an ugly 5-4 start against a top-tier non-conference schedule last season, in large part due to a bunch of new faces having to take on key roles for a team still getting used to Nate Oats’ brand of basketball. With only four guys returning from last year’s ten-man rotation (excluding James Rojas, who will be out until at least SEC play), the Tide could easily get off to another slow start this season. And there is no way Alabama is repeating its 16-2 record in conference play this year, the league is simply going to be too stout in 2022. The good news is that the new guys at least got a full offseason of normal practices this year.
Brent: I agree. While it’s going to help the resume at the end of the year, and iron-sharpens-iron and all that.... I think there can be issues with such a non-stop schedule in terms of competitive psychology. People need hard games against great competition to expose their own flaws and then be able to work on them, but we also need easier competition where we can work on trying new ideas and new ways of doing things without resorting back to a comfort zone of what’s always worked when things get tough.
For those of you more football inclined, look at Jalen Hurts: when in the pressure of playing for an undefeated Alabama team, Hurts almost always resorted to what he did best in tough games: scramble right.
But once the pressure came off of him a bit in his year as a backup to Tua Tagovailoa and his year at Oklahoma, Hurts was more willing to practice and make tougher downfield throws.
5- What would denote a successful 2021-22 season in your eyes?
Roger: National Champions or bust! Just kidding. Top 2-3 in the SEC, nice seed in the NCAA and advance past the first weekend would be successful. Elite 8 or Final 4 would be cherry, and whipped cream on top!Roll Tide. #BallAndOats
Josh: I am firmly in the “NCAA Tournament is a crapshoot” camp and will thus never base team goals on it. They definitely need to be in the tournament, however, and hopefully as a sweet sixteen seed. This would mean that they finished in the top 4 of a difficult conference and won near 20 games with the nation’s toughest slate.
CB969: This season feels like a little like a rebuilding year, but with a team that can be highly successful. So I’ll try not to be too delusional. Double digit SEC wins, 20+ regular season wins, Sweet 16.
BamaBrave4: As I alluded to in my last answer, repeating the same accomplishments from last season is asking too much for this Tide team as a baseline expectation. Let’s not forget where Alabama basketball had been the previous ~15 years. I’d consider this season a successful one if the Tide can continue to build upon the foundation that was laid last year. With some of the long-time, familiar faces of Alabama basketball no longer around, there will be a bit of a learning curve for the Tide. That being said, the sky’s the limit under Nate Oats, and this team has the talent to defend each of its conference crowns and make an even deeper run in March than last year. Still, a successful season, in my opinion, is one where Alabama continues to build upon its standing as one of the elite programs in the SEC, is competitive against the best of the best, makes a return to the NCAA Tournament, and gives a real challenge at defending both its regular season and conference SEC championships. The NCAA Tournament is a crapshoot, but failing to reach the second weekend would be a bit of a disappointment, I’ll admit.
Brent: Survive the non-conference schedule, go 66% in SEC play, and win a couple of games in the NCAA tournament and I’m happy. I do hope and think this team can be even better than that, but that’s a level of success I’d be perfectly happy with.