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Jumbo Package: Nick Saban expects big things from exciting group of early enrollees

Your latest Crimson Tide news and notes.

Syndication: Tuscaloosa News Gary Cosby Jr. / USA TODAY NETWORK

Happy Monday, everyone. It was a rough weekend across the board, as both the softball and baseball teams dropped two of three to ranked conference opponents. Of course, the basketball team suffered an upset in the Sweet 16 to a San Diego State squad that now finds itself in the Final Four.

Joey Blackwell and Katie Windham over at SI opined on the legacy of this Alabama team.

The season meant so much more than just the numbers of records, though. Wins over ranked Michigan State and North Carolina teams in the Phil Knight Invitational on Thanksgiving weekend led into one of the biggest road wins in college basketball this season in Alabama’s win at Houston.

Season sweeps of Arkansas, Auburn and LSU along with a win over Kentucky highlighted SEC play. The Crimson Tide’s domination over the SEC alongside the majority of teams on its schedule led to another program-first: the No. 1-overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It has always been my view that the tournament is a crapshoot. While it would be wonderful to see Alabama win one, it’s far more important that they get into the field frequently, preferably with high seeds. It’s easy to forget the roster turnover coming into this season, or that Alabama was picked to finish 5th in the conference at SEC Media Days.

This season can only be seen as a resounding success.

Moving forward, the question will be how much roster turnover Nate Oats will be dealing with next season.

“I think I’m really focused on my guys right now,” Miller said.

Noah Clowney, a fellow freshman, could be another name to be one-and-done and head to the NBA. He’s the No. 19 prospect on ESPN’s list.

“I haven’t thought about (the future),” Clowney said. “The goal was on winning this season. Haven’t sat down and thought about anything yet.”

Needless to say, Brandon Miller ain’t playing another minute of college ball as a surefire lottery pick. Noah Clowney seems like a lock to leave as well, though his stock isn’t quite as high as Miller’s and thus it would at least be plausible that he consider it. Quinerly seems like a legit wild card and Noah Gurley is out of eligibility. If everyone else returns, they could be in great shape headed into the 2023-24 campaign. Does that mean the top overall seed again? Not likely, but it wasn’t likely this year, either.

The Final Four is set, and it is a unique one to say the least.

The quartet of teams who will play for a championship in Houston next weekend includes three making their Final Four debuts. Florida Atlantic hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game before this March. San Diego State had never advanced beyond the Sweet 16 until Friday. Miami didn’t get to the Elite Eight for the first time until last season.

Only UConn isn’t a Final Four first timer, though even the Huskies haven’t been a college hoops heavyweight in recent years. Since Shabazz Napier carried UConn to its fourth national title in 2014, the Huskies have endured three losing seasons and had only notched a single NCAA tournament victory prior to this year.

It seems very likely that UConn will roll for two more games and win a fifth national title in the past 24 seasons. Remarkably, if they do pull it off they will have cut down the nets in five of their six Final Four appearances. This would also be their second national title since the last time they won the Big East tournament (2011) or regular season title (2006.)

Moving on to football, Saban is looking for reinforcements in a stellar crop of early enrollees.

“But I also look at it like, (around) one-third of our team, that’s their first practice ever as a college player,” Saban said. “And we’ve never had to deal with that before, either. We’ve got to have some patience in how we develop players.”

In addition to Marshall and Dippre, five-star freshman recruits Caleb Downs, Kadyn Proctor, Justice Haynes, Dezz Ricks, James Smith, Qua Russaw and Jalen Hale are all enrolled this spring, as are quarterbacks Eli Holstein and Dylan Lonergan. (That group of 26 also includes defensive back Tony Mitchell, suspended indefinitely after an arrest last week in Florida.)

That’s the first time I’ve seen Desmond Ricks referred to as “Dezz” but he is among the first five on that list who are expected to play prominent roles, and are frankly needed to if Alabama is to win a national title.

DJ Fluker and Slade Bolden auditioned for potential comebacks at Pro Day.

Fluker, 32, spent four seasons in Tuscaloosa, redshirting as a freshman before starting each of the next three seasons. Fluker won three national championships at Alabama and was drafted in the first round by the San Diego Chargers in 2013 and would be rostered by six other NFL teams in his career. He last appeared in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens in 2020.

Last, Saban had a little fun with Jay Bilas around his bracket picks.

He’s become Jolly Old Saint Nick at this stage of his career.

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

Roll Tide.