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March 18, 2012Before the managers for the University of Alabama men's basketball team even had the Crimson Tide's gear packed for its exit from Greensboro, N.C., and the 2012 season, Anthony Grant had set the bar for the 2013 season.
Asked if making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years was going to lead to a return of Alabama as a fixture in the field of 68, Grant had a ready response.
"That's the goal," he said.
Can Alabama reach that goal?
There is a psychological component to that question that cannot immediately be answered. Every team has its own unique chemistry. In 2012, Alabama's was an odd mixture of toughness - there were only a couple of occasions when UA didn't give exceptional effort - and immaturity.
Alabama had to rely on freshmen much of the season and, it seemed, the higher you went up the depth chart in terms of seniority, the more uncertain the leadership became. Ideally in 2013, the sophomore class will have a year of toughness and will step into those leadership roles, but that will only be revealed over time.
Strictly from a player personnel standpoint, though, Alabama returns a good deal of production - although certain areas of the roster will have to be considered a work in progress.
There will be one void, without question. JaMychal Green finished his career as the Southeastern Conference's active leader in double-double scoring/rebounding performances, and, regardless of whether Green was frustrating at times, that sort of production isn't just going to ride into town on the next Greyhound bus. He will be hard to replace.
Tony Mitchell, the team's best athlete and, when motivated, its most explosive player, might also be back. But when asked after the Creighton game if Mitchell would return, Grant said "I don't know" and added that there was "no timetable" for making that decision. Until that changes one way or another, there is no way that Mitchell can be considered a definite factor in 2013.
The returning nucleus for the inside game, then, is freshman Nick Jacobs, who should be better (and less foul-prone) after a full offseason of increasing strength and stamina, and the two 7-footers, Carl Engstrom and Moussa Gueye. Both have potential. Both need work.
Whether either (or both) can acquire enough polish in an offseason to be offensive threats and 30-minute-per-game contributors, not just space-eating role players, will go a long way to determining what sort of team Alabama will put on the court. There is also an upcoming April signing date, but until it is definite that another player or players are coming onto the roster, there is no real way to speculate.
The strength of the team should be on the perimeter. Trevor Releford, although he seemed to wear down over the course of the season, and the steadily improving Trevor Lacey are guards that Grant can build on.
Andrew Steele, Levi Randolph, Rodney Cooper and Charles Hankerson are wing players who can defend, and they should be better offensively. Alabama must find some way to shoot the ball more consistently from 3-point range. Ben Eblen will be back, and Crimson Tide coaches are privately optimistic about the potential and athleticism of redshirt guard Retin Obasohan.
Grant's goal - a return to the NCAA Tournament in 2013 - is realistic. But it may depend as much as what happens in the next seven months - in maturation, recruiting and player development - as it does in the names on the roster.