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March 19, 2008

Basketball recap: Stormy season

The Alabama basketball team closed out a tumultuous season against Mississippi State last Friday in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament. For the second time in coach Mark Gottfried's Alabama tenure, the Crimson Tide failed to reach a postseason tournament. BamaOnLine.com takes a look back at a season that fans and players alike are no doubt ready to put behind them:

Overall record: 17-16.

SEC record: 5-11 (1-1 in SECT).

Overall road record (neutral sites excluded): 1-9.

SEC road record: 0-8.

Season leaders: Field-goal shooting (Richard Hendrix, .598); 3-point shooting (Mykal Riley, .433); Free-throw shooting (Justin Knox, .800); Scoring (Hendrix, 17.8 per game); Rebounding (Hendrix, 10.1 per game); Assists (Brandon Hollinger, 103); Blocked shots (Hendrix, 63); Steals (Riley, 54); Assist/turnover ratio (Mikhail Torrance, 2.2-1 (73-33)).

What went wrong: A shorter answer would be 'What didn't go wrong?' In a redshirt year for All-American point guard Ronald Steele, Alabama never found a permanent answer at that position. In the post, Richard Hendrix was consistently effective but didn't get enough help from UA's three other big men. And on the wings, the scoring exploits of Alonzo Gee and Mykal Riley were too often offset by defensive struggles.


What went right: Alabama hit the offensive glass effectively this year, finishing third in the SEC at 13.6 ORB's per game. ... The development of guard Senario Hillman was gradual but impressive. Prior to his injury against Vanderbilt, he had begun to show flashes of an offensive game that will eventually be an impressive match with his defense and transition skills.

What must improve?: Free-throw shooting tops a lengthy list here as UA shot an SEC-worst .620 from the line. SEC opponents cashed in 43 more points at the line than the Crimson Tide did. ... Alabama's 3-point defense was also dismal, ranking 11th in the league (.355).

BOL MVP: Richard Hendrix is the easy choice here. The junior All-SEC pick averaged a double-double with 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds. Alabama struggled to get him the ball at times against collapsing defenses. His free-throw problems (.537) set the pace for the team's struggles at the line, but his defense and physical conditioning were improved.

Freshman focus: Among three freshmen who saw action, Rico Pickett's play was the most maddening. A gifted athlete who likes to run the floor, Pickett's two biggest problems were turnovers (team-high 63) and shot selection. His minutes varied wildly, but he showed improvement by season's end.

What happened to...: Justin Tubbs? In 2006-07, the reserve guard from Trussville played 164 minutes in SEC play, showed tight defense and shot an impressive .404 from 3-point range. This year, his collegiate career took a clear step backward. Tubbs played just 57 minutes against the league with 10 DNP's. The low point for Tubbs came in a home win over Arkansas, when Gottfried made wholesale substitutions - five in, five out - and Tubbs watched from the bench as the 11th man and the only healthy scholarship player not involved.

Most impressive win: Alabama 78, Vanderbilt 73. Though some might argue an 11-point win over Florida in the SEC tournament was more impressive, the Gators had been playing poorly and were ripe to fall. Vandy, 25-5 at the time, took the Crimson Tide into overtime but could not stop sharp-shooting Mykal Riley, who knocked down 13 points in the extra five minutes. Alonzo Gee turned in one of his best defensive performances of the year against Vandy star wing Shan Foster.

Most disappointing loss: Georgia 61, Alabama 54. Although it was a road game, UA's overall performance was never more lackluster than it was in Stegeman Coliseum. Richard Hendrix and Brandon Hollinger played well, shooting 12 of 16 between them, but it was as if nobody else showed up.

Reason to be optimistic for next year: Of course, Ronald Steele's expected return at point guard has the potential to change the complexion of this team entirely. ... In the paint, much-needed help could come in the form of McDonald's All-American Jamychal Green, a 6-8 power forward with five-star Rivals.com credentials.

Reason to be pessimistic for next year: The possibility of Richard Hendrix turning pro a year early will cast a shadow on the 2008-09 season until it is settled one way or the other. ... Who will be the 3-point threat on the wing? Alonzo Gee shot .227 from 3-point range against SEC competition this year, so he's not exactly Mykal Riley's heir apparent.

The coaching question: Gottfried will find that the segment of fans who are ready for a coaching change will be shorter on patience than ever when it comes to support. If Richard Hendrix returns, the anticipation of he and Ronald Steele playing together should be enough to at least buy a wait-and-see attitude from the fan base. If Jamychal Green makes a big freshman splash, that won't hurt excitement either. But results will be all that matters in 2008-09, and a return to the NCAA Tournament should be the minimum expectation.


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