Coach Avery Johnson's first year was a roller-coaster ride with amazing upsets and bad losses. In the end, this team exceeded expectations, and left us with a lot of hope and excitement for the future despite a very disappointing finish.
The experts picked Bama to finish 13th out of 14 teams in the SEC after losing three top players from the 2014-15 campaign. That result would have surprised nobody who watched the team get dismantled by Xavier and Dayton. Expectations changed drastically after Bama beat the Shockers, then shocked Notre Dame! We survived down-to-the-wire games against woeful Southern Miss and Jax State, but picked up a nice road win at Clemson before nearly upsetting eventual one seed Oregon.
A brutal January schedule left the Tide at 1-5 in the SEC, but they got back over .500 in conference play thanks to a 5 game win streak that included our first win in Gainesville in 20 years! As the calendar turned to March, we were all giddy with bubble talk, and it was fun seeing "Alabama" in projected brackets late in the season. Unfortunately, the team did not handle the extra pressure well at all, and home losses to Mississippi $tate and Arkansas sealed our fate.
The first year with a new coach is always exciting. There were a lot of questions about Coach Johnson's ability to adapt to the college game. While many of those questions are still unresolved, there is plenty of reason for optimism.
Coach Johnson spoke at length in the preseason about his preference for a more uptempo style of play. After a couple of early season lopsided losses, he slowed it way down. I think it's clear that we didn't have the players to run the system that he wants, but he showed an ability to adapt to his roster and give his guys their best chance to win. More importantly, in knocking off a number of ranked teams; the guys should now have confidence they can win big, close games.
My greatest memory of this season will be the play of Retin Obasohan. He went from being a role player last season to first team All SEC in his senior campaign, while providing great leadership and carrying the squad on his back at times. There is no doubt we are going to miss him. It's impossible to replace a player like that.
Fortunately, we do have some depth returning next year. Several players made significant progress over the course of the season. Riley Norris became our leading rebounder and showed the ability to be a decent shooter earlier in the season. Donta Hall improved on his propensity to get into foul trouble and was as good of a post defender and rebounder as you will find by the year's end. I also love the way he runs the floor and plays aggressively; if he can develop any sort of scoring move other than a dunk he would be all-conference. Justin Coleman showed the ability to score and run the team from the point position, and he will only improve with playing time. All we need from him is consistency.
To compliment the returning players, we will get an infusion of young talent with next year's team. Many say Nick King was one of the better players in practice this year, and he will be eligible next season. He can play the 3 or 2, or possibly 4 in a pinch. We saw a bit of Dazon Ingram before he got hurt, and if he comes back healthy that will give us a lot more length and athleticism in the back court. If he can develop a jump shot, he could be an eventual NBA prospect, in my opinion. Armond Davis is a 6'6 guard who put up great numbers at JUCO this year and had plenty of good offers on the table. Braxton Key is a 4 star, 6'8" small forward who will be able to help us, and Avery Johnson Jr. figures to compete for playing time at PG as well. I think we will have a lot more depth and scoring options.
I expect there to be some attrition, simply because that's the nature of the college game these days. I hope it's minimized, as I think everyone returning can have a role on this team next year. Hopefully if any of the guys are thinking about transferring, they will look at Retin, and see that sticking it out to the 5th year can pay off. The keys to next season are signing another big man, perhaps bringing in a PF as a graduate transfer, and someone stepping up with Retin's mindset of wanting the ball and having the ability to create with the game on the line.
Coach Johnson's recruiting efforts have been solid, but losing Terrance Ferguson was a big blow, both to our prospects for next season and the program's image nationally. The next steps for the program, and for Coach Johnson, is to land one of those national elite prospects, and prove as a team that we can handle the success and pressure of being in the limelight. The fans need to stay positive and show up! I'm still hopeful that we can convince the powers that be to build a new arena, but that's probably a subject better left for another post on another day. Cultures don't change over night, but we are moving in the right direction.
Speaking of changes, there a few things in the works here at the blog that we hope to roll out during the off season which I hope you all will enjoy. I've enjoyed watching and blogging about this team, but obviously posts will be more sporadic since there will be no more games for the next 7 months. No games for 7 months... that makes me sad. At least I have baseball (Go Cubs!). Enjoy your summer.