Alabama played their way onto the NCAA Tournament bubble in February last season before fading late. If this Alabama team can gel, they may be in a similar position in February of this season. The final stretch will include tough road games at Arkansas, South Carolina, Texas A&M and rival Tennessee. Kentucky also visits Tuscaloosa for the lone game of the regular season with the Wildcats. Should Alabama be in contention for the NCAA Tournament, February will be rife with opportunities to nail down a bid.
Wednesday, February 1st - at Arkansas - Alabama begins the month of February with a trip to the always tough Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks will be an older team with 9 juniors and seniors on the roster (it should be noted however that four of those players are newcomers), highlighted by the return of Moses Kingsley (15.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.3 bpg in 15-16), the preseason pick for SEC Player of the Year. Another key returning player is Dusty Hannahs, who led the team in scoring a season ago with an average of 16.5 ppg. Three critical juco recruits (Jaylen Barford, Arlando Cook and Daryl Macon) and a transfer (Dustin Thomas/Colorado) will have to contribute.
Saturday, February 4th - Auburn - The second game of the season with Auburn. With recruiting successes by both coaching staffs, the Alabama/Auburn basketball rivalry will become much more intense this season and in the years ahead. As both programs ascend, this game should also have an impact on the conference race in the years ahead as well. Now if they can just get rid of the whole Iron Bowl trophy spectacle at halftime.....
Tuesday, February 7th - at South Carolina - The Gamecocks finally broke through in year four under Frank Martin, winning 24 regular season games. Unfortunately, they missed the NCAA Tournament due to a weak non-conference schedule. The foundation of the team will be Sindarious Thornwell (13.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.4 spg), Duane Notice (10.8 ppg, 2.2 apg, 39% 3-pt), PJ Dozier (6.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg) and Chris Silva (5.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg). Martin will need contributions from a mixture of JC and freshman recruits if the Gamecocks are going to be successful this season.
Saturday, February 11th - Kentucky - All hail the king! As usual, the Cats are big, deep and talented. Kentucky is once again a preseason top 5 team and a heavy favorite to win the SEC title. John Calipari brings in five 5 star recruits (De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Edrice "Bam" Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones) that are all expected to at least sniff the NBA at some point. In addition, Isaiah Briscoe (9.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.1 apg) and Derek Willis (7.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg) return. Senior guards Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder along with sophomore big men Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard should all have bigger roles this season.
Wednesday, February 15th - at Missouri - The second meeting with Missouri. It's never easy playing on the road in league play. Even if Missouri continues their struggles, Alabama cannot afford to overlook what could be perceived as a very winnable road game.
Saturday, February 18th - LSU - The second meeting meeting with LSU. Will this be the final trip to Tuscaloosa for Johnny Jones as the LSU head coach?
Thursday, February 23rd - Georgia - The second meeting with Georgia. This could be a very important game if Georgia and Alabama are in contention for the postseason.
Saturday, February 25th - at Texas A&M - If you're a blueblood program, replacing over 60% of your scoring production isn't a big deal; you simply sign another elite class and you reload. A&M is not a blueblood program so this season will likely be a rebuilding year of sorts for the program. Fortunately for A&M, some key members of last season's SEC title squad return, notably Tyler Davis (11.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.1 bpg), Tonny Trocha-Morelos (7.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Admon Gilder (7.0 ppg) and DJ Hogg (6.2 ppg). Billy Kennedy signed a top 20 class, headlined by 4 star forward, Robert Williams (he looked really good in their recent exhibition game). Unfortunately, another 4 star recruit, JJ Caldwell, will miss the 16-17 season due to academic ineligibility.
Wednesday, March 1st - Ole Miss - In my opinion, Stefan Moody was one of the most important players to their team the last two seasons; his absence will be felt in Oxford. That said, Andy Kennedy does have an intriguing roster on paper, led by Sebastian Saiz (11.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.0 bpg), an underrated big man who was 2nd in the league in rebounding despite suffering a detached retina (!). Other notable returning players are Rasheed Brooks (8.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.3 spg) and Marcanvis Hymon (6.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg). Once again, Ole Miss will count on transfers to play a big role, the latest being Cullen Neal (New Mexico) and Deandre Burnett (Miami, Fla.).
Saturday, March 4th - at Tennessee - Rick Barnes is in the midst of a rebuilding job in Knoxville that may get worse before it gets better with a team made up of ten freshmen and sophomore scholarship players. The top returning player is Robert Hubbs III (10.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg), one of only two seniors on the team. Other notable returning players are Detrick Mostella (8.4 ppg), Admiral Schofield (7.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and Shembari Phillips (5.4 ppg). Newcomers include a 5th year transfer in Lew Evans (Utah State) and a bevy of 3/4 star freshmen (John Fulkerson, Grant Williams, Jordan Bone, Lamonte Turner, Kwe Parker, Jalen Johnson and Jordan Bowden) that will all be counted on to play a role of some kind.