And now for the sequel. Alabama will send a very different basketball team to the floor in defense of its first SEC title in 19 years. With a large chunk of Nate Oats' breakout team graduating, transferring or going pro, repeating or improving on last season's Sweet 16 run will require a different formula from the veteran-laden 2020-21 roster. A strong recruiting class and a carefully curated group of incoming transfers have a group crafted in the image of how Oats wants the game played.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Nate Oats
2020-21 RECORD (SEC): 26-7 (16-2)
2020-21 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to UCLA 88-78 in the Sweet 16
F/G Herbert Jones (11.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg)
G John Petty Jr. (12.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
G Joshua Primo (8.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
Given Oats' style, the lines between frontcourt and backcourt players tend to blur. He'll have to replace inside-out forward Alex Reese, and James Rojas figures to be out for at least the first month or so with a torn ACL. Herbert Jones, last year's SEC Player of the Year, leaves the biggest void both from a leadership and defensive standpoint.
That said, Alabama will bring considerably more height and versatility to the paint. Alex Tchikou (6'11", 225) is healthy after tearing his Achilles before his freshman year, and his athletic versatility should make the former four-star recruit a matchup problem. Charles Bediako (7'0", 215) could benefit from adding some bulk after entering as a high four-star recruit ranked 32nd nationally.
Perhaps the most intriguing addition is Noah Gurley, a transfer from Furman who can play practically any position on the floor as a versatile 6'8" scorer.
Alabama will want to see Juwan Gary stay healthy for longer stretches this winter after he missed his freshman year and parts of his sophomore season. The 6'6" forward is an X-factor on the floor, often injecting energy off the bench, and his role figures to expand. Without Jones, Gary's ability to make those blue-collar, scrappy plays in the paint will be significant for the intangibles of this team.
It starts with the return of guards Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford. Getting Shackelford back was the story of the summer after last year's top scorer originally entered the NBA draft and then the transfer portal before opting to return to Tuscaloosa. Quinerly, a transfer from Villanova, showed his potential down the stretch last season, and his ability to penetrate the lane will again be the key to an effective inside-out offensive game.
JD Davison is the name that has created the most buzz around Alabama hoops since Collin Sexton. The McDonald's All-American point guard was the No. 10 overall recruit in the class and brings a startling high school highlight tape to Alabama. His speed and athleticism made him among the most dominant in-state prep stars, so there are considerable expectations surrounding his arrival from Letohatchee.
Nimari Burnett is another intriguing newcomer after the former McDonald's All-American transferred following a year at Texas Tech that failed to meet expectations. His perimeter shooting touch will add to the outside shooting threat that Shackelford brings. Oats likes Burnett's length and the fact that he'll be motivated to show that his brief Texas Tech career (5.3 ppg in 12 games) was an anomaly.
Keon Ellis also figures to have an expanded role after stepping into Joshua Primo's starting spot late last year. At 6'6", Ellis' length and perimeter shot (38.9 percent from 3 last year) fit Oats' vision for a guard.
With so much leadership and experience exiting the program, this younger roster's ability to find cohesive chemistry is perhaps as important as assembling high-level talent. Only Shackelford has played more than one season in an Alabama uniform, so he and Quinerly will need to carry over the winning culture. Gurley is a three-time all-Southern Conference performer, but this will be his first year playing his home games in Coleman Coliseum.
There's no question that the talent is there for Year 3 of the Oats era after Year 2 broke the program out of a decades-long slumber. There's momentum coming off last year, but now comes the pressure to sustain it.
Postseason Prediction: NCAA Tournament Round of 32
SEC Prediction: 4