March 28, 2013 10:41:32 AM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama men's basketball team navigated a miserable December, dealt with a couple of key injuries and lacked a consistent scoring threat in the post.
Still, the Crimson Tide managed to win 23 games and advance to the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament while losing only one senior and no starters for next season.
It raises the bar for a program that has been relegated to the NIT two of the past three seasons, with a first-round NCAA tournament loss in between.
"For our team to be able to get 23 wins, to finish tied for second in the league, I think it was progress," Tide coach Anthony Grant said after Tuesday night's 58-57 loss to the University of Maryland. "I think we had to get better as a team over the course of the season. Some of it was self-induced in terms of some of the mistakes that we made over the course of the year."
Alabama, which finished 23-13, flirted with an NCAA bid despite going 1-5 in December and losing back-to-back games to Mercer University and Tulane University. The Tide has produced three consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time since Wimp Sanderson's teams from 1990-92.
Backup guard Andrew Steele, who missed the final six games with an ankle injury, is the only key player departing.
All-Southeastern Conferenceguard Trevor Releford, Trevor Lacey and the rest of the starters are expected back and they have more reinforcements on the way this time.
Grant, whose only signee last year was Devonta Pollard, landed 6-foot-10 center Jimmie Taylor and 6-8 forward Shannon Hale in November. He plans to sign one or two more players.
"This year we had so many experiences, some good, some bad in terms of the results that we ended up with," Grant said. "Now the challenge is what do we do with that? Do you learn from it? Do you use it as motivation to get better? That we don't want to go through that again, so we're motivated on a daily basis individually and collectively to improve. To me, that's going to be the real telltale sign is how much improvement do we show individually and collectively."
The biggest deficiencies were among the big men, though the 6-foot-8 Jacobs showed flashes and 7-foot-1 Moussa Gueye's strength was on defense.
Center Carl Engstrom sustained a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 1, leaving Gueye to take a bigger role. Gueye scored only 49 points in 36 games, including 27 starts.
The Tide held 24 of 36 opponents to 60 points or fewer, but was held below that mark offensively 16 times, too.
"Everybody's got to improve. Moussa's got to improve," Grant said. "From a defensive standpoint he was a presence but offensively he's got to get better. I think all our guys have tremendous room for improvement. I don't think anybody's come close to their potential. I think skill-wise we can get better. Physically we can get better. Obviously we'll add some pieces to our team, which should help as well in terms of our depth."