An unexpected men’s college basketball contender

Kelsey O’Loughlin, Staff Writer

In the 2019-2020 season, the Alabama men’s basketball team went 8-10 in the SEC. Inconsistent play stained the team as they would win one and then lose one, or win two in a row lose two in a row. A team compiled with a balance of underclassmen and upper-level students with one or two graduate students, the Crimson Tide had difficulty finding their stride.

Once students were sent home and seasons were cut short for all student-athletes, the Tide took advantage of the extra time and the ability to reflect on their season. Returning for the 2021 season, Alabama set its standards high. The tide was tested early on this season, losing to Stanford, Clemson and Western Kentucky. After regrouping and evaluating their shortcoming, the Tide rolled through the SEC. The team went on a nine-match winning streak from the week of Dec. 29 to Jan. 26, remaining at the top of the SEC standings for most of the season. This past weekend, the Tide clinched the regular-season title with a 64-59 win over Mississippi State. This is the first regular-season title since the 2001-2002 season, ending the 20-year drought for the Alabama basketball program. Now at number five in the USA Today poll, the men are looking to carry their momentum forward as they head into their final two regular-season games and the SEC tournament.

The last Alabama team to win a regular-season title was in the 2001-2002 season. The team was made up of a majority of underclassmen and only one senior leader. They went 27-8 in the SEC West and ended the reason ranked eighth in the final AP poll. They made a great run in the NCAA tournament, defeating Florida Atlantic University but ultimately falling to Kent State out of the MAC (Mid American Conference). The only player on that year’s roster that would eventually go to the NBA was Mo Williams, a 6’1 point and shooting guard from Jackson, Miss. Williams played for the Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland, Minnesota and Charlotte. As a freshman on the 2001 squad, Williams averaged 10.4 points per game and 3.9 rebounds. His presence remained throughout his remaining years with the Tide, but he didn’t realize his accomplishment as a rookie would be a difficult feat for many teams after him to reach.

This season, the Tide is ranked number one in the nation in field-goal attempts and 21st in defensive rebounds per game. A critical returning piece for Alabama is sophomore guard Jaden Shackelford. After being named to the SEC all-freshman team, Shackelford has improved his game into his second year. He averaged 14.1 points in the win against Mississippi State.

For Shackelford and the rest of his squad, they have accomplished a remarkable breakthrough. With the right mindset and hunger to prove themselves, there is no ceiling for the Tide. 

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