You likely recall that Xavier and Alabama played last year, with the Crimson Tide coming into Cintas on December 3rd and limping away victims of a 97-84 hiding. They scored pretty well, but Xavier scored at will that night. That was kind of the story of the season for 'Bama, as their decent offense couldn't support a lackluster defense. They stumbled to a 19-15 record and a second-round exit in the NIT.
A lot has changed since then, starting with...
Anthony Grant is out and 2006 NBA Coach of the Year Avery Johnson is in. Johnson won 254 NBA games in stints with Dallas and New Jersey/Brooklyn. In the NBA, Johnson really favored an attacking, fast break style offense, emphasizing a five-man commitment to the defensive glass followed by a structured but aggressive flow to the offensive end of the court. In the half-court offense, he ran old school NBA isolation that focused on letting star players work.
As for personality, he is a very direct, no nonsense kind of coach. He has a game plan and expects his players to execute it, with woe befalling the player who freelances too heavily. Keep in mind that (a) this is all from reports of his style as an NBA coach and (b) if I ever saw a game he coached, I didn't note it as such at the time. Until he begins building a resume as a college coach though, his NBA work is all we have to go off of.
Guard Levi Randolph led the team in minutes, scoring, rebounding, assists and steals as a senior, throwing together a 15.4/5.1/2.5 line on .481/.348/.839 shooting. His ORtg of 122.2 was 54th in the country and his TO% of 11.7% was 125th. He was the team's best player, and now he's gone.
Also gone is itinerant guard Ricky Tarrant, himself late of Tulane. He put up 13.1/2.2/2.0 and added 1.4 steals per game while shooting .413/.299/.802. More a volume shooter than a scoring monster like Randolph, he'll be plying his trade at Memphis this season. Rodney Cooper also graduated after posting a line of 11.1/3.7/1.6 on .474/.374/.800 shooting, making it a clean sweep of all the Crimson Tide's double-digit scorers heading out the door.
The good news is that pretty much everyone else is coming back. Six-foot-eight stretch four Shannon Hale is the team's leading returning scorer. He's a weirdly ineffective rebounder for a man his size, but he attempts to make up for it with a .417/. 302/.701 shooting line on his way to 8.2/3.2/1.1 per game. You can decide for yourself if that's a worthwhile tradeoff. Reserve guard Retin Obasohan seems like he's been in school forever; the rising senior was good for 6.2/2.9/0.8 on .447/.378/.606 shooting last year.
Returning bigs Michael Kessens, Riley Norris, and Jimmie Taylor are three very different ways to get to similar stat lines. Taylor plays closest to the basket, not attempting a three on his way to .602/.000/.495 shooting and 5.5/4.9/0.5 per game; finesse is not his calling card. Riley Norris drifts around the perimeter, shooting .379/.338/.605 to get his 4.7/4.2/0.6. Kessens splits the difference in terms of style but outpaces both in production; he got 5.9/5.2/0.8 on .500/.167/.656 shooting last year. Their playing time going forward will likely be based more on what Avery Johnson's style is that any major gulf in their productivity.
Alabama brings in a solid but not spectacular three-man class. Heading it up is ESPN 100 big man Donta Hall. Hal is 6'8", 205 and blessed with good length and athletic ability. He is capable on being a defensive menace, working the glass on both ends, and hitting from mid-range, but his motor is something of a question at this point.
Joining him is four-star guard Dazon Ingram. Ingram is a 6'5" lefty with a skill set that works best in transition. His jumper is streaky, but he's a solid slasher. Brandon Austin is the same basic idea, but right-handed. Like Ingram, he needs to smooth out his jumper but is an explosive athlete.
It's hard to say how a new head coach with an NBA style is going to mesh with an NCAA roster recruited by someone else and generally lacking NBA talent. There are a lot of reasons to be positive about Alabama's future under Johnson, but this is a program that's probably at least a year away.