During the 1990's, the Alabama Crimson Tide established a reputation as one of the premier teams in the SEC. Under Coach Rick Moody, the Tide reached the NCAA tournament for eight straight years, including a Final Four appearance in 1994, followed by 4 consecutive Sweet 16 appearances.
But then Alabama fortunes took a downturn. In 2000, Alabama fell to 8th place in the SEC with a 5-9 record. Last year's rebuilding effort was hampered by academic problems and injuries. Yet, despite their plague of injuries, the Crimson Tide maintained their ground, finishing again a 5-9 in the SEC and sweeping arch-rival Auburn. If Alabama used up their share of bad breaks last year, the Tide should show improvement this year.
Returning Players: For 2001-02 Alabama returns their top four scorers, top two rebounders, and three starters. The Tide will be led by last year's scoring leader, senior point guard Shondra Johnson (13.4 ppg, 5.0 apg). Junior Beth Vice (.348 3pt%) will likely assume starting duties at shooting guard, replacing graduated 3-point specialist Nicole Carruth. 6-2 Senior LaNisha Cartwell (11.5 ppg, 6.1 rbg) will return at center. Junior G/F Shun Hunter (6.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and last year's JC transfer forward Sparkle Smith (6.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg) will likely complete the starting lineup.
Incoming Players: Alabama brings in a crop of Alabama All-stars, headlined by Alabama's Miss Basketball, 5'3" point guard Donyel Wheeler from Birmingham Huffman. Joining Wheeler are fellow Alabama all-stars 5'9" forward Monique Bivins, 6'0 forward/center Natasha Gamble, and 6'1 forward Mivvie Strickland. Katie Sipe, a 5'10" guard from Coffee County, Tennessee, completes the incoming freshman class.
Outlook: The Crimson Tide will put a solid, experienced starting lineup on the court this year. Alabama's strength will be their backcourt, with the explosive Hunter and sharp-shooting Vice leading the way. However, by SEC standards, their frontcourt is relatively short and will face matchup problems against the taller SEC teams like Vandy, Tennessee and Georgia. Their bench will also be relatively inexperienced. But if Alabama can avoid the injury bug, they'll field a solid team, with a legitimate shot at finishing in the top half of the SEC and returning to the NCAA tournament. However, if last year's injury plague continues, a third WNIT appearance is the likely outcome.