The Tuscaloosa News, Robert Sutton, Associated Press
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The fortunes of Alabama and JaMychal Green have certainly taken a turn for the better.
The Crimson Tide has used a three-game winning streak to fortify its once-fading NCAA tournament hopes going into Wednesday night's game against Auburn. Green, meanwhile, is expected to return to the starting lineup and will be the lone senior honored before his finale at Coleman Coliseum, a big turnaround for a player recently exiled for four games.
With winnable end-of-season games against the Tigers (14-14, 4-10 Southeastern Conference) and Mississippi, an RPI of 25 and a potential bye in the SEC tournament, Green and the Tide (19-9, 8-6) are feeling pretty good about their NCAA standing.
"I still feel like we're in good position," Green said.
Double-digit wins over Tennessee and Mississippi State and a road victory over Arkansas have helped turn the talk in Tuscaloosa from a string of suspensions to the prospect of making the NCAA field for the first time in six years.
"It'd be pretty big," said Green, who came off the bench against the Bulldogs. "I've never been there. It'd be a great experience for everybody on the team. It's just the way I want to go out."
He returned against Mississippi State from a four-game suspension — No. 3 of his career — for violating team rules. A player who ranks among the top 13 on Alabama's career lists in points, rebounds, blocked shots and steals but also has that checkered past still has a chance to improve his legacy if he helps the Tide end that NCAA drought.
"I think Mike is very grateful that he's got this opportunity to finish his career out, to go through Senior Night and to enjoy whatever time we have left with his teammates," Grant said. "The one thing when I first came in that Mike talked about was his pride in being from Alabama and wanting to represent to the University of Alabama and bring back the tradition of postseason participation.
"If you look at the course of his career, you can say what you want, but I think he's helped us in terms of getting the program back on track."
It might not be a lock now, but the Tide's chances of playing in the NCAA tournament seem a lot better than they did after back-to-back losses to LSU and Florida, when Green was out.
He and Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele — who both missed one game — were all suspended a few hours before the LSU game. Tony Mitchell is suspended for the remainder of the season and was already gone before Alabama's 68-59 win at Auburn.
"Alabama seems to be playing their best basketball this time of the year, which as a coach is what you want," Tigers coach Tony Barbee said.
That's partly because of four freshmen gaining confidence in playing increased roles and some strong shooting.
Alabama has topped 50 percent in shooting overall and from 3-point range in each of the past two games. That's a welcome sight for the league's worst shooting team from beyond the arc.
Then there's the youngsters.
Levi Randolph is fresh from an 18-point, seven-rebound, four-assist effort against Mississippi State. Nick Jacobs scored 14 against Arkansas and Trevor Lacey 18 against the Volunteers. Before that, Rodney Cooper poured in 28 against LSU.
Green said the key has been "team chemistry and confidence."
"Our freshmen have been doing a good job of holding it down while I was gone," he said. "Now that I'm back, I see how their confidence has changed. They're more comfortable on the court. They're not freshmen any more. They're upperclassmen."
The absence of he and Mitchell — typically the go-to scorers — has perhaps helped the Tide in another way: By allowing players like Steele, Cooper and Randolph to get more involved in the offense and increase the number of scoring threats.
"I think that's the mark of a good team," Grant said. "Any time you have a variety of guys that can step up, I think that's the mark of a team that's going to be a tough team to beat."
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