If Alabama is going to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006, the Tide will have to make a strong finishing kick without their second-leading scorer.
Alabama coach Anthony Grant announced Monday that senior big man JaMychal Green will be allowed to resume practice but junior forward Tony Mitchell will remain suspended for the rest of the season. Mitchell averaged 13.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game prior to his indefinite suspension on Feb. 6.
Four Alabama players have served suspensions for conduct detrimental to the team this month, but Mitchell is the only one who will not return this season. Grant said Mitchell's suspension was a result of "an accumulation of issues" but he has declined to elaborate further.
The absence of Mitchell certainly will not help an Alabama team that has tumbled toward the NCAA tournament bubble in SEC play despite a strong non-league performance that included wins over Wichita State, Purdue and VCU. The Tide (17-9, 6-6) still have a top 40 RPI thanks to a strong strength of schedule, yet they're just 4-6 in their last 10 games.
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Alabama has split its four games without Mitchell, beating Auburn and Tennessee and losing to LSU and Florida. For the Tide to feel secure about its NCAA tournament hopes before the SEC tournament, they may need to win three of their final four games, which will be no easy task considering their upcoming schedule.
Up first is a visit to Arkansas, which had been undefeated at home before falling to Florida on Saturday. Then comes home games against Mississippi State and Auburn before a road finale at Ole Miss.
Getting two or three wins out of that stretch would have been easier with Mitchell, but credit Grant for taking a stand at such a crucial time. Now it will be up to Mitchell's teammates to see if they can rally without him.
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