Losing Carmelo Anthony to the NBA made things tough enough on defending national champion Syracuse.
What makes the Orangemen's run to this year's Sweet 16 all the more impressive is that they also lost their point guard two-thirds of the way through the season.
Following a 74-61 loss Feb. 7 at Providence, point guard Billy Edelin left the team for personal reasons, forcing coach Jim Boeheim to shuffle three-fifths of his lineup. Boeheim moved 3-point sharpshooter Gerry McNamara to the point, Josh Pace to shooting guard and Demetris Nichols to small forward.
“This team's been together for about 12 games. Most teams have been together for 30 games," Boeheim said. “We lost a lot with Billy — points, assists and a floor leader," McNamara said. "I think we did a pretty good job of stepping up, all of us guys, as a group, and making up for what we lost."
While Alabama is rich in football tradition, no college basketball team from The Heart of Dixie has ever advanced to the Final Four.
Alabama and Alabama-Birmingham are in the Sweet 16. Although he acknowledged the state's underrated basketball support, Crimson Tide coach Mark Gottfried said it is not yet time to crow.
“Football in our state has earned the right. They've won national championships. At some point basketball needs to take the next step," he said. “Hopefully, we're the team that kind of breaks the door down."
BETTER IN BAHAMAS
While many teams use the summer to play tough, foreign competition, Alabama spent August at the famed Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas after a trip to Spain and Italy fell through.
“It was pretty tough," said Gottfried, who credited the trip with bringing together a team replacing four key players.
“That trip was a good springboard for our team.