TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama coach Avery Johnson isn't pinning his hopes for a breakout season solely on the much talked about freshmen.

Top recruits Collin Sexton and John Petty join a roster that was already returning its top players from last season, giving Johnson a blend of experience and promise that has ratcheted up the Crimson Tide's expectations.

"So those freshmen didn't have to feel like they had to come in and be a savior and do it all on their own," Johnson said. "They were going to be partnering with some really good high character, high level players that have been through it before."

Johnson and the Tide are hoping that formula leads to the program's first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2012 and second since 2006. Alabama was picked to finish fourth in the Southeastern Conference.

The Tide has settled for the NIT in each of Johnson's first two seasons in Tuscaloosa. Braxton Key and Dazon Ingram led the way a year ago as freshmen, making it clear Johnson doesn't mind leaning heavily on youngsters.

Key led the team in scoring and rebounding while he and Ingram became the program's top freshman scoring duo. Top shot blocker Donta Hall and outside shooter Riley Norris also return from the starting lineup.

The Tide advanced to the SEC tournament semifinals last season for the first time since 2013 before losing in the NIT opener.

Johnson, a former NBA point guard and head coach, said his players embrace the heightened expectations and attention.

"That's what our players want," he said. "They want to be on the big stage. They want to have that type of excitement around our program."

Johnson said Alabama has sold a school-record 6,000-plus season tickets.

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Some other things to watch in Alabama's season:

FAB FRESHMEN: The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Sexton was the centerpiece of a consensus No. 5-rated class, the program's highest ever recruiting ranking. A 33-point-a-game scorer who won the dunk contest at the McDonald's All-American Game, he was a top 10 recruit and was rated by 247Sports as the No. 2 point guard. Petty, a 6-5, 193-pounder, is a two-time Alabama Mr. Basketball who also was regarded as a five-star prospect by some recruiting services. Guard Herb Jones also was one of the state's top prospects.

VERSATILITY: Johnson said his deeper roster gives him the flexibility for a variety of lineups ranging from "really, really small" to big. The Tide already turned around its rebounding fortunes last season, collecting 5.6 more than its opponents a year after ranking 293rd nationally in rebounding margin. Ohio State transfer forward/center Daniel Giddens is 6-10 and brings added size to the lineup after sitting out last season. "We like to play fast but if we need to slow it down, we can play a power game also," Johnson said.

PLAYING DEFENSE: Alabama's defense was one of its strengths last season, with the Tide ranking 25th nationally in field goal percentage defense and 28th in scoring defense.

BALANCED SCORING: Sexton was a big scorer at Pebblebrook High School in Georgia, but Alabama spread the offensive wealth last season. Eight players averaged between five and 12 points per game. The year before Retin Obasohan handled much of the scoring load but the Tide appears to have significantly more offensive weapons now.

SCHEDULE: Alabama opens the season against Memphis on Nov. 10 in the Veterans Classic at Annapolis, Maryland. The nonconference schedule also includes games at Arizona (Dec. 9), against Texas in Birmingham (Dec. 22) and at home versus Oklahoma (Jan. 27).

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