So, what's your encore strategy after surviving a stray buzzer-beater, beating a No. 1 seed and knocking the crown off the defending champion all in one NCAA joyride?
Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried has that delicious dilemma after the longest NCAA run in school history netted wins over Southern Illinois, Stanford and Syracuse -- plus the cover of Sports Illustrated -- before Connecticut stemmed the Tide in Phoenix.
Gottfried's steady build in Tuscaloosa had yielded an SEC regular-season title in 2002 and a two-week stint at No. 1 early in the following season, the program's first trip to that perch. But only the foolhardy last year projected a third consecutive NCAA bid for Bama.
Gottfried laid aside his treasured UCLA high-post offense in favor of more four-guard action late in the year, and the move helped trigger a surge that carried into the postseason.
Now the Crimson Tide are staring in the face of runaway expectations and the kind of pressure the 2002-03 team didn't handle well.
"I'm not ready to endorse us yet as a top 20-type team," Gottfried said. "You've got to remember we lost 13 games last year."
You must also remember how well the Tide played when all of its starters were healthy, and that Alabama's top three scorers return.
FRONTCOURTChuck Davis' late surge was the hands-down top reason for Alabama's postseason success. Davis transformed from a turnover in waiting into a dependable scorer with funky baseline moves and an old-fashioned set shot. The next step for the angular junior is to become more of a rebounding force; he averaged 5.9 boards in 28.7 minutes played last season.
Jermareo Davidson, a 28-game starter as a freshman, must improve his interior scoring, get stronger and be a more forceful rebounder. But he's got an incredible wingspan and quick hops that helped him team with Davis to make a strong shot-blocking tandem. Behind those two, there are plenty of questions.
"We've got to get some more help around the basket, whether it's [Evan] Brock or Akini [Adkins] or Shawn Taylor or whomever," Gottfried said.
Brock's versatility is valuable, but his role has never seemed defined and his shot selection often suffered with the uncertain minutes.
Adkins and Taylor, both tall and slender redshirt freshmen, will battle for the remaining frontcourt minutes.
BACKCOURTWhen Kennedy Winston grasps the importance of off-ball movement and defense, he'll contend for SEC Player of the Year honors. As it is, he's a strong contender for the title of best natural scorer in the league, and he played all of last season with a chronic swollen knee. His herky-jerky dribbling style and silky long-range jumper are wicked weapons. With his explosiveness back, Winston could unleash a monster season on the SEC.
Earnest Shelton solidified Alabama's shaky shooting guard slot by providing much-needed 3-point prowess. His return in early February from a hyperextended knee was the final piece to the Tide's sizzling finish. Shelton, however, must improve his defense and late-game free-throw shooting.
Gottfried loves his new point guard options -- freshmen Ron Steele and Glenn Miles -- but they are both just 18 years old. Last season's starter, Antoine Pettway, and his backup, Demetrius Smith, were 22.
Another frosh, Albert Weber, projects as a key reserve on the wings.
FINAL ANALYSISFour returning starters, explosive scorers, shot-blocking defenders and talented, hungry freshmen would seem to be a winning formula for Gottfried. But he's fretting over the rebounding beatings his team endured -- like a minus-20 in the win over Stanford -- and the loss of the feisty Pettway, the team glue.
"I like our returning guys, but we're going to miss some guys," Gottfried said. "I look at Oklahoma. They lost Hollis Price and didn't go to the tournament. He was such an inspirational leader for them."