After returning to NCAA Tournament, what's next for Alabama women's basketball with top-15 class

Alabama women's basketball's outgoing seniors shifted goals to expectations for the Crimson Tide, but as they leave, what is next for a program that has made the NCAA Tournament twice in the past three years?

Senior guards Hannah Barber, Megan Abrams and Brittany Davis led Alabama to places the program hadn't seen since the 1990s. This season was the first time that Alabama surpassed 20 wins in the regular season since 1996-97, and the Crimson Tide had its most SEC wins (nine) since 1997-98.

Even as Alabama (20-11) fell 78-74 loss to Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to cement a five-game losing streak to end the season, the season is viewed as progress in the big picture.

"We're just really proud of what we accomplished. It's another step forward, really pleased with our progress," coach Kristy Curry said.

KRISTY CURRY:Kristy Curry has Alabama women's basketball back. Here are the top moments of her tenure

HANNAH BARBER:Alabama women's basketball Hannah Barber gives the Crimson Tide a player-coach at guard

Who is leaving, who will be back next year?

With the departures of Barber, Abrams, Davis and center Jada Rice, Alabama will see an era end, one that has lasted half of Curry's tenure as Alabama's coach. Alabama has a deep group of guards who can step up to replace more than 30 points per game that the outgoing trio averaged.

Aaliyah Nye was second on the team with 9.3 points per game while shooting 45% from 3-point distance and will be looked as the main option to step up. Loyal McQueen will move into the starting point guard role; she averaged 6.7 points and almost two assist behind Barber. Freshman Karly Weather should take a step forward after a promising start to her career.

Sarah Ashlee Barker and Ryan Cobbins give Alabama options as combo guard-forwards. Barker became one of the Crimson Tide's best defenders and could be counted to fill out the stat line with 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.6 blocks per game. Cobbins played most of her minutes as a small-ball center and showed promise against Auburn (9 and 10 points). Khyla Wade Warren and JeAnna Cunningham return at center.

Alabama has the No. 14 recruiting class, according to ESPN, coming in led by Essence Cody, a five-star McDonald's All-American center. The class features four-star Reychel Douglas, a 6-foot guard, and Naomi Jones, a 6-3 forward. They continue a recent trend of adding height for Alabama and should all compete for minutes as freshmen.

What's next for Alabama

Alabama will get back together this summer to prepare for a trip to Spain. After getting Alabama to two NCAA Tournaments, Curry's goal shifts to making March Madness the postseason expectation, and fulfilling that.

"Just stay consistent, just to continue to have the experiences," Curry said. "I think having gone to nine NCAA tournaments before I got to Alabama: It's easy to tell someone how to do it, but once you start experiencing that, it becomes a legacy and something you expect. Until you experience it, I think it's hard to teach that."

With the departures of the seniors, it won't be easy to return, but Nye, Barker, Robbins, McQueen and Weathers have shown the ability to step up and the addition of three blue-chip prospects should help fill the outgoing seniors' roles.

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: After NCAA Tournament appearance, what's next for Alabama women's basketball