Alabama Basketball Showing Signs of Life? Nah, Probably Just the Death Spasms
As a sports fan, you will understand where I am coming from. I just can't give up on my team.
I started out as what seemed like the lone defender of Alabama basketball coach Mark Gottfried. A few years ago, the rumblings began about making a change.
"Oh no," I said, "let's stick it out with him." "He has taken our program to an Elite Eight and a conference title." "He recruits well with very limited resources and a dump for an arena." "He can still win." "Let's hang in there with him and see if he can turn it around."
Gottfried continued to bring in high-profile recruits. True, he couldn't sell out Coleman Coliseum for a Jessica Alba/Megan Fox jello wrestling match. True, he couldn't win on the road against Hoover High School. And yes, he couldn't teach his team any sort of dependable offense or teach anyone to rebound, even if they were 6'10" and built like a brick house.
But I was still perched on his increasingly roomy bandwagon.
Last year, I began to try to find a way off the bandwagon, which began to look more like a hearse.
But being the admitted Alabama homer that I am, I tried to explain away the disaster that was the 2007-08 season.
"Don't worry." "The Ronald Steele injury sealed our fate." "It might not be Gottfried's fault." "Steele would have been worth at least five or six additional wins." "We've got to give him one more year with a healthy Steele and see what he can do."
If you were watching Family Feud on television, this is where you would see the giant third "X" on the screen and that grating buzzer noise.
Alabama opened the season with a truly despicable loss to Mercer at home.
At this point, I barrel-rolled off the Gottfried hearse into oncoming traffic.
Not to be outdone by this egg-laying performance, Gottfried took his team to Hawaii and was embarrassed by a mediocre Oregon team.
As far as I was concerned, the basketball program was the equivalent of an 85-year-old man on a hospital bed with a "DNR" tag on his toe.
Then, as some sort of cruel joke, Alabama won a few games and looked like they had some inclination as to what sport they were actually playing.
Texas A&M came to Tuscaloosa at this point. While certainly no national power, a win against the Aggies might build some momentum going into play in the very marginal SEC.
What happened? Alabama had the game locked up until Gottfried got too concerned with fouling three-point shooters with time running out. As expected, A&M hit two late ones and forced a game that was in the bag into overtime.
Shockingly, Alabama was punished in the overtime period.
I reserved the futile hope that Mal Moore was putting together a list of potential replacements. I'm sure he wasn't. Someone needs to inform him first that, in the winter and spring, all that activity at Coleman Coliseum is basketball games, and not football pep rallies. I am relatively certain that Moore wants his last act as Athletics Director to be his miracle hire of Nick Saban, not another mail-it-in hire of a basketball coach.
But then, something happened.
Georgia Tech came to town. While by no means are they a power in the ACC, they are still a "name" team. I chalked this up to be another embarrassment, but then Alabama played its best 30 minutes of basketball in the past three years. They built a 30-point lead, and despite their best efforts to blow the game in the end, they won.
An odd, long-forgotten emotion came over me. Hope.
Ronald Steele looked to have regained some of his former self. Alonzo Gee pulled down 18 boards against a team that had a height advantage at every position. Senario Hillman channeled Bruce Bowen on defense.
The upcoming trip to undefeated Clemson all of a sudden seemed like less of an afterthought.
In the beginning, it looked as though my hopes were founded. Alabama hung in with a massively more talented Clemson team and didn't give up in the second half when the momentum swung the other way. For the first time in I don't even know how long, I was proud to watch my team play.
Which brings me to my point, or more accurately, to my question.
Is Alabama turning the corner, or are we all being sucked into high hopes just to see another 5-11 conference record?
While I do not moonlight as any sort of optimist when it comes to Alabama basketball, I could see both sides of the argument.
The SEC is as bad as it has ever been. Divisional foes such as Auburn, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss seem to be in as bad of shape as we are. Arkansas and LSU have shown signs of improvement, but are depending on rosters filled with unseasoned players. It wouldn't take 11 wins to own the division.
But then I remembered that Alabama has to play eight conference games on the road. Mark it down, seal it, write it on a rock if you'd like to: This translates to, at the very least, six losses. Assuming (a great leap there) we can win two on the road, that means Alabama has to sweep the conference home games to finish 10-6.
Sorry, that is simply not going to happen.
At best, Alabama wins six at home. That leaves a best-case scenario of 8-8 in the conference. With Alabama's craptastic non-conference play, this is a one-way ticket to the NIT, and a one-way ticket for Gottfried to somewhere, anywhere, other than Tuscaloosa.
I refuse to adopt the NBA/NFL mentality of bad teams to "tank" in hopes of forcing changes on the team. I will root for the Tide equally if they are 0-15 (possibly) or 15-0 (I had trouble even typing that).
So, here is my advice to the very few of us die-hard Bama basketball fans. Hunker down. Get ready for a struggle. Support the team anyway, and hope that plans are on the horizon for a change that can turn the program around.
Judging by the attendance so far, most people have written them off. This is understandable. But for the future of the program, we need to show that we will support whatever product they put out on the hardwood, as agonizing as it may be.
Hopefully, our loyalty will be repaid at some point.
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