After a slow start, Alabama basketball coach Anthony Grant has the Tide playing their best basketball in years.
The Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team may or may not make the NCAA Tournament or share the SEC regular season title, but with the Tide's 65-57 victory over Georgia, the team can consider itself successful regardless.
In a game where success is normally defined by a team's NCAA tournament showing, Alabama finds itself uniquely positioned as a team that might claim success without being invited. But Alabama's rise from mediocrity to a 12-4 SEC record has been nothing short of astounding. Just as important, the Tide's satisfying run from January through the end of the conference season bodes well for its future under second-year coach Anthony Grant.
Alabama sputtered to a 5-6 start that included one-sided losses to every recognizable team the Tide played (not to mention a one-point loss to woeful St. Peter's). To makes things worse, the team's best player, JaMychal Green, was suspended. Eleven games into what seemed like yet another lost season, few would have expected Alabama would suddenly find its identity and coast through the SEC in route to a 20-10 record.
While a skeptic might argue the Tide owes their success to playing in a mediocre SEC West, it is noteworthy that Alabama won four of its six games against the conference's Eastern division as well. For a team that lost to Iowa, Providence and St. Peter's earlier this year, winning eight out of ten games against the Western side is case for celebration.
The Tide's surprising turnaround may have come too late to make the NCAA tournament, but make no mistake, Alabama's basketball program turned a corner this season.
The team may not reach all of its' goals this year. It still has flaws. There is no legitimate outside shooting threat other than the streaky Charvez Davis, and the team simply cannot score if he is having an off day. Point guard Trevor Releford is talented, but still makes prototypical freshman mistakes, particularly in game management situations in crunch time. Green and Chris Hines are the only players in the rotation taller than 6'6", and both are regularly in foul trouble.
These flaws will probably force the Tide to a quick exit from the tournament, if the Tide are invited. But these flaws are encouraging. The fact that this Alabama team could still go 12-4 makes one marvel at what the future may hold after Grant gets a few more of his highly touted recruiting classes on the court.
For the first time in a long time, Alabama's basketball future looks bright. After a year and a half of twisting in the wind, the players seem to have finally bought into Grant's defensive-minded system.
Releford effectively runs the offense as a freshman, and he will only get better. The Tide's two best scorers (Green and Tony Mitchell) both have eligibility remaining after this year, and even should they turn pro, Grant has lined up two classes of fabulous recruits to take their place.
Alabama's horrific results against generally bad competition in non-conference play may be enough to deny it a coveted NCAA Tournament bid notwithstanding its shiny SEC record. While the Tide would love to be included, an invitation will not define this team's success. The Tide's second-half results have proven if the Tide play Grant's style of basketball, they will win games. Alabama fans should be excited for the future.