Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tide-Gators tomorrow night!

March is finally here and the SEC Regular Season Championship is on the line as Alabama heads to Gainesville to essentially decide the title.

How big is this game? So big that ESPN is sending its A-Team of announcers in Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale to the O'Connel Center for Tuesday's clash.

From a Florida perspective, its probably the biggest game since the back to back national championships in 2006 and 2007. The Gators have struggled in recent years since those title runs, making the NCAA tournament but not having that deep run into March that was routine a few years ago.

From an Alabama perspective, this is the Tide's biggest regular season game probably since 2005 when Kentucky rallied from a double digit deficit behind Jarred Sparks to beat the Tide and take a possible SEC Title from them. (I don't think Mark Gottfried and the program ever recovered from that game. They lost on a tip in 3 days later at LSU and the season ended in a loss to Bruce Pearl's UWM team)

The last time Alabama played Florida for what amounted to an SEC Championship game in 2002, this happened inside Coleman Coliseum in front of me and 15,383 other fans.

February 23rd, 2002. God bless you Antoine Pettway!

As for this game, Alabama will be a significant underdog. Florida is big and strong, well coached and just a very good team. Alabama would have a hard time beating them in Tuscaloosa, let alone Gainesville. (Not for sure on this, but i think the last time the Tide won in Gainesville was on an Eric Washington 3 pointer at the buzzer in 1995.) But the chance to control their own destiny is all Anthony Grant's Rocket 8 squad can ask for at this point.

Keys to Victory for 'Bama:
1. Break even on Rebounding
2. Get stops, attack in transition and convert
3. Hit the open shots and get off to a good start

The Gators aren't unbeatable, they lost to South Carolina at home and needed a Tennessee meltdown to beat the Vols in Gainesville. But Alabama will have to play really well to win. The Tide looks like a tired team and Trevor Releford looks like he finally hit that freshman wall. Even though Alabama leads the all time series 73-59, the Gators have won 15 of the last 18 (thanks Mark Gottfried) with many of the games extremely close losses. It will be ineresting to see how the Tide handles the pressure of the game, it may be better to be on the road because its an us vs them mentality instead of playing to the home crowd.

Everything is stacked against the Tide, but its been that way all year. Tomorrow is no different. I'll say Gators by 10, but I'm hoping Coach Grant can pull off the huge W, Roll Tide!

Opportunity still knocks....

If you would have been in Coleman Coliseum in December and told me on March 1st Alabama would be playing Florida for the SEC Basketball Championship, I would have did you a favor and drove you to Bryce Mental Hospital for talking such nonsense.

But as the calander turns to March, thats exactly where Alabama finds itself, an opportunity to control its own destiny and win an outright SEC Title despite yesterday's controversial defeat in Oxford (more on that in a minute).

Of course, Alabama and Florida both lost close games on the road yesterday, adding more pressure too Tuesday's contest. Florida lost to Kentucky at Rupp Arena in a hard fought contest. Alabama struggled early against the Ole Miss Admiral Ackbars, but raced to an 11 point lead with 13 1/2 minutes remaining, only to see whistles come out on one end of the floor and watch them be swallowed on the other end. It got so bad late in the game that down 59-58, Trevor Releford was whacked on a drive to the basket only to get a no call that led to the mild mannered Anthony Grant drawing a technical foul.

Alabama only shot 3 free throws the last 13 minutes of the game, 2 front ends of 1 and 1's, that were both missed, and a Jaymichael Green free throw in the final seconds. The problem is that Doug Shows (he worked the UA/AU game wednesday, didn't know SEC refs could work 2 games in a row for the same team, are you listening SEC head of officials Gerald Beaudroux???) took the game over and called every touch foul on the Rebels end of the floor, but yet Mitchell, Green and Releford were getting knocked to floor and not getting one call. 17 of the Rebls final 28 points came at the charity stripe as Ole Miss shot 21 free throws down the stretch to 3 for the Tide. If Alabama was standing around shooting jumpers, I could understand the disparity, but 'Bama was pounding it inside in their hi-low game and could not get a break. Even on the last play, when Alabama was going for a quick 2, Releford was knocked down twice with no call. Alabama is just seconds, points, and a couple fo bad calls away by Mike Stewart/Arkansas, Tim Higgins/Vanderbilt and Doug Shows/Ole Miss from being 14-0 instead of 11-3.

Despite this setback, 'Bama is gunning for an SEC Championship for the first time since 2002. Its the exact same situation as 9 years ago, same opponent in Florida, same coach in Billy Donovan, just a different venue as the Tide goes to the O-Dome in Gainesville instead of Coleman Coliseum. Antoine Pettway's lay up at the buzzer beat the Gators on that February afternoon 65-64 setting off a wild frenzy in Tuscaloosa.

Now the same opportunity presents itself on Tuesday, with Dick Vitale and ESPN U televising the contest. Alabama will be a decided underdog in this game. There is no way they can compete with the mighty Gators and win in another House of Horrors for the last decade, the O'Conner Center. Of course, there was no way they could compete for an SEC Title and NCAA Berth this year either? But here they are with an opportunity to accomplish both feats in one evening. Let's roll the dice and see what happens....and who wants to bet TV Ted Valentine will officiate the game????

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How is it going to end????

Its a great question, meaning how is this season going to end for the Crimson Tide hoops squad? Numerous possibilities exist after the late night dramtics of "stealing" a win at home against the lowly AllBarn Tigers.

Last nights game set offensive basketball back by 500 years, it was as ugly a game as I've ever seen in person. No flow, no continuity, 200 free throws, but in the end, Alabama found a way to win despite making only 11 shots from the field, and suffering through what amounted to 17 minutes of basketball where they scored a combined 5 points between the first 8 1/2 minutes of each half!

So with 3 games to play, what are the Tide's options for finishing the 2010-11 campaign?

A) Win 2 of its final 3 games, with 1 of those wins being at Florida.
** This of course is the best option because it would give Alabama the outright SEC championship, something that hasn't happened since 2002. when Antoine Pettway beat Florida. There is no way the NCAA would keep the regular season, 13-3 SEC Champions out of the tournament**

B) Win 2 of its final 3 games, with the loss coming at Florida.
**Things get a little dicey, but if they finish as co-champs somehow, I still think a 13-3 Tide gets in, but they may need a win in the SEC Tournament**

C) Win 1 of its final 3 games, beating only Georgia
** With so little margin for error, its hard to beleive a 12-4 Tide would get left out, but its a real possibility. They will almost certainly need to beat UGA or Kentucky in the 2nd round of the SEC Tournmanet to secure a bid**

D) Losing all 3 and dropping its first game in the SEC Tournament
**Doomsday scenario, but say Hello to the NIT.

At the end of the day, Alabama needs to win 2 of its next 3 to be safe, that will give them atleast 1 road win and a win over another top 50 opponent (UGA or FLorida). If this season should end with an NIT bid, it would be disappointing at this point, but Alabama has been a fun and exciting team to watch for the first time in years. They play hard, know their limitations, but still are only 8 points away from being unbeaten in SEC play! Its been a fun ride for the Tide and hopefully it will continue once the calander flips to March.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hungry for success....

You could feel it in the building. You can see it in the players. The coach said it after the game, that the team is hungry to WIN!

The Building: Coleman Coliseum
The Players: Trevor Releford, Jaymichael Green, Tony Mitchell, Chris Hines, Charvez Davis, Andrew Steele, Senario Hillman, Ben Eblen
The Team: Alabama Crimson Tide
The Coach: Anthony Grant

On his post game show, Anthony Grant said that his players have a hunger to win and be successful. The same could be said of another 15,383 inside Coleman Coliseum as a tired Crimson Tide team (playing a second consecutive Thursday/Saturday road to home turnaround) was struggling with a game Arkansas team. But never at any instant did the Coleman faithful give in or allow their Rocket 8 to give in to the fatigue.

John Pelphrey used an effective game plan, constantly subbing players in an attempt to wear down the Tide, forcing the SEC's best defensive team to play for 35 seconds instead of jacking quick shots, applying nagging full court pressure to Releford the entire game. And it worked, for 28 minutes and a 49-44 lead with 11:58 left in the game.

But somehow Anthony Grant's undermanned team willed itslef to a win with a great assist from a raucous crowd. In the midst of a 25-7 run to close the game, holding the Hogs to 2 field goals and 5 turnovers, it seemed as if the home folks were on their feet for almost the last 8 minutes of the contest. When Trevor Releford's ally-oop pass led to a thunderous 1 hand slam by the high flying Tony Mitchell, the lid blew off the Coliseum and turned a 5 point deficit into a 6 point lead. Time Out Arky!

By far, this was the loudest crowd in Coleman since the 2006 Tennessee/Florida games, when 'Bama knocked off back to back top 10 teams and secured an an NCAA bid behind the marvelous play of Ronald Steele. Alabama scored 59 1st half points shredding Bruce Pearl's diamond press enroute to a rout and they were the last team to beat Florida in '06 as the Gators reeled of 11 straight wins in securing the first of 2 national titles. Also, give Crimson Chaos credit for originality, from the boxing gloves and fight fight fight cheers when Miss. State's Renaldo Sydney was shooting free throws or chanting "Christian Laettner" at Arkansas coach John Pelphrey when he was arguing with the officials last night, the energy provided by the Chaos helps this team tremendously.

Now for Alabama, a program thats been to 19 NCAA tournaments and 7 Sweet Sixteens won just its 3rd SEC West Title since the divisional split in 1992. This is no small accomplishment for Grant's team, despite the fact that the West is down. Nevertheless, Alabama is still in a position to win an outright SEC Title and should finish no worst then 12-4 in conference play. Then energy in the program is off the charts right now, as evidenced by a 4th sell out. The fans are hungry for success and enjoying this ride because Alabama plays so hard on the defensive end of the floor. It leads to fun times and highlight reel plays as Alabama is approaching unheard of numbers of having over 100 dunks on the season.

This not the same team we saw struggling in November/December and its not the same program we saw from 2007-2009. When Alabama was losing close games in 2010, it was said that if you're gonna beat the Tide you better do it then because now this program is rolling and their may be no stopping it in the near future!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

'Bama still in 1st....

The week that was for Alabama Basketball ended with a fatigued Tide hanging on against Ole Miss on Saturday in the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum. The Tide, which less then 48 hours earlier was robbed of an opportunity to win in Nashville by Tim Higgins, rebounded with a 47 point 1st half performance against the Rebels.

Despite the quick turnaround ('Bama faces the same situation at LSU and vs Arkansas this week), the Tide jumped on Ole Miss in the opening minutes, shot the ball extremely well with some great offensive efficiency, and hammered away to a 20 point cushion. All SEC Player Chris Warren was rendered ineffective, connecting on his only 2 field goals in the last 1:16 of the game. To Andy Kennedy's credit, the Rebels made a run at the Tide in the 2nd half, cutting a 23 point advantage to 6, but 'Bama responded to ice the game away, despite scoring only 6 2nd half field goals.

Late in the game, Alabama looked like a fatigued team, coming of an emotionally draining loss to Vandy. This team that only plays 8 players, was given the day off on Friday to recover for Saturday's game. Smart move by Coach Grant. Also, Alabama's trapping zone defense really caused problems for the Rebels in the 1st half.

So now Alabama heads into another week of must win games, winnable games at LSU and vs Arkansas at home. National TV talking heads seem generally complimentary of 'Bama's play lately and sympathetic to Thursday's ending in Nashville. The opportunity to win an SEC crown is still there for the taking for the Tide, which is still hard to fathom at this point.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ahead of schedule

Year 2 of the Anthony Grant reclimation project at The University of Alabama has quickly moved from being competitive against the upper echelon of the SEC, to actually putting itself in a position to win an SEC title and force the NCAA selection committee to atleast discuss the Tide for an at large bid.

How did this happen and who saw it coming, so quickly? Most hardcore Tide hoops observers, (there are more of us out there then you actually think) realistically believed 2011would be worst then 2010 for 'Bama Hoops. Alabama won 6 SEC games in 2010, but have already eclisped that mark at the half way point with 7 wins this season.

There were signs of improved play in 2010, but Alabama blew huge leads in games against ranked opponents. Add in the attrition of big men in the program (how has that worked out for Yamene Coleeman, Justin Knox?), freshman point guard, etc., etc., you had the makings of a .500 season at best.

Bottom line is Grant has the Tide believing in the two D's, Defense and Discipline. 'Bama competes on every possession on the defensive end of the floor and its a thing of beauty to watch. When he gets a full compliment of players, Grant will unleash the hounds and go with constant full court pressure, but he just doesn't have numbers to do this now. Every SEC opponent has scored less then there average point total against the Tide.

But the discipline in the program is a huge improvement from the Mark Gottfried era. There have been growing pains and suspensions, including Jaymichael Green early in the year. But the message has been sent, if you don't do right, you're not going to play or be a part of the program. Tony Mitchell was late for the team breakfast yesterday, and he did not start. Mitchell didn't pout, instead he went out and scored a career high 24 points.

Now that the Tide has conquered Rockytop and is sitting atop the SEC standings at the half way point (including 3-0 vs the East), the Florida-Alabama game in a few weeks is looming large in Gainesville. Still a ton of work for Alabama to get to that point, but you can bet they will be in every game thanks to their consistent defense.