Saturday, March 12, 2011

Alabama the NCAA Test Case..... Again

Alabama Basketball 2011, Please meet the 2001, 2003 and 2006 Crimson Tide hoops teams. Besides wearing the crimson and white, each of these teams will have the distinct opportunity of being a poster child for or against what a team needs to accomplish in order to be a member of March Madness.

In each of the previous 3 situtations, Alabama was one of the last teams in or out of the tournament in the respective years. The 2011 edition of the Tide will find themselves in this same situation again. In each of the previous situtations, unique circumstances surrounding wins, losses and when they happened affected the Tide's tournament future. 2011 will be no different.

2001- In Mark Gottfried's 3rd season, Alabama started 4 sophomores in Erwin Dudley, Terrence Meade, Rod Grizzard and Kenny Walker that would become the foundation of Gottfried's success at The Capstone. The Tide had a relatively light non conference schedule, that saw them race through the non conference season 12-1. The only loss was to Bob Huggin's Cincinnati team, but also included wins over Louisville 100-71, Washington 69-60 and Ohio State 85-67.

But Alabama limped through SEC play, going 8-8 and finished the season 20-9. Included in that .500 campaign was horrendous 4 game losing streak. Alabama split the SEC Tournament, beating Vanderbilt in Nashville and losing to defending national runner up Florida to finish 21-10.

When selection Sunday rolled around, Alabama was no where to be found. The head of the NCAA Selection Committee cited big conference, power six schools for hiding behind a strong conference and building up wins against cupcakes in non-conference play. Alabama was called out by name on CBS on that Sunday evening, becoming the poster child to play tougher non-conference teams. Lesson learned as we shall see.

2003- The Defending SEC Champion opened the year in New York's Madison Square Garden and thrashed Oklahoma 68-62 which sprung the Tide to a 9-0 start and a # 1 ranking. 'Bama finished the non-league schedule at 10-1, which included wins over Ohio State, Xaiver, Providence, St. Bonaventure and a loss to Utah in Salt Lake City.

In SEC play, the Tide limped to a 7-9 league record, only winning 1 road game at Tennessee. Alabama was embarrassed by Vanderbilt at the SEC Tournament and seemed like it had no shot at the NCAA tournament, finishing with a 17-10 record. But Alabama found itself "in" the tournament come selection sunday, and was cited for its tough non-conference schedule.

The line had been drawn in the sand, if you're in a BCS Conference, and you do well against tough competition in non-conference play while making it too .500 in league play, you will make it into the NCAA tournament. Alabama learned a lesson in 2001 and was rewarded in 2003.

2006- 'Bama limped into SEC play, literally, with a 7-5 record, falling to the likes of Memphis, Oklahoma, NC State, Temple and Notre Dame. In its first SEC game, Senior star forward Chuck Davis suffered a season ending injury to fall to 7-6.

But an undermanned team, led by the heroics of Ronald Steele, rallied for wins at Kentucky and against Tennessee and eventual national champion Florida at home to roll to a 10-6 conference record. No SEC team had ever been left out of the Field of 64 when they won 10 SEC games and this edition of the Tide would be no different, earning a 10 seed, beating Marquette before losing to UCLA in a memorable 2nd round game.

Another precedent had been set, if you struggle in non conference play, but play an extremely tough schedule, and then go on to have success in league play, you're going see your name selected on Sunday. The same thing happened to Kentucky in 2008.

2011- That brings us to this season, where Alabama did not have the best non league schedule like they have in the past. Seton Hall, Providence, Iowa and Oklahoma State did not turn out to have good seasons. Couple this in with a loss to St. Peter's (which is in the field) and Purdue, 'Bama is now sweating out Selection Sunday despite going 12-4 in SEC play, including 5-3 vs the SEC East. Alabama is also 4-4 against the Top 50, which is better then most teams that are on the "bubble." No SEC team has ever been left out with such a dominating record. The Tide also played several games without the injured Andrew Steele and the suspended Jaymicahel Green, and finished 16-6 in its last 22 games.

So Alabama is now a test case again. Can a team that struggled in non-conference play, against a relatively weaker schedule, but then dominated in a BCS Conference (SEC, ACC, Pac 10, Big 10, Big 12, Big East) make the Field of 68? Will another precendent be set?? We will find out in the next 24 hours.

But no matter what happens, this has been a fun ride for Anthony Grant's team and the 'Bama fan base, one that won't be forgotten for a long time.

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