Monday, March 19, 2012

Creighton elbows Tide out of Tournament

Alabama fell in a hard fought contest to Creighton in a typical 8/9 match up Friday in Greensboro. With the loss, the 2011-12 campaign came to an end for Alabama.

Because of the contrasting styles played by each team, Alabama defense vs Creighton's high scoring offense, the team that could enforce its style on the other would have a better chance of winning this contest.

For Alabama, they pretty much achieved the game speed, style and play they were looking for but still came up short vs the Blue Jays. Biggest difference in the game was turnovers, as Alabama only forced 7 the entire game. As a result, it led to very few transition baskets for the Tide.

Remarkably, Alabama built its lead behind timely 3 point shooting from Releford, Lacey and Randolph and briefly held a double-digit lead early in the 2nd half. Unfortunately, they could never extend it past 11 and were clinging to to 4-6 point margin most of the 2nd half.

Leading 50-46 with under 8 minutes to play, 'Bama had an extended drought that saw Creighton push to a 57-50 lead. The Tide would answer behind an Andrew Steele 3 pointer and Green put back. Trailing 58-55, 'Bama go another lay up from Steele setting up the final sequence of events that did not go 'Bama's way.

Now much has been made of the final 8.7 seconds. Alabama rebounded a missed free throw and Trevor Releford was fouled with 4.7 seconds remaining. At that point, 'Bama was going to play for the win and Anthony Grant chose to forgo a the time out. Unfortunately, Creighton switched to a zone and Grant burned a TO with 2.4 seconds left. After another Creighton TO, 'Bama was forced to go from option one which would have been Green and instead to Trevor Releford shooting the three ball to win.

Without question, Releford was hit on the arm and that caused the shot too fall well short of the rim. No foul was called and that was that.

As for the officiating, I felt it was one of the most consistent and well officiated games Alabama played in all year. Their was no ticky tack calls in the post or 30 feet from the basket. Both teams were allowed to play and things were consistent. To that point in the game, the only call that Alabama really had to feel bad about was what looked like a phantom call on Green 80 feet from the basket at the end of the 1st half. But in the final seconds, the refs swallowed their whistles. This did not lose the game for Alabama, but prevented them from having an opportunity to win it.

As for the season, getting bounced in the 1st round is disappointing coming off the 2011 campaign (12-4 in SEC & NIT Finals). Most felt with what was returning for the Tide, anything less then a Sweet 16 spot would be a disappointment. So from that standpoint, this season will be viewed as a disappointment.

But with what transpired in February with the suspensions and such, it looked that halfway through SEC play, their was no shot at an NCAA berth. Anyone who walked out of Coleman Coliseum on Valentine's Night after Florida dismantled the Tide in the 2nd half, had to feel a berth had slipped away. But because the Tide could rebound from that stretch and go dancing for the first time since 2006, you have to consider the season a success.

Reality is Alabama was probably a little over hyped before the season, rising as high as # 12 before falling at the buzzer to Georgetown in December. Typically after that point, Alabama struggled to win against NCAA caliber teams, usually falling just short. A lot of times seasons tend to go that way, you lose a close one early and those close games seem to snowball during the year. Or you find a way to win some close ones early and it breeds confidence in pressure situations for the remainder of the year.

Also when you consider that 4 freshman started most of the season and saw significant minutes, the future is bright for Alabama Basketball. Randolph, Lacey, Cooper and Jacobs all showed signs of brilliance during the season, they also struggled at times like most freshman outside of Lexington do. Releford and Steele return as do the ever developing Carl Engtram and Mousse Gueye in the post. It will be critical for Grant and staff to add some inside players in recruiting to continue to build. Tony Mitchell's status is up in the air for 2013, but this program can't expect him back at this point, although stranger things have happened in the past.

So next year returns all but Jaymichael Green and alot of promise. 'Bama probably will be unranked, which may not be a bad thing. But they will return a better nucleus then they did this season and could be poised for the break out year everyone was expecting in 2012.

Monday, March 12, 2012

'Bama goes dancing for first time since 2006

Even though its a very difficult draw, Alabama will be headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006, when they were a Ronald Steele missed 3 pointer away from defeating UCLA and going to the Sweet 16.

Before the 2011-12 campaign, it seemed a given that Alabama would be headed back to the dance, but as things developed during the season, it looked as if what once considered a lock on a berth was going to evaporate into thin air.

But despite the shortcomings, suspensions, etc., Anthony Grant was able to keep this Crimson Ship from sailing off the edge and fight their way into the Field. As a result, Grant has established a new standard for having discipline and still achieving success on the court.

It bolds well for the future of his program, as the Tide only has one senior on the team and unlike Kentucky, they aren't renting players but instead are developing them.

As for the games, the Tide has a tough draw against Creighton, a team that has been ranked in the top 15 for much of the season. They have one of the better scoring offenses in the country, but one of the worst defenses. Alabama, by contrast, is just the opposite. A win on Friday would pit the Tide against North Carolina on Sunday.

So their is nothing easy about this trek, but considering its been 6 years since its last appearance, the Tide will take whatever seed/opponent that are given to them. Besides, the last time 'Bama was in a 8/9 games, Antoine Pettway his a game winning shot, the Tide upset #1 Stanford in Round 2, defeated defending national champ Syracuse in the Sweet 16 advancing to the Elite 8. Se we shall see what happens this time.

Friday, March 9, 2012

'Bama falls short vs Gators

For much of the afternoon Friday, Florida seemed to control Alabama and keep them at distance by hitting timely threes and forcing turnovers. At one point, it looked like we were headed for a repeat of the past two 'Bama-UF games that saw the teams even at the half only to watch the Gators romp to victory in the 2nd half.

Today was a little bit different, which is encouraging for Tide fans. Florida turned a 26-24 halftime lead into a 12 point advantage early in the 2nd half, only to watch Alabama battle back and tie the game at 51-51 and fight the Gators down to the final shot.

Alabama would eventually find themselves down 64-57 with 2:00 remaining, only to scrap back behind free throws from Green and a corner 3 from Trevor Lacey to make it a 2 point game. And when 'Bama forced a turnover in the final minute, the Tide had the ball and a 2 chances to tie in the final seconds, but could not convert on a free throw to tie with 20 seconds remaining or on a 3 by Lacey at the buzzer.

Granted, we're not in to moral victories around here, but Alabama did show resolve that was missing the past two seasons vs the Gators. That is progress for this program, probably not as fast as some would like, but sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward and thats exactly what Anthony Grant has accomplished in the past month at Alabama.

Now the Tide sits and waits for its name to be called on Sunday, and it will. Probably they are looking at a 9-10 seed, which means Round 1 is winnable and Round 2 comes down to match ups. Not many people thought after a Saturday night defeat in Baton Rouge that Alabama would be in a position to make the NCAA Tournament, but they are. Thats a testament to its tough defense and a coaching staff forcing their players to buy in to its style. Because of these things, 'Bama will be able to compete with any team that shows up across from them on the bracket next week.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Balanced Tide Attack Survives and Advances

Led by 15 points from Trevor Lacey, 12 from Jaymichele Green, 10 from Nick Jacobs and 9 each from Trevor Releford and Levi Randolph, Alabama was able to withstand some timely three point shooting from South Carolina to advance in the SEC Tournament.

Clinging to a 2 point lead with under 3 minutes left, the freshman, Mr. Basketball, Trevor Lacey sliced through an overplay on a ball screen for a basket, then provided 'Bama's only made 3 pointer of the game with a top of the key jumper as time was winding down on the shot clock and and moments later added two free throws to cap his own 7 point outburst to provide the difference in the game.

With the win, the Tide avenges its worst loss of the year in Columbia and now gets an opportunity to avenge the St. Valentine's Day Massacre that took place in Coleman Coliseum by playing Florida tomorrow afternoon.

March Basketball is all about survive and advance and thats exactly what Alabama accomplished today. No style points needed, just wins. Another win tomorrow and 'Bama may see its seeding continue to rise.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tide sleep walks to loss in Oxford

For years Alabama has struggled to win basketball games against Ole Miss in Oxford. Whatever the reason, not ready to play, worst arena in the SEC, 3 hour bus trips, half full arena or in the rare circumstance, a good Ole Miss team, 'Bama rarely wins there.

How bad was it? The football team scored 52 points there compared to the 51 by 'Bama Hoops including a colossal 17 first half points.

But despite how poorly 'Bama played, they were still right in the game and had opportunities to make it a 1 possession game several times up to the last 2 minutes, only to proceed to turn the ball right over. No one play demonstrated this more then Rodney Cooper's steal in the final minutes but over threw a wide open Ben Eblen that would have made it a 55-52 game with under 2:00 left.

The simple truth about Alabama is that they did not play well. They shot poorly, missed front ends of 1 and 1's, only forced 7 turnovers and were severely hurt on offensive rebounds by an athletic Ole Miss team. Having watched the Rebels beat Arkansas on Tuesday and win on Saturday, you have to wonder why they are not better then 18-12.

Simple truth about Alabama is that if their not forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, they still have a hard time scoring. The Auburn game the other night was the same way as yesterday's game. Seven Rebel turnovers and 0 points off of them for the Tide.

Of course, the officiating led by head referee Doug Shows did not help matters as their was no consistency on either end. Guys were getting pounded on the floor in some instances while moments later the most questionable of touch fouls were being called. Ole Miss paraded to the foul line 34 times as this was a replay of the Kentucky game which was officiated by Doug Shows again, as was last Saturday's Miss State game. No coincidence that every 50/50 call in those games went against 'Bama, I guess.

Now its on to NOLA for the SEC Tournament and 'Bama is now a 5 seed and will try to avenge its worst loss of the year vs South Carolina. This is a must win game, as 'Bama can't afford to have 2 losses to the worst team in the SEC on its resume. A win will now have them face Florida, Vandy or UT before a semi final showdown with Big Blue. Could be a short stay in the French quarter, but let's hope not.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

'Bama has a beautiful ugly win vs Little Brother

Let's get defensive people.

Once again, Anthony Grant's defensive minded team held an opponent under 50 points and in the process pulled out its 5th win in a row over Auburn. Its wasn't a pretty win but it was beautiful in the fact that the Tide will now go dancing this March. It was one of Alabama's worst shooting performances of the year, but because 'Bama gets after it on the other end of the floor, they were in a position to secure the win, which is exactly what they did when given the opportunity.

With its win over Auburn, Alabama has secured its first NCAA tournament berth since 2006. Now we're just playing for seeding and depending how this weekend and next plays out, 'Bama could rise to a 7 or 6 seed. Its RPI and strength of schedule numbers are great and its playing its best basketball of the year, winning 7 of their last 9 games.

Wednesday's heroes included....

Andrew Steele, who was struggling from the floor. Had not scored the entire game and then in a span of a few possessions, scored 4 of the games most critical points, helping propel 'Bama to a slim lead. Steele has a high basketball IQ, something that is undervalued in today's game. Because of this he is always making the right play, decision or having a positive affect on the game.

Ben Eblen, who hardly ever plays extended minutes, played what amounted to the last 13 minutes of the game. Eblen's defense changed the flow of the game and even though he wouldn't shoot, he did run the offense and allowed 'Bama to continue to feed the ball inside to Jaymichael Green.

Jaymicahel Green, the much maligned senior in the past few weeks has rebounded and came back strong in the last two wins. His final home game in Coleman delivered a double double and a tip in putback in the final seconds that ended up being the decisive basket.

Now with 'Bama Basketball entering March with a purpose, this could be a very dangerous team in the NCAA Tournament. A win in Oxford vs Ole Miss, a place Alabama has traditionally struggled, could push this team towards a 7 seed. They could go even higher with a semi-final run in the SEC Tournament. Alabama will be in any game they play against any opponent, because they play sound defense. If they are hitting shots like they did vs Miss St, then they can take down any team. If not, the game becomes a low scoring slugfest and they will still be a tough team to beat the next two weekends.