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.

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