For a college basketball junkie like myself March is the most exciting month of the year. It's also bittersweet since the season is so close to wrapping up. I do not share my fellow contributors love for the game of baseball, so it is a long six month wait until college football arrives to temporarily hold my interest until the next basketball season.
For Alabama basketball fans the season has not been a surprise from the standpoint of a win/loss record, but from how those wins and losses were compiled. The season began with a tough loss to a Cornell team that may be responsible for many busted brackets in the coming weeks, but was followed up with several solid wins over Providence, Baylor (a win that looks much better now) and Michigan. The team also had a near miss against Purdue that would foreshadow the second half struggles that would become commonplace for the team during conference play.
While Anthony Grant's first year was certainly up and down, one can't help but feel the future is bright if the talent level is increased. The team finished 16-14 overall and 6-10 in conference, but could have just as easily finished somewhere around 24-6/12-4 when you factor in the closes losses and second half collapses. Taking into account this team had little overall talent and even less depth, the season has to be considered a success. Perhaps more importantly the team played hard, and was competitive in nearly every game it lost. There was a togetherness to this team that I haven't seen in quite some time. You got the feeling there was good chemistry despite the struggles. When one thinks of the defensive struggles this team has had over the last few years, the fact they finished near or at the top of most defensive categories in the league is quite astonishing. That is a sure sign of coaching and players buying into the staff. I thought Torrance made a telling statement during his postgame radio interview this past Saturday when he said Anthony Grant was the best coach he had ever played for. I think most of the team, if not all of them, would echo that sentiment.
It wasn't all peaches and cream though. The team has lost fourteen games this season, and still had a tendency to play out of control. There were also three players suspended this season as the coaching staff was forced to impose discipline over a group of guys who seemingly had been given a green light on and off the court during the last few years of the Gottfried tenure. While I believe the jury is still out on Jamychal Green, it appears the suspensions of Brock and Hillman benefited them greatly. Brock, a player I've long considered a defensive liability, became a consistent perimeter defender. And while Hillman's offensive numbers dropped from a year ago, his decision making with the ball has improved to a degree. He's also become a better passer, and he was easily the best perimeter defender for this team. I think he will be a key player for Grant in year two, barring injury.
So now it is on to the SEC tournament. As much as I loved the win over Auburn on Saturday, I was upset to see that Alabama drew South Carolina in the first round of the tournament. While Alabama did post an emotional win over South Carolina last week it's tough to immediately turn around and have to play and beat the same team again. Especially when that team has one of the best players in the conference. I have serious reservations about this game. I hope I'm wrong. Along with the Georgia-Arkansas game, this one should be the best of the first round. However, I wouldn't be surprised if every West division team lost on Thursday.
As for the rest of the conference: It hasn't been the rebound year I expected. I thought coming into the season six teams could be potential NCAA tournament teams. As of right now the SEC could only send three teams to the tournament again. Florida has really put itself in a tough position along with Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Florida probably needs to win at least two games in the conference while State and Ole Miss might have to win the whole thing to go dancing. I do think of the bubble teams Ole Miss is the most interesting right now and a potential dark horse to win this tournament. After going through a rough stretch, the team has played better by showing some real mental toughness in staging several second half comebacks in games down the stretch. If their guards get hot, watch out for Ole Miss.
Should the team not make a magical run through the tournament I do hope that the athletic department will strongly consider allowing this team to play in a tournament such as the CBI if they are given the opportunity and the players and coaches would like to continue playing. I think seniors like Torrance and Brock deserve a few more games. Not to mention the extra practice time would benefit the players coming back. Should the team go out and win the thing, it would only provide positive momentum for next season. If there's a way to petition the AD to make this happen, consider me in.
One more thing: I was happy to see former Tide player Justin Tubbs lead his East Tennessee State team back to the NCAA tournament. He led the team with 18 points in their win over Mercer in the Atlantic Sun championship game. I was a big fan of his when he wore Crimson, completely supporting his decision to transfer since our buffoon of a coach kept him firmly planted to the bench. If Yamene Coleman and Troy win the Sun Belt conference, that will make three former Bama players in the NCAA tournament with Tubbs and Avery Jukes at Butler. Good luck to them all.