Sadly, it's hibernation time again for Bama hoops fans, as we now begin the long 8 month wait till next year. That means it's also time for my War and Peace like season ending novel. I thought I would make one last rambling post on the season and a few other things now that I'm back home in the 'ham. This will be like 4 or 5 posts all combined into one, and I don't really expect anybody to read the whole thing, so if I start boring you, just scroll down to the next bold headline. Also, please forgive any typos or grammar errors. There is no way in hell I'm taking the time to proofread this.
Shocked in the Finals
I was really pulling for Wichita St against Washington State, just because I wanted an excuse to post this pic.
I'm not going to say a whole lot about this game. MSmilie did a great job of covering it below. Basically, they were just a bad matchup for us. They had the size to defend us down low, and they killed us on the boards. Their depth was a big factor as our defensive pressure was not able to wear them down late in the game like we commonly do to other opponents. Green's 4th foul really hurt us, because it gave us no choice but to double team in the post, and they made us pay by making seemingly every jumpshot they took.
The rebounding stats tell it all.
Our crowd was much better than expected. I thought it would be more like a road game, but we had a respectable 40-45% of the crowd. A lot of UA fans from farther out in the Northeast could not make it to both games so they waited to come to the championship game.
Also, major props to the NY Chapter of the alumni organization for getting tickets for their members and organizing the whole thing. They sold out their block of tickets and encouraged many others to come out. I went to their pregame parties both days, and had a great time and met a lot of cool people.
I have a beef with whomever from our University ticket office was responsible for distributing the tickets. We were told they would be allocated based on Tide Totals Priority. As most of you know, I had awesome seats for the Colorado game. I was sitting 24 rows higher for the championship game, and at least 3 people that I know who have LESS THAN HALF of the number of my Tide Pride Points were sitting anywhere from 4 to 15 rows in front of me. I think they actually allocated the tickets to the Colorado game based on priority, but just threw them all together for the championship game. Why they would do that, I have no idea.
My view for the championship game. Not bad, but it should have been better.
Season Recap and State of the Program
We were horrible early in the year, bounced back to win the SEC West, got screwed by the NCAA selection committee, and then made a run to the Championship game of the NIT. For a team with some glaring weaknesses, this was a successful season by any measure.
In year one, Coach Grant took us from a team that would often get blown out and give up to a team that would play hard and close with everyone. This season, in year two, he took us from being a team that couldn't win the close ones to a team that could find a way down the stretch, and he won an SEC West Division Title in the Process. With our two best players returning with a ton of experience, and a highly ranked recruiting class coming in, expectations will be sky high next year. The next step for this program is being able to handle those expectations, easily make the NCAA tournament, and play well while being the hunted rather than the hunter. Based on what I've seen so far, I have no reason to think that will be a problem. Obviously, signing and developing a couple of shooters will greatly help in that endeavor.
Perhaps this team's biggest accomplishment was bringing the fans back. Whether we like it or not, most Alabama fans won't support a losing bball program. I like Mal Moore, but it's no secret his loyalties are with football, and understandably so. The only way the athletic department is going to give basketball the support it needs to become what we all want it to be, is if they realize it will be profitable.
The way it becomes profitable, is butts in the seats. We went to the Paradise Jam, and we had less than 10 fans there who weren't on staff or family members of someone connected to the program. Contrast that with New York, where we had over 100 people from Alabama travel to watch basketball. After the Kentucky win, we had several sold out games down the stretch of SEC play. It's not just as simple as the team winning, it's the way this team played the game. Win or lose, we knew they would give everything they had every night. That's what I will always remember about the 2010-11 team, and why they are one of my all time favorite Bama basketball teams.
We need to keep this momentum going. If Coach Grant does as well as I think he will, he's going to have a lot of schools interested in stealing him away. If we give Mal Moore and the athletic Dept. reason to believe it's worth while to keep him around, then I don't think we will have anything to worry about it.
We should know later this month where Trevor Lacey is going. Supposedly, he has told some that he's already made up his mind. If that's the case, I like our chances. You don't drive from Huntsville to Tuscaloosa on a Tuesday night for an NIT game if you've decided to play for Kentucky. With basketball recruiting, things can always change. If I hear anything about him or any other news on the recruiting front, I'll be sure to let you guys know.
Other than that, things will be slow until we start piecing together the schedule. I heard we have agreed to play Georgia Tech in Phillips arena next year, and of course we already have the Puerto Rico tournament lined up.
Otherwise, I will pass the time watching bad MLB baseball and NBA basketball. Speaking of which, if you don't follow or like the NBA but want to get your basketball fix over the next few months, give the Chicago Bulls a chance. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll preface this by saying I am a lifelong Bulls fan, but hear me out.
They recently hired a new coach who puts an emphasis on defense (sound familiar?). They missed out on the Lebron sweepstakes (Thank God!), but instead put together a deep, talented team lacking the "superstars." They were predicted to finish 4th or 5th preseason by the experts, but find themselves in first place in the conference (sound familiar?). Their only truly elite player is a young PG who is getting MVP consideration despite not getting the superstar treatment yet from NBA refs. Our old nemesis Joakim Noah, believe it or not, has FINALLY grown up and is a great player and teammate. If you like the college game, you should appreciate that the Bulls are largely built around players from highly successful college programs. Rose is from Memphis, Noah from Florida, a couple of guys from Duke, Kentucky, Arkansas, Creighton, etc. Opposing coaches have been quoted as saying the Bulls are "night in and night out, the hardest working team in the league." (again, sound familiar?). They are the NBA version of Alabama, except they can shoot and have a deep bench. They even have the token annoying white guy that seems to never miss when you forget about him. Watch a game or two if you get a chance, what do you have to lose?
I did not think VCU belonged in the tournament. This doesn't happen very often but: I was wrong. A lot of fans from the major conferences hate on the mid majors and the automatic bids, but I am not one of those. This final four is half blue bloods and half mid majors, including a Butler team here for the 2nd year in a row. We just lost to a "little guy" in the NIT Championship game, and you can't argue they weren't the better team that night. One of the things I really love about the game of basketball is virtually everybody can play it regardless of income or sociological background. Basketballs are cheap, and you can find goals almost anywhere. It doesn't require a bunch of equipment and the guy with unlimited means doesn't really have a true advantage over the kid from the ghetto. The NCAA tournament is representative of that. 300+ teams all have a chance to win a championship if they get the right mix of coaching, talent, chemistry, and luck. That's why it is the greatest sporting event in the world.
All that being said, I still don't think the midmajors should get special consideration over the big boys. VCU proved they belong, but we should have been in over UAB, and Colorado should have been in over Tennessee. We need some basketball people on the selection committee who have some common sense instead of a bunch of administrative computer nerds. In other words, grow a set and use your head instead of the damned RPI.
Anyway, I'm pulling for Kentucky, but I believe the winner of Butler/VCU will actually do it. I think that will be Butler due to their experience last year, but it's hard to bet against VCU right now. This was one of my worst bracket performances ever, so you might want to take the opposite of what I'm saying here.
Also, I want to note that the officiating has been great in this tournament. The refs take a lot of heat when they blow a call, but there have been numerous close games with seemingly controversial calls in the final seconds, and the replay has almost always shown that the officials got it right. I really like that the head of officials went on CBS to give some insight into the evaluation process and discuss specific calls. As an official, one of my biggest gripes about the profession is the seemingly self imposed code of silence. I'm not saying refs should have to answer to the press after every game (but I do think they should have that option individually if they choose to do so), but I think it was a great move by the NCAA head of officials to go on national TV and give the average fan a little insight into how the 3rd team on the floor operates. A lot of very knowledgable fans have no idea what the proper positions, duties, and responsibilities are of each official. I think if more people understood what trail, center, and lead's primary and secondary coverage areas are, when and why they rotate or switch, what they are supposed to look at in a block/charge situation, fans would generally be more appreciative and understanding of the official's jobs.
This is for Bobbyjack and the other baseball fans here. One of the items on my bucket list is to see every MLB ballpark. I hit opening day at the new Yankee Stadium Thursday. It was awesome, they kept the same dimensions and general look of the old ballpark, but it is so much nicer. The fans sitting around me way up in the cheap seats were very knowledgable and enthusiastic. I didn't join in with their cheers, but I did find myself applauding and pulling for the Yanks.
Some of the diehards were embarassed that it was not a larger crowd. They feel that the new stadium has priced a lot of the true fans out, and it's more of a corporate experience now. Another part of the problem is there is just so much to do within the park, several restaurant and club type areas that are accessible to all fans, and it was cold, so many more fans were actually there they just were not in their seats.
Opening Day from the Cheap Seats
I did not get there early enough to get into monument park, but the design is such that you can easily see it from the bleachers. The Yankees museum is awesome, featuring all their championship rings, a couple of championship trophies, and a wall of autographed baseballs from Yankee greats.
They won this one off my Cubs.
27 World Championships. Love them, like them, or hate them, they are the most successful team in sports, and it's not even close.
As I said, I was pulling for the Yankees but was wearing an Alabama sweatshirt and a Cubs boggan. Most of their fans were cool, but I did hear "Cubs suck!" several times, but I thought it was mostly good natured. Even heard a few "Roll Tide"s, as they seemed to like the ESPN commercial. I did have one drunk douchebag curse me out for no apparent reason as I was leaving the stadium. I've been to NY a few times, and I'm convinced there is a very small but significant portion of that city's residents who's sole purpose in life is to be a miserable asshole to everyone they come into contact with.
As cool as the stadium is, that neighborhood needs some work. It's nice that it's easily accessible by subway, and it's not nearly as bad as many other stadiums I've been to (I'm looking at you, Atlanta, Oakland, and LA), but there are only about 4 sports bars in that whole area. I squeezed into one to watch the final outs, but all four of them were asses to elbows crowded, and the beer was $9 a pop just like it was in the park. And when I say they were crowded, I'm not talking about the Houndstooth in Tuscaloosa after a football game crowded. I am talking about Bourbon Street in NOLA on the final weekend of Mardi Gras crowded.
That's it for my manifesto. From St. Thomas to Tuscaloosa to New York and all points in between, it's been a fun season. Next year will be even better. Roll Tide!