The next two weeks are going to be very big for Alabama basketball in regards to its postseason resume. The Tide only plays three games in that span, but all three opponents are currently ranked in the RPI top 75. It presents the last opportunity for Alabama to notch some impact wins before conference play begins. Should Alabama fail to win at least one of these games, they will once again find themselves having to finish in the top three in conference play to have any real shot at securing a bid to the NCAA tournament.
Alabama's RPI currently sits at 96. Despite the lackluster 5-4 start to the season, an improved schedule has kept Bama in the top 100. Three out of Bama's four losses would currently be considered "good" losses (a loss to teams in the top 100 is typically not considered a resume killer, assuming you don't have a plethora of them). Oklahoma (31) and Drexel (34) have maintained their spots in the RPI top 50 for now. Duke only sits at 69 currently, but ACC competition should improve that number. "Bad" losses are typically losses to teams ranked 150+. For that reason, the South Florida (156) loss still stings.
As you may have heard, Alabama has a two-game home-stand this week against Wichita State and Xavier. Wichita State is 11th in the latest AP poll and will be the second highest ranked non-conference opponent to play in Coleman ever. Wichita is also high in the RPI rankings at 12. Not only will it be an opportunity to beat a ranked opponent, but it will also be a chance for a high quality RPI win that could linger well into March. A loss isn't the worst thing from an RPI standpoint, but how many opportunities will Alabama have to play a top 15 RPI team in Coleman this season? This is the epitome of a big game.
On Saturday, Xavier will visit Tuscaloosa. The Musketeers currently sit at 59 in the RPI, fresh off a convincing win over their crosstown rival, Cincinnati. They also have a home win over Tennessee (The Vols did beat them in the Battle for Atlantis tournament). Once again, it will be an opportunity for Alabama to play a team in the top 100 of the RPI. Win both games in Coleman this week and Bama's RPI should receive a significant boost. Even winning one of the two would help the RPI, but Alabama desperately needs quality wins before the new year. This might be as big of a two-game stretch as Alabama has had under Anthony Grant.
Around the conference: Going into last weekend, the SEC was only 1-11 against ranked opponents. The conference got a boost in that regard when Missouri defeated UCLA and Florida defeated Kansas this past week. It also appears that a majority of the conference was listening in the summer when calls for improved non-conference scheduling were made. Six conference programs - Missouri (18), Arkansas (22), Florida (29), Ole Miss (42), Kentucky (46) and LSU (49) - all currently find themselves in the top 50 of the RPI. An additional four programs - South Carolina (78), Tennessee (89), Alabama and Vanderbilt (97) find themselves in the top 100. Hopefully this trend will continue. Better scheduling results in a stronger conference rating, and that has been the SEC's greatest foe in recent years when the committee meets.
The remaining teams have not scheduled as well and their RPI bears this out. Texas A&M (168), Mississippi State (210), Auburn (268) and Georgia (an egregious 315) have not done the conference any favors and will be viewed as must-wins in conference play in order to avoid a major RPI hit. Alabama will play a combined five games (three of them on the road) against these teams.