Happy New Year, Bama fans. Hopefully headaches are at a minimum today.
Speaking of headaches, 5-7. Ouch. This Alabama team could use a cup of kindness after playing a schedule currently ranked in the top 10. When the schedule was released, it was obvious that Alabama would have their work cut out for them. With that said, I doubt Anthony Grant and his staff expected to be 5-7 at this point. As a result, Alabama will once again have to post double digit win totals in conference play to even be in the postseason conversation come March.
According to the RPI rankings at ESPN.com, Alabama's RPI currently sits at 110. Four of their seven losses (Oklahoma, Duke, Wichita State and Xavier) have been to teams currently in the RPI top 50 with another two (Drexel, UCLA) to teams in the top 100. Alabama has had multiple opportunities to post quality wins for their postseason resume but have come up short every time.
Which begs the question: does Alabama have any chance of competing for an NCAA bid? They still have a minimal chance, but in order to do so they will have to win at least 11 games in conference and make some noise in the conference tournament. The conference schedule is tougher this season so this team, which has been plagued by a lack of mental toughness to close games, will have to figure things out quickly.
There is one final non-conference game left, against a scrappy Robert Morris team. Bama must avoid a letdown and take care of business in that game. Not only because Robert Morris has an RPI in the 200s, but Bama needs a win and something positive going into conference play.
The conference schedule is tougher this season, but there is a chance for Bama to get off to a good start. The first three games are home against Vandy, @Georgia and home against Mississippi State. All three of those teams are projected to finish in the bottom half of the league. If Alabama is going to turn this season around, it must start with the next four games.
Concerning the rest of the SEC: While the national pundits continue to throw body blows at the conference, the reality is the SEC appears to be improving. Florida has quality wins over Kansas and Memphis, Kentucky finally got a quality win against Louisville, and Missouri has been a big surprise so far with quality wins over UCLA and a nice road win at N.C. State.
Other quality wins for the conference include LSU (Butler), Arkansas (Minnesota, also beat an SMU team that could be a factor in the American conference), South Carolina (beat a solid St. Mary's team in the Diamond Head Classic) and Tennessee, despite a slow start, has two quality wins over Xavier and Virginia. The SEC may not be among the top three conferences, but they will get more than three teams into the dance this season.