I'm going to start this week's post with a view from a soapbox. As one of a rapidly diminishing number of Bama basketball fans who still support Coach Grant and his staff, I understand and accept that I'm going to be, shall we say, questioned for that support. Let's face it, the team stinks right now so obviously those of you who read this blog would be justified to question my logic.
Standing your ground, particularly when your opinion is unpopular, carries with it a certain price. As a leftie who grew up in a very strongly opinionated family of righties, I'm used to this. The internet, in its infinite wisdom, has provided a place, in the form of blogs and message boards, where every opinion, no matter how popular or unpopular, can find a home. And instead of clashing with picket signs or fists in the street, we now go at each other online from the comfort of our homes in the hopes the great moderators will allow us the luxury of verbally firebombing each other ('preciate that, Bobby). We humans love conflict in all of its guises, and the internet is the perfect battleground.
This battleground encourages heated debate. And for every "sunshine pumper" and "idiot" I've had tossed my way, I've tossed my own set of grenades as well. I am not immune from the white hot hate that the internet propagates from time to time. In fact, a part of me rather likes the chaos the internet provides. Would Finebammer and I really have much to say to each other outside of this dimension? Probably not. Would CT and I clash frequently about Grant over beers at the local pub? Probably not. I don't talk much basketball in the real world. Who's got time?
So we come here and we pinch and poke, scratch and claw, bite and pull, punch and kick, all in the name of debate. And that's fine. The majority of us who scream at each other about Bama basketball, Obamacare, right vs left, religion, etc. do so because most of us probably live staid lives and it's the passion we're searching for, not the respect or the satisfaction in being right. Instead of spending time blogging or on message boards, we should go hiking or climb a mountain, go on a trip to an exotic locale or simply have some type of torrid romance. Unfortunately, it's easier to be lazy and tell someone they're an old fool instead of doing those aforementioned things. And, dare I say, a little more fun.
However, there are some fans that are not content to merely go after each other. No, they have to tweet or use other forms of contact to go after 18-22 year olds who are simply playing a game. I dabble with the social networking scene and, in recent years, I've seen a surge in fans going after players online. It's disgusting. It came to a head following the Alabama/Auburn football game when adult human beings actually sent death threats to a kid for missing some field goals. Trevor Lacey was sent very toxic messages in the wake of his decision to transfer. And players this year have received the occasional message questioning their toughness and will to win. It's one thing to question a player as a fan, it's another to send that player a message telling them how much they suck. It's not easy going through a season like this for the players. The last thing they need is some anonymous dumbass giving them grief online.
Fans need to know their place. You can be upset with the coaching staff and the direction of a program. That's fine. If you must, write a letter or leave a voicemail for the AD expressing your disapproval. However, this gnashing of teeth towards players, calling the coach - who by all accounts is a class guy who does things the right way - names such as "clown" and "loser" is unproductive. Everyone wants to be there during winning time, nobody wants to stand strong during losing time. Things are tough right now for this team, but that's why Bama fans should be more supportive than ever right now. Posting your choices for the next coach is not productive. There will be time enough for that if Grant is ultimately let go. Now is not the time for it. Pull for the team to win, regardless of your feelings for the coaching staff, the basketball isn't entertaining enough or the win/loss record. Time will show the wiser.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Even though this season has been rough in terms of wins and losses, the team was at least competitive in those setbacks. That was not the case in the 2nd half on Saturday. Once it became clear Releford was not going to be a factor in that game, the rest of the team seemed to lose confidence. Shots stopped falling, the defense began to fail, and Bama had their worst loss under Grant in almost three years.
The story of the season has been the struggles of the three juniors, Levi, Nick and Coop. Coming into the season, I think most of us thought all three of those guys had the potential to be double digit scorers. Instead, all three have been wildly inconsistent. As a result, it's a crap shoot night after night as to who, if anybody, will step up to help Releford. Levi and Coop have been far too tentative this season. As DJC pointed out in his recap, Levi seems terrified to shoot. Coop continues to struggle with his jump shot, and he's never been particularly good off the dribble. Nick Jacobs has not been the same since re-injuring his shoulder, but even before that, he was inconsistent. At this point, it's tough to think anything will change. It comes down to hoping they have more good nights than bad the rest of the way.
The schedule continues to be unkind to Alabama. Coming off their worst loss of the season, they now have to play the top team in the league, Florida. The Gators have owned Bama since Billy Donovan was hired. Bama has lost 7 straight and 18 of the last 21 games to Florida. And the Gators will no doubt be heavily favored for Thursday night's game.
Bama will have their hands full on Thursday, but I think they have a fair chance in this game. For one thing, Alabama has been pretty good at home during conference play. They currently have the longest home winning streak in conference. Also, while this Florida team is a tough as any Donovan has had, they're not quite as explosive offensively as some of his past teams. That bodes well for an Alabama team that struggles to score. That said, Bama will have to play their best game or hope for Florida's worst to get over the hump against the Gators.
Alabama will have to turn around two days later to play an LSU team loaded with size. For a team that struggles to rebound, this will be an extremely tough match-up for Bama. With Florida, LSU and Tennessee on tap in the next four games, that conference home winning streak will be put to the test.
As of this morning, Alabama's RPI sits at 96 (Per ESPN's rankings). It's a testament to the strength of Bama's schedule that they've lost 9 games before February 1st and their RPI still sits in the top 100. The game on Thursday presents Alabama with a golden opportunity from an RPI standpoint. Florida is currently in the top 10. A win doesn't necessarily revive the season, but it will be one for Bama to keep in their back pocket should they find a way to finish strong. LSU currently sits at 65 so there are two opportunities for good wins this week.
Looking at the rest of the conference: Florida (8) and Kentucky (13) seem locks for the field at this point, barring a major collapse. The number of bids for the conference after those two will most likely come down to the bubble. Missouri (52) is in the best spot, though they've looked far from dominant so far in conference. The same could be said for Tennessee (59), Arkansas (61), Ole Miss (62) and LSU (65). Arkansas in particular has to figure out how to win on the road. Assuming some combination of those four teams can post double digit win totals in conference, the league should be good for at least four bids.
The rest of the conference: Vanderbilt (106), Texas A&M (111), Georgia (129), South Carolina (138), Mississippi State (139) and Auburn (184).