At this point, Bama's resume resembles Rocky Balboa at the end of virtually every fight he fought: bruised, battered, bloody, but still standing out of some stubborn pride. And pride may be all the Alabama basketball team is playing for now following a loss to Georgia on Saturday that drops them below .500 and drops their RPI to 115 (per ESPN). With 16 games left, Bama could still salvage something from this season, but, based on what we've seen to date, is that really likely?
Georgia has certainly played with a renewed sense of urgency in the last week in winning their first two conference games after a 6-6 start. And yet, this was a game that Bama, despite playing poorly for the better part of the game, had a chance to win down the stretch. Unfortunately, the continued lack of consistent perimeter shooting along with ill-timed struggles at the free throw line doomed Alabama to its eighth loss of the season.
Right now, this is a team that struggles to shoot from the perimeter and struggles to rebound. That is a lethal combination in basketball, making it very hard to win for any team. Engstrom lacks skill and athleticism to be a consistent factor, Taylor lacks the strength right now to be effective for long stretches and Jacobs lacks the motor necessary to be the player he's capable of being. Yet, in his defense, I also think that shoulder injury is limiting him. He simply hasn't looked the same since he re-injured it.
Put it all together and right now Bama is a fighter, cut badly over the eye, and desperately trying to land a few blows and make it to the next round without throwing in the towel. Grant and his staff have overcome adversity before (slow starts in 2010-11 and 2012-13 as well as the mid-season suspensions in 2011-12), but are going to have to work some miracles to turn this season around. And at this point, turning things around might mean nothing more than finishing .500 or winning enough to secure another NIT invite.
Things aren't going to get any easier. On Wednesday, Mississippi State comes to Tuscaloosa for a game that is an absolute must-win for Bama. After that, the schedule really steps up with road games at Missouri and Auburn along with tough home games against the likes of Florida, LSU and Tennessee. And, just for giggles, road games at Florida and Arkansas after that.
From an RPI standpoint, all of those games, with the exception of Mississippi State, come against top 100 competition. The opportunity will be there for Bama to improve their RPI, or finally sink into the cold darkness of RPI oblivion, making these posts all the more difficult to write.
Regarding the rest of the SEC: the conference seems incapable of getting over the hump nationally. At one point, it looked like the conference was in good shape for 5-6 teams in the NCAA tournament. Not so much anymore. While Florida (RPI: 8) and Kentucky (18) are doing their thing, Tennessee (58) and LSU (81) appear to be destined for the bubble all season. Missouri (44) looked good coming into SEC play, but that home loss to Georgia and a near disaster at Auburn didn't exactly paint Mizzou as a tournament lock. Arkansas (66) continued its road woes to open conference play at Texas A&M and let a big one slip away at home versus Florida. They have a huge game on Tuesday night against Kentucky at Bud Walton.
Outside of those teams, the rest of the league looks similar. I think the 2-0 starts for Georgia (163) and A&M (137) are a mirage. I don't think South Carolina (105) and Auburn (169) are as bad as they've been in past years, but still appear headed for the bottom four. Mississippi State (140) has avoided the injuries it dealt with a year ago, and Rick Ray is doing a good job getting that program back on track, but not sure they're in a position to make a major push up the standings. Vandy (135) was dealt a blow in losing Eric McClellan. It could be a tougher year than expected in Nashville. Ole Miss (83) needs to string some quality wins together to put themselves on the bubble.