My old lady settles in every week to watch CBS' "How I Met Your Mother". It's a show she's watched since its inception. She mentioned recently that she had lost interest in the show, but that she had to see it through to the end just to see how it played out. As a Bama basketball fan, I can sympathize.
Alabama basketball is like that television show that you're excited to watch at the beginning, but then perhaps the story starts to fall short of your expectations and you think about not watching anymore, yet you're drawn to the characters so you tune in one more week, only to be hooked again once the story takes a dramatic turn.
That was certainly the case last week. On Thursday, Alabama played Florida in Coleman. It was one of those episodes in which the script was recycled from previous episodes. Alabama played at a high level from an effort standpoint, but were never able to take control of the game. Florida just dangled the carrot with no intentions of ever allowing Bama a bite. The end result was expected and frustrating. The following episode against LSU got off to a great start, jumped the shark in the middle, but was thankfully saved in the final act by a twist that no one saw coming. A twist that will bring us all back this week for a continued viewing.
I felt the LSU game really encapsulated this season. Alabama gets out to a slow start, then reverses course and plays some of their best basketball, and then went completely belly up, allowing a 19-point lead to vanish. When LSU scored to take the lead, I honestly thought the game was over. It would have been appropriate the way this season has gone. And yet, this Alabama team did something we haven't seen much of this season, they responded to late game adversity. Coop's offensive board and put back, Hale's big 3pt shot, the steal by Releford, the block by Coop to ice the game (like DJC I too expected a buzzer beating 3 after Coop missed that free throw). It was enough to make you think that perhaps, just perhaps, this team has finally turned a corner.
Alabama travels to Auburn on Wednesday with the first dose of positive momentum they've had all season. They're playing an Auburn team that is at the bottom of the standings once again. Auburn has lost 16 straight conference games and the end would appear to be near for Tony Barbee. Everything appears to be in Bama's favor to build on the positive momentum of the LSU win.
And yet, I've seen this episode before. Last season, Alabama traveled to Auburn with positive momentum after a big win at Vanderbilt finally shook the Memorial Gym monkey off their back. It was reasonable to think Bama would play well with that momentum on their side. Instead, Alabama played their worst game of the season and the worst Bama basketball game I've ever seen in a 49-37 loss.
So the big question is can Alabama find some consistency? They have yet to win away from Coleman this season, and it's a safe bet that the Auburn fans will fill up the arena on Wednesday because it's Bama and the Foy-ODK trophy will be presented. It should make for a tough environment. Can Alabama show some continued growth and win in a hostile environment. Alabama will return to the comfortable confines of Coleman on Saturday, but will find themselves in yet another tough match-up against Tennessee. While the Vols haven't completely lived up to their preseason billing, they present a very tough match-up for Alabama, particularly inside with Stokes and Maymon.
As of today, Alabama's RPI, per the rankings at ESPN, sits at 87. Auburn has the worst RPI in the conference (185), yet another reason why Alabama needs to avoid defeat on Wednesday. The RPI is decent enough for Bama that they can at least work their way back into NIT consideration if they can string together some wins. To do that, the team will have to learn to win away from Coleman as 7 of their final 12 games are on the road.
The rest of the conference: Florida (5) and Kentucky (12) remain strong in the RPI. Looks like the bubble talk will once again center around the SEC. Tennessee (53), Missouri (54), Ole Miss (57), LSU (65) and Arkansas (70) all figure to be jockeying for position on the bubble for the remainder of the season. Vandy jumped up to 82 in the RPI rankings following a nice road win at Texas A&M. Like Bama, they remain a long shot, but will have opportunities in the coming weeks to make a case for themselves.
Rounding out the league's RPI: Georgia (116), A&M (126), Mississippi State (127) and South Carolina (132). If the field was picked today, the SEC might get four teams in, but it would be close. The conference desperately needs some of those teams in the 50-100 range to assert themselves. Otherwise, we could be looking at another embarrassing lack of SEC teams in the NCAA tournament come March.