There is some serious kumbaya action going on in College Station, folks. These people like to put their arms around each other and sway back and forth while singing songs about Aggies and what not. For those like myself in the curmudgeon family, it's a bit much. Whoever coined this bunch as the Auburn of Texas was right on in their assessment.
This recap is really late, for which I apologize. Real life responsibilities were cranked to 11 today and this is the first time all day I've had a chance to sit down and even begin to think this out. Fortunately, I keep a trusty bottle and a sterling record collection handy for such occasions.
We got to our seats just before the pregame introductions so I didn't have much time to explore College Station. In what little time I was there, the town came across as very suffocating. Seriously, why anyone who is not a student or teacher lives there is beyond me. Then again, if I spent a night or two there I might change my tune. People around us at the game were cool even though it was clear we were cheering for the visiting team.
As for the game itself: Everyone wants to talk about offense and, admittedly, putting the ball in the basket is the ultimate goal. But, let's be honest, the program under Grant hasn't exactly been an offensive powerhouse during his tenure. And yet, Bama had solid basketball teams the last three seasons. This team is actually, from a stats standpoint, better than last year's team on the offensive end of the floor. Last year's team won 23 games while this one has skidded to a 10-16 record. What's the reason? Defense, my dear Watson. Defense.
What is the definition of talent in a basketball player? The answer varies based on who you ask. Some people are going to say the ability to knock down a consistent jump shot, others will point to explosive athleticism and key words like "wingspan", while others will point to intangibles (i.e. high basketball IQ). For me, it comes down to one thing: can our players guard their players? If you can successfully guard the guy with the ball, you have a chance to win each and every night. Unfortunately, for our beloved Crimson Tide, they really struggle to guard the guy with the ball. Shooting, rebounding, dunking, hustle plays, etc are all very nice, but unless you can consistently guard the opposing guy, you're merely a team with a losing record that plays hard.
Bama trailed by just one at the half. Early in the 2nd half, A&M was able to drive the ball with ease inside the 3-pt line where they had high percentage shots at the rim, were sent to the foul line or were able to kick the ball out to the perimeter where the A&M players had open looks which they knocked down. This quickly allowed A&M to build their lead from 1 to 7 early in the 2nd half. Releford made some big shots early to keep Bama in the 4-5 point range, but the defense was never able to generate consistent stops. A&M slowly built the lead to 10, and when that happened you could see a change in body language for our players. No matter how mentally tough you are, you lose 15 games and find yourself down by 10 in the 2nd half of a game, confidence is going to wane quickly. Once that happened, A&M, a mediocre team at best, was able to really put the game away without much resistance. Rebounding was once again a key stat, though Alabama held their own for the first 20-25 minutes.
The coaching staff appeared frustrated and was pretty sedate by the end of the game. Frankly, I don't think any of them expected to be 10-16 at this point in the season. Some things have not panned out and the direction of this season seems to be weighing pretty heavily on them. Assuming they receive another year, I expect they will have to take a long look at their processes in the summer ahead and make some changes for what could be a make or break type season in 2014-15.
Silver linings: 1] Trevor Releford didn't have his best overall game, but he did score 20 and really impressed the A&M fans sitting near us. If he's not at least 1st team SEC, I will be disappointed.
2] The future is bright with Shannon Hale and Jimmie Taylor. The thing I love about Shannon is that he never loses confidence in his shot. He bricked his first few shots pretty badly, but continued to take open looks and continued to be very aggressive even when the game was slipping away. You can tell this kid hates to lose and that bodes well for his future. Jimmie continues to improve game by game. He's not a great rebounder right now, but that has more to do with a lack of strength. As he gets stronger, he's going to really flourish. His offensive game is also better than advertised coming into the season. He's got a nice jump hook, a decent mid-range jumper and the ability to finish around the rim will come as he grows stronger.
Up next (well, later today), Bama will face Missouri for the second time this season. DJC has posted a preview below so be sure to read that. Missouri is playing for their tournament lives, but they have not been particularly good on the road, while Alabama has been better at home this season. For Bama, this may be their last real shot at a win over a top 50 RPI team this season. For those of you without more pressing concerns in the area, throw down the coin for a ticket and get out to the game.
DJC will return to provide insightful recaps following the Missouri game.
Time to crash.