Well, here we are at the end of yet another Alabama basketball season so I wanted to take the time to review the season from my own point of view. I’m sure the others will chime in with their own thoughts in the days ahead.
First, let me get this out of the way. My support of Coach Grant has been well-documented throughout the season so I would prefer it if those who don’t share that support could help avoid the slap fights we’ve had in the comments section of other posts by simply sitting this one out. At this point we all know where the other stands on the subject. So please read the post, agree or disagree with my position on the state of the program, and let’s move forward toward next season. Thank you.
Coming into the season, I looked at this Alabama team on paper and predicted 21-22 regular season wins and a return to the NCAA Tournament. Despite losing the two best players – JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell – from last years’ team, I felt the depth at the guard position would be enough to make the team competitive, if not exactly a world beater. Yes, there were question marks in the paint, but Nick Jacobs and Carl Engstrom had shown enough flashes the year before that I felt confident in that 21-22 win prediction. I also thought the SEC would be a much-improved conference that would help with the requisite RPI and SOS numbers. So much for that.
Through the month of November, things looked promising. The team got off to a 6-0 start, including winning their second consecutive early season event by defeating Oregon State and Villanova in New York City in the 2K Sports Classic. And then came the month of December.
It began with Andrew Steele once again being bit by the injury bug as he was forced to miss time due to surgery for a sports hernia. And then Carl Engstrom was lost for the season with a knee injury. For a team with limited skill and depth in the post, his loss was significant. To add insult to his injury, Alabama then lost a crucial road game at Cincinnati when the Bearcats’ Cashmere Wright hit a buzzer-beating shot. That loss began a dreadful month in which Alabama went 1-5, including home losses to Dayton, Mercer and Tulane that ultimately proved to be the nail in Alabama’s NCAA tournament hopes.
The team regrouped and went 12-6 in conference play, finishing tied for second after being selected to finish sixth in the preseason. Unfortunately, even with that accomplishment, it was hard to shake the fact that Alabama could have finished higher in the standings if they had only shown up in a dreadful road loss at Auburn, and had finished strong in winnable games at LSU, Tennessee and Florida that they allowed to slip away down the stretch. Then again, one could also argue they easily could have lost several close games they won.
In the end, the Alabama basketball team was simply unable to win enough games down the stretch to offset that December struggle and had to settle for an NIT bid. While a third straight postseason appearance is not to be dismissed, a number of Alabama fans, even those outside the lunatic fringe element of the fanbase, were disappointed with the lack of an NCAA bid. Alabama played some spirited basketball in its three NIT games, but fell short in the quarterfinals, once again rousing the naysayers.
On top of all that, Anthony Grant’s name has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Minnesota job. My gut tells me that Coach Grant will return for his fifth season, but the coaching profession has become a nomadic one and until the coaching carousel comes to an end and Anthony Grant is still the Alabama coach, anything is possible. For some, Grant moving on would not be a tragedy, but I still believe that Anthony Grant can take this program to the next level. It is my hope he feels the same and will return to finish the job.
With that said, should Anthony Grant return, year five will be a pivotal one for him. Assuming there are no offseason injuries or transfers, Alabama will return experience and depth in the backcourt and will finally have the frontcourt depth that has been a missing ingredient since Grant arrived in Tuscaloosa. Simply put, anything less than another 20-win season, a return to the NCAA tournament, and some measure of success in March would have to be considered a disappointment.
This season was not devoid of success. If anything, Alabama persevered despite their shortcomings as a team. The fact that a team that frequently struggled to score and rebound the ball can still win 23 games is a testament to the coaching staff and the hunger to improve on the part of the players. It could portend great things in 2013-14.
For now, we’re left to observe what happens in the offseason with the coaching carousel and the recruiting class for next season, which is off to a promising start with the commitments of Jimmie Taylor and Shannon Hale. After the summer months have passed, I’ll look at the current roster, preview each player and what they can hopefully bring to the table in the 2013-14 season.