Friday, March 14, 2014

2013-14 End of Season Manifesto and State of the Program Address

I posted the following in last year's end of season manifesto:

"Next year will be a defining season for the future of the Alabama program.  We lose only Andrew Steele.  Assuming no major injuries or attrition, we should have a very talented group returning with the additions of Jimmie Taylor and Shannon Hale.  Obviously, it's difficult to make predictions or set expectations this far in advance without seeing schedules, having a final roster, etc, but my initial thoughts are that we should make the tournament fairly easily next year."

Then, the off season happened.  Trevor Lacey decided to go play for Gottfried at NC State, Gueye left for Valpo, and Pollard's mom got him into some legal trouble.  On top of that, the rules were changed in a way that had a very negative impact on our physical defensive style of play.  So, instead of entering the season with the lofty expectations outlined above, once again we had a short bench and a lot of uncertainty.  I think most fans were just hoping to be a bubble team and maybe sneak into the tournament at best.

Instead, we went 13-19, and didn't win a game outside of Tuscaloosa for the first time since 1960.  In fairness, I don't think this team was as bad as the record indicated.  We played the 2nd toughest schedule in the country.  That schedule gave us some great opportunities to win games that could have really been a springboard for the program.  Unfortunately, we couldn't complete the come back against Duke in New York, we lost to UCLA after tying the game in the final minutes, and we couldn't protect our turf against still undefeated Wichita State despite having a lead late in the game.  If we played a 40-50th ranked schedule I think this team probably has a winning record.

While we didn't have the embarrassing losses at home to awful teams that has plagued us in recent years, all hope for a successful season was seemingly lost after we dropped the Xavier game at home, having already lost to Drexel and South Florida.  If we win just those 3 winnable games, we are a .500 team and possibly preparing for the NIT right now.  Drexel was a double overtime loss to a team that we should have beaten, although they were a bad matchup for us.  While the USF game was on the road, it was another team that we should have beaten, but we could not overcome our weak post play.  The failure to win those two games epitomized this team's lack of the necessary intangibles to win on the road.  

There were some positives as Bobby pointed out in his post below.  It should also be noted that Levi Randolph had a preseason injury and was dealing with some difficult personal issues for much of the season, but played much better down the stretch.  With Hale and Taylor's development, I think we were a much better team at the end of the season than we were at the beginning, so that is an encouraging sign.


It's not good.  I went back and read my post at the end of last season, and I could pretty much copy and paste it here and it would still be applicable.  We have no momentum, no enthusiasm, and as Bobby illustrated below we've been largely an afterthought for the last two decades.  Coach Grant has lost the fanbase.  That's evident not only from the majority of comments at this blog and other sites, but the dwindling crowds at home games.  I disagree with Bobby's contention that apathy has reached the level of the late Hobbs era, but it's certainly getting close.  When people like Bobby and Alias, who are dedicated enough to regularly contribute to a blog like this, are close to throwing up their hands and walking away, things are pretty bad.    Most fans have already made up their mind, and the only way to get them back is to win, win big, and win quickly.  It is imperative that we do exactly that next year, or we will continue to spiral towards permanent irrelevancy.  We should have five scholarships available next year, so it is very important for Coach Grant to find a way to overcome this air of negativity that currently surrounds the program on the recruiting trail.  

I had originally planned on setting out all of the reasons why Coach Grant should be retained and all of the arguments for why he should be dismissed here, but with today's statement from Bill Battle that argument is moot, as Coach Grant will return as our coach.  There are a lot of good arguments to be made for giving him another year, just as there are for making a change.  To me, it all boils down to two questions: What are the goals of the program, and do we believe Coach Grant is capable of getting us there (or at least to the next step)?  After reading the "Battle Plan" I fear the administration does not share the same goals for this program as us fans.  For me, the answer to the first question, is that we should at least make the NCAA tournament more often that not, and eventually one day make a run to the final 4.  I hope Coach Grant can get us there, and I am rooting for him, but I have my doubts.  However, when I read that "Battle Plan" it came across as a load of excuses for a bad year plus a lot of pontificating about his high character and the team's great academics.  While I am sure we are all proud of the team's academic accomplishments, this indicates to me that winning basketball is not the priority within the administration that any of us would like it to be.  A simple, "Coach Grant will be retained under the terms of his contract, and we expect and look forward to much improved results next season," would have sufficed.  Frankly, this statement came across as a load of BS and a slap in the face to those of us who make significant financial, emotional, and time investments in the program.

Coach Grant is not nearly as bad as his detractor's make him out to be.  He has the 3rd best league record in his tenure behind Kentucky and Florida.  Yes, the league has been down, but he is facing the same challenges every other program, sans the Cats and Gators, are facing right now.  The league as a whole must improve, and until it does, it's going to be very difficult for any coach to build up a program in this conference in the current environment.  Mike Anderson had been successful everywhere else he's been, and seemed like the perfect fit at Arkansas, and even they haven't been able to get off the ground.  Coach Grant is not a horrible X's and O's coach.  He's infinitely better than Gottfried was, we actually make some adjustments from time to time and at least 95% of the time we manage to get the ball in bounds coming out of a timeout.  I think he has improved his clock and timeout management abilities.  While the offense isn't impressive, we run basically the same system Florida runs.  The problem with our offense is we have a bunch of slashers and nothing else.  Of course, the roster goes back to the head coach, he must do a better job of recruiting our needs.  


Next year is a make or break year for Coach Grant (of course, I said the exact same thing at this time last year).  We lose our best player, who is at the very least one of our all time top 5 best point guards, and replace him with a transfer from Tulane and a true freshman who is under 6 feet tall.  I think it's probably safe to assume that Nick Jacobs is gone, and rumors are that Carl is going home.  That leaves us with very little depth, once again, in the post.  Jimmie Taylor will be back and much improved, I was very happy with his development over the course of the year.  Kessens will be able to help down low, but again, he is a transfer from Longwood, and an unknown at this point.  In theory, the perimeter shooter should be much improved with the incoming recruiting class.  Mitchell and Riley Norris, in addition to Coleman, are known for being able to fill it up.  That will help the inside game as well and at least give us more scoring options, but still, we are relying on true freshman that we've never seen play at this level.  Getting a full, good year out of Levi will help and Shannon Hale should average double digits per game and be a force on both ends.  Cooper will come back and hopefully be able to play more of his natural role, and focus on rebounding and defense.  

In a perfect world, everybody expected to come back does so, and all of the freshman and transfers live up to their hype.  We could have a decent inside game with Kessens/Taylor, and enough offense from the Levi/Hale/Mitchell/Norris, while Tarrant and Coleman take care of the basketball and distribute it to the scorers, while adding 5-10 ppg themselves.  If all that happens, we could make the tournament, but I still think we are likely a bubble team.  I suspect there will be at least one more transfer in addition to Jacobs and Carl.  Hopefully we can sign another warm body who can play in the post during the late signing period.  It's slim pickings right now, and there are rumors that we may even be looking into the possibility of bringing Pollard back.  

Regardless, we should probably be a little less ambitious in our scheduling next year.  As much as I love to play the big boys, we didn't have the team for this year, and I don't think we will next year either.  We should just avoid the 250+RPI teams and shoot for a strength of schedule around 45 or so.  We've already got a tournament with Arizona State, Iowa State, and Maryland, a home game with UCLA and a trip to Wichita State as obligations.  I could see one more top 50 type non-conference game, and I think that would be good enough.  

I would also like to see Coach Grant bring in somebody on staff who has some AAU connections.  I'm not saying go full on $tansbury, but someone who can maybe pull some kids from out of the region.  


It was a horrible season, but that can happen to even the best of programs from time to time.  There are reasons to believe it was an anomaly and not a trend.  We must get back on the right track next year, and in a big way otherwise the talent level, fan support, and everything else will continue to deteriorate.  


crimsontider said...

"infinitely better than Gottfried" I'm sorry DJ, but other than his conduct on golf courses, what exactly does CAG do then CMG? I sure as hell have not seen it.

DJC said...

Until this year, he's at least been competitive on the road. We don't get blown out by 30,40 points a few times per year. We manage to get the ball inbounds more often than not. Believe it or not, we do run more than just the bastardized version of the high post. We actually play defense. The LSU game notwithstanding, we don't let teams hit 10+ wide open 3s against us per game. The team consistently plays hard.

The last 2-3 years under xCMG were a disaster. There are plenty of things to criticize Grant about it. Truth be told, while it was close call for me, I was personally in favor of going in another direction, but the exaggerations and hyperbole of Grant's critics is ridiculous.

finebammer said...

"but the exaggerations and hyperbole of Grant's critics is ridiculous."

and of course we hear none of that from Grant's apologists.

yes, we're losing, but we're not losing BAD.

it's the player's fault.

it's the NCAA tournament.

it's the one-and-done rule.

it's a floor wax. NO, it's a dessert topping!

bobbyjack said...

Pretending I didn't read the Battle Plan... what is a successful season next year? Making the NCAAT as a double digit seed and flaming out? Then what.. he gets another year? When will the madness end? He's not the right guy for this job.

Like I said below I'm more pissed at the article by Battle. I think every Bama basketball fan should be too.

crimsontider said...

You can say this was CAG's first bad year, and build the case that this was an anomaly, but if you look at CMG's tenure, he really only had one full bad year, and it was nowhere near as bad as what happened this year. I also never remember us being this bad under Hobbs. It's worth pointing out that Hobbs winning percentage is higher than Grant's. I don't believe there is a worse five year period in the history of Alabama basketball, than the five Grant has had.
For all of his faults, after his first three years, Gottfried made the necessary changes that lead to Alabama's best time period since Wimp. CMG surrounded himself with a good coaching staff and changed his philosophy up a little bit. As a result, Alabama was able to win the SEC, get to the elite eight, as well as five straight NCAAT's.
Grant has not made the necessary changes and adjustments, giving credence to the idea that he is in over his head. I have heard that he will not be required to make changes within his staff going into his sixth year, which is beyond ridiculous.

crimsontider said...

My fear is that we somehow sneak in next year, which buys Grant more time. Ugh...

finebammer said...

and really, all this begs the question, what are we to reasonably expect from next season? returners are an inconsistent lot at best. a lot will apparently be expected of the newcomers.

i can hear all the same excuses now.

Msmilie said...

Your fear is they're successful?? Got it.

crimsontider said...

"They were just freshman, wait until their sophomore and junior years, the future is bright."

crimsontider said...

No, I'm not sure how you could have read it like that. My fear is that we sneak in as an 11 or 12 seed, lose in the first round, and make no real progress as a program. Just sneaking into the tourney is not a successful season, imo.

Msmilie said...

I'm probably the only person who writes or reads this blog that is happy with Battle's decision to bring Grant back. I'm still of the opinion that this year was a fluke and that next year's team will be much-improved. Losing Releford will definitely hurt, but I think the team will be more balanced overall and may not be so inclined to lean on one player as much as they did Trevor this season. Hale has the potential to have a breakout season next year, Taylor is getting better and better while Tarrant and Kessens will make an impact on both ends of the floor. If Levi can finally put together a full season, that will also help. I also think Retin will continue to improve his game. He had a good start to the season, had a lull, but finished pretty well.

The young guys will have to be productive, but they can be brought along a little more slowly due to the returning players and transfers. All of them can play a role though. No longer are we going to have to hope 1 or 2 guys can hit shots every night. Next season there will be no less than 6 or 7 guys on the roster who can shoot the ball. The interior won't be quite as deep as I would like, but Grant will have options between going big with Taylor and Kessens or playing small with Hale/Coop at the four depending on the match-ups. And Kessens is more skilled than some of you may realize. He has a game similar to Baylor's Isaiah Austin in that he can play inside/out, but he's probably stronger than Austin therefore he will be solid on the boards for Bama. And I think Bama has a good shot to land one more guy in this class.

Honestly, this is the most optimistic I've been about a team during Grant's tenure. Of course, that could change based on what happens in the offseason (and, honestly, seems like every Bama offseason has had some kind of drama for the last twenty years), but, as it stands right now, next season will be the most skilled collection of players that Grant has had. If he can't win with the team currently projected, then there will be no amount of excuses that will buy him a seventh season.

Grant's biggest issue has not been his coaching ability, but rather the ability to land certain types of players on the recruiting trail and maintain a full roster. Assuming there isn't major attrition in the offseason, Grant is going to have 10-11 guys who can play.
If Grant can put together a balanced roster, he can damn sure coach it to some wins. That, I feel sure of. The guy is just in his eighth season as a head coach so there has been a learning curve of sorts, but he's improved in areas as a head coach each season. I think Grant is more of a competitor than some here give him credit for and I expect he has no intention of experiencing another season like this one.

Msmilie said...

You don't sneak into the tournament. You have to earn your way in.

That said, yes, not only do they need to make the tournament next season, they need to win a game or two while they're there. A corner must be turned next season.

DJC said...

The Battle Plan really pissed me off, it was a load of BS. Like I said, it was a close call and I can understand and respect the decision to bring him back. I'm pulling for him and I hope he can get it done, but that lengthy load of excuses and pontificating about academics, etc was insulting to the true basketball fans.

DJC said...

First of all, I think you are taking my comparison a bit out of context. Grant's X's and O's as an on floor coach are better than CMG's. I never intended to make the case that Grant's tenure as a whole, to this point, is better than CMG's tenure as a whole. I would submit that this year not withstanding, Grant's tenure has been significantly better than CMG's last 1.5 to 2 years. CMG was a decent coach at one time, he got arrogant after winning the elite 8 and stopped doing a lot of the things that got him there, became bitter when CNS came along and started making more money than him, thought he was entitled to the job, and then started screwing around, figuratively and literally.

The Hobbs comparisons are ridiculous. He inherited a top 25 program and ruined to the point that to this day it has not recovered. Yes, his stats look arguably better because he had a good couple first few years living off of Wimp. We lost by 54 TO AUBURN! UAB beat our ass ON OUR HOME COURT. My freshman year at UA was Hobb's last, I could literally walk in right at tip off and sit on the floor right next to the bench. This is for SEC games. I actually sat next to a redshirt walk-on freshman, because Hobbs and his staff wasn't even competent enough to have enough seats on the sideline for all of the players. Btw, that walkon redshirt freshman, who never got to play for UA because Hobb's insisted on redshirting him, and CMG told him he wasn't wanted, went on to play for a couple of years as a backup point guard for the Dallas Mavericks.

You can manipulate stats to make just about any point you want to make, but to those of us who actually watched the games, comparing Grant to Hobbs is ridiculous. I also don't recall Hobbs or CMG playing a top 5 schedule in their last years either, if they did, I would guarantee the record would be at least as bad, probably worse than this year's was.

Again, I don't even agree with the decision to bring him back, but it's not as cut and dried as everyone wants to make it. There are plenty of legitimate arguments for not retaining him, but when you spout off things like "he's totally incompetent, one of the worst in the SEC, we would've been better off keeping CMG, he's worse than Hobbs" you lose all credibility.

The fact that he hasn't been able to recruit and/or develop a decent post player, the roster management issues, and the fact that we never really pull any upsets or get that "signature win" to take the program to the next level, makes me question whether he will ever be able to get over that hump. Regardless, it's all academic now. We can either bitch and whine and moan and stay away and root for the team to lose so we get our way and hire a new coach (who, btw, will have a similar resume to what CAG had when he came here, at best), or we can get behind the man and the team, try to stay positive, and hope he can get this thing turned around next year. If he doesn't, then we'll move on, but for now, I'm going to go with the latter.

DJC said...

Outside of Bill Battle's bullshit, I haven't really heard anyone claiming those things.

finebammer said...

have you actually READ one of happy's posts or comments???


finebammer said...

"I'm probably the only person who writes for or reads this blog that is completely happy.................."


Msmilie said...

Finebammer: Never have I come across a bigger waste of flesh, bone and oxygen as you. And that's saying something for this planet.

finebammer said...

I'm just proud to now know your first name: completely.

Msmilie said...

You'd be funny if you weren't so annoying.

citadeltidefan said...

Any one else hearing if these Pearl to the Barn rumors are true? I didn't think there was anyway an SEC team would go after this season because of the show clause. Additionally, I didn't think he would accept a job from Auburn's crappy program of all places. However, if these rumors turn out to be true our basketball program is DEAD. It doesn't matter if we go to the NCAA and Grant turns out to be a decently good coach next year. Pearl is by far head and shoulders an unbelievable coach and will take the Barn to places its never been before.

bobbyjack said...

I originally thought Pearl would not even consider the job, but I remember something he said after he was fahred from UTK... he wanted to stay close to Knoxville. He turned down a NDBL job from what I remember because of that.

Auburn is 4.5 hours to Knoxville... and I guess it is why it is now a possibility.

I agree... Pearl at the Barn might not make them great (or even very good), but it would put the Alabama program in danger... and after reading "The Battle Plan" again (because I wanted to get pissed off) we know the AD office won't care. Or maybe they will as they react to the Barn like the Barn reacts to us.

citadeltidefan said...

While Auburn basketball is not historically or even capability wise on the same level as Tennessee I think the guy is a good enough coach to take them to the level of being a consistent NCAA tourney team in 2 years or less. He took over an average (at best) program at UT and instantly made them an NCAA tourney team and by the end of his tenure there a legitimate national title contender. The guys a good enough coach to take the barn to a level they've never reached before and box us out of recruiting in this state.

crimsontider said...

Pearl vs. Grant is not a fair fight at all. Not only because of the disparity between the two as coaches, and recruiters, but because Pearl will tirelessly promote the program the entire offseason, something CAG has no interest in doing. Also, if Auburn hires BP, Bill Battle deserves to be fired every bit as much as Anthony Grant.

Alex said...

I don't like to weigh in on things like this right after the high of a win or the low of a loss because it skews my opinion, but now the season is completely in the rear view. I don't know if anyone here listens to the round table on 94.5 birmingham around lunch time, but the guys on there were talking about their expectations for the Alabama basketball program and they came up with making the NCAA tournament 3 years out of 5 with at least one of those trips winning 2 games in the tourney. I personally think this is a bit too high of an expectation as there has only been one coach in the history of Alabama basketball to meet that criteria. However, that being said, 0 tournament wins in 5 years is unacceptable. I am disappointed with the decision to keep Grant because he has had plenty of time to recruit his guys to the program and establish whatever kind of culture he wants to establish but it simply hasn't worked out. It bothers me to no end when people make excuses for him because he is the head coach and he is in control of the players he brings in.

I'll tell you I was very close to saying give him more time hes a good coach let him turn it around but then a disturbing thought occurred to me that I am lowering my expectations for the program when I think this way. Anyone who is OK with the current coaching staff is guilty of the same thing. We fired CMG because he raised our expectations and when the program dipped our expectations did not. We fired CMG for not making the tournament.

Insert Grant and expectations are rightfully lowered. However in year 2 we barely miss the tournament and in year 3 we make it back. Expectations raised for year 4. Year 4 is a disappointment and expectations for year 5 lower. Year 5 is a total disaster and now going into year 6 I don't think there are many people at all who EXPECT us to make the NCAAT. Sure there are people who hope we make the NCAAT and there are many more people who are saying part ways with Grant if we don't but the reality is it is a long shot and we have basically said by keeping Grant that we are OK with having a basketball team going into year 6 who is an odds on favorite to not make the tournament.

I am not OK with that. We have finished in the top 10 in football for 6 straight years but we can only finish in the top 68 in basketball once in that time. Look at all the other sports around the Capstone. Football contends for championships every year, Baseball is fresh off winning a series with a ranked team and will probably be ranked themselves in the next poll, Softball is annually in the top 10, Gymnastics is always in the hunt for championships, the men and womens Golf programs are winning national titles. The sooner we stop being fine with mediocrity the sooner we start building a basketball program that matters. God I hope that Auburn does not get Pearl.