Tide Faces Steep Odds

After the grieving over the loss of big man -- and all-around good guy -- Chuck Davis, imagine the consternation in the Alabama basketball offices over their plight.

Now imagine the gnashing of teeth among Crimson Tide basketball fans after Davis' injury served as a warning knell for a home loss against Ole Miss.

Ole Miss? Yep, the Rebels team that had won exactly 13 of its last 48 games against SEC competition barged into Coleman Coliseum and stole one away from the defending SEC Western Division champions.

The fans understandaby figured that if you're losing at home to a team that had devolved into a perennial also-ran, it's reasonable to believe your season might soon be in shambles.

Good thing Mark Gottfried, his staff and players weren't caught performing the same mental gyrations.

What set up as a potential 0-3 start -- with road trips to Auburn and Kentucky looming -- has brightened to 1-1 after the Crimson Tide out-somethinged Auburn on Wednesday.

Make no mistake. It was an ugly performance on the whole. Alabama's rebounding, some timely free-throw shooting at the end, Alonzo Gee's late heroics, and sporadic strong defense offset a sloppy night of ball-handling and decision-making.

But the bottom line was it counted in the win column. Uplifting for a program in mourning, for sure. Not necessarily a rousing road win that will springboard the team beyond the pale and into the sublime.

As a sidebard, Gottfried beating Auburn is one of a handful of current streaks associated with Alabama basketball.

His Tide teams have won six in a row against Auburn, six straight against Tennessee, four in a row and five of six against Arkansas, five of six against South Carolina, and four of five against Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Georgia.

Conversely, Florida has beaten 'Bama five in a row and nine of 10 (can anybody remember that lone win?), Vanderbilt has won the last four, and Kentucky the last three.

Only the LSU series, tied at 7-7 since 1998-99, has been on a even keel in recent seasons.

So, what do we make of this Alabama team that has taken one tentative step on the high path after staring at a troublesome crossroad?

Can the Tide cause a ruckus in Rupp Arena and keep Kentucky on the skids? Can Alabama overcome the loss of its leading scorer and play the above-.500 ball the rest of the way that will be mandatory if its vision of a fifth-consecutive NCAA at-large berth is to come true?

That is up to Gottfried, his staff and the eight scholarship players (discounting redshirt freshman Yamene Coleman) who remain on the roster.

The odds are steep.

The roster is still mostly young and it has issues in decision-making and depth.

Fundamentally, the high post offense has not created smooth point scoring. Too often the ball movement gets sluggish, and there is almost no cutting and screening when the ball's in the post or cruising the perimeter.

The lack of precision passing and ball flow makes it tough for Jermareo Davidson to accept an entry pass clean to the bucket and without doubling. Seldom does a shooter kick open at the arc thanks to a well-executed pick.

Point guard Ron Steele has to create practically everything, which makes it tougher for him to score as he's needed.

Jean Felix is mired in a season-long slump. The team's best marksman, Justin Jonus, is such a defensive liability Gottfried can ill afford to use him in tight games unless he shows a hot hand within moments of hitting the floor.

Evan Brock's role is still a morphing entity on a nightly basis.

Alonzo Gee and Richard Hendrix are prone to periodic outbursts, but still commit freshman blunders aplenty.

Brandon Hollinger has been a pleasant surprise but far too mercurial for guaranteed production.

Gottfried does have a bunch of guys who are going to keep busting a gut, come injury or ineffectiveness. That's going to get him some hustle wins, but will it be enough to make the postseason?

Ed. Note: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register. He writes a weekly column for BamaMag.com.

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