About the time Chuck Davis went limping off the court with what looked like a bad knee injury in the first half of Alabama's conference opener against Ole Miss, I thought the Crimson Tide's NCAA Tournament hopes were toast.
So did many of you.
Consider the evidence we had to work with at the time. The Tide had gone 7-5 in its pre-conference slate, beating the teams it was supposed to beat (sometimes by slender margins like 60-57 at home) and losing each game against big conference opponents.
Alabama had played sieve-like 3-point defense in games against Notre Dame and Temple. Even Georgia State hit half of its 18 3-point shots against the Tide.
Alabama's offense also looked sluggish in the early going, even with two high-quality post players in Davis and Jermareo Davidson.
Most nights there was also a gaping hole on the perimeter where Kennedy Winston and Earnest Shelton thrived. Justin Jonus provided a 3-point threat (until he stopped shooting) and wasn't guarding anyone before he left the team. Evan Brock played some on the wing, but without a reliable long jumper, his man could afford to cram up the middle and double at will. Jean Felix started the season in a shooting funk of which he only recently emerged, his 1-of-14 night against Vanderbilt notwithstanding. Alonzo Gee and Brandon Hollinger? Erratic freshmen just as expected.
Of course Ron Steele's aching back put a severe crimp on the offensive flow. And back spasms have been known to linger, so we had no assurance he'd recover in season.
All that was on the Tide's blotter when Davis hobbled over to the sideline and when medical personnel whispered the likely injury in Mark Gottfried's ear, causing Alabama's eighth-year coach to drop his head in dismay.
Was there any reason to think Alabama would turn competitive after losing a nine-point lead in less than four minutes to Ole Miss and falling 71-61 to the Rebels in the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum?
To quote Steele on that fateful night: "A lot of people are going to doubt us right now."
Some veteran observers seriously suggested the over-under for Alabama's SEC wins should be set at FOUR on the night of January 7.
Which makes the Crimson Tide's 6-3 conference record something of a shocker as it heads to Oxford tomorrow for rematch with the Rebs.
Steele's return to health cannot be undervalued in Alabama's recovery. Nor can Richard Hendrix's fast-track rise to a quality SEC post presence to team with Davidson. Those three players are the backbone to the bounce back.
Consider: Alabama uses seven players. Can you guess how many 0-point games have been posted by four of those seven players since Davis' injury?
Eight. At least one 0-for in seven of the nine games PC (post Chuck).
Look it up. Gee against Ole Miss the night of Davis' injury; Felix at Auburn; Brock at Kentucky; Hollinger vs. Arkansas; Hollinger and Gee vs. Mississippi State; Brock vs. LSU and Hollinger vs. Vanderbilt.
Additionally, Jonus scored just three points in SEC play before departing.
The point being, Gottfried has to work his thin personnel like a maestro every game because outside of Steele, Davidson and Hendrix he doesn't know what he's going to get.
There are still flaws aplenty on this club, which puts Alabama on par with roughly 75 percent of the rest of the major college teams, including most of the SEC. Gottfried's upbeat approach has been incredibly good for this club, whose trademark has been 40 (or 45) minutes of hard battling every night with the exception of the road loss at Georgia.
Imagine if Alabama had held on emotionally and beaten Ole Miss in that opener. Gottfried's guys would be 7-2 and just a game out of the overall SEC lead.
Nothing this bunch does the rest of the way should surprise us.
Editor's Note: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register and a contributor to 'BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com