What's Ahead For Alabama?

Not for the first time this year, watching Auburn's basketball team dismantle Alabama I had the same thought I have had many times this year: That's a well-coached team playing hard.

That doesn't mean that Alabama doesn't sometimes play hard, or that the Crimson Tide doesn't sometimes appear to be well coached. But it is hard to reconstruct those visions of the 2007 Bama basketball team. Furious finishes against lightweights Georgia and Mississippi State to eke out wins at home, maybe. Those were five-minute desperation stretches.

And, to be fair, those were games when Alabama had Ron Steele at the end to make game-winning shots.

Ron Steele is not available. So, if you were choosing up sides and taking Alabama players and Auburn players – even without Steele – how many Auburn players do you think you'd choose over Bama players? Not many. In fact, with the exception of Florida, no team in the Southeastern Conference has players the quality of Alabama.

Alabama's known talent, even without Steele, is such that almost all national basketball analysts listed the Crimson Tide as a team to watch for the national championship.

Yet the Crimson Tide is mired in the middle to lower end of the SEC Western Division, highly unlikely to make it to the NCAA Tournament.

Why?

Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried took the high road following Saturday's loss to Auburn. He said that he's the head coach and so he's responsible.

A better question might be, "What does he intend to do about it?"

Recruit better? Well, yes, if your talent is so far superior to the opponent, you'll win a lot of games regardless of plan or effort. But it had better be a whole lot better, or there will be nights like Vanderbilt 94-73 or Arkansas 88-61 or Auburn 81-57.

I don't compare Alabama football coaches to Paul W. Bryant, because he was so much better than anyone else could be expected to be. And I try to avoid comparisons of Mark Gottfried and former great Bama basketball coaches.

But I can't help but think how C.M. Newton and Wimp Sanderson (Gottfried's coach at Alabama) would have reacted to Alabama play. They both believed in the bench as motivator. Take a selfish shot, prepare to hit the pine. Fail to guard the backdoor play and your sub will have a chance to get him. Stand around while the opponent is diving and retrieving a loose ball and you'll get more time for rest.

As I watched Auburn's small front court group out-rebound Alabama, I couldn't help but think of former Tide star Reggie King, the 6-7 king of SEC rebounding, and his coach, C.M. Newton, saying that rebounding wasn't about height, it was about want-to.

Maybe it's the nature of today's player, but the bench is not used as a motivational tool at Alabama.

I have a lot of thoughts about how Auburn blew out Alabama in Coleman Coliseum Saturday. Mostly it was, as Gottfried said, poor Bama defense. While Alabama was trying to initiate its offense 35 feet from the basket against an aggressive Auburn defense, the Tigers were dribbling through the Tide to start the offense in the paint, able to make passes to wide open men either under the basket or for unguarded outside shots. Auburn made crisp passes with a purpose while Alabama plays a series of one-on-one games.

My memory of Saturday's 86-77 home loss to Auburn will be of the bench. In the second half, with Bama down by 10 points en route to being swept by the Tigers for the first time since 1999, I watched Jermareo Davidson and Alonzo Gee on the bench sharing a laugh.

I couldn't imagine what was so funny.

It's too late to salvage anything from this season. The issue is the future of Alabama basketball.

No team in Alabama basketball history has enjoyed the support of Crimson Tide fans as has this one. Six of seven SEC home games have been sellouts, 15,316.

As I left Coleman Coliseum Saturday evening, a couple of Tide fans were talking near me. They were unhappy, hoped that something could be done. "If this was football, someone would care," said one.

I think plenty of people care about basketball and will expect improvement. And I think that includes people who matter.


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