NIT: Just Delaying Spring Break?

Perhaps UMASS Head Coach Travis Ford could give us in Alabama a big pep talk about the Crimson Tide team before Tuesday night's NIT opener.

"Alabama is a big, strong, athletic team," he said. "They have guards that can shoot and big guys that can score. To be honest with you, I have not seen that many weaknesses yet, and I've watched two or three games. They are very good."

He continued, "They also have guards that can take over, All-Americans like Ronald Steele. Alonzo Gee is one of the most powerful players I have seen in a long time. He is extremely explosive. Mykal Riley can really shoot the ball. They have all the pieces to the puzzle. When you look at the team from the one to the five, I have not seen many weaknesses yet."

Flattering, isn't it? Perhaps tonight Alabama can put together one of those two or three games where it could do no wrong. Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried talked about his team's mindset yesterday before jetting to Massachusetts, and claimed that he and his team were excited to still be playing postseason basketball.

Sunday's "practice they were very upbeat, practiced hard and were intense," Gottfried said. "We scrimmaged a little bit not knowing who we were going to play. I thought they practiced very hard and seemed interested in what was going on."

But what else could he say? That the guys were really bummed about having to spend the first half of their spring break in New England?

The truth will be known later Tuesday night, but most casual observers of this team have come to expect the worst. Arkansas under Nolan Richardson played a pressing, running style of ball known as "Forty Minutes of Hell." At times, Alabama this year has demonstrated a diametrically opposed style that could be called "Forty Minutes of Lethargy."

Thursday as I watched the clock run out on Alabama at the Southeastern Conference Tournament I had two thoughts about this team. First, despite all the talk about toughness or "want-to" or whatever you want to call it, perhaps the biggest and most overlooked failing of this team was the complete inability to function without Ronald Steele.

It's not enough to say that Steele is the "heart and soul" of the team, and when he's out of the lineup the season goes down the tubes. When Steele first showed signs of injury, which was before the Tide's first game, flashing lights should have gone off that Bama needed a back-up plan.

That was the time to start developing a back-up who could suffice. That would have been the time to determine whether or not Brandon Hollinger was capable of doing it, and getting Mikhail Torrence ready if he could not. Or Justin Tubbs or Mykal Riley or Kyle Sellers. There's little excuse for not having someone who could serve as a functional fill-in.

Secondly, I wondered why this team never tried to employ a running and pressing style to break out of the aforementioned lethargy. On a team that got significant playing time to 10 guys during the season, why not try to run them in waves and play an up-tempo game?

I'm sure there are a dozen reasons this would have been a bad idea, but I figured it might be worth a gamble for a team that looked like a sitting duck way too many times in the second half.


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