MURPHY: Bama Basketball Postmortem

The Madness will go on without Mark Gottfried and his sorely disappointed Crimson Tide, who won only two games after the team's modest three-game winning streak in early Februrary.

Postseason basketball is one of the pure joys on the sporting calendar, as Gottfried points out several times a year, so the hunger to return should burn in Bama's breast right through until next winter.

Do you write off Alabama's season as the Pain and Sorrow Tour 2006-07? There's a tendency to do that, and it would be well-founded. Jermareo Davidson lost his girlfriend and his brother, lost a bunch of weight, then lost his ability to score with authority from eight feet and in, and this was very costly to the Crimson Tide's cause.

Even more disruptive was the season-long saga of Ron Steele and his leg ailments. Couple this year's trifecta of right knee, left ankle, left knee with last year's spasming back and you've painted a portrait of a chronically injured star. Steele will have to shake that image next season in a final audition for the NBA scouts.

Even with those issues, Alabama had a chance to wriggle into the NCAAs.

Name one other team that had Florida down by 18 points in the O'Connell Center this year. You can't.

Name any team that forced its style on Tennessee in Thompson-Boling Arena and was in prime position to beat the Volunteers there. Nobody else but the Crimson Tide.

However, aside from the Ole Miss game in Oxford, there were road horrors for Alabama in conference play. I'd rank the mental toughness quotient right up there with the Davidson-Steele woes among the most burning issues for Gottfried and his staff.

It seemed if you got the Tide down by double figures, particularly on the road, blowout city beckoned. Witness the shoddy performances at Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Auburn and Mississippi State.

Georgia did the double-digit dance on them in Coleman Coliseum with its 15-0 start, but that was one instance where Alabama refused to back down and scored itself a major comeback win.

Otherwise, outside of the three-game stretch at LSU, and versus South Carolina and Mississippi State at Coleman, the tight games trended in the favor of Bama's opponents.

It appeared as if losing close games became a standard deal for this program. I'm not saying it became accepted, but you'd like to see a little more fire about the team in those instances.

I'm guessing next year's version of the Crimson Tide will be a good deal tougher. Steele should be much healthier, and rising sophomores like Demetrius Jemison, Mikhail Torrance and defensive dynamo Justin Tubbs will see increased minutes. There looks to be some scrappiness in that bunch. Plus, Richard Hendrix, if he returns for his junior season, should be leaner and meaner as the greater focal point in the post.

Without the prototypical long-limbed center, as Alabama has had in one form or other since Jeremy Hays, perhaps Gottfried will tinker with the high post set and allow Hendrix to work more often on the low block, where he's a high-percentage scorer with a large repertoire of moves and a load to stop.

The loss to UMass in a first-round NIT game on Wednesday night might have some critical offshoots. It showed that plucky guard Brandon Hollinger can be a productive scorer. Even though he made a few ill-advised passes and got some shots rejected after dribble penetration, Hollinger made 3-pointers, got to the free-throw line and put points on the board. That and his grit will be valuable components next season.

Also, Mykal Riley's shooting prowess came all the more into focus. If he has the same type of season next year, the inside should be less cluttered for Hendrix, Jemison and Yamene Coleman to conduct business. Riley should be one of the SEC's best 3-point guns next year.

Gottfried should make crisp passing a huge priority in the offseason. His guards make too many errors with entry and wing passes. Alabama's passing in traffic was not very good this year, and that includes Steele's play.

There is much to focus on for Gottfried and the Crimson Tide as they watch the rest of this postseason from the sidelines. For Gottfried's sake, and the well-being of his program, Alabama needs to rejoin the postseason party this time next year.

Ed. Note: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register. He is a columnist and contributor to and 'BAMA Magazine.

BamaMag Top Stories