Thoughts On Basketball Woes

Everyone's a critic. But what should Alabama Basketball Coach Mark Gottfried and his staff and players expect? Gottfried has the job because of dismay over the program under David Hobbs. Hobbs never had a record like the one Bama will post this season.

Alabama now has a 15-14 overall record and a 4-10 record in Southeastern Conference games. The Crimson Tide is tied for last place in the SEC Western Division.

Alabama has two more regular season games and the SEC Tournament and so it is possible to have an overall winning record, though that seems unlikely. The regular season games are at LSU Wednesday and at home to Vanderbilt Saturday. LSU is not very good, but Bama has about as much chance on the road as a possum. Vandy is much better than the Tide.

The clamor among Alabama basketball fans to replace David Hobbs came because of the Tide's six-year conference record of 50-46 in SEC games.

Now those look like the good ol' days.

Well, not like the days of C.M. Newton and Wimp Sanderson. Newton took over a bad program in 1969 and promptly went 1-17, last in the SEC. The next year was 5-13 and the next 6-12. But then came nine outstanding seasons, including three straight 15-win years (SEC teams played 18 conference games in those days) and no season worse than 11-7. Sanderson had similar success, two losing seasons sprinkled among his 12 seasons and a school record 16 SEC wins in 1987 championship year.

Under Gottfried at the conclusion of this season, Alabama will have had three SEC winning seasons, five losing seasons, and two .500 seasons. This year's season could be the worst Alabama record in SEC play since Newton's inaugural season.

The Gottfried resume is basically that Alabama's 2004 team went to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament before being routed by eventual national champion Connecticut.

The overall Gottfried record in nearly 10 seasons is 196-122 (more about that in a moment). The Gottfried record in SEC games is 80-78.

Alabama has not won an SEC road game since winning at LSU last season. Bama is 0-7 in SEC road games this year and has lost 17 of 18 SEC road games.

Is Ron Steele the only Alabama basketball player who knows how to win on the road? Yes, it hurts that Steele is sitting out the season with as his knee recuperates from surgery, but Alabama is not the only team that has had bad injury luck.

At the end of last year, Alabama lost an experienced assistant coach. It was reported that Tom Asbury was retiring for health reasons. (Asbury has recovered enough to have taken over as head coach at Pepperdine this season.)

Rather than bring in an experienced assistant coach, perhaps a defensive specialist since Alabama is somewhat shaky defensively, Gottfried went to his bench, more or less, elevating the director of basketball operations to assistant coach. Kobie Baker may be (or become) an excellent assistant basketball coach, but the perception was that Gottfried didn't improve his staff. And he was defensive that anyone would criticize his choice.

Hardly a week goes by that some player or some team doesn't have a career or season best game against Alabama. Opposing players who never sniff double figures become all-star candidates against Bama's defense. Teams that have struggled to make field goals toss in three-pointers without worry about being contested.

Every year Gottfried espouses his non-conference schedule as being difficult. A year after the NCAA Selection Committee made Bama the poster child for having a weak non-conference schedule by leaving the Tide out of the field of 64, Gottfried did toughen up the schedule. But for the past couple of years one would have to be very gullible to believe that the non-conference schedule of teams touted as being "their conference" defending champions or favorites is really even decent.

Newton was a believer in playing a tough non-conference schedule to get a team ready to play in the NCAA. Tennessee is the current SEC team with that philosophy.

Sure that will cause some losses, particularly when a team goes on the road to play a real powerhouse. But a team that has been challenged in December will be ready to go to Georgia and South Carolina and Ole Miss and Auburn and be able to win against inferior talent.

To its credit, Gottfried's team showed great courage in its comeback attempt at Ole Miss Saturday. Bama went to a desperation press and scored 22 points in the final two minutes. The effort came up just short because Alabama had allowed the Rebels a 53-point second half, but it brought to mind the question of why athletic Alabama has hardly used its full court pressure since the end of non-conference play.

It will be interesting to see how many show up for Alabama's final regular season game against Vandy, particularly if the Tide continues its road ineptness at LSU. And what will that mean for future attendance for a sport that is expected to help with the athletics department budget?

Alabama won't be pulling in an NCAA Tournament check this season. Maybe its good news that the Tide also won't be participating in the NIT, a tournament which sometimes is an expense item to participating teams.

Gottfried is a former Alabama basketball star, one of the Crimson Tide's own. But so was J.B. Whitworth, a former Crimson Tide football coach.

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