Expect Basketball Highs And Lows

I know some Alabama fans who seem to always expect the worst. "We can't…" (fill in the blank): Beat Florida in the Southeastern Conference Football Championship Game. Or, Beat Texas in the BCS National Championship Game. Or, Beat Mississippi State's basketball squad when the Bulldogs are on a three-game winning streak and Bama is on a three-game losing streak.

The vast majority of Alabama fans, though, are optimistic. Indeed, many Crimson Tide fans have unrealistic expectations, in part because Bama coaches and athletes in so many sports have exceeded reasonable goals over the years.

Company policy at 'BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com has always been "We always think Alabama is going to win, and we're almost always rights," insofar as football at least.

Many tend to forget that the Crimson Tide has quite a basketball heritage. Although there is a huge gap between Kentucky basketball and Alabama basketball, the Tide has been more than competitive against the rest of the Southeastern Conference. (And, as we've pointed out to Kentucky followers from time-to-time, Bama is a lot closer to the Wildcats in basketball than UK is to the Crimson Tide in football.)

The only thing wrong with being overly optimistic is that it's a set up for disappointment. And that may be where we are regarding Anthony Grant's Bama men's basketball team. He has given us too much hope.

There's a reason Alabama has a new basketball coach this season. The one that was here before had fallen on hard times. Bama hasn't had a winning record in SEC games since 2006. Mark Gottfried wasn't replaced as coach because he had forgotten the coaching strategies that had Bama as a regular in the NCAA Tournament. His failing was in continuing to attract the type players needed to have success.

Look around the country, and specifically t Kentucky. The Wildcats have two freshmen starters from Alabama. Connecticut, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and other major college basketball teams have players from the high schools of Alabama.

When a new basketball coach is hired in late spring, ordinarily he's not going to make a huge difference in recruiting in time for the first year of competition. Grant will eventually get good players. The 2010-11 year in Alabama high school basketball is going to be one of outstanding senior players. In the last half century, the best Alabama basketball teams were built around players from within the state.

That doesn't mean the towel is thrown in this season. Alabama's wins over Baylor, Michigan and Mississippi State show that the Tide can compete.

The reason Alabama is competitive is defense. That's a function of teaching and of motivation. It can't be fun to play against Alabama's basketball defense, any more than it is to play against the Crimson Tide's football defense.

Grant's defensive scheme and the acceptance of Alabama players to sell out for it are reasons for Bama fans to have high expectations.

The reality, though, is Alabama has little in the way of offense. It's easy to remember the onslaught of three-pointers that buried LSU. The truth is, however, that Bama has no consistent offensive threat. That doesn't mean that no Tide player is capable of having a big offensive game. The key word is "consistent."

Teams that play deep into the NCAA Tournament almost always have three things: a point guard who makes the players around him better, a strong inside player who can play a muscle game, and an outside shooting threat. The honest assessment of Alabama is that the Crimson Tide has none of those components on a consistent basis.

Nevertheless, Alabama fans expect Bama to be a winner this year. That is a tribute to what Grant has shown the Alabama of the future to be: a relentless defense that provides offensive opportunities.

The key is adding players who can execute that philosophy, which is something to be optimistic about. Meanwhile, expect highs and lows from this year's Crimson Tide.

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