Spruce Derden–USA TODAY Sports

Alabama Basketball: Breaking Down the Tide's NCAA Tournament Chances

The Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team is fresh off their most complete performance of the season as they routed Mississippi State by a score of 75-43 on the road in Starkville on Wednesday night.

The win pushed Alabama to 10-6 overall and 2-1 in SEC play. They lost their SEC opener on the road to Missouri, but rebounded with a nice win at home over Tennessee before the blowout victory over the Bulldogs.

Most impressively, Alabama played their best game without star point guard Trevor Releford, who was sidelined with an ankle injury in practice earlier in the week.

The most positive takeaway from Wednesday night’s game was the play of sophomore forward Nick Jacobs, who finally provided the Crimson Tide an inside presence they have been sorely lacking this season. Jacobs put up 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting with 11 rebounds. If he can be a consistent contributor, this team just got a whole lot more dangerous.

Alabama seems to have worked out the kinks that caused their December slide. If only we could pretend December never happened because 1-5 months are often tough to recover from in college basketball, especially when you mix in a pair of terrible losses.

Still, Alabama played hard for forty minutes against Tennessee, and absolutely brutalized Mississippi State. The question is, however, is it already too late for the Crimson Tide to make a run and make the NCAA Tournament?

Are the losses to Mercer and Tulane going to be too much to overcome in March even with a strong run through SEC play?

Let’s take a look at Alabama’s wins, losses, and upcoming games with the RPI of their opponents in parenthesis. (RPI rankings are according to RealTimeRPI.com.)

(The win over West Alabama doesn’t factor in because they are Division II.)

Wins (9)

  • South Dakota State (83)
  • Oregon State (143)
  • Villanova (67)
  • Charleston Southern (190)
  • Lamar (315)
  • Texas Tech (235)
  • Oakland (145)
  • Tennessee (103)
  • Mississippi State (239)

Losses (6)

  • Cincinnati (28)
  • Dayton (92)
  • VCU (31)
  • Mercer (160)
  • Tulane (173)
  • Missouri (24)

Remaining Games (15)

  • Texas A&M (35)
  • Kentucky (64)
  • Tennessee (103)
  • Arkansas (73)
  • Vanderbilt (164)
  • Auburn (185)
  • LSU (135)
  • Georgia (211)
  • South Carolina (213)
  • Mississippi State (239)
  • LSU (135)
  • Auburn (185)
  • Florida (10)
  • Ole Miss (46)
  • Georgia (211)

Alabama currently sits 72nd in RPI, and as you can see above, the Tide doesn’t have many more chances to pick up quality wins. It’s a down year in the SEC, and it’s going to hurt having to play nine more games against teams with RPI’s greater than 100, and four of them against teams with RPI’s greater than 200.

As of right now, Alabama doesn’t have a quality win to hang their hat on. They haven’t beaten a single Top-50 RPI team, and they only have two wins over teams in the Top-100 (South Dakota State and Villanova).

Losses to Cincinnati and VCU aren’t harmful as they came against teams in the Top-35 in RPI. The loss to Dayton hurts some, but the losses to Mercer and Tulane are the two that are really detrimental and will haunt the Crimson Tide come March. Both of those teams could end up finishing outside the Top-200, and neither stand much of a chance of even cracking the Top-150.

Alabama cannot afford another loss to a team outside of the Top-100 if they stand any real chance of getting into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, which quite frankly looks like a longshot at this point. That means, games against Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Auburn (x2), LSU (x2), Georgia (x2), South Carolina and Mississippi State are all virtual must-wins. Another loss to a team outside the Top-100 would probably squash the slim hopes Alabama has of getting to the tournament without earning an automatic bid by winning the SEC Tournament.

Alabama has three games left against teams with Top-50 RPI’s at the moment. It seems likely that Kentucky will finish with a Top-50 RPI as well, so that should give Alabama a fourth, but Ole Miss and Texas A&M could both easily drop outside that mark.

On Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Alabama gets a chance to earn a quality win against Texas A&M. The Aggies will enter the contest with a Top-35 RPI, and Alabama will desperately need to find a way to beat a quality opponent to bolster their thin NCAA Tournament resume.

So what is it going to take for Alabama to make the big dance? If they beat all those teams with RPI’s higher than 100, that would already put them at 12 SEC wins. Just winning those games likely wouldn’t be enough as the Tide would likely need at least two wins against the quadrival of Kentucky, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Florida.

That would mean a 14-4 SEC record might possibly be the bare minimum mark they must ascertain to earn an at-large berth into March Madness. That’s going to be a tough number to get to, and in all likelihood it will probably be too big of a mountain to climb. Alabama dug themselves a pretty deep hole with ugly non-conference losses, especially with as weak as the SEC is again this season.

Outside of a miraculous run through the conference, it looks like Alabama will need to win the SEC Tournament to earn access to the big dance by way of an automatic berth. The Tide’s at-large chances look slim and none.

Anything short of a conference championship would likely land them back in the NIT for the second time in three years.

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Tags: Alabama Crimson Tide Basketball

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