Last week when I examined the Alabama Crimson Tide’s NCAA Tournament chances, things looked bleak to say the least. Alabama didn’t have a single quality win on their resume, and their resume was marred by two ugly losses to Mercer and Tulane.
But, while the bad losses remain, Alabama picked up a couple of nice wins last week. They beat Texas A&M by one on a late shot by Trevor Lacey at Coleman Coliseum on Saturday, and then they beat defending national champion Kentucky on Tuesday night in front of a frenzied home crowd.
Villanova also scored a big win this week for themselves, but also for the Crimson Tide as they took down Louisville. The Wildcats are one of the better wins on Alabama’s resume, so make sure to cheer for them throughout Big East play.
After winning just two out of eight games, Alabama has now won four straight in league play. They opened SEC play by losing on the road to Missouri, but since have beaten Tennessee, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Kentucky.
The return of Andrew Steele to the rotation certainly helped. Steele is the team’s only senior, and he does so many teams to help the team win aside from scoring.
They’ve also finally been getting contributions in the front court from junior Moussa Gueye and sophomore Nick Jacobs. Gueye has really stepped his game up on the defensive end of the floor and in rebounding. Gueye had 5 rebounds and 5 blocked shots against Kentucky.
Nick Jacobs also had a strong game against the Wildcats, despite being guarded for most of the evening by one of the best defensive players in college basketball – Nerlens Noel. Jacobs more than held his own against the future lottery pick as he scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the floor and grabbed 5 rebounds in 22 minutes.
If Alabama can continue to get that kind of production out of their guys in the front court, this team can be extremely dangerous. Alabama’s back court led by Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacey is one of the finest in the country, especially when Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper are playing at a high level along with the aforementioned Andrew Steele.
Front court play has been what has plagued the Crimson Tide all season long, but it appears that they have finally figured it out in the post, and that is bad news for the rest of the SEC.
Prior to Alabama’s win over Kentucky, ESPN college basketball expert Joe Lunardi listed Alabama as one of the first four teams left out of the NCAA Tournament.
The Crimson Tide has certainly improved their resume, but by how much? Let’s take a look at their wins, losses, and upcoming games with the RPI of their opponents in parenthesis. I’m also putting a +/- with a number next to it to indicate RPI movement from last week.
(The win over West Alabama doesn’t factor in because they are not Division I.)
- South Dakota State (65) +18
- Oregon State (132) +11
- Villanova (58) +9
- Charleston Southern (172) +18
- Lamar (313) +2
- Texas Tech (199) +36
- Oakland (168) -23
- Tennessee (98) +5
- Mississippi State (241) -2
- Texas A&M (66) -31
- Kentucky (60) +4
- Cincinnati (24) +4
- Dayton (97) -5
- VCU (27) +4
- Mercer (158) +2
- Tulane (150) +23
- Missouri (25) -1
Remaining Games (13)
- Tennessee (98)
- Arkansas (83)
- Vanderbilt (127)
- Auburn (206)
- LSU (137)
- Georgia (178)
- South Carolina (219)
- Mississippi State (241)
- LSU (137)
- Auburn (206)
- Florida (5)
- Ole Miss (35)
- Georgia (178)
Unfortunately for Alabama, what looked like a quality win over Texas A&M has turned into just a decent win as the Aggies fell 31 spots in the RPI rankings from where they were a week ago. Alabama still doesn’t have any wins over Top-50 RPI teams, but they are sporting four wins over teams in the Top-75.
You need to be rooting for teams like South Dakota State, Villanova, Texas A&M and Kentucky to win from here on out. If two of those teams could finish the season with Top-50 RPI’s, that would be a major boost for Alabama.
Eight of the eleven Division I teams Alabama has beaten this season saw their RPI’s improve from last week. Alabama saw a major boost in the RPI rankings from last week as well. They were 72nd a week ago, and as of Thursday night they moved all the way up to 49th for a 23 spot improvement.
They’ll need to stay in the RPI Top 50 to have a realistic shot of making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team.
Alabama’s two best losses, Cincinnati and VCU, both saw increases in their RPI this week, and even their two worst losses, Mercer and Tulane, saw RPI boosts. Tulane actually jumped into the Top 150. Here’s hoping they both continue to climb to help erase the obvious black marks on the Tide’s resume.
Dayton, however, has dropped five spots after a 1-3 start in A-10 action. They are now teetering on falling out of the Top 100 altogether, which Alabama simply cannot afford to happen.
As of the current RPI rankings, Alabama has four games left against teams ranked in the Top-100. They play Tennessee on the road this Saturday and then follow that up with a home game against Arkansas on Thursday.
Their two best opportunities for a resume-building win come in early March in consecutive road games. First, Alabama goes to Gainesville to play Florida, who currently ranks 5th in RPI and has been one of the best teams in the country so far. Then, Alabama travels to Oxford to take on Ole Miss, who are currently undefeated in league play with a Top-35 RPI to show for it.
Alabama also has four games left against teams with RPI’s below 200. That makes the contests against Auburn (x2), South Carolina and Mississippi State must wins. A loss to a team outside the Top 200 could effectively burst Alabama’s bubble. They simply cannot afford anymore bad losses.
They also still have at least five games left against teams outside the Top-100. While a loss to one of them wouldn’t be season-ending, it would still hurt quite a bit. If Alabama can win those nine games along with beating Ole Miss or Florida, then they have a good chance of getting into the NCAA Tournament barring a bad loss in the SEC Tournament to one of those below 200 teams.
After a strong week, I think I can safely assert that Alabama is back on the NCAA Tournament bubble thanks to their wins over Texas A&M and Kentucky. It seemed like their bubble had effectively burst when they lost consecutive home games to Mercer and Tulane, but kudos to the Tide for fighting their way back.
However, they still have a lot of work to do if they want to make it back to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, and their room for error is admittedly minimal. Even still, the Crimson Tide is in much better position this week than last.
Follow John on Twitter.