Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama Basketball: Tide's NCAA Tournament Hopes Hanging on by a Thread

After last week’s horrible loss to Auburn, it seemed like the Alabama Crimson Tide’s bubble had burst in terms of their chances of making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. And while the prognosis still isn’t good for Anthony Grant’s squad, they are still somehow clinging to slim hopes of sneaking into the tournament.

After hitting rock bottom in a 49-37 road loss to Auburn, Alabama responded by winning close games at home against LSU and on the road against Georgia to rebound. Neither win greatly improved Alabama’s chances of making the tournament, but they got a small boost out of it.

Those two wins propelled Alabama into a tie for second place with Kentucky at 8-3 in the downtrodden SEC. It seems like a strong possibility that the Crimson Tide could finish the regular season in 2nd place in the conference, although that unfortunately doesn’t mean a whole lot this season.

Still, it puts things into a bit of perspective. Yes, it’s been a very frustrating year this season. Yes, we expected better. But, even in a disappointing year so far Alabama is behind only Florida in the conference standings with seven games remaining on the regular season slate.

The Resume

Record: 16-8, 8-3 SEC

RPI: 61st

SOS: 65th

Top 50 W/L: 1-3

Top 100 W/L: 6-4

Quality Wins: Kentucky

Bad Losses: Dayton, Mercer, Tulane, Auburn

As you can see, Alabama’s resume is weak. Most years, this kind of resume would put you nowhere near the NCAA Tournament. But it’s a down year in college basketball, and that is the only reason the Crimson Tide still has a prayer of getting an invite to the Big Dance. Their only quality win at this moment is Kentucky, and with the Wildcats losing star center Nerlens Noel to a season-ending knee injury, they could very well collapse down the stretch and finish outside the Top-50.

To make matters worse, Alabama has four bad losses to teams they should have beaten soundly. Three of those bad losses (Dayton, Mercer, Tulane) came at home in non-conference play. If the Tide had just taken care of business at home against inferior opponents, this would be a completely different story.

Alas, it is not, and those bad losses are likely too much to overcome when there aren’t many opportunities remaining to get quality wins.

Now, let’s take a look at Alabama’s wins, losses and upcoming games with the RPI of their opponents in parenthesis. As usual, 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.) (All RPI rankings are as of the Thursday morning update on realtimerpi.com)

Wins (15)

  • South Dakota State (69) +0
  • Oregon State (167) -2
  • Villanova (64) +2
  • Charleston Southern (197) +1
  • Lamar (315) +3
  • Texas Tech (215) -9
  • Oakland (110) +29
  • Tennessee (76) +26
  • Mississippi State (225) +3
  • Texas A&M (67) +5
  • Kentucky (43) -2
  • Arkansas (94) -18
  • Vanderbilt (159) -4
  • LSU (111) -6
  • Georgia (119) -7

Losses (8)

  • Cincinnati (35) -10
  • Dayton (128) -25
  • VCU (37) +13
  • Mercer (164) +2
  • Tulane (149) +14
  • Missouri (34) +1
  • Tennessee (76) +26
  • Auburn (211) -7

Remaining Games (7)

  • South Carolina (203)
  • Mississippi State (225)
  • LSU (111)
  • Auburn (211)
  • Florida (3)
  • Ole Miss (48)
  • Georgia (119)

Alabama only has the one quality win, but they have a couple of other decent wins over the likes of South Dakota State, Villanova, Tennessee and Texas A&M. Six wins over the Top-100 is solid, and a couple of other teams Alabama beat are fringe Top-100 teams at the moment. Oakland, specifically, has been trending up lately as they approach the Top-100. They’ve won six straight games, including a win tonight that hasn’t factored into their RPI yet.

However, Alabama’s one win over a Top-50 opponent is on life support after Noel’s injury. We’ll see how Kentucky plays without him, but it is as devastating of a injury as there could be to any team in the country.

Alabama’s four losses to sub-100 teams is a big hole in their resume. The Dayton loss keeps looking worse, the Mercer and Tulane losses have always looked terrible, and the Auburn loss is the worst of the bunch. Alabama shouldn’t have lost any of those games, much less all four of them. If Alabama doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament, then look no further than the quartet of bad losses they put together, specifically the three out-of-conference home games.

Alabama doesn’t have many chances left in the regular season to make up ground. They play two more teams that are ranked in the Top-50 of the RPI, and one of them is an Ole Miss team that has been seriously struggling lately. The Rebels, after starting 6-0 in the SEC, have lost four of their last five with their only win coming against a dismal Mississippi State team.

The biggest opportunity for Alabama to make a statement to the selection committee comes on March 2nd in Gainesville against Florida. The Gators are currently third in RPI, and a road win over them could be the push the Crimson Tide needs to bust through the doors of March Madness. Beating Florida on the road is as daunting of a task as there is in college basketball this season, however.

But that could be exactly what it takes for Alabama to earn a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. If not beating Florida, then maybe a win or two in the SEC Tournament over Missouri, Kentucky or Ole Miss would do.

With Alabama sitting at 61st in RPI, they are without a doubt on the outside looking in right now, but they are within striking distance. The lowest-ranked team in the RPI to make the tournament last season was Virginia, who was ranked 53rd after the conclusion of conference tournaments.

Alabama’s next two games are vital in only that losses would be catastrophic. These games are the most winnable games left on the schedule as Alabama faces South Carolina on Saturday at home, and then Mississippi State at home on Wednesday. The Crimson Tide is on the edge of the cliff, and South Carolina or Mississippi State could push them off with wins at Coleman Coliseum.

The only certain path to the NCAA Tournament for Alabama would be by winning the SEC Tournament. An at-large berth still feels unlikely to me unless they can do the improbable and beat Florida on the road.

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