A little over two and a half months ago, the Alabama Crimson Tide hit rock bottom. They had just dropped their second straight home game to an inferior opponent as Tulane had come into Coleman Coliseum and knocked off the Crimson Tide just over a week after Mercer had done the same thing on the same floor in front of the same disheartened fans.
The train had derailed; the season was over as far as most fans were concerned. A promising 6-0 start that included winning the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York had been spoiled as Alabama lost five of their next six games; three of which came in Tuscaloosa.
But then all of a sudden, something changed. Despite still struggling mightily on the offensive end, the effort that had not been there in embarrassing losses to Mercer and Tulane, had been restored; and Alabama started winning basketball games.
Since the calendar flipped to January, the Crimson Tide has gone 10-3, with one baffling loss on the road to Auburn. The other losses were road games against Missouri and Tennessee, with the Tide losing to the Vols by a single point in Knoxville.
Nine of those ten wins came against SEC opposition. They earned a quality win during the stretch over Kentucky while the ‘Cats still had the services of star player Nerlens Noel.
Now, after being 7-5 and watching as their season started to slip away, the Crimson Tide controls their own destiny in the regular season SEC Championship race following Florida’s road loss to Missouri on Tuesday night.
Alabama moved into sole possession of second place in the conference on Saturday after they beat South Carolina at home, and Kentucky was blown out by Tennessee on the road. The Tide is 9-3 in the SEC, which albeit relatively weak, is still an impressive mark nonetheless.
Florida now has two league losses after previously having been defeated on the road by Arkansas. At 11-2, Florida’s lead in the SEC is just 1.5 games, with Alabama looking to shave another half game off of that lead tomorrow night at Coleman against Mississippi State.
Alabama has six games remaining on their regular season slate; four of which are very winnable contests. They are favored in tonight’s game with Mississippi State at home; and should be favored on the road against LSU, and in home games against Auburn and Georgia.
The Crimson Tide will probably find themselves as underdogs in consecutive road games against Florida and Ole Miss on March 2nd and 5th, respectively. As long as Alabama can take care of business against teams they should beat, the games against Florida and Ole Miss should decide their fate in the regular season race.
Florida still has road games against a suddenly dangerous Tennessee team and Kentucky, although the trip to Lexington looks a lot less daunting with Noel no longer manning the paint at Rupp.
The Gators also face an Arkansas team in Gainesville this Saturday that beat them two weeks ago in Fayetteville.
The regular season SEC Title could very well come down to Alabama’s date with Florida in Gainesville on March 2nd, and while beating Florida on the road is a seemingly dubious task; the Gators have shown some vulnerability in their two conference losses.
Regardless of what happens in the season’s stretch run, it is nothing short of amazing that Anthony Grant has this Alabama team in a serious fight for the conference title this late in February. I never imagined that this day would come when Alabama lost to Tulane to fall to 7-5 on the season.
But look at the Crimson Tide now. They weathered the early season storm, and with six games remaining they are one of two teams in the SEC who can say that they control their own destiny.
Follow John on Twitter.