Mandatory Credit: Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports
The Alabama Crimson Tide’s hopes of making the NCAA Tournament this year were all but extinguished on Tuesday night in a 87-83 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels. The final score was not an indication of how one-sided the game was. The Tide went on a rampage in the final minutes hitting a bunch of threes, but it was not enough to overcome a 17-point deficit. The game was really never in question.
The frustration for Alabama fans is palpable, and when something is not going according to plan, it is, of course, time to blame someone. Somebody must be held responsible for the teams pedestrian play. Someone should be held accountable for the 14 first-half turnovers against the Rebels (many of them unforced). Someone is to blame for the team’s inability to rebound, as they are last the SEC in this category. Let us all panic and hyperventilate and lose our minds. Let us all blame the head coach.
Anthony Grant’s ability to coach has come into question lately. Never mind that he is one of the best defensive coaches in college basketball. His team gives up only 59.7 points a game, which is 30th in the country. Never mind that outside of Trevor Releford or Moussa Gueye, players on this team who see meaningful minutes are freshmen or sophomores. Never mind the only senior on this team, Andrew Steele, has been battling injuries this entire season.
Never mind that Alabama’s conference record this year (11-6) is better than last year’s record (9-7). Never mind that Alabama lost their two best players from last year, Tony Mitchel and Jamychael Green, and have practically the same record this year. The Tide finished 21-12 last year, and this year ‘Bama is 19-11.
Who cares? Things aren’t going according to plan, and so, of course, we have to fire the coach.
The problem is Alabama’s issues at this point are not coaching related; they are personnel related. Aside from the apparent lack of individual leadership on the team, there simply has not an inside presence in terms of scoring or rebounding. Nick Jacobs is ‘Bama’s primary frontcourt player. The problem is he averages 7.4 points, only 3.6 rebounds a game, and lacks presence and often looks unengaged. Most of ‘Bama’s offense comes from perimeter creation from our guards because they do not have an inside option that demands a touch every time down the floor.
In college basketball, you are only as good as your best post player. By nature of the position, a center can do more than other positions on the court. A great center is often the best, if not one of the best, scorers, rebounders, and defenders on the team. A great center usually frequents the foul line more than anyone as well. Indiana, Duke, and Gonzaga have the best frontcourt players in the country this year, and it’s why they are ranked in the top three in college basketball. It’s what separates great teams from good teams, and it is what Alabama is missing. This year’s Alabama team is a JaMychal Green away from being 25-5 and a lock for about a four seed in the tournament.
I am not saying Anthony Grant is without blame. He is after all the head coach, so he naturally deserves some. In terms of recruiting, he whiffed on Moussa Gueye big time, and Carl Engstrom, while injured, has also been a complete non-factor. Grant needs to put all of his efforts in recruiting into finding a 6-foot-10 workhorse who can actually play. He needs a post player who can score and rebound instead of recruiting and developing “project” seven-footers. With that said, I am not sold that Anthony Grant needs to be fired. I don’t believe we are anywhere close to that needing to happen.
When you are trying to establish the culture that Grant is by doing things the right way, without cutting corners, it is going to take time. I know ‘Bama fans are growing impatient, but I believe in sticking with guys like Anthony Grant. I believe his overall philosophy is a winning one; it has just not translated to on the court success yet. Stay patient, ‘Bama fans. Alabama basketball is in good hands with Anthony Grant.
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