Can Alabama Basketball Make The NCAA Tournament in 2015?

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Alright guys it’s game week, and on this Monday it’s time to talk about Alabama basketball.

Wait what?

Don’t worry, football is coming, but I’m here to talk about the other team making noise in Tuscaloosa. After being written off by seemingly everyone after the loss to Wichita State almost two weeks ago, the Tide sit at 9-3 with one more out-of-conference match up before conference play begins.

While football has prospered at Alabama during the Saban era, the basketball fans have had plenty cringeworthy moments. Bad losses, second half chokes, attrition, lack of size and depth, coaching, and lack of general interest in the team have characterized Tide basketball of late.

Anthony Grant certainly isn’t the most popular coach on campus, but in his “make or break” year, it looks like the team is starting to come together.

First, let’s look at the bad. The Tide have three losses, all outside of the greater 205 region. Iowa State and Wichita State are both ranked in the top 15 and Xavier sits at 9-3 currently. Almost every year under Grant, Alabama has had at least one bad loss that kept them out of the tournament or at least dinged their resume considerably (I still hate Dayton). This year, outside of a UNF loss that I’m hoping I’m not jinxing, losing at Xavier would not be considered a rough loss unless they absolutely implode in conference play.

Anthony Grant certainly isn’t the most popular coach on campus, but in his “make or break” year, it looks like the team is starting to come together.

Of course, there are other concerns. Lack of scoring lately is actually a change compared to earlier this season and not closing the door on some opponents will eventually come back to hurt the team more than it has already. Alabama could improve in a few areas but avoiding a bad loss and improving in most major categories, compared to last year, keeps me content.

My biggest, and many others, concern is closing out games. Alabama almost choked away the UCLA game Sunday night, barely survived against a bad Appalachian State team, and of course blew the 11-point lead with less than six minutes to go at Wichita State. A lot of people decided to close the book on any tournament aspirations for the Anthony Grant led team. This is why I’m channeling my inner Lee Corso and saying, not so fast my friends.

Even with Alabama great Trevor Releford graduating, transfer Ricky Tarrant has filled in admirably. He has arguably been the MVP of the team this season, drilling shots when the moment called and being the floor general that Alabama desperately needed this season. At 13.5 PPG, Tarrant has relieved some of the pressure on Levi Randolph’s shoulders.

The other big time transfer, Michael Kessens, has made a positive impact as well. With a lack of size on this year’s team, Kessens has come in and cleaned up the glass with nearly 5 rebounds per game and contributing 6.6 points per game.

But it’s just not the new guys carrying the load for the new looking Tide this season. Randolph has elevated his game after being named captain at the start of the season, averaging a team high 16.4 PPG and in the top two in nearly every other major category including tops in assists, steals, and free throw percentage.

The biggest difference between this year and some of the other teams is depth. Usually, there are about three players averaging 30+ minutes a night whether their play warranted those averages or not. This season, Grant has a roster of players to choose from.

Rodney Cooper is shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc and nearly 50 percent overall; big time improvements compared to last season (26 percent from three-point range). Jimmie Taylor’s offensive game still needs work but he leads the team in rebounding and blocked shots. Shannon Hale’s game has improved after his impressive freshman season last year. He has become a very good role player out on the wing, shooting at a high clip and has improved enough on defense to earn almost 20 minutes per game. Retin Obasohan has become a defensive ace and even the freshmen are stepping up more than expected. Riley Norris has become a high energy player who has more hustle than style points and always fighting for every rebound. Justin Coleman, despite his lack of size, has shown nice ball handling at PG and seems to have a firm grasp of Grant’s system already. He has a very bright future in Coleman.

Those negatives I mentioned at the beginning have almost all become strengths. With everyone buying into Grant’s system you see more trust and confidence in each other, something I’ve hardly seen during my time here. The additional depth gives Grant a chance to play around with lineups and even occasionally go (gasp) big against other teams.

If the Tide can at least go 12-6  in conference play (22-9 overall) with a win or two against other top SEC teams, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Tide dancing in March. As conference play approaches, keep your eyes out as the Tide will continue to rise slowly with each win.