Alabama vs. Oregon: What This Means for the Avery Johnson Era


It may go without saying, but the addition of new men’s basketball coach Avery Johnson for the Alabama Crimson Tide is a nice shot in the arm for the Tide faithful. He has proven to be a solid recruiter thus far, he’s energetic and passionate, and he isn’t afraid to go out on a limb and play some tough opponents.

On December 21, 2015, the Tide will do battle with the Oregon Ducks in the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, and will go to Eugene, OR to finish up the home-and-home series during the 2016-2017 season on a date that has yet to be determined.

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A match-up with a talented group from the PAC-12 is a serious step up in competition and national recognition, especially for a squad that will be without former leaders Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper (it was supposed to be a huge SEC/PAC-12 match-up last season with Bama and UCLA, but neither side could live up to the hype). The Ducks were an NCAA Tournament team who had they not met the Wisconsin Badgers, were a legitimate Sweet 16 quality team last season. Head coach Dana Altman has that program rolling in the right direction, that’s for sure.

So for Avery Johnson to man-up and say, “Hey guys, since we can’t seem to make this happen in football, let’s strike up a deal and do it to it on the hardwood,” should tell you how much he’s invested into the basketball program at The Capstone.

I’m a huge fan of testing yourself early and often in the regular season in basketball. If you play a tough schedule and win 20 games, that’s an accomplishment. If you play an easy schedule and eek out 25 wins, I’m not very impressed. It’s easy to get into a groove and beat 30 below-average opponents, only to get the boot early in the NCAA Tournament because that team never saw any good teams during the regular season.

Yes, this game is in Birmingham, and folks in Tuscaloosa may be slightly upset about that, but it’s during Christmas break, and a huge number of students that go to the University of Alabama live in Birmingham, so there should be a solid contingent of students there to support the Tide. If the game on the same date were in Tuscaloosa, it would look like the Bama/UCLA game from this past season. Sure it was a good win for the Tide, and sure it was on national television, but nobody was there to see it in person, and that’s how we, the general public, decide what the “eye test” means.

Jan 24, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide guard Justin Coleman (5) brings the ball down the court during the game against the Auburn Tigers at Coleman Coliseum. The Tide defeated the Tigers 57-55. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Look, folks, don’t expect too much from this Tide basketball team this season. Just like with every coach, I feel that a coach’s first season should not be an indication of his actual coaching ability. If you disagree with me, try this on for size: Nick Saban barely went 7-6 in his first season at Alabama. He turned out halfway decent, no?

Johnson has brought in some great young talent to Tuscaloosa, including freshmen Dazon Ingram and Donta Hall, not to mention he returns point guard Justin Coleman and big men Jimmie Taylor, Michael Kessens, Shannon Hale, and Riley Norris, but just bringing in talent doesn’t turn a program around instantly. It takes dedication and persistence from the coaching staff, not to mention full support from the athletic department. In no way am I saying that the athletic department didn’t support basketball during Anthony Grant’s tenure, but it does take a certain attitude to succeed at this fickle sport.

Also, it takes support and passion from the fan base, but with the progressive attitude of Avery Johnson, we just may be witnessing the beginning of a new era of Alabama basketball. If nothing else, I’ve personally talked to people who are just excited to see the man coach.

When’s the last time you heard that in Tuscaloosa?

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