Alabama Basketball: What is wrong and what happens next?

TUSCALOOSA, AL - JANUARY 27: Herbert Jones
TUSCALOOSA, AL - JANUARY 27: Herbert Jones /

Alabama basketball has devolved into a team struggling to win games against top opposition. Can the Tide overcome its flaws and still make the Big Dance?

Since Alabama basketball beat Oklahoma in late January, the Tide’s record is 3-5. After three consecutive losses against NCAA-Tourney bound SEC teams, the Tide is barely escaping ‘Bubble’ status.

There is almost no margin for error. Two tough games finish the regular season, Florida at home and Texas A&M on the road. No longer will an opening game in the SEC Tournament provide a lesser foe. Alabama basketball is at risk of a dream-shattering collapse.

Alabama basketball fans are beyond disappointed. Answers are demanded. Accusations abound, aimed at Avery and his players. Did we Alabama basketball fans get fooled by unrealistic expectations again?

Avery Johnson admirably takes responsibility for his team’s failings. After the Arkansas loss, he said the team began the game in a ‘fog’ and admitted his frustration. Youth and limited big- game experience can somewhat explain a team starting flat. But it can never be an excuse.

What this Tide team lacks

Alabama basketball is a good defensive team marred by defensive let-downs. The Tide gives up too many offensive rebounds to opponents and too often does not guard on the perimeter. Both flaws were successfully attacked by Auburn and Arkansas.

Some of the flaws are weak fundamentals. The team does not block opponents off the boards, preferring to try and block every shot attempt. Opposing three-point shooters are not always challenged or worse they are fouled. The weaknesses are less effort and more lack of focus and bad defensive decisions.

Some of it is the defensive scheme. Constantly switching on defense, the Tide’s bigs are often far from the basket, tasked with defending players who are far too quick for them. Against some teams, the Tide gets pushed around under the basket. Kentucky did that and so did Arkansas.

On offense, the Tide is feast or famine. If Petty gets hot and Donta Hall can find space inside for his dunks, the Tide can score in half-court sets. Sexton is good on the break. Otherwise, the half-court offense struggles without true inside post players. Force-feeding the bigs, even Hall, does not work against physically strong and big defenders. In any game, Petty, Key, Ingram and Jones can boost the offense but none do so consistently.

The Alabama offense is not good enough to overcome high turnovers. Alabama basketball is No. 239 in turnover margin among the 351 Division 1 teams. Even worse is free-throw percentage. The Tide ranks No. 301 in making free shots.

Might Avery be the problem?

Avery Johnson accepts blame for the Tide’s weaknesses. Alabama basketball fans admire his character, his determination and his enthusiasm. Some fans doubt his coaching acumen. After the Arkansas loss, Avery said,

"Whatever it is, I’ve always been a fighter. The really good teams take on the personality of the coach and we’re not there yet."

Few will disagree with that statement. The question is does Avery understand how to make college players mentally and physically tough enough to win at a high level. Could it be he is too nice a guy to demand and receive his players become the fighter he has always been?

We don’t have an answer. We do believe Avery is still learning the college game and how to coach college players. This season is not over but in many ways, it will be if the Tide loses to Florida on Tuesday.  In a game that is now a must-win, how Avery and his team respond will be telling.

Next: 'Never too early' 2018 Offense Depth Chart

Check back with us soon. Depending on the latest ‘Bracketology’ updates, we will publish a new ‘Bracket Watch’ or possibly a ‘Bubble Watch.’