As Alabama basketball bounces around NCAA Tournament ‘bubble’ status, some thoughts on why it is happening again and a look back to past Big Dance history.
For Alabama basketball fans, January, February and March are perennially filled with anxiety. Fans of top college basketball programs fret over how their team will be seeded. Crimson Tide basketball fans worry the Tide will be seeded in the NIT.
There are dozens are bracketologists to follow. A few of them are pretty good at predicting both the field and the seeds of NCAA Tournament teams. Following only a couple is probably the least stressful approach. Though they are not necessarily the best, we choose to only pay attention to Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi. Prior to the loss to Baylor, both pickers had the Alabama Crimson Tide as a No. 11 seed, with Lunardi rating the Tide as a lower 11-seed and facing a play-in game.
There is no precise definition of a ‘bubble team,’ but we Alabama basketball fans have lots of experience with the label. The ‘Bubble’ is basically all the teams from No. 10 seeds to the first eight teams predicted out of the field. So Alabama basketball was a bubble team before the Baylor loss and slid down further into the bubble with the result.
The Tide’s next five games include three road games. The run also includes four very tough games – Mississippi State in T-Town; at Auburn; at Vandy and at Mississippi State. Vandy is having a difficult season but any Crimson Tide fan thinking winning in Nashville will be easy is confused. Since 1990, the Crimson Tide has beaten Vanderbilt in Nashville once, in 2013.
Georgia in Tuscaloosa is the only game of the five to expect a win. A record of 3-2 in the next five would improve the Tide’s NCAA Tournament chances. Even just two wins should still the leave the Tide inside the bubble.
Alabama basketball fans are weary from ‘Bubble’ anxiety that goes back 14 seasons. The last time an Alabama Crimson Tide team was NCAA Tournament seed, secure was the 2004-05 season. Mark Gottfried’s team was a 5-seed that season. The Tide got bounced quickly that season, losing to a Bruce Pearl coached Wisconsin-Milwaukee team.
Since then, the Tide has made the Big Dance only three times. The following season the Tide was a 10-seed. In the ten subsequent seasons, the Tide made the Tournament once under Anthony Grant and last year under Avery Johnson. In three of those 10 NCAA-Wasteland seasons, the Tide was not even a bubble team.
Some Alabama basketball fans demand a return to the glory years of Mark Gottfried. They are mistaken in only one aspect. The NCAA glory years for the Crimson Tide were under Wimp Sanderson. In 11 Mark Gottfried seasons, the Tide went to the NCAAs five times. In Wimp’s 12 seasons, he led the Tide to 10 NCAA Tournaments. His teams missed the Big Dance only twice.
Is Alabama basketball progressing under Avery?
In terms of recruiting, the answer is a clear yes. Can Avery can lead Alabama basketball beyond its perennial bubble zone? There is no clear consensus on an answer. Current calls of alarm will intensify if the Tide closes the final, regular season slate of games with six wins and six losses. Starting the SEC Tournament at 18-13 might require reaching the championship game to earn a NCAA bid.
In fairness to Avery, regaining the glory of the Wimp years was always going to be a tough task. At least since 1992, the Crimson Tide as a basketball power has been fleeting.
There is plenty of time to improve the Tide’s NCAA chances. Winning at least one of the next two would be a good start.