Alabama Basketball: A surging Crimson Tide is favored Saturday in Auburn and should be Tuesday night in Lexington.
The 8-3, Alabama basketball team has four tough games ahead during the next 11 days. Two of them are tough because of where the games will be played. The other two games will be tough because of the opponents.
Any Alabama Crimson Tide fans who have not been paying attention to Tide basketball may be unaware of recent changes in fortune. After the Tide’s third loss in its first seven games, against Western Kentucky, bright preseason outlooks turned gloomy.
Nate Oats was undeterred. He impressed upon his team that the freedom of his offense, dubbed by ESPN’s Jimmy Dykes as ‘space and pace’ was about more than jacking up threes. Oats demanded more than a casual relationship with defense. In the wins over Tennessee and Florida, the Crimson Tide flexed its defensive muscles and showed he can be a complete basketball team.
Guys like John Petty Jr. and Alex Reese have modeled Herbert Jones’ defensive toughness. Foul trouble kept Herbert on the bench for much of the Tennessee game. The Crimson Tide played tough, team defense even as Herbert watched. The result was a road win over a team, that currently is No. 4 in the NCAA NET ranking.
After a slow start on Tuesday night, the Crimson Tide put defensive clamps on the Florida Gators. The thirty-plus minutes of defensive enthusiasm against the Gators were striking. Going back too many seasons, the norm for Alabama basketball has been following a big win with lackluster performance. Has Oats pushed his team beyond that barrier? Alabama Crimson Tide fans will find out soon.
Three out of the next four games are on the road. The first is Saturday at Auburn and the Crimson Tide are a four-point favorite to win. The Tide as the favorite at Auburn Arena is role reversal. Alabama basketball has not won in Auburn since the 2014-15 season. Since Bruce Pearl’s first Auburn season in 2014-15, the Crimson Tide records versus the Aubies has been 6-7. This season Auburn is an unimpressive, 6-5, with an NCAA NET ranking at No. 89.
The NCAA NET rankings are updated daily. The Alabama Crimson Tide is up to No. 24 with the wins over Tennessee and Florida. After losing to the Tide, the Gators dropped from No. 21 to No. 31.
Next up after Auburn is a road trip to Lexington. The Wildcats are 2-0 in the SEC and struggled to beat Vandy in Rupp Arena on Tuesday. The Cats’ overall record is a shocking 3-6, with a NET ranking of No. 127. The college basketball world has been asking ‘when’ Calipari would get his Cats on track, but some are starting to use ‘if’ instead. Odds are not out yet, but in another role reversal, the Crimson Tide should be the favorite.
As strange as it is, those two games are the easiest of the Tide’s next four games. After Kentucky, Arkansas comes to Tuscaloosa. The Razorbacks are 9-2, with back-to-back losses to Missouri and Tennessee. The Hogs have a NET ranking of No. 27. The last of the next four for the Tide is a visit to Baton Rouge. After a road loss to Florida, the Bengal Tigers came back with an overtime win over Georgia. They are 7-2 on the season with a NET ranking of No. 25.
Though there has been no official word, Jahvon Quinerly is expected to miss the Auburn and Kentucky games. Speculation is his ‘medical’ issue is COVID-related.
NCAA Tournament bids are not won in early January. The Crimson Tide has a long way to go. Also, early season, NET rankings are skewed more than normal this season, due to the wide range of games played by teams.