Achilles Heel limits Alabama Crimson Tide Big Dance success

When the Alabama Crimson Tide struggles offensively, too often the Alabama defense falls apart. What does this mean for the Tide's NCAA Tournament chances?
Alan Poizner/For The Tennessean / USA

No matter how good, every team has a weakness. Often teams have more than one weakness that limits success. For the Alabama Crimson Tide, there is one glaring weakness. It can be simply stated in one word - defense.

From late December until late February, with only two exceptions, Alabama's outstanding offense overcame the Tide's defensive weaknesses. Based On Ken Pomeroy's calculation, the Alabama Crimson Tide has the second-best offense in college basketball with an Adjusted Offensive Efficiency of 125.5.

Going into the Kentucky game on Feb. 24, the Crimson Tide had won 13 of its most recent 15 games. Momentum was building for a possible SEC Regular Season Championship and as high as a NCAA Tournament 2-seed. In Lexington, the Tide's wheels fell off. The Wildcats were also not very good defensively and the Crimson Tide put up 95 points. Conference championship contenders and top NCAA Tournament seeds are not supposed to score 95 points and lose a game. Alabama not only lost but lost by 22 points.

For added perspective, consider the weakest defensive teams in college basketball. Ranked at No. 362 among Division One teams, VMI allows opponents to score an average of 89.4 points per game. Alabama is No. 348 at 81.1 points per game allowed.

One contributing factor to the Crimson Tide stat is the tempo of Nate Oats' offense. Ken Pomeroy calculates that Alabama has the ninth-fastest tempo in college basketball. So Alabama opponents get more than a few additional scoring opportunities in games.

In reviewing Alabama's six losses going back to Jan. 20 against Tennessee, one thing stands out. Excluding the 81-74 home loss to Tennessee, when Alabama struggles offensively, the Crimson Tide defense falls apart. The most recent example is the Tide's SEC Tournament loss to Florida. A late first-half, 21-2 run by Florida turned an Alabama lead of four points into a 15-point halftime lead for the Gators.

The Kentucky game, the Auburn away game, and the two Florida games lead to a question. How good does an opponent's defense have to be to beat Alabama? The Crimson Tide's defense is not going to save Alabama when the Tide's offense struggles. Based on Ken Pomeroy's algorithm, Alabama was fifth worst in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency among SEC teams. The four SEC teams worse than Alabama lost a total of 76 games.

What is most disturbing is that neither Kentucky nor Florida have top defenses. Using Pomeroy's calculation the Wildcats are No. 106 and the Gators are No. 87 in Division One. Alabama scored 95, 87 and 88 points in the three losses to the Cats and the Gators. In no case were the Tide's points near enough to win the game.

Many Alabama basketball fans are asking two big questions about the NCAA Tournament. One is can Alabama, with its poor defense, make it to a Sweet 16. The other question is how vulnerable is Alabama to a second-round, and possibly even a first-round loss in the Big Dance. Is the Crimson Tide's Achilles Heel just a vulnerability or a flaw so serious it can't be overcome?

Note: Stats provided by Sports Reference

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