Florida in Gainesville has become the biggest game of the Alabama basketball season

Alabama Basketball lost a must-win game on Saturday against Tennessee. Now the Crimson Tide must finish strong to build momentum going into the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.

Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama did not lose its chance for an SEC Regular Season Championship on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa. With some help the Crimson Tide can still share an SEC Championship. What may have been lost was confidence the Crimson Tide can prevail against one of college basketball's best teams.

The Alabama Crimson Tide has one of the weakest 'big game' resumes among college basketball's top teams. According to the all-important NCAA NET rankings, Alabama has only three Quad 1 wins. Among the top 25 teams in the NET rankings, only Auburn has fewer Quad 1 wins than the Crimson Tide.

The Tide's Quad 1 record is 3-8, with the best win being Auburn in Tuscaloosa, followed by a January road win over Mississippi State and a November home win over Indiana State. The Tide's Strength of Schedule (SOS) is rated as high as the nation's second-toughest. The SOS helps the resume but in March big games must be won and Alabama starts out at 0-1.

Saturday night's outcome could have been different. Had Latrell Wrightsell been able to play and had Pat Adams not called a horrible fourth foul on Grant Nelson, Bama might have won. But the Vols had the better defense again and it forced Alabama players to play tight. Too many turnovers and too many shots under pressure led to too many empty possessions for Nate Oats team.

Alabama effectively minimized Dalton Knecht's offensive firepower. Tennessee adjusted and road other players, particularly Zakai Ziegler, to the victory.

Alabama is a good team. At times, it comes close to being a great one. But the Crimson Tide cannot overcome games when a top scorer notches just three points, and another key starter shoots 2-for-11 from the field. Without Wrightsell available, Nate Oats relied on Jarin Stevenson and Sam Walters. The stage was too big for both freshmen.

Alabama could still share the SEC Regular Season title. It could get hot and win the SEC Tournament and go deep into the Big Dance. It could also lose to Florida on Tuesday night, fail to make the SEC Tournament Championship Game and not make it past the NCAA Tournament's second round.

It is not time to count out the Tide, but it is time to consider that the 2023-24 team may not be championship caliber. Alabama might overachieve this season and still fall short of fan expectations.

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