Give the Alabama basketball team credit for one thing as it enters its third annual February swoon. Over the course of back-to-back blowout losses in the past week, one in Starkville and the other at home to a Florida team struggling to stay above .500, the Crimson Tide hasn’t caused any heart attacks or heartbreak, hasn’t offered any false hope.
It has come out, fallen behind by double digits pretty quickly and played out the final 30 minutes of each game as if something more important was due to start in 35 minutes.
In 80 minutes of basketball for the week, Alabama never led, not for a single second. Say what you want about that, it was a blessing for the collective blood pressure of the fan base.
As Avery Johnson said in the wake of his team’s 71-53 loss to Florida, the Southeastern Conference is a tough league — “shark-infested waters,” he called it, mixing his aquatic predator metaphors after the Gator victory but making his point.
Alabama is at .500 as the SEC regular season reaches the two-thirds mark. Several other pretty good teams are hovering around that mark. But the point isn’t really the record — it’s the way Alabama seems to be trending. Over its last five games, the Crimson Tide is 2-3. The wins are against the bottom two teams in the league, Georgia and Vanderbilt. The losses have been thorough tip-to-buzzer beatings.
Here’s the thing about losses like that. For better or worse, February is the month when Alabama basketball fans really, really want to be engaged with the program. Football is over for the year. The spotlight shifts. The conversation on ESPN or on sports radio is all about bracketology. Half the fun of basketball season is the speculation, the chatter, the chance to watch four or five games on a weekend and have them all mean something.
Instead, Alabama came out Saturday like it had been hit by a tranquilizer dart. You could almost smell the listlessness in the air. It wasn’t just because the Crimson Tide couldn’t make a shot, although that didn’t help matters. But there was no area — defense, rebounding, even the no-visible-concentration free throw shooting — where Alabama looked ready to play.
The most inexplicable thing was Johnson saw it coming.
As a columnist, I don’t spend a great deal of time dwelling on whether a team should be playing a 2-3 matchup zone or running back-door cuts off the high post. That is best left to coaches. But when Johnson said in the post-game that “in video session this morning, our energy level was low,” that’s a different matter.
How can the energy level be “low” before a crucial home game? If for some inexplicable reason the “energy” is low, how much does video study matter? Isn’t there a point where you turn off the video, throw the laptop against the wall, and declare a two-minute, no-whistle scrimmage in which the last five guys standing will be your starters? If not that method, then don’t you find some other way of finding five players with a bit of fire?
Perhaps that’s not Johnson’s style. If it’s not, that’s the root of the problem. He at least hinted that he’d look at things differently going into the final six games.
“Everything is on the table,” he said. “That’s the starting lineup. That’s what time we take shoot around. That’s whether we’re eating too much food in the pregame meal. That’s all on me. I’ll evaluate everything. Maybe I haven’t done a good enough job of holding them accountable.”
It’s the middle of February. The accounts have come due. Alabama could win in its remaining games, but will lose every one unless the “energy level” increases — and fast.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.
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