They could be magical or maddening, frustrating or fun and the most consistent thing about them was uncertainty. You never knew from one game to the next — from one half to the next — what you were going to get from this Alabama basketball team.
Ultimately, the good outweighed the bad. There was a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012, and a win in that tournament for the first time since 2006. There was an exciting run in the SEC Tournament. If the 23-point loss to Villanova that halted things was a disappointment, which it was in some ways, it was not a shock. The Wildcats are as good a bet as any remaining team to win their second NCAA championship in three years, a model of confidence and efficiency the Crimson Tide could not approach at this point.
So the Alabama basketball season was a qualified success, although there are plenty of Crimson Tide fans out there willing to argue loudly about what “qualified” means. In the longer view, the success achieved by the 2018 team will be viewed from the perspective of 2019 and 2020. Was the just-completed season an oddity, a combination of precocious teenagers playing (and occasionally acting) like precocious teenagers? Why would a team display lightning flashes of brilliance but not the consistency to play at a steady level, like a genius toddler who accomplishes feats far above his or her age level but lacks the attention span and maturity to do the dull but necessary tasks consistently?
The success of the 2018 season will be measured in whether or not it was a building block for the future.
The first step will be what happens in an intriguing offseason.
First, without speaking for Collin Sexton or his family, there doesn’t appear to be any economic reason for him to come back for a second season. He is saying the right things and is wise to take a few days, talk to his family and weigh his options — but a lottery pick is a lottery pick.
With that said, I do not belong to the camp that says Alabama will be “better off without Sexton.” The truth is Alabama will be more conventional without him, more grounded, more like a basic blues band that finds itself without a Stevie Ray Vaughn, rest his soul, on lead guitar.
Sexton was a virtuoso, and had to be incorporated into an offense creatively — he was by no means a “point guard” in the way some national media tried to describe him. Sometimes the combinations in which he worked were great, sometimes not. But his talents and competitive fire will be missed.
Second, remember attrition and player movement is the norm in college basketball, not the exception.
Given those two points, there is a lot of young talent at Alabama that can be molded if, as Avery Johnson said on Saturday, “we develop our players even better. Those who have different weaknesses in their games, we’ve just got to help them get better.”
Donta Hall, Dazon Ingram, Avery Johnson Jr., Braxton Key (if he doesn’t test the pro waters again), Daniel Giddens and (possibly) Riley Norris would form a veteran core. All have “weaknesses,” but all can improve and contribute more. This year’s freshmen — Herb Jones, John Petty, Galin Smith, Alex Reese — will be experienced sophomores. The recruiting class is solid if unspectacular and Tevin Mack, the Texas transfer, is a proven scorer at the Power 5 level who has reportedly approached practice sessions in his redshirt year with a passion to be a star. That’s a strong group.
The SEC is tough and getting tougher. But Alabama closed with enough momentum to carry over into another tournament year. If they don’t get there, 2018 might not have been a success after all, just a flash in the pan. If things blossom, then it was a year that built the foundation of better years to come.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.