Imagine you are on a journey. Imagine your journey is from one end of the state of Kansas to the other. On a tricycle. Into a headwind.
You don’t encounter any high mountains or deep valleys. You don’t find yourself in a tropical jungle or arctic tundra. Just a flat, straight road cutting through wheat fields. Every day, day after day, until the days run into one another and you look around and have no way to differentiate where you are today from where you were yesterday. The sameness may have a calming effect at first, a reassuring consistency, a sense that at least you are holding your own. But then it stretches on — a year, two years, five years. The feeling of reassurance gives way to something else, a concern that this journey is going to look the same forever, no matter how long you are on the road.
For the fifth straight year, after the 29th game of its college basketball season, Alabama has a record of 17-12. The exact same record, not one game better or one game worse. In the “give credit where it is due” department, freelance sports writer John Mitchell pointed out on Twitter that Avery Johnson’s teams had gone 17-12 for a fourth consecutive year. Even he underestimated the length of the streak — Anthony Grant’s final team was 17-12, too. That’s half of a decade, some years more exciting and some more frustrating but ultimately reaching the same level, like a glass of water sitting on a table at room temperature. It’s a full turnover of the roster with the exception of The Eternal Riley Norris.
And it makes for a thorny dilemma for a columnist. If things were better, showing progress, you wouldn’t have to think about the big picture. If they were significantly worse, that would be easy, too. But when things are same — the unchanging same — there is a more difficult puzzle to solve. Do you advocate blowing things up and starting from scratch? Would that makes things better or is it just a frustration reaction, a desire to overturn the apple basket just to see which way the apples will roll? Furthermore, you have to rely on guesswork about the future? Will it be better, or worse? Looking at Alabama’s returning roster — no Donta Hall, no Norris — and recruiting class to date, one might guess that it will be yet another 17-12 at this time next March.
You don’t make that judgment on one game. Saturday’s 74-69 loss to SEC leader LSU wasn’t quite the non-starter that the loss to Florida two weeks ago was. There was talk in the postgame interviews about how Alabama “played hard” although it seemed to me to about an average SEC effort especially when two starters, Dazon Ingram and Tevin Mack, combined for one point. (To be fair, Ingram has a quad injury that seemed to affect his mobility and, perhaps, his concentration.)
All that Alabama can do now is keep peddling that tricycle. Last year’s team won three more games after that initial 17, all in the postseason, and that made the season seem a little sweeter in the end. Beating Auburn on Tuesday would help improve the chances for postseason play this year. Eventually, though, there has to be some scenery along the way, something that Alabama fans can feel optimistic about. There was a win over Kentucky, yes, but that game wasn’t a case of late heroics so much as it was pulling up the gas station on fumes. There has be some surprise happy ending at some point. So far, it’s been a fifth season of a miniseries with new actors — but the exact same script.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.