For all the obituaries that have been written about the Alabama men’s basketball team’s season — you couldn’t call them eulogies, given the angry tone of 99 percent of the social media commentary and at least one newspaper column — they may not be the final edition. Like the Monty Python peasant prematurely tossed on the plague wagon, you can just hear, over the blaring outrage, the faint cry of “I’m not dead yet.”
In fact, thanks more to the overall strength of the Southeastern Conference this season than to anything Alabama has done in February, there’s a chance the patient can recover. The Crimson Tide would have a pretty good shot at making the NCAA Tournament field if it can just win its three remaining home games. Now, that “just” is a mighty big word. Of the three home games remaining for UA — Vanderbilt, LSU and Auburn — the Crimson Tide will be underdogs twice.
The last game in which Alabama will be favored, perhaps for the rest of the year, comes Saturday against Vandy. I am not a fan of the “must win” scenario but if Alabama loses at home to the Commodores, who have not won a single SEC game this season, that will put any NCAA hopes 7 feet under in a 6-foot grave.
The road game against South Carolina next week isn’t a good matchup for Alabama, as Frank Martin, who has done a stellar coaching job in conference play after a slow start, will have a physically tough team, as he always does.
But if Alabama could, somehow, get to Fayetteville at 9-8 in SEC play, who knows how the Razorbacks, who have been somewhat disappointing themselves, will respond? Then there is an SEC Tournament game, probably an 8-9 matchup, that would be another chance for a quality win on a neutral court. So there is a path.
The problem is, a path doesn’t matter unless a team wants to walk down it. Some teams do. Florida, with its back to the wall just as squarely as Alabama’s one week ago, responded by going on the road, dominating in Tuscaloosa, then following that up with an overtime win at LSU in what was one of the best SEC games of the year. The Gators were an absolute model of tenacity and mental toughness, responding with big shot after big shot, answering every time LSU made a run.
When has Alabama displayed that sort of toughness this season? In Knoxville, perhaps, a loss that probably did more to give Alabama fans hope at the time than any other game UA has played. But what has happened in the last month to nurture that hope?
When has Alabama responded to a challenge? Given UA’s history in Nashville, you could perhaps make a case for Riley Norris’ 3-pointer that put the rallying Commodores (yes, the 0-for-the-SEC Commodores) away. Even if you do count that shot, that’s one show of spirit in a month that has included early collapses and late collapses, and not much else.
Yes, Alabama’s hopes are still alive. You can say that much. But if the Crimson Tide team doesn’t show any outward signs that it still has a heartbeat — sit up, or wiggle a finger, or maybe even grab an offensive rebound along the way — no one is going to be listening, or mourning much, when the season gets tossed on the plague wagon for good.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.