There has been a strong but understandable backlash to the lost homestand of the Alabama basketball team, which has placed the Crimson Tide back on the slippery side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Fans had high hopes for this season. The preseason publicity coming from UA and its head coach Avery Johnson did little to tamp down the expectations. For much of the year, most Alabama fans stuck with the team. Then, when it frankly needed only a split of a two-game homestand to avoid the “bubble” and put itself solidly in the field — Alabama lost both games and did so in a way that would turn the most enthusiastic supporter into a cynic.
Alabama fell behind Arkansas, 14-2, although it did make enough of a comeback to at least keep the crowd around for the second half. Against Florida, there was no sense sticking around after the halftime entertainer had balanced an ironing board on his head. That’s taking your own home crowd out of the game before it can help you.
So it’s not unfair or unexpected that fans are frustrated and venting that frustration out loud. Instead of condemning those opinions, one should consider the very valid reasons for the noise.
The one area of player criticism that makes me wary is when an individual or a team is accused of failing to compete. You see it phrased in different ways — “quit,” is the most common, but there is “tanked” or “has no heart” among a hundred other variations.
In reality, that’s extremely rare. Athletes that have reached the major college level have had countless chances to “quit” along the way. There are far easier ways to spend your time. College players are competitive by nature.
They are, however, human. Sometimes they do get physically dominated and worn down. That can happen to the best teams — Alabama football has done it to opponents routinely under Nick Saban, and even had it happen the other way around a time or two, as when defensive players who were by no means “quitters” were on the field for 100 plays against Clemson in the 2016 season’s championship game. They simply had no energy left.
That hasn’t been the case, either.
There are psychological causes for seeming reluctant, too. That is what has afflicted Alabama. Nothing causes hesitation like confusion and for the better part of the last three games, Alabama has looked confused. What, after all, is the offensive identity? In a 14-minute stretch without a field goal (allowing for the fact that there were some makeable shots that rimmed out in that stretch), what fundamental play do you call, and who on the floor makes sure that play gets run? If the players stand aside and wait for Collin Sexton to do something, a frequent complaint in recent weeks, does that mean Sexton isn’t competitive? Or does it mean his role isn’t clearly defined 30 games into the season? If that affects team chemistry, which it seems to do, where is the mandate that either the other players accept Sexton’s role or, alternatively, that Sexton will be used differently?
There is a difference in “not competing” and in “not having confidence in what’s going on.” But both can lead to paralysis. If it’s the latter case, then the coaching staff should have fixed it long before now, settling on a lineup, defining the roles, building a foundation on something other than improvisation.
Avery Johnson said after the Florida loss that Alabama’s season is not over, which is true. A win at Texas A&M on Saturday could get Alabama back on the good side of the bracket. It’s a long shot, but still a shot. But it will take a plan that every player understands and has confidence in implementing. Just hoping it will happen isn’t going to do, not after 30 games.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.