There is a buzz building around this University of Alabama basketball team.
It’s not a roar, or even a din. There has been no window-rattling sonic boom. Last week’s two victories have started attracting attention. The home victory over an Auburn team that was previously unbeaten certainly increased the volume. But it was one step.
There is a stronger, larger group of Alabama basketball fans than people realize. There are a core group of supporters who date back to the C.M. Newton days exists primarily in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. There are others, ranging from those who love any team with “Alabama” on the uniform to basketball devotes raised on the strong history of the sport at the high school level, especially in places that have been hotbeds for years. That includes a broad swath across the far northern part of the state and another in the Black Belt, where rivalries run deep in counties like Wilcox, Sumter, Calhoun and Perry.
Understandably, many of Alabama’s loyal backers are also as wary as rabbits in a hedge. They’ve ventured out a bit this year but are keeping a close eye on this team, focusing on each game potentially painful. The excitement that has been generated has been centered on three things thus far.
First, there is the sheer entertainment value of a team that is currently playing at the fastest tempo, by far, of any high-major team in the country, faster than any Crimson Tide team in 50 years (only some of Mark Gottfried’s early teams came close.) Second, there is a strong in-state element on this team. Many fans have watched John Petty, Herb Jones, Kira Lewis and Alex Reese since they were ninth-graders. Bruce Pearl mentioned them last Wednesday as players that Auburn had recruited and could not sign. So a tip of the hat goes to Avery Johnson (and Antoine Pettway) for recruiting them and another to Nate Oats for the marked improvement all four have shown this season.
January Bracketology is a contradiction in terms since there are hundreds and hundreds of games still to be played that will potentially impact the final NCAA Tournament bracket. Still, there is no harm at sneaking a peek at some of the current metrics. The NCAA Net rankings released Monday had Alabama at No. 42. That brings us from the broad view down to particulars. One thing the Crimson Tide needs are a few wins outside the state of Alabama. Protecting the home court in SEC play is great but at the moment, UA has exactly one win that came somewhere other than the state of Alabama, a neutral-court win over Southern Miss, perhaps the least formidable opponent that UA has faced this year.
That’s not to suddenly load this Wednesday’s game at Vanderbilt with massive expectations but it is fair to call it an opportunity. As always, the rabbit ears of the fan base will twitch a bit when the Crimson Tide takes the court in Nashville at a gym that has been a historic house of horrors for Alabama. Last year, the Crimson Tide won there — remember Riley Norris’ game-clinching 3-pointer, complete with air-guitar solo. That won’t necessarily calm all nerves this year. Neither will Vanderbilt’s 0-for-25 3-point shooting against Tennessee last Saturday, which has Law of Averages believers expecting a 14-for-19 effort out of the Commodores.
Alabama, though, will be the favorite, favored to take one more step that will perhaps turn up the volume on the buzz, at least a little bit more.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt