Sometimes you control the numbers. But sometimes the numbers control you and that’s a hard situation to take.
That was the case with the Alabama basketball team on Saturday night. One can analyze the game against South Carolina in different ways, but one thing was certain.
From the moment John Petty walked out of the tunnel onto the Coleman Coliseum tunnel in street clothes, his right arm in a sling, this was the numbers situation that Alabama faced. The Crimson Tide basketball team had eight healthy bodies with any sort of playing experience.
Technically, make that 7.5 bodies, since Herb Jones still wears a cast on his fractured wrist that makes him a hero in terms of courage but a liability whenever Alabama has the ball on offense. Two of the seven are post players who try hard but aren’t far along in terms of offensive creativity. Another is a freshman, Jaylen Forbes, who has a competitive spirit but has yet to find consistent shooting range in SEC play.
That left Nate Oats with four players capable of generating offense off the bounce: Kira Lewis, Jaden Shackelford, Beetle Bolden and Alex Reese, who at least has the on-again, off-again ability to make perimeter shots. All needed to play well. At the outset, they all struggled although, as has been the case all season, they competed.
The game’s opening sequence illustrated the problem. South Carolina won the tip but turned the ball over, giving Alabama a fast-break opportunity. Jones took the ball on the wing but was unable to drive hard to the basket. Instead, he kicked the ball out, South Carolina was able to set its defense, Shackelford missed a contested shot and Alabama didn’t threaten again for five minutes.
Things got better as Davis stepped up his game, repeatedly drawing fouls and converting at the line. Additionally, Lewis stepped up. Perhaps he is a reluctant superstar at times but that’s beside the point in whatever remains of Alabama’s season.
Wherever it goes for the Crimson Tide, it goes as far as Lewis can take them. If he also has the look of a player who is getting more and more attractive to the NBA scouts, that’s part of the package.
In the longer run, Alabama will improve as Oats adds players recruited for his system. That’s why the Crimson Tide coaching staff is working the high schools, the junior colleges and, when the season ends, will be involved in the transfer portal.
It’s also a long-term situation, which is why Oats made the drive to Birmingham, not once but twice last week to see the state’s top junior prospect, ultra-athletic guard J.D. Davidson of Letohatchee, in action. (If you haven’t seen Davidson, he was well worth the drive, right up to the game-clinching shot that gave his Calhoun team the AHSAA Class 2A state championship in dramatic fashion.)
The outer fringes of the NCAA bubble are like the planets beyond the asteroid belt, cold places that require a tremendous rocket boost to escape and find sunlight. Right now, Alabama’s fuel supply is limited. The short-term answers are hard, but that is why Oats is out trying to refuel for a long journey.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @cecilhurt