Hey, Alabama basketball: Better look in the mirror before NCAA Tournament opener | Goodbread
The Alabama basketball team handed its ticket to the NCAA Tournament across the window Sunday, and knew the selection committee would ignore how much the corners had frayed. It was faded and full of creases, as if the Crimson Tide had accidentally left it in a pocket and ran it through a cycle in the washing machine.
To the surprise of nobody, however – tattered as it was, this ticket was absolutely valid – it came back punched: Alabama was seeded No. 6 in the tournament’s West Region, and will face the winner of a Rutgers/Notre Dame play-in game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday in San Diego. If the Crimson Tide advances – not that it can in any way afford to look ahead – it will draw the winner of third-seeded Texas Tech and 14th-seeded Montana State.
For Alabama, making the tournament isn't to be taken for granted, despite the lack of momentum this team carries into it. The last time Alabama went to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, Mark Gottfried was coach and George W. Bush was president.
That's been a minute, and for that, the program should celebrate.
The Crimson Tide earned an enormous amount of capital in non-conference play with eight Quad 1 victories, including three of the top four teams in the NET rankings (Gonzaga on a neutral floor, Houston, and defending national champion Baylor). All that good will was cashed in Sunday for a No. 6-seed, and won’t be worth a single basket starting on Friday.
With the No. 1-ranked schedule in the country, Alabama did its heavy lifting back in December, but coach Nate Oats’ team then played hide-and-seek with its fleeting mojo on the way to a perfectly average 9-9 SEC mark. It will step onto the dance floor with a slight limp, having lost three consecutive games, including a early ousting from the SEC Tournament.
It’s just as well that Alabama won’t know who it will face in the first round until Tuesday or Wednesday night, because this is a team that needs to look in the mirror as much as it needs to size up any opponent. Oats has said as much in recent weeks in discussing his team’s inconsistent play. The third-year coach now has four days to round up sparks of success that have flashed mostly intermittently, and corral them into a single flame.
Guard Jaden Shackelford getting hot from 3-point range won’t be enough. Jahvon Quinerly and others must get hot right along with him. Freshman J.D. Davison must play more like the sophomore he essentially is now after logging 815 minutes – fourth-most on the team – by limiting turnovers and valuing possessions. Stopper Keon Ellis has to play the shadow-tight defense that made him an SEC All-Defensive Team selection less than a week ago.
These are just a few things that Alabama has delivered only on a rotating basis of late. It all must now happen in unison, in the face of little recent indication that it can.
For Oats, it’s much the opposite challenge that he faced a year ago, when his team steamrolled through the SEC – winning the league’s regular-season and tournament titles – on the way to a No. 2 seed. That team oozed momentum and swagger and fire and promise.
Its tournament ticket was in mint condition.
Alabama's ticket this year is much harder to read, but its QR code cleared the scanner just the same.
Reach Chase Goodbread @firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread.