Sunday, January 23, 2011

the obligatory basketball post

Really, I'm almost afraid to say anything. Isn't everything going well the way it is? Don't we run the risk of ruining everything by blogging about it?
(Eh ... why not?)
Only a few minutes after Alabama outlasted a gutsy but truly awful Auburn team on the road Saturday night, some whispers came from a few select Bama fans and writers. Could this Alabama team win the SEC?
I thought that was absurd, of course: I've watched this team for the better part of two months, ever since our football season fell apart and I was looking for a place to receive my anger. It's a hard-working team. It can play outstanding defense, as evidenced by its cumulative defensive stats: 57 points per game against, 36 percent FG percentage against (29 percent from 3). But it's a team that struggles to do much of anything offensively (45 percent shooting as a team, 31 percent from 3). Basically, it's the exact same team as last year's, but in a weaker Southeastern Conference.
Which, in a way, is why the door is open right now. Take a look at the SEC standings right now. Only an agonizingly close loss at Arkansas is currently standing between Alabama and a perfect conference record.
Now look at those standings again, and bear in mind the following:
• The SEC West is terrible. Just terrible. And Alabama has already beaten the traditional Western division overlords — Mississippi State — in Starkville.
• Of the top 4 teams in the SEC East, Alabama has already beaten 2 of them, Kentucky and South Carolina (and you only play the opposing division once) and one of the others, Georgia, comes to Tuscaloosa in the final week of the season.
I mean ... it's not so far-fetched that this team could win this thing, is it?
Is it?

Having said all those positive things, and acknowledging that this last week has been fun, let us also acknowledge the obvious: This is a very, VERY (insert that word a few more times) limited basketball team, particularly on offense (the performance against Kentucky was an anomaly). Currently, our best shooter, by percentage, is Charvez Davis, currently shooting a scorching 38 percent total (and 37 percent from 3). Even more troubling, the team really only has one reliable ball-handler: freshman point guard Trevor Releford, who is hampered by a) being a freshman; and b) constantly getting himself into foul trouble, which means he has to come out for extended stretches. One of the team's many offensive frustrations.
The "go-to" players on offense are small forward Tony Mitchell, a lanky, athletic slasher who can't shoot (28 percent from 3 for the season) and struggles in halfcourt sets where he can't run; and junior center JaMychal Green, who unveiled his skills facing the basket vs. Mississippi State (his surprisingly reliable mid-range jumper came out of nowhere) but remains very weak with the basketball, and panics anytime defenses collapse on him.
Weirdly, the most steady veteran on the team thus far has been Senario Hillman, who made some big shots vs. Kentucky and Auburn AND some big defensive plays (took a key charge, swiped the ball). Does he still sometimes take three-pointers that are, shall we say, ill-advised? Of course he does. Does his haircut make him look like DJ Jazzy Jeff? Of course. But he's providing a reliable fourth guard off the bench, and it's working so far.

One weird element has cropped up at inopportune times, though: Anthony Grant's late-game management skills have been, shall we say, questionable. In the aforementioned Arkansas loss, Grant failed to call a timeout with 20 seconds to play and a chance to hold for the last shot, resulting in Releford turning the ball over; vs. Kentucky, we kept feeding JaMychal in spite of his well-known penchant for fumbling the ball away (it felt like he turned the ball over 10 consecutive possessions). It didn't become an issue vs. Auburn because ... well, Auburn is terrible.

So what do we make of all this? I have no idea. Basketball season, for most fans in this state, is mostly a diversion: we enjoy it and want our team to do well, but it's not something we base our livelihood on.
Having said that, Saturday night's win at Auburn meant something to me and to Alabama fans, and Tuesday night's game vs. Kentucky was something truly special. Maybe that's the best the hoop squad can say for itself right this minute: Basketball matters in Alabama.
Maybe it's not much, but it's definitely an improvement.
Roll Tide.

1 comment:

-D. said...

Unfortunately it's true for most folks in Alabama that basketball is just a distraction between football seasons. But I think it would be good if we could challenge for the conference every year and make the big dance as well. If I'm not mistaken, Saban thinks that could possibly help football recruiting. At any rate, I think I'm going to buy season tickets next year (since I have a friend in town now who wants to go in on some).