Friday, February 10, 2012

basketball thoughts: won't stop, can't stop

Editor's note: We almost were forced to discontinue this feature after the loss at South Carolina, if only because Whit and I might have come to blows over my own bitterness. Fortunately for everyone involved, the team has rallied to win three straight, including Tuesday night's win at Auburn, possibly the best the squad has played all season (and in the aftermath of the suspension of Tony Mitchell, to boot). So here are some basketball thoughts as we head into this weekend at LSU, with my brother Whit.
me: As I'm typing this, our team is on the verge of closing out what is arguably its biggest win of the season, an 18-point thumping (that wasn't even really all that close) at Auburn. On its face it is not important at all, because Auburn — while vastly improved — isn't in the top-100, and hasn't beaten anyone this season of consequence. This win over Auburn isn't a ticket to the NCAAs, and if anything a loss in this game would have made our already perilous bubble look mighty shaky.
But the W is important, for a few reasons that are not immediately related to our tournament resume. To wit:
• It's against Auburn, on the road, in a game that is without argument the biggest basketball game played in Auburn all season. Combine the full house with the vitriol directed at the officials, and this may be the most hostile atmosphere the team will play in all season. 
• It comes only one day after it was announced that Tony Mitchell — arguably the best player on the team — was "indefinitely suspended" for "conduct detrimental to the team." Time will tell whether the loss of Mitchell is a detriment against better teams, but for tonight, the squad came together and played its best game of the year. 
• Actually related to the second point: The bench showed up tonight. We got 3 big 3-pointers from Charles Freaking Hankerson. Rodney Cooper scored 8 points. Engstrom even made a cameo appearance and contributed a bucket and a block. If we can really go this deep, there's a chance for something here, isn't there? 
(Note: We're at LSU on Saturday and could blow all this positive feeling right to hell. So let's enjoy it for now.)
Whit: I realize that the last game was against an unimpressive Auburn squad, but it was still closer than it should be. The atmosphere was pretty intense during the game especially when the officials started making calls against Auburn. 
The Alabama team without Mitchell is different, but I'm not sure on which side of the coin they'll fall. With Mitchell, it seems that there are a lot more dunks, but there is also a significant lack of effort on the defensive end of the ball. So much, in fact, that it seems Bama ends up playing D with 4 instead of 5. 
My favorite aspect of suspending Mitchell is that the action is basically a shot across the bow of our team's ego. They now know that they need to get with Coach Grant's program or he won't put up with it, and whether or not Tony learns anything from this, I think the rest of the team will be a little more persuaded to play as they are coached. 
Overall, I would say that we're basically the same team because of our lack of experience, but if people like Hankerson, Cooper, Randolph, and Gueye continue to get and give good minutes with great effort, I think the team would be vastly improved without Mitchell. I only say that because Alabama's team is so young (Green is the only SR. Steele (RS) JR.) and I feel like they're capable of being coached to play the way that Coach Grant wants them to play. 
Best 5 - Releford, Steele, Randolph, Green, Jacobs
• I still really like the way that Coach Grant's team operates, and you're right in saying that not everybody is on the same page. I do think that Mitchell's suspension will go a long way to help the players get on the same page with hustle, effort, and mindset because they understand that they aren't ENTITLED to be on the floor or even wear the jersey. I do think that some of the dissension and poor play falls on the coach's shoulders, but he's basically been dealing with the egos of prepubescent little boys who think they're the best person on the floor whether or not it's true.
So yes, a lot of it is on his shoulders, but I think it will get better as a whole as time progresses. This Saturday against LSU will be a test of Coach Grant's desired team mentality and hopefully before too long, they'll develop the identity that Coach Grant wants them to have.

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