How Much Did Alabama Help Its NCAA Tournament Chances?
It seems like just yesterday I was writing about Alabama basketball’s NCAA Tournament chances.
It was just last week, in fact.
However, some interesting developments have caused a stir in the Crimson Tide’s tournament chances. Seven days ago I wrote that Alabama’s chances were “dwindling like a candle in a hurricane.”
However, after the showcase that Alabama put on last week, I’m reminded of the words uttered by none other than Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films:
“Hope is kindled.”
Nerd references aside, Gandalf’s quote perfectly applies to the Crimson Tide’s chances.
Last week, Alabama was able to almost pull off the unthinkable. Traveling to then-No. 11 Auburn, the Crimson Tide was able to take the Tigers to overtime, eventually falling 95-91. However, its performance raised many eyebrows. Alabama played a complete game, and coming off of a big overtime victory over Georgia in Athens, the Crimson Tide was starting to attract attention.
Then came Saturday afternoon. After suffering a loss on the court via a 90-76 rout by the Tigers in Baton Rouge on Jan. 29 as well as the loss of junior wing Herbert Jones to a fractured wrist, Alabama was able to bounce back and defeat then-No. 25 LSU 88-82 this past weekend.
In the game, Jones was able to return in what can only be described as poetic justice. 17 rebounds, two blocks and a steal helped him propel his team to the victory. Two crucial free throws with under two minutes remaining — which Jones was forced to do one-handed — sealed the deal and helped the Crimson Tide secure one of its most important wins of the season.
But you already knew that, didn’t you?
After the week that was for Alabama basketball, the Crimson Tide has dropped one spot in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) Rankings, falling from 35th to 36th. This isn’t too big of a surprise, considering that Auburn lost its follow-up game after it faced Alabama, and LSU dropping out of the Top 25 will also hurt a program’s NET ranking.
However, there is more to basketball than NET rankings.
As of Monday morning, according to Team Rankings’ Bracketology, the Crimson Tide has a 91.5 percent chance of making the NCAA Tournament. In addition to that, it is projected as a No. 10 seed in the tournament, with that likelihood sitting at 17.6 percent.
While its chances for an automatic bid are slim (6.9 percent), Alabama’s at-large bid chances sit high at an 84.6 percent chance.
This is, of course, if all goes according to plan.
What is that plan? To answer this question, we must once again take a dive in the Crimson Tide’s remaining regular-season schedule.
To kick off its remaining six games, Alabama starts things off by hosting Texas A&M on Wednesday night. The Aggies are currently 12-12 overall and are 6-6 in the SEC, similar to Alabama. However, with the advantage that the Crimson Tide has playing in Coleman Coliseum, this game is definitely manageable should Alabama be able to keep up its momentum and barring a setback with Jones.
Following that matchup, the Crimson Tide takes a road trip to Oxford, Miss., to take on Ole Miss. The Rebels are currently 13-12, but are 4-8 in the conference. Ole Miss has been struggling to get any sort of momentum going in their season this year, being remarkably inconsistent. A road trip won’t be easy for Alabama, but a win is still more than doable.
Now for the last remaining big matchup of the regular season: Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are the Crimson Tide’s last remaining Quadrant 1 matchup of the year, and playing on the road in Starkville has never been an easy task for Alabama. This game is a must-win for the Crimson Tide. If Alabama fails to win on the road against Mississippi State, then the likelihood of an at-large NCAA Tournament bid falls drastically.
South Carolina is Alabama’s last tough home game of the year. The Gamecocks are currently 16-9 with an SEC record of 8-4. This season, South Carolina has been able to put up some big wins, including an 81-78 victory over Kentucky on Jan. 15, but much like Ole Miss, they have been wildly inconsistent, losing easily winnable games such as Ole Miss.
The final two games of the season are against teams that the Crimson Tide has already defeated this year: Vanderbilt and Missouri. The Commodores still only have one SEC victory so far this year, and with the matchup against Alabama coming at home, a Crimson Tide victory should be well in hand.
The same can not be said for Missouri. The Tigers are 4-8 in the conference. Alabama handled them easily in Coleman Coliseum this year, but Missouri has proven that it plays its best basketball at home. This year, the Tigers have wins over Florida, Arkansas and most recently Auburn in their home arena. A road win will not be easy for the Crimson Tide, but fortunately it comes right before and SEC Tournament where losses can be somewhat redeemed with a solid performance.
So what does this mean for Alabama basketball? If the Crimson Tide can pull off a 5-1 run in these final six games, including defeating Mississippi State as well as put on a strong showing in the SEC Tournament, then Alabama’s NCAA Tournament chances are alive and well.
However, should the Crimson Tide lose two or more games, especially its matchup against the Bulldogs, its chances of making it to the Big Dance become remarkably slim barring running the table at the SEC Tournament, which seems unlikely.
All of that being said, Alabama’s chances are alive and well. After a 1-1 split last week, it is remarkable how much the Crimson Tide’s chances have increased.
“Hope is kindled.”
Well said, Gandalf. Well said indeed.