It's safe to say now that Alabama basketball is in a slump.
After starting the season 9-1 — including back-to-back wins against No. 3 Gonzaga and No. 12 Houston — and being ranked as high as No. 6 in the nation, the Crimson Tide has now lost five out of its last eight games. While it would be easy to forgive Alabama for its close loss to No. 4 Auburn, the remaining four losses all came at the hands of unranked teams.
Needless to say, things have gone from bad to worse in just a matter of weeks. While the program isn't in all-out panic mode just yet, a 2-3 start to SEC play isn't what the program — nor its fans — expected after such a remarkable start to the season.
The road doesn't get any easier for Alabama, easier. This Wednesday, the Crimson Tide will host the No. 12 LSU Tigers in a rematch of the 2021 SEC Tournament title game. No doubt LSU will be ready to play after its narrow loss to Alabama almost 10 months ago.
The final stretch of the season is quite the gauntlet. Alabama will host No. 1 Baylor in the Big 12/SEC Showdown, play Auburn once more on the road and then compete against Kentucky twice. Games against two tough opponents in Arkansas and Texas A&M and a regular-season finale at LSU won't be easy, either.
With 14 games left in the regular season, Alabama still has time to make a good impression to close out the season. However, with the way that the team has been playing lately, it would be understandable for Crimson Tide fans to throw in their metaphorical towels should the next couple of weeks not turn out well.
So what does Alabama need to do in order to ensure that doesn't happen? In short, there are three things that the Crimson Tide need to do to turn its season around and get out of its current three-game losing streak. This list isn't finite, as there are certainly other areas that the team needs to improve in, but these three things would certainly help the team from losing against the likes of Missouri and Mississippi State.
This list is also in no particular order.
1. Three-Point Shooting/Defense
When it comes to three-point shooting, one need look no further than Alabama's last three games to see that there's a problem. In the three losses, the Crimson Tide shot a combined 29.2 percent from beyond the arc. For a team like Alabama that's success is highly dependent on three-point shooting, that simply isn't good enough.
The three-ball just hasn't been there for the Crimson Tide. However, that wasn't always the case this season. Against Gonzaga at the Battle in Seattle, Alabama shot 38.2 percent from beyond the arc. Against Houston, 38.9 percent. The Crimson Tide has proven that it can shoot the three — and do so successfully — but a once red-hot shooting game has since turned ice-cold.
With such inconsistency, it's no wonder that the team has entered such a slump. The troubles beyond the arc extend to the defensive side as well, though.
At Missouri, Alabama allowed the Tigers to shoot 37.5 percent from deep — one of its best outings of the season. Auburn shot 26.9 percent, while the game at Mississippi State showed some improvement: 12.5 percent. In that game, it was the 41-percent from the floor that crippled the Crimson Tide.
If Alabama wants to get out of its slump, it starts at the three-point line. There's simply no excuse for a team that was ranked as high as No. 6 in the country to be surrendering 92 and 78 points at unranked Missouri and Mississippi State, respectively. However, the shooting isn't the biggest problem that has plagued the Crimson Tide.
When it comes to rebounding, there could be an entire story dedicated to the issues that face Alabama. Poor rebounding — particularly on the offensive end of the court — has spelled the Crimson Tide's downfall on multiple occasions this season.
At Missouri, Alabama was out-rebounded 43-31. Against Auburn, 44-42. At Mississippi State? 43-32.
The game at the Bulldogs was by far the most egregious effort. Heading into the final minutes of the game, the Crimson Tide was ahead on the boards. However, a complete collapse sealed the deal for the loss.
"We were up one on the glass at the under-eight media timeout, and then after that we got out rebounded by 12," Alabama coach Nate Oats said. "We had only given up nine o-boards with less than eight minutes to go in the game. In the last seven minutes and change, we gave up nine more o-boards.
"It's hard to win a game when they're getting half their misses."
Even in Alabama's big wins, rebounding was an issue. Against Gonzaga, the Crimson Tide had a narrow 43-42 edge. Against Houston, it was out-rebounded 43-34.
If Alabama wants to win its upcoming games, it starts on the boards. Defensive rebounds translate into offensive possessions, while offensive rebounds translate into more opportunities for shots. More shots, obviously, means more made baskets, and more baskets means more points. It's that simple.
However, when you are routinely out-rebounded by opponents, you give those opponents more opportunities of their own. Both three-point shooting and especially rebounding tie into our final point.
Heading into the Mississippi State game, one of the key points discussed by both graduate student forward Noah Gurley and Nate Oats was finding consistency in effort. Against the Bulldogs, that was far from the case.
Effort has become the primary missing factor for the Crimson Tide. While shooting in and of itself isn't necessarily directly correlated with effort, effort is a key factor in hustling to get better looks and better shot opportunities. Proper execution of plays can be the difference of a missed shot because of a bad look or an open, made basket.
Rebounding, on the other hand, directly translates over from effort. When it comes to rebounding the basketball, it is 100-percent effort. If you want to take a look at stats that directly reflect a team's effort, look no further than blocks, steals and most importantly, rebounds.
Playing a full 40 minutes has been something that Alabama has struggled with for the duration of the season. There have been flashes of remarkable effort and stretches in games that seem to show otherwise, but those moments have been just that: stretches. Almost at the midway point of the season, there are only a handful of games that the Crimson Tide has shown consistent effort throughout, and that's something that's going to continue to haunt it should the season press onwards in the current downward spiral that things are headed.
"I thought we had a team that could compete for a league title," Oats said after the Mississippi State game. "Just not quite as tough as we need to be to compete for a league title at this point. So maybe they’ll figure it out. Maybe it will come. Got to get tougher though moving forward."
Basketball is an effort-based game. Effort is what allows players like Herbert Jones to succeed not just at the college level, but in the NBA as well. Effort is what defines teams, seasons and programs. Just look at any NCAA Tournament champion and see if there is a single team that can be found that didn't leave it all on the court in every single game that they played.
Alabama has all the tools that it needs to succeed. It's just a matter of taking those tools and using them to properly execute the game. If it fails to do so and doesn't turn things around quickly, things could get out of hand in a hurry in Tuscaloosa.