What Will It Take for Alabama Basketball to Make the NCAA Tournament?
As the old saying goes that is attributed to the late baseball great Yogi Berra, "It's like déjà vu all over again."
Alabama basketball fans are far too familiar with this point in the season: a 13-10 overall, 5-5 SEC record with NCAA Tournament hopes dwindling like a candle in a hurricane.
But still, hope remains.
Over the past four games, the Crimson Tide has lost three times. Close losses to both Arkansas and Tennessee didn't seem to have much of an impact on the Alabama squad, which still ranks No. 42 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings.
Following the losing streak, the Crimson Tide earned a big win to keep its tournament hopes alive on Saturday, defeating Georgia on the road 105-102 in overtime. According to the NET, the game was Alabama's best road win of the season thus far.
While the win was enough to keep the Crimson Tide relevant in tournament talks, maintaining the momentum is going to be a tall order.
To say that a lot needs to happen for Alabama to make the NCAA Tournament is an understatement. This week alone sees the Crimson Tide travel to face No. 11 Auburn on Wednesday, only to turn around and host No. 25 LSU.
In Alabama's remaining schedule, three of its games are Quadrant 1, two are Quadrant 2 and three are Quadrant 3. Auburn and LSU are two of the obvious Q1 games, while the road matchup against Mississippi State on Feb. 25 is the remaining game.
So what needs to be done for the Crimson Tide to make the NCAA Tournament? Well, the answer is pretty simple.
Alabama needs to leave its three Q1 games with at least a 1-2 record. In addition to that, the Crimson Tide needs to win the easier games big and keep it close against the Q2 teams.
I know what you're probably thinking: 'Duh.' However, should Alabama go 0-2 in this week's games, the Crimson Tide must be almost perfect rest of the season if it wants to keep any hopes alive.
The win against Georgia was a solid start. Not only was it a quality road win, but it was also the first time this season that Alabama has come back from a double-digit second-half deficit to win.
Following Auburn and LSU, the remainder of the Crimson Tide's season is perfectly doable. Alabama hosts Texas A&M before facing both Ole Miss and Mississippi State on the road. It then returns home to face South Carolina and Vanderbilt before finishing off the regular season on the road against Missouri.
On paper, it's perfectly possible for the Crimson Tide to win each and every one of those games.
Alabama faced a similar predicament last season. At this exact spot in the season, the Crimson Tide proceeded to finish out the year with a 2-6 record. The loss-heavy finish doomed Alabama's NCAA Tournament chances and forced the Crimson Tide to enter the NIT as a No. 1 seed to host Norfolk State, and Alabama basketball fans remember what happened then.
While this year's Alabama team should, and I repeat should, have a better finish than last year's team did, the wrist injury to junior wing Herbert Jones continues to have a profound impact. Since Jones' injury announcement prior to the Arkansas game on Feb. 1, the Crimson Tide lost to both Arkansas and Tennessee. Hypothetically, Alabama would have won both of those games had Jones been able to play.
The road ahead will be even more difficult with Jones' absence, since the junior is not expected to return for at least another two weeks. In the time between now and then, juniors guard John Petty, Jr. and forward Alex Reese will need to continue rebounding the ball and picking up where Jones left off.
In addition, the Crimson Tide will need to reduce its turnover margins and increase its rebounding if it wants any shot at the tournament. If Alabama can improve in both those areas and keep it going until Jones' return, then the Crimson Tide has more than a shot to make it.
While it might be a new season and a new coach, Alabama basketball will need to impress late if it wants to avoid the déjà vu that has plagued the program and its fans for so long.