Alabama Basketball: Tide Hits Rock Bottom

The Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team hit rock bottom on Wednesday night in Columbia with a 56-54 loss to South Carolina for the team’s fourth straight loss in SEC play after a promising 2-0 start in conference play. The first three losses during this current streak could be explained away. Against Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky, the Crimson Tide lost to arguably the top three teams in the league.

But what about last night’s loss in Columbia? The Gamecocks entered the game with a losing record overall, and 0-4 mark in conference action. Though Alabama was struggling entering the game against South Carolina, all six of their losses had come against projected NCAA Tournament teams, and none of them really hurt their resume.

Last night’s loss is not as easily explained away, and leaves a huge black mark on the Tide’s tournament resume. South Carolina entered the game with a sub-150 RPI, and this loss will not be so easily explained away come Selection Sunday.

Alabama’s path to the Big Dance, somewhere they haven’t been since 2006, just hit a huge bump.

The Tide’s loss to the Gamecocks is inexcusable. South Carolina shot just 32% from the floor and shot a paltry 5-of-31 from three. For most of the night, South Carolina’s best offense was throwing up a rushed three-point shot, and then cleaning up the offensive glass. And it worked, time and time again against the Crimson Tide.

Four straight losses have the Crimson Tide reeling heading into Saturday's game with Arkansas.

The longer the game went on, the inevitable seemed to be coming. Alabama never was able to build a comfortable lead. The longer you let a team hang around, especially on the road, the more confidence they build to believe they can beat you. South Carolina played that way all game long, and won the game on a Bruce Ellington bucket with just a little over one second to go. JaMychal Green’s last second turnaround jumper went begging, and Alabama was handed its fourth consecutive defeat.

To be honest, with as small as the crowd was at Colonial Life Arena, it’s hard to even justify calling it a road game. It certainly wasn’t a hostile environment. How can a team go from playing arguably their best game of the season on Saturday in a loss to Kentucky on the road, to completely playing flat and uninspired basketball just four days later?

What happened to the team that opened the season 7-0 and won the Puerto Rico Tip-Off? Even with a lot of freshmen playing key minutes, it looked like the team had been playing together for years. Now, the chemistry appears to be gone, the offense can’t get on track, and even the defense is playing lackadaisical at times.

Head Coach Anthony Grant openly criticized the team in his post-game press conference, and for good reason. He said that South Carolina played as a team, and that Alabama didn’t. He went on to add, “We play an entitled brand of basketball, and it’s very frustrating as a coach. I have to self-evaluate what I’m doing as a coach when it consistently feels like winning is not the priority that it needs to be on our team.”

Grant did not mince his words when speaking about his frustration about the team. Obviously, JaMychal Green being hobbled in the second half on an injured ankle didn’t help, but that doesn’t excuse the Tide’s lack of effort.

Green being hurt wasn’t the reason Trevor Releford was 1-of-5 from the field for 2 points. Or the impetus behind Alabama’s 15 turnovers, and lack of effort on the defensive glass. Alabama didn’t play with the effort it needs to win games on the road, or even at home for that matter. South Carolina played with much more effort, and that’s why they won the game.

Even in previous seasons when Alabama wasn’t as talented, you could at least see them playing hard. They might lose, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort. We saw that on full display this past Saturday in Lexington. Kentucky was the more talented team, but Alabama fought hard and kept the game close in one of the toughest road environments in college basketball.

In games against Vanderbilt and South Carolina that hasn’t been the case. Against the Commodores at Coleman, Alabama failed to even show up to the arena until the last few minutes of the game when the score was already out of reach. Against the Gamecocks, they were outplayed and outhussled. Alabama had the more talented team in Colonial Life, but like Coach Grant said, the team played an entitled brand of basketball.

Alabama needs to regain the confidence they had earlier in the season.

They expected to beat South Carolina because they had the more talented team, and because that’s what was supposed to happen. Because of that, they didn’t play with the heart and determination that we have come to expect from Anthony Grant coached teams. And they lost. Again.

Last season’s inspired run during SEC play, and their run to the Championship Game in the NIT led to high expectations heading into the 2011-12 season. Alabama was nationally ranked to begin the season, and after a 7-0 start had climbed to as high as #12 in the rankings before they hit a snag. At the time, it was finally fun to be an Alabama basketball fan again.

They fell out of the top-25 entirely after losing three of their next four games. But, they rebounded nicely to end non-conference action with three straight victories to head into SEC play with an 11-3 record. They knocked off Georgia and LSU to open SEC play, and all was right with the world.

Even after dropping a close game on the road to Mississippi State, things were fine. A home loss to Vanderbilt was a little discouraging, but it wasn’t time to panic. A close road loss in Lexington was not unexpected, so even after losing three straight games, you had to feel confident with the team moving forward against some lesser competition in the next five games.

But after losing to arguably the worst team in the SEC on Wednesday night, the Tide hit rock bottom. It’s panic time in Tuscaloosa.

It took just one night in Columbia to knock Alabama from solidly in the NCAA Tournament, to more than likely sweating it out on Selection Sunday unless they get on a run to end the season. At the beginning of the season, we were hoping to see Alabama not only make the Big Dance, but do some damage while they are there. Now, we are relegated to hoping they even get there.

The way I see it, one of two things is going to happen over the final 10 games of the regular season. Either Alabama is going to respond like champions, and go on a run to finish the season, or they are going to suffer a complete collapse, and finish in the bottom half of the SEC standings.

Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa against Arkansas will go in a long way in telling us how the rest of the season will shake out for the Tide. We’ll see if they can right the ship or not. If they drop their fifth straight this weekend, then you might want to go ahead and make your NIT plans.

Let’s hope they turn it around. Quickly.