Right now, 68 teams are busy preparing for the NCAA tournament. Equipment managers are sorting out jerseys. Hotels are being booked. Teams are putting in their final practice preparations. Sadly, the University of Alabama basketball is not one of them.
Instead, Alabama will stay at home and face Norfolk State in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) this Wednesday. It will be the Crimson Tide’s sixth NIT appearance in the last 11 seasons.
It is truly unfortunate that once again, Alabama will not be participating in Big Bracket Basketball. Fans are certainly disappointed; it’s kind of like really wanting to attend a wedding and the invitation never comes.
Speaking of fans, I think Alabama basketball fans fall into three categories. There are the diehard fans who either watch or go to every single game. Few fall into this category, and due to the mediocrity of the last 15 years, that number is dwindling. Then there are those who follow out of the corner of their eye. These people don’t necessarily watch the games, but they know whether or not Alabama is on the bubble, how the team stands in conference play, and who some of the players are. And then there’s the third category. People in this group watch most of the games (not necessarily the whole game, but they’ll tune in for at least part of the game) and usually get frustrated and turn it off. Or they might watch until the very end but find the exercise tiresome and excruciating.
Watching Alabama basketball is like watching Jaws. An unsuspecting beachgoer plunges into the water and for a moment things seem to be going swimmingly (pun intended), but you keep waiting for that big fish to eat them. And if Jaws doesn’t, if the team wins and metaphorically makes it to the shore, there’s more of an emotion of relief than joy.
But more times than not, they get eaten.
Unlike Alabama football, where you always believe you are going to win, no matter the opponent, Alabama basketball often involves waiting on the collapse to occur. On most occasions, it occurs sometime during the middle of the second half in a critical stretch, and this is when the game is usually won or lost for the Crimson Tide.
I’m not here to bash the coach or call for his job. I’m basically here to tell you how Alabama fans feel. The Alabama fans I speak to want a good basketball team. They tell me that. They are frustrated that they continue to live on the dividing line between the NIT and the NCAA. They are frustrated that the team doesn’t play with more energy and passion. They don’t think the team possesses a great deal of heart. They wish they could recruit better in the state of Alabama. They wish great in-state players wouldn’t sneak off to Kentucky or Michigan State. They wonder why they can’t get great players. They wonder why they don’t have a shooter. They don’t like getting swept by Auburn. They don’t like feeling that every single SEC road game will produce an L. They don’t want to go to the NIT again. But mostly, they’d like to have something to be excited about.
Alabama football has been so good that the emotion of it often bleeds over into basketball season. So fans have been able to sort of tolerate mediocrity on the hardwood because of the greatness of the football team. But I think folks are growing weary of that, especially in years, like this one, when football does not win the national championship. Alabama fans view themselves as winners; they want winners, and they don’t stand for losing for very long. But for some reason, they have continued to tolerate an average basketball team.
Winning occurs at the end of this toleration.
It’s time for Alabama to put a good basketball team on the floor.
You may think I’m crazy for saying this, but I’ve always said that Alabama basketball fans should believe the team is capable of winning a national title. Unfortunately I don’t think this is something their minds can fathom right now. It’s like they have this internal mental governor that stops at the Sweet 16, and imagining the Crimson Tide hoops team cutting down the nets remains in the realm of unreachable fantasy.
But why shouldn’t they believe it? If Florida basketball, a program that had essentially zero tradition before Billy Donovan went to Gainesville and didn’t have the facilities, fans, or support system that Alabama basketball has now, can win back-to-back titles, then it is not implausible to believe that a national title in basketball is possible at the Capstone. “But Al, they had Billy Donovan.” That’s true, but you can’t tell me that with five studs on the floor, five ballers who are as bloodthirsty for a win as members of Cobra Kai, Alabama wouldn’t be a force to be reckoned with.
Can you imagine if Alabama basketball was 29-2 right now? Can you imagine looking on your scribbled-on brackets and seeing ALABAMA on the Final Four line?
If Avery Johnson somehow survives this spring, he has to elevate this team to a level that hasn’t been seen in over a decade. And wouldn’t it be nice if we could take out the phrase “in over a decade”?
My, how fun that would be. H&A
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