04 January 2012
The University of Alabama men's basketball team will host LSU on Wednesday night at Coleman Coliseum for its SEC home opener. While the Tigers will almost certainly outscore their football counterparts, Bama will look to continue an SEC home winning streak that saw the Tide go undefeated at home in conference last year. While Bama has fallen from the top 25 polls, the Tide is in good shape to make its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in six seasons.
Despite Moussa Gueye having only played four minutes, and JaMychal Green having missed three games due to injury, Bama has managed its way through a tough non-conference schedule without having what the NCAA selection committee would call a "bad loss" based on RPI. Bama's three losses were at home against Georgetown (RPI #18), at Kansas State (RPI #19), and at Dayton (RPI #17). While the Dayton loss might look bad to a casual basketball fan, the Flyers will be an NCAA tournament team and are currently ranked higher in the RPI than all but two SEC teams - Kentucky at #8 and Bama at #6.
RPI isn't the ultimate stat, by any means. The fact that the Tide is ranked #17 in the RPI and not ranked in the human polls should tell you a lot. But when selection Sunday rolls around, you will see an awful lot of talk about RPI by the folks on television. And while the selection committee would never admit it, they base far more on RPI than they should.
So the fact that Alabama is firmly within the top 20 teams in the country is a good indication that the Tide has played pretty well through this point in the season. Add in neutral court wins against Wichita State (#34), Purdue (#35), Maryland (#99), and Oklahoma State (#100) with a true road wins at Georgia Tech (a disappointing #155) and at Georgia (#115) and the Tide resume is extremely strong.
That's not to say that the team is ready to make a deep run into the tournament as it stands today. Bama needs to develop depth in the post beyond JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. Nick Jacobs has made major strides in the last two weeks, but the health of Moussa Gueye will likely determine how good Bama can be down low.
If you've seen Bama play any game other than the Oklahoma State game, then you know that what Bama needs most is more consistent shooting from behind the three point line. Bama is shooting just 27% on 3-pt FGs, and ranks 324th in 3-pointers made per game.
In fact, Bama is ranked in the bottom half of the nation in scoring offense - 211th to be exact - at just 66.7. points per game. The good news is that, much like with the Alabama football team, this team wins with defense. With numbers that would make Nick Saban and Kirby Smart smile, Bama currently ranks:
11th in the nation in scoring defense - 56.3 ppg
6th in nation in FG defense - 36.1%
5th in 3-pint FG defense - 25.7%
Only four times this season has a Bama opponent topped 60 points. And the only two times that the opponent has managed 70, Bama has lost.
What all of that means is that Bama is in a position to become one of the nation's elite teams if it can gain some level of consistency in shooting the basketball. That's easier said than done, obviously. But this Tide team is capable of making a run at the regular season SEC title. The fact that Bama has to travel to Lexington will make that difficult, but Kentucky does have to make trips to both Florida and Vanderbilt.
Regardless, Bama should finish in the top four in the league, which should put the Tide back into the NCAA Tournament.
If you haven't had a chance to see this team play, come out to Coleman Coliseum. Bama has three home games this month - Wednesday night against LSU, the 19th against Vanderbilt, and the 28th against Arkansas.
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