Alabama Positions Itself to Make a Run at an NCAA BidPosted by David Changas on March 15th, 2013
David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Friday afternoon’s game between Alabama and Tennessee at the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
Some called today’s SEC Quarterfinal match-up between Tennessee and Alabama a “play-in” game for the NCAA Tournament. The reality was, though, that it was more likely a play-in for Tennessee. Most observers agreed that a win by the Volunteers would put them in the Big Dance, as they would have notched their 10th win over an RPI top-100 team. Most agreed, too, that Alabama would need to do more to make itself worthy of a spot in the field. What the Crimson Tide’s 58-48 victory, which came as the result of stifling defense that held Tennessee to 32% shooting from the field, did was put them in a position to secure a bid. Alabama, which currently sits at No. 62 in the RPI and owns only one victory over a top-50 RPI team (against No. 48 Kentucky), will now get a shot at a big one.
It takes on SEC regular season champion Florida, which sits at No. 7 in the RPI, in Saturday’s first semifinal. Given the difficulty other teams firmly on the bubble have had with taking advantage of their respective positions this week, the door is open for Anthony Grant’s team to make a run. Just today, the likes of Virginia, LaSalle, and, of course, Tennessee, all considered to be in the “Last Four In/Last Four Out” merry-go-round, lost. Earlier in the week, Boise State and MTSU, also among that group, lost. Ole Miss and Kentucky have yet to play here, but Alabama’s path to the field of 68 is clearer than it could have anticipated coming into the tournament.
As with every team in their position, a close look at the Crimson Tide’s resume reveals several flaws. They sit at 7-7 against the RPI top 100, and have four losses to teams outside the top 100. Compare that to today’s opponent, Tennessee, which has four wins against the top 50, nine against the top 100, and only two losses to teams outside the top 100. On the other hand, a team like MTSU has only one top-100 win, and Virginia has lost seven games to sub-top-100 teams. While a win over Florida wouldn’t eliminate the deficiencies on the Crimson Tide’s resume, it would provide a cornerstone win for the Selection Committee to start with. Just as importantly, it would give Alabama a chance to make all bubble talk moot, as it would advance to the SEC Tournament championship game for the first time since 2002, and the league’s toughest team would be out of the way. At this point, that is all Grant is thinking about. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but right now we’re in the SEC Tournament, and we play Florida tomorrow for a chance to advance and play for a tournament championship. That’s just where we are right now. Nothing else really matters,” Grant said.
While that sounds good, the reality for Alabama is that earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament would make this trip to Nashville nothing less than a resounding success. Conference tournament championships are nice, but what matters in college basketball is making the Big Dance. Alabama could have eliminated itself from further consideration by dropping Friday’s contest to the Volunteers, but by taking care of business, it now has a golden opportunity to take advantage of the failures of its fellow bubble dwellers and punch a ticket to March Madness.