By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
March 18, 2012
Basketball season presents a quandary for many Alabama fans, to the extent that trying to determine just how things are going is like asking a NASCAR fan to comment on Formula One racing: It’s not an area of expertise.
While Alabama fans are among the most football savvy on the planet, the number of Tide basketball fans with similar acuity make up a much smaller number. And even that group can’t seem to come to a consensus on how the 2011-2012 Alabama roundball season went.
Looking purely from a perspective of results, Anthony Grant’s team went further than did his 2010-2011 team, which improved upon the results of his first season in Tuscaloosa. Still, given the potential of what the 2011-2012 team could have accomplished, its eventual landing spot seems more than just a little disappointing.
So let’s get the obvious comparison out of the way first: In no way does Alabama’s basketball program compare to the football program. Nor does any other sport on campus compare to the football program. Despite Alabama traditionally being considered the No. 2 program in the SEC behind Kentucky (although Florida can probably lay claim to that slot now as a result of its recent success under Billy Donovan), success on the basketball court isn’t as simple as finding a “Saban-type coach” and luring him to Tuscaloosa. There aren’t many coaches in any sport like Saban, first of all, and then there’s the issue of whether Alabama’s basketball program has the profile commensurate with attracting a coach with those traits.
There’s also the issue of whether Anthony Grant did a bad job in 2011-2012. The answer is, he didn’t. While Alabama underachieved, it did so largely due to behavioral factors relating to players Grant inherited rather than recruited. Time cures some of those problems; Grant tried to cure the rest with discipline and suspensions.
In the end, Alabama’s basketball program ended up with a result somewhere between the results the football program got in the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green were Grant’s Chris Rogers and D.J. Hall; Creighton served as a roundball stand-in for pigskin Utah. Now the question is what shape the program is in going forward.
Determining such requires an evaluation of both recruiting and on-court coaching. In regards to recruiting, Anthony Grant has certainly done no worse than his predecessor, Mark Gottfried. Coaching is a bit more difficult to judge, but what certainly wasn’t expected in 2011 was the lack of development both of some individual players, and Alabama’s offense in general.
Perhaps it’s just in the school’s DNA to be regarded as both defensive stalwarts and also offensive neanderthals in all sports. But where the football program finally figured out how to start moving the ball effectively, beginning with the 2009 season at least, Alabama’s 2011-2012 basketball team almost looked like a study in the four-corners offense.
Before this devolves into exactly what it shouldn’t be – a comparison of Alabama football v. basketball – let’s cut to the chase: Because of Alabama’s lack of consistent results over the years in basketball, it’s reasonable to look at basketball in five-year time increments, whereas football doesn’t receive such consideration.
There’s little question that Alabama must take another step forward soon. Grant’s first Alabama team went 17-15 and missed the postseason. His second team went 25-12, was the NIT runner-up and promised big things for 2011-2012. But the current team finished 21-12, didn’t make much noise in the SEC tournament and bowed out after one round of the NCAA tournament.
The team coming back faces some challenges. Green must be replaced. Mitchell’s return to the program would have to be considered doubtful at best. The development of Alabama’s two center prospects, Moussa Gueye and Carl Engstrom, will be a necessity rather than a sideshow. Perhaps most important will be the development of forward Nick Jacobs, who will be asked to pick up a lot of Green’s minutes. Jacobs was inconsistent down the stretch, and must get better quickly.
If Alabama continues to take small steps forward, Grant will get the time he needs to build a winning program. The halcyon days of Alabama basketball, to most, are the Wimp Sanderson years, which never advanced beyond the Sweet 16. In other words, Grant has a fairly low bar to jump. Mark Gottfried advancing to this year’s tournament’s second weekend with NC State doesn’t help matters any, but comparisons to his predecessor are not something Grant can control.
What Grant and his staff can control are recruiting, player development and offensive innovation, three areas that will continue to be important going forward. The SEC isn’t getting any easier, particularly with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri next year. The 2011-2012 season showed progress and potential; building upon that progress in 2012-2013 is now crucial.