By Chris DePew
March 9, 2019
Faced with the latest in what seems like an unending string of win-or-else games, Alabama once again opted for “else,” fading badly in the second half to conclude the regular season with an uninspiring 82-70 loss at Arkansas.
What did we learn today?: Thirty-one games into this odyssey, most Crimson Tide players haven’t really improved substantially since the opening tip against Southern last November. Avery Johnson does some things better than he gets credit for when his team hits the skids. He’s proven he can recruit and he’s underrated when it comes to in-game strategy. But college coaching is a three-legged stool and his inability to develop players is what keeps dumping this program on the floor.
John Petty arrived on campus as a five-star pure shooter and now he can’t shoot more often than not. Herbert Jones went from first-round NBA draft prospect in the preseason to needing an injury to clear room for him to start the last game before the SEC tournament. Tevin Mack became the latest prominent transfer player that failed to live up to the hype.
Donta Hall plateaued in his senior season when Bama was counting on him to continue to grow and be an all-conference contender. Dazon Ingram, Johnson’s first significant recruit, seems to have somehow gotten a little worse every year and now seems to be on the verge of transferring out and perhaps taking Daniel Giddens and Alex Reese with him.
All across the roster, you can find examples of unrealized talent and incomplete chemistry. It has been noticeable before with Johnson’s teams but has become impossible to ignore this season, especially with no Collin Sexton to shoot the Tide out of purgatory.
What were the biggest concerns?: Alabama had to rally in the second half just to battle the SEC’s worst rebounding team to a draw on the boards. Better than one-third of the Razorbacks’ missed shots became offensive rebounds and it only seems like Daniel Gafford got all of them. Gafford humiliated Bama all day, finishing with 29 points, 16 rebounds and enough putback dunks to start his own YouTube channel. The Hogs built a 20-10 advantage in second-chance points, continuing a trend over the past several weeks of Alabama underachieving on the glass.
By now the Tide’s atrocious foul shooting (10-for-20), bumper crop of turnovers (15) and paltry number of assists (nine on 25 field goals) seem more like unsolvable weaknesses than things to correct and improve upon. Should one or more of those categories improve for the next game, or even couple of weeks, history shows that will be a temporary condition under Johnson.
What was the best part of the game?: There’s been a Reese sighting. After five consecutive games where a healthy Reese sat out, the sophomore from Pelham logged 21 minutes of credible play, finishing with nine points, five rebounds and a pair of assists. Amazingly Reese trails only Hall in per-minute efficiency, but somehow became this year’s tenant in Johnson’s doghouse and never really built on a five-game stretch in the early season where he was playing as well as anyone on the roster. Likewise Galin Smith played 23 minutes in the absence of Giddens, more than he had in the last five games combined, and added seven points, all in the first half.
Who was the star?: Calling Mack a star on Saturday may be stretching the terms beyond the known limits of elasticity. But he did have a team-high 14 points on a day where few others could score consistently. After going for 10 against Auburn, he has scored in double digits back-to-back for only the third time all season, including a three-game stretch that was capped by his dream game in the upset of Kentucky.
What’s next?: Having landed in 10th place with a thud, the Crimson Tide will begin conference tournament play Thursday at 6 p.m. Central in Nashville against seventh-seeded Ole Miss. All games from Wednesday through Friday’s quarterfinals will be on the SEC Network.
Follow Chris DePew on Twitter @TideFansChris