Alabama basketball is like watching the movie Groundhog Day
As the final seconds ticked down Tuesday night and the 1-15 (9-19 overall) Vanderbilt Commodores were getting ready to celebrate their 2nd SEC win on Alabama’s home floor, I couldn’t help but think that watching Alabama’s basketball team is like watching the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray.
In other words, every day you wake up expecting to make the NCAA Tournament, but there’s a point you realize you’re always going back to the NIT.
And it happens the next year. And the next. And the next.
Last night, commentator Daymeon Fishback stated that, given the injuries to his players, Alabama coach Nate Oats is doing an “outstanding” job with this basketball team so far. I wonder if he thought that after Vanderbilt out-hustled, outplayed, and out-willed Oats’ team in a must-win game for Alabama on the Tide’s home floor.
Regardless of what you think about Oats’ performance in his first year, Alabama is back in the exact same spot it has been over the past, oh, 14 seasons. It’s a peculiar patch of real estate called Probably Not Going to Make the Big Dance.
Since the year 2005-06, Alabama has participated in the NCAA Tournament twice: 2011-12 and 2017-18. In 2011-12, 9-seed Alabama, coached by Anthony Grant, got bounced in the 1st round by 8-seed Creighton. In 2017-18, coach Avery Johnson’s team got by Virginia Tech in the 1st round, only to be led to slaughter by one of the best teams of the past decade, Villanova, which went on to win the national title that season.
And that’s it. Three NCAA Tournament games in 14 seasons for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
In most instances, one can point to lack of leadership as the reason for a program’s mediocrity. Though Alabama seems to have had very capable people at the controls, unfortunately this has not translated into winning basketball games. To make matters worse, Anthony Grant, whom Alabama fired in 2015, now has his Dayton team at 27-2 and projected as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Which begs the question: Why couldn’t he have done the same at Alabama? Why the success now?
Here’s another head-scratcher: Avery Johnson led the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals and couldn’t win in Tuscaloosa. Sure, coaching in college is a much different animal than coaching in the NBA, and perhaps Johnson struggled with the adjustment to amateur basketball. Four years is plenty of time to put together a good team, however, and the argument that Johnson wasn’t given a fair chance doesn’t hold water in my opinion.
What about players? Though Grant was not a great recruiter, Johnson recruited well, bringing NBA lottery pick Collin Sexton to campus, as well as John Petty Jr., Kira Lewis Jr., Herb Jones, Donta Hall and Braxton Key. Still, he could not seem to get over the hump.
Alabama has the resources to support a basketball program, a nice coliseum in which to play, a decent fan base, and a fairly robust basketball tradition with a few banners hanging from the rafters. What gives?
In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character, a TV reporter named Phil Connors, begrudgingly travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the ceremonial emergence of Phil, the chosen groundhog, who by seeing his shadow foretells a lingering winter, or by not seeing it signals an early spring.
For Alabama basketball fans, this program has served up another promising yet maddening year, and unless Alabama wins the SEC Tournament, the season will end in the exact same place it has for 12 out of the past 14 years: the NIT.
Looking to next season, the Crimson Tide will probably be without the services of Lewis and Petty, both of whom will likely declare for the NBA Draft in the next few weeks. James “Beetle” Bolden will have exhausted his eligibility, which leaves Alex Reese, Herbert Jones, Jaden Shackelford, and a handful of other role players as your core returnees for next season.
And if you’re looking for comfort on the recruiting trail, you won’t find it — yet. Alabama ranks 92nd in the country in recruiting for the 2020 class, according to 247sports.com. The lone signee is Keon Ambrose-Hylton, a 4-star forward out of Ontario, Canada.
This offseason, Oats will have to recruit his tail off to bring in a bona fide scorer (hopefully scorers) or else Shackelford will have to shoulder the scoring load for the Crimson Tide in 2020-21.
Questions still abound. Will Groundhog Day continue in perpetuity for Alabama or will Oats circle the wagons and put together a winning basketball team?
For now, there seem to be few signs of an early spring.