When it comes to analysing the prospects of SEC West teams making it in March Madness, it's pretty easy, really. There's Alabama, and then there's five teams that must win the SEC Tournament to go dancing. Keeping in line with the SEC's rule of opposites, the West sports only one possible tournament team after having only one miss out on bowl season. I love symmetry.
Anyway, the fact that the Crimson Tide is even in the discussion is a tribute to head coach Anthony Grant and what kind of turnaround he's been able to lead in the program. Simply put, Bama was a bad team through most of the non-conference season.
Alabama lost three straight in November to Seton Hall (currently 11-16), Iowa (currently 10-17), and St. Peter's (17-11 in the MAAC). It later picked up regrettable losses to Providence (3-12 in Big East play) and Oklahoma State (4-9 in Big 12 play). Things were not looking good.
The Tide found its stride heading into conference play though, and their 11-2 record has them a half game up in the overall conference standings. Those two losses aren't too bad either, as they came to Vanderbilt, who's second in the SEC East, and Arkansas, who is second in the SEC West. They did themselves a huge favor last night, tipping in the game winner to hold off Auburn 51-49. Had they lost that one, their tournament prospects would look fairly bleak.
At the moment, our man Chris Dobbertean has Alabama as the first team out of the tournament. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has Bama a little safer as a 10-seed and not on his last four in list. Regardless, this year's tournament expansion from 65 to 68 is a friend to bubble teams like Bama given the three extra spots for at-larges.
Down the home stretch, Bama has opportunities to solidify its standing in the field. It probably must win Saturday's game at Ole Miss, as the Tide really can't afford more questionable losses. Winning at Florida will be a tough task next week, but it's doable given Bama's stifling defense and the uncertainty surrounding Chandler Parsons' status for the game. They close up at home on March 5 against Georgia, a team looking a bit safer in the field but not a lock either. Taking two of three will put them in great shape heading to the SEC Tournament.
Alabama will be one of the trickiest teams for the selection committee to deal with. It had a bad non-conference schedule and emerged from it with a half dozen losses anyway. However, they are looking much better in SEC play. They are the SEC's best defensive team and currently rank 37th in Ken Pomeroy's ratings. They also have an RPI of 78 according to ESPN and really haven't beat anyone of note other than Kentucky and Tenenssee.
That's why beating Florida or Georgia is so important: this team needs quality wins. If it picks up a victory in one of those two, Alabama will be looking good. If it then goes on to get a win in the SEC tourney (its first game will be against Kentucky, Georgia, or Tennessee), then that's even better.
Just guessing today, I'd say that Bama will go dancing this year.
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