If the measure of a well-coached team is seeing marked improvement as the season progresses, then what we are witnessing in Tuscaloosa is something special.
Saturday night Alabama continued its furious stretch in conference play with a 69-56 win over the Arkansas Razerbacks, avenging an earlier season loss to the Hogs in Fayetteville.
The Tide (18-8, 10-2) clinched the SEC West and at the moment holds a half game lead over Florida for the overall top spot in the conference.
This team is playing together like the Boston Pops, each player seemingly knowing his role and performing at the highest possible level.
What makes it so remarkable is that prior to Dec. 21, Bama was 5-6 with embarrassing losses to teams like the St. Peter’s Peacocks. Since then Alabama is 13-2, head coach Anthony Grant performing the kind of coaching job that starts talk of contract extensions.
Now, a few concessions…the SEC doesn’t appear to be very strong this year, though records can be deceiving. Regardless, there are a couple of Tiger teams playing in the West that couldn’t cut it in the Sun Belt. And with the season’s slow start, Bama’s RPI still isn’t quite where it needs to be to go ahead and punch their dance ticket.
But watching players come into being is more than encouraging.
Tony Mitchell is absolutely dominant with Gerald Wallace-like highlights. Trevor Releford sees creases that aren’t there and dishes like Isaiah Thomas. JaMychal Green, one of the softest players (to me) last season has become a force. Chris Hines quietly goes about his business to clean the glass and score when needed. Senario Hillman could grab a stack of quarters off the top of the backboard. Charvez Davis and Andrew Steele play their supporting roles brilliantly with more of the same smothering Bama defense and clutch baskets. Ben Eblen comes off the bench in a way that makes Antoine Pettway proud.
As the FSN broadcast concluded and the teams shook hands, one commentator aptly put it best: “Alabama is playing at a high level where nobody in the country wants a piece of them right now. They can play with anybody.”
Maybe he was just caught up in the emotion of a fantastic game, and certainly Kansas or Duke wouldn’t be racked with fear to play Alabama.
But watching this team right now, I’m pretty certain Anthony Grant’s squad wouldn’t fear the Jayhawks or Blue Demons either.