Forgive my “football mindset”, but I wanted more from this Bama basketball team

There’s a new buzzword going around. It’s a term coined by basketball purists used to posture themselves when the performance of their team is called into question.

The term? “Football mindset.”

Let me use it in context for you:

Person 1: “I can’t believe the egg Alabama just laid in Oxford. This team won’t go beyond the first round of the NCAA Tournament if they get invited at all.”
Person 2: “Quit with the ‘football mindset.’ Basketball is different; one loss isn’t the end of a season.”

Ever heard it? When used correctly in conversation, the Alabama basketball apologist will throw it out to explain away another pitiful performance on the hardwood by the Alabama Crimson Tide basketball team.

Before I go any further, I understand losing is part of the game. In a season, regardless of the sport, you’re going to lose some games. But it’s how you lose that tells the tale.

I remember when Coach Saban took over the football program in 2007. What I looked for that next season wasn’t wins, it was how we competed. How we tackled. How we played in the fourth quarters of games, when for the previous four seasons under Mike Shula we simply rolled over on command. All I wanted that first year was effort, and yes, the occasional win. By the start of 2008, Alabama football under Nick Saban began to look like, well, Alabama football under Nick Saban.

Alabama basketball is an entirely different story. And before I go any further, this is not intended to be a bash job on Anthony Grant. I think he is a fantastic basketball coach, and about the best any Tide fan could hope for.

But at the end of year three, there seems to be more questions than answers with this team, and program.

Question #1: Why can’t this team shoot?
Sure, there is the occasional game where all the sudden it comes together (at Auburn), but for the most part this team collectively couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean. This was also the case last season. I’ve said this before, but where is our marginally athletic, usually pasty white, player who can’t do much else but can drain it when needed?

Cooper, Lacey, Hankerson and Randolph have all shown flashes of shooting ability at times, and Cooper has the sweetest looking stroke of them all. But throughout a season, there are times when you have got to have that shot beyond the arc, and you can basically forget that notion with Alabama.

Bama ranks dead last (tied with Auburn) in 3-point percentage and is 9th in team scoring. Mysterious is that they are 5th in field goal percentage. Of course when your offensive arsenal consists of fast-break layups and dunks, those percentages will rise.

Still, show me the person who has faith in this team to nail the three or other clutch shot when they’ve got to have it.

Question #2: Where is Trevor Releford?
The point guard that was one of the lone offensive sparks last season has gone into the kind of funk antibiotics usually have to save you from. He just doesn’t look like himself. I don’t know if there’s been a nagging injury, or if the grind of the season and all the suspensions (including his own) has gotten the best of him. Or, as opposed to last year when he came on the scene, if there’s enough film on him now for opponents to take his game away. But his game has gone MIA for a good part of the season.

Trevor leads the league in steals but finds himself behind ten other guards in the assist category. Don’t get me wrong, Releford is still a force, but has struggled this season, mightily at times, doing things uncharacteristic of himself. The most immediate example that comes to mind is in the Ole Miss game, a four on one Bama fastbreak ending in his blocked shot because Trevor wouldn’t dish to a wide open teammate.

Question #3: Why the suspensions in year three?
Nick Saban cleaned his house in his first year. Why so many needed attitude adjustments in Grant’s third year? It can be argued that attitude (and subsequent suspensions) led directly to at least two losses (South Carolina and LSU). That’s a difference between a fourth seed bye in the SEC tournament and having to play this Thursday. Another poor showing and early exit and you’re leaving the selection committee with doubts in picking the final tournament field.

My hat’s off to Grant for doing what he had to do this season, and having the kahoona’s to do so with the season on the line. But that it had to be done in year three remains a mystery.

Question #4: Will there be an inside game next season?
With Green gone, who is good but far from dominant, what is Bama going to do next year? Moussa Gueye needs to develop, as does the big Swede Carl Engstrom. But Engstrom at times looked like if you handed him a kitten he would crush it in his stone-like hands. Backboards everywere were in danger of shattering when he tries the occasional putback. And Gueye, though big, has looked extremely raw. That’s where coaching comes in, and I hope Gueye adds some weight and becomes an immovable object in the lane.

However, like the shooting black hole Bama has found itself in for yet another season, Bama better get an inside game or this year’s NCAA appearance, if it happens, won’t have an encore in 2013.

Question #5: Just how hard is it to be good in this league?
The SEC isn’t exactly a powerhouse. There’s a reason Kentucky’s strength of schedule has taken a beating this season (at 63). It’s because they’ve had to play all these SEC schools that suck. Folks, South Carolina is awful. And yet, Bama lost on their floor on January 25th.

All I’m saying is, the SEC is a football conference, but Kentucky and occasonally Florida have found a way to mop up and rack up wins on their way to post-season greatness. It doesn’t seem like it would take that much to rise up, climb out of the crab basket and be something in this league. And yet, a first round SEC bye and early entry and exit in the Tourney seems to be all we can hope for in Tuscaloosa. My brothers, this should not be.

Look, here’s the deal. I don’t pretend to be Andy Katz or Jay Bilas. But it doesn’t take a basketball expert analyst to see that what Alabama is in football they are nowhere near becoming in basketball. There are players on the Bama roster that couldn’t make a shot if you didn’t even guard them, players that see regular action.

And I know that Alabama basketball doesn’t carry the same weight as Alabama football in the recruiting world. But Florida sure found a way to dominate in both sports in the mid 2000’s.

Here’s my internal conflict: Why am I supposed to “accept” seasons where multiple games look like we don’t even want to be out there? Why am I supposed to shrug at another loss at the Tad (Ole Miss) or Hump (Miss State) because “we never win there.” Why am I to accept anything less than a Southeastern Conference Championship every once in a while, something Alabama has only mustered once in the post-Wimp Sanderson era.

Maybe my “football mindset” is getting in the way here. But if having a “football mindset” means I shouldn’t want excellence on the hardwood too, then I’m glad to have it.

Alabama finishes its 2011-2012 basketball campaign at 20-10. If those 10 losses were simply tilts that didn’t go their way despite laying it on the line, so be it. But too many times I saw a lackadaisical team with a seemingly low basketball I.Q. not competing at the highest level in a conference not exactly teeming with superior play. That isn’t going to get you anywhere, and definitely isn’t going to propel your program beyond where you are today.

It doesn’t take a “basketball mindset” to figure that out.


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