I used to feel sad, now I'm just bored with you...
With all due respect to Bama Hoops, the truest Tide basketball fan I've ever seen, yesterday's utter collapse in Starkville was a fitting end for Alabama basketball's hopes of drawing the same attention and fan devotion as the Tide football team. Of all the criticism routinely leveled at Alabama fans, the only one I rarely argue with is the "Bama fans aren't happy unless they are winning" one. You know why? Because it's mostly true. I can give you some jive about how "we just want our teams to be competitive, and if we lose to a better team, then that's fine," but for the most part I tend to think that any fan that's okay with losing doesn't deserve to see his team win at all. We don't cheer for the football team in the hopes that they will represent themselves well, we cheer for them in the belief that they will win, no matter how overmatched they might be. What everyone else refers to as "Bammer Arrogance," I think of as undying faith in our team. If that's a bad thing, then I guess I'm just bad. But there's no such faith in the basketball team, and yesterday's performance capped a season's worth of evidence as to why.
During the past, well, decade, Alabama Football has been on such a decline that interest in the basketball team necessarily grew. We needed a team in Crimson and White to hang our hats on, and Mark Gottfried gave us one. But it was a quick fix. Brag as we might about Tide basketball's domination of UT and AU (before this season), it did nothing to assuage the bitter sting of defeat on the football field. And so we waited until we had something football related to consume us year round, instead of breathing a sigh of relief when one more miserable season ended, and occupied our minds with basketball instead.
Last season gave Alabama basketball it's best chance to emerge from the long shadow of Alabama football. The football team had gone 10-2, but the momentary glee of a Cotton Bowl win only masked the horror of a perfect season ended by LSU and the outright shame of a fourth straight loss to Auburn. The basketball team stepped in to fill that void, playing to the dramatic nature of most Bama fans by falling to pieces mid-season amidst injuries, defections, and an incredibly short bench and yet somehow defying the odds by earning another trip to the NCAA Tournament and pushing a UCLA squad that would make it to the championship game to the very end. That momentum pushed expectations for this year's squad to football levels. They had the talent, they had depth again, they had pre-season hype, and, most importantly, they had a football season spiraling into oblivion and an entire fanbase needing something to feel proud of.
Unfortunately for basketball, that something turned into Nick Saban. His hire gave the football crazed fanbase something else to think about, something else to dream about, and something else to discuss. Blogs and message boards and water coolers everywhere were speculating on a football staff that wouldn't be seen or heard for months, recruiting became exciting again, and the fate of Joe Kines was more pressing than the fate of the basketball team. The press was all over his salary, his ethics, and his choice of colorful anecdotes, while the fans were all over the press for theirs. And what did Alabama basketball due to counter? It fell to pieces.
We could talk about the health of Ronald Steele or the unbelievably hard year Jermareo Davidson has faced, but no one wants to hear it. What we want to hear is why, after an entire half of the starters overpowering the already formidable stench emanating from the Vol faithful inside Thompson-Boling Arena with their own stinky performance, the bench was pulled after ending the stretch of turnovers and getting us back in the game. What we want to hear is why, no matter who we are playing, this team looks stupid and lazy on the road. What we want to hear is why we are consistently outhustled by less talented teams. What we want to hear is why we can't stop a solid shooting team. We want to hear why we got swept by Auburn for the first time since 1999, even though on paper we should have blown them out of the water both meetings. But since we aren't hearing any explanations or seeing any improvements, we just stop caring. And that's the sad thing. This is the most talented team the Tide has put on the floor in a very long time, and if this were the football team, we'd be stocking up on pitchforks and torches and demanding the ouster of Mark Gottfried. Instead, I'm shrugging my shoulders and looking forward to the football season, just like I'm sure most of you are doing.
Sunday wasn't just another miserable loss for a team that should be used to them by now. Barring a resurgence in the SEC tournament that would shock just about anyone that's paid attention to the season thus far, it was the last moment in the sun for Alabama basketball.