DAYTON, OH - DECEMBER 7: Trevor Releford #12 and Levi Randolph #20 of the Alabama Crimson Tide defend against Kevin Dillard #1 of the Dayton Flyers at University of Dayton Arena on December 7, 2011 in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton defeated Alabama 74-62. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The Crimson Tide basketball team entered a hostile atmosphere at a packed-out and rowdy Dayton Arena on Wednesday night, and unfortunately, failed to rise to the occasion. A streaky Dayton team, who've now won 15 of their last 20 games against "BCS" conference teams, including wins over Wake Forest and Minnesota this season, came out streaking, nailing an unreal 10 of their 19 3-point attempts and at least a half-dozen other extremely difficult long 2-pointers to finish with a dazzling 61% shooting for the game. It was the highest shooting percentage for an Alabama opponent since the David Hobbs era. Yeah...let that sink in for a second.
While Dayton deserves credit for their hot shooting and effort on both ends, feeding off the home crowd and frustrating Bama's young team, the story here from our end has to be how completely unprepared Alabama was for this game. Sure, we knew going in that if Dayton--a team that loves to shoot from deep--had a hot shooting night at home in front of a big crowd that this was a losable game. Knowing now just how hot Dayton would be, it's very possible Alabama could have gone in, played a fairly solid game, and still lost in a nail-biter.
But we'll never know. That's because Alabama, which has prided itself as one of the best defensive teams in the country (and statistically came in as one of the top 10 defenses in college basketball) just didn't show up. Alabama was consistently outworked on the defensive end, and the offense simply wasn't consistent enough to make up for it. Again, we knew going in that if the "good" Dayton showed up, this could be a losable game, but no one saw this pitiful performance coming.
Let's not get carried away, though. Alabama has still played well defensively most of this season. Alabama also has some very good players, and pretty good overall talent. Anthony Grant and his staff also suddenly didn't forget how to coach, and the veterans on this team didn't suddenly forget how to win.
Furthermore, there were some mitigating factors. Alabama's best offensive player,, missed 17 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, and the Tide was noticeably better on both ends when he came back. struggled defensively with him out of the game, and the Tide offense couldn't get any looks inside without him. It was the very first road game for all the true freshmen, who together now play nearly 50% of Bama's minutes. Clearly they weren't ready. Tony Mitchell may also not quite be back to 100% yet, and as has already been mentioned repeatedly, Dayton just hit a ton of deep jumpers beyond what is to be expected even in a poor defensive performance.
Even with those mitigating factors, though, questions are mounting about this team. After seeing such a poor response to adversity in the first road game of the year, can this young team learn to play its game--especially its defensive game--on the road? Canand find more ways to create on offense? Can all of the Bama guards become more confident and consistent shooters from the 3-point line? Can the coaches make adjustments offensively to generate better looks in half-court sets? None of these questions are new, but they've all taken on even greater imperative after last night's debacle.
From a results standpoint, this is a loss that could sting a little bit, depending on what Dayton does from here on out. Bama's loss to Georgetown won't be a bad loss by any means, as they look to be a pretty likely NCAA Tournament team, perhaps even as a fairly high seed. However, Dayton likely will not be such a team, not unless they start playing consistently as well as they did last night and during their tournament run in Orlando, which they finished off by beating a pretty good Minnesota team. With three losses already to mid-major opponents, we'll have to monitor how the Flyers' results play out this season to see just how "bad" this loss will really be. Hopefully they will end up with a solid NIT-type season, which is very possible and would prevent this from being seen by the selection committee as a bad loss, especially since it came on the road.
At this early stage, though, the results may not be the absolute most important thing. Bama's wins over good Wichita State and Purdue teams on a neutral court and overall 7-2 record are nothing to panic about just yet in terms of Bama's tournament resume. However, the Tide has now played poorly three games in a row, and it would not at all be inaccurate to say this is a slumping team right now. Alabama hit an even worse slump this time last year, but the coaches and players were able to dramatically turn things around in late December and the Tide really hit its stride heading into January and February.
Will a similar turnaround happen this season? It absolutely can, but adjustments have to be made by the coaches and players alike. The first step is to double-down on the defensive commitment that has carried Bama thus far. Alabama's defense has been good to very good so far this season--up until last night. Hopefully the defensive performance was nothing more than an aberration, and to be fair a lot of it certainly had to do with Green missing nearly the entire first half and of course the hot shooting of Dayton. What was not an aberration, unfortunately, was the malaise of the Tide offense at times. To be clear: Alabama actually played well enough at times on offense, particularly for most of the second half when JaMychal Green came back into the game. In fact, the Tide shot 50% from the floor, which is really not bad at all. However, the offense still failed to get good shots for long stretches, especially in the first half without Green, and the 3-point shooting rate of 25% simply isn't good enough. These have been recurring issues, and unless improvement is made, this team will be limited for the rest of the year.
Alabama needs to find answers for these things, and needs to find them soon. Next up is a home date on Sunday evening with a dangerous Detroit team who are fresh off taking down St. John's. After that, the Tide will face three major-conference foes in its final four non-conference games, two of them on the road. It's not time to panic, but it is time for Bama to start answering some of these mounting questions.