The Crimson Tide basketball team is teetering on the edge of a free-fall after losing an ugly, dispiriting game against the SEC's worst team earlier this week. Bama has a chance to stop the bleeding at home this afternoon when the Arkansas Razorbacks pay a visit to Coleman Coliseum at 12:30 pm CST. The game will be televised regionally on the SEC Network and streamed outside the region on ESPN3.
After losing three consecutive games to three of the top teams in the league, many were calling the road game at South Carolina this past Wednesday a must-win. The win didn't come. Instead came probably the most disappointing showing by an Alabama basketball team since the last time the team hit rock bottom: last year's 0-3 performance in the Paradise Jam early-season tournament, which was capped by a loss to lowly St. Peter's. Alabama slowly recovered from that debacle last season to finish the year very strongly. Tide fans can only hope that the team can have a similar climb from rock bottom this time around.
If that is to happen, Alabama simply must get this win today against a young but talented Arkansas team that is within striking distance of an NCAA bid itself. Alabama may be at rock bottom right now, but despite the dark clouds seemingly surrounding this team right now, the Crimson Tide would make the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today, and probably wouldn't even be one of the last teams in. That means that all is far from lost, and if this team can find a way to dig deep and start winning again, a trip to the NCAA Tournament--undoubtedly the team's/fanbase's goal now that hopes for an SEC title and/or high NCAA seed are out the window--is easily within reach.
But Bama must start winning, and must do so now. Again, the Tide is still projected as an NCAA Tournament team (though just barely), but Arkansas is definitely in the conversation to get an at-large bid themselves, and likely will do so if they can pick up a couple of big road wins in league play and finish strongly. The Hogs are 15-5 on the year, a stronger record than Alabama's 13-7, but they played a much weaker non-conference schedule and haven't had quite as tough a road to hoe just yet in SEC play.
The most interesting thing about Arkansas's resume is that they are 15-0 in Fayetteville's Bud Walton Arena, with wins over projected NCAA Tournament teams Michigan and Mississippi State. However, the only other top-100 win they have came against LSU. Meanwhile the Hogs are 0-5 outside of Fayetteville. They suffered a bad loss to Houston in Little Rock early on, then were beaten soundly on the road in non-conference play by Oklahoma and UConn. They also lost both of their conference road games thus far, losing at Ole Miss and then getting pounded at Kentucky.
The fact that Arkansas has had so much success at home and so little away from home isn't that big a shock. Not only do they have a first-year head coach in Mike Anderson, but they have probably the youngest team in the entire SEC. Mike Anderson is a great hire and a great coach, and he's done a fantastic job with this young group already. They've steadily improved and to most people's shock, he has them at least in the conversation for an NCAA bid.
In sum, Alabama must win today. There are two pieces of bad news, and two pieces of good news in this regard. The bad news of course begins with the fact that Alabama is in near-meltdown mode after four straight losses seem to have shaken the team's confidence to its core, and players and even the head coach himself are publicly questioning the team's desire and willingness to win. This bad news is about as bad as it gets, but to make matters worse, the team the Tide must play today will be extremely well coached, has some very impressive young talent, and is trending in the exact opposite direction of the slumping Tide, instead surging at just the right time of year. This will be no easy matchup for Alabama.
The good news is that the game will be at home, unlike three of the losses in Bama's four-game skid. Further, the young Arkansas team has yet to win a game this year on the road. That has to be encouraging, if fans haven't yet given up on the team and show up and make noise. The rest of the good news is that there's still plenty of time to turn things around, and from a resume standpoint, Alabama is still in much better shape than they were at this time last year. We already know Alabama has the talent to compete with almost anyone, and at times this year the Tide has looked like a Sweet 16-type team. For whatever reason, the team has lost their identity and confidence. A game at home against a fellow NCAA Tournament contender is the perfect time to regain that confidence, but it must be regained quickly, while there still is some good news.
Hope for the best. Really, do hope for the best.