Will the Tide Make the NCAA Tournament?

UA Head Coach - USA TODAY Sports

Spurred by the "spirited" debates many of us have had over the course of the last week, we would like to offer a dedicated weekly discussion for the next few weeks regarding the Tide's chances of making the Big Dance. Look for a quick USC game preview/open thread tomorrow morning.

There was a bit of optimism across the fan base heading into the game on the plains last week, but it was quickly tempered by our abysmal offensive performance. The loss at Auburn, in many eyes, was the death knell of any shot this team had of getting in the tournament. But others disagree, and believe there is still a formula to get to NCAA post season play that doesn't necessarily include winning the conference championship.

Don Kausler, Jr., at Al.com has posted an excellent article on Alabama's current tournament outlook and I suggest anyone following Tide basketball head over for a quick - and insightful - read. Part of this write up will be based on it as I think he addresses different angles I haven't mentioned and gives a detailed breakdown of our situation heading into the South Carolina game Saturday.

The catch is that there are two standings to track: 1) wins and losses; and 2) RPI. And recent history shows that 2) is more important than 1).

By the way, New Mexico had an RPI of No. 74 in 1998 and received a No. 9 seed as an at-large team. That appears to be the baseline.

Speaking of RPIs, our very own Toofull has authored a fanpost giving terrific analysis of who you need to pull for and against during the home stretch (HINT: Never pull for Auburn). His complements the Al.com piece nicely in expanding on the topic in greater detail:

3) We need all the SEC's non-con opponents to do as well as possible to raise the overall SOS of the SEC (I didn't look these up but we are obviously not doing very well in this area). As far as SEC opponents themselves, it's all basically a wash since we all play each other. So, it doesn't matter that much if UK and Ole Miss lose or win from here on out. A minor argument might be made for the benefit of the success of SEC teams that we have or will have played twice

ESPN's College Basketball Bubble Watch agrees that our remaining schedule doesn't give us many opportunities to make a splash in front of the Selection Committee:
Wins at LSU and Georgia keep the Tide on the Watch for another week, but even Anthony Grant would have to admit things aren't looking good. Why? The remaining schedule. The only shots at marquee wins come on the road at Ole Miss (doable, but not easy) and Florida (ha). The rest -- South Carolina, Mississippi State, at LSU, Auburn, Georgia -- is an RPI minefield.
CBS's Jerry Palm thinks Bama is a longshot:
Alabama has four bad losses, three at home, and has beaten a couple bubble teams, but nobody that's a sure thing. Also, most of their best work has been done at home. That's a lot to fix.
SBNation's own Chris Dobbertean has Alabama outside looking in following the loss at Auburn:
The Crimson Tide have a respectable record against the Top 100 (6-4 with a win over Kentucky), but Wednesday night's loss horrible 49-37 loss at Auburn was Bama's fourth against a team outside that group. That's simply not good enough, especially since Alabama has only two chances left at picking up a quality win, consecutive road contests against Florida and Mississippi

Perhaps here at RBR I have been the naysayer instigating the attitude that - short of winning the SEC tourney - this team is not making the NCAAs. My opinion is based on many factors, but none as important as RPI. RPI is a strong variable that is examined by the selection committee, both in current rank and wins/losses. Currently, Alabama is ranked 64th in the RPI rankings. We have beaten one team in the top 50 RPI (Kentucky, 43) and three others in the top 100 (Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Villanova). Other teams we have beaten include Oregon State (166), Texas Tech (210), South Dakota State (240), and Lamar (313 - ouch!). We have been beaten by four teams with RPI rankings greater than 125 - Dayton (126), Tulane (147), Mercer (164) and Auburn (212). Teams with this resume just don't get into the NCAA tournament. I mentioned this in the LSU Game Thread:

As pointed out by Erik_RBR, we now have three losses against teams with wretched RPIs - Mercer (162), Tulane (165), and Auburn (208). Our RPI currently sits at 69th, which alone is not terrible but coupled with the aforementioned losses spells doom for any tourney hopes we had. At this point we are fighting for our NIT lives, and that is far from a given the way we are executing our offense. Prior to the Wednesday night debacle, I thought we had a legitimate shot at winning 6-8 of our final 10 games; take out the two road games at Florida and Ole Miss and the schedule is was quite manageable.

I'll admit the statement "fighting for our NIT lives" was a bit harsh , but you get the point. I would not have expected this team to lose to Auburn - much less score a paltry 37 points - but here we are. My thought process at this point is that we make the NIT; I still believe the NCAA is out of play unless we win the SEC tournament, but I'm far from an expert. I'll further admit my arguments with Toofull have influenced my thoughts which have been admittedly fluid regarding this team's post season opportunities.

Alternately, my cohort and probably better half on the basketball side of things has taken a more measured approach to the Tide's tournament chances. NiceLittleSaturday brought more optimism to the debate than I have, and he makes quite a few excellent points I will share from thread discussions the past week. He will elaborate a bit more later in his write up:

Basketball is such a strange sport. The best teams lose several games, and sometimes their losses are head-scratchers.

The AU game was the most painful of the season, by far, but the game that bothered me the most was Tulane. I really saw a lack of effort by some key members of the team that night. But they have fought back since then, so I applaud their effort, even with the ugly loss last week....That effort, and our stellar D, give me optimism for the season still. That optimism may be fragile, but it's not completely unrealistic, either. We'll know soon enough.

The bottom line is that we have a team that plays excellent defense and mediocre offense, and we're most likely just going to have to continue to live with that for the rest of this season. We really do still have a shot to advance to the NCAAs even without winning the SEC tourney, though in all honesty, I'm not expecting to see it happen. As I've said before, even an NIT bid would be a good thing for this group. Either way, I'm going to keep watching and keep hoping to see good things from this team.

In light of the offensive woes, we should all be thankful to still be in third place in the SEC and still in the hunt for postseason play. Stellar defense, apparently, is good for more wins than losses (we've certainly seen that occur in at least one other Alabama sport over the years), and we've got about ten conference brethren who wish they could trade records with us. Hope for the best. Roll Tide.

In the past couple of game threads and Jumbo Packages you guys have brought it in regards to opinions and commentary that proved to be insightful, thought-provoking and based on facts and/or astute observations. I have a few of my favorites below and hope you will add more in the comments! Roll Tide!

Bravo Crimson:

Missouri Valley teams are shooting themselves in the foot. Bama's SoS is better than most bubble teams. PAC-12 is only gonna get 4 teams in with Cal and Arizona St not doing themselves any favors. Bama is one of the few "bubble" teams winning right now. Strong chance to get 4 in a row. @LSU has me worried. Bama is getting some help. Nobody is really becoming any locks right now.

Jacobs doesn't get enough touches. We never seem to feed him on the low block. Horrible spacing from the perimeter is an issue but when a big guy converts down low, keep looking inside.

Toofull:

We have the best defense in the conference and the 6th best offense. This is not the time to be talking about firing the head coach.

Grant's style of play is built around the notion of limiting possessions. He thinks that his team has the best chance to win if the overall number of possessions in a game are kept to the lowest number possible. In other words, if he can hold the ball on offense and defensively force the opponent to hold the ball as long as possible before shooting, he believes that his team will score at a higher percentage of possessions than the opponent.

And it often works for the Tide. Alabama is 2nd to Florida in Opponent's Offensive Efficiency rating in the SEC and Bama is 6th in Offensive Efficiency. Bama has the highest steal percentage per possession in the league, a whopping 15.6 % in league play and 13.9% overall (tied for 11th in the nation), and the highest block percentage per possession in the league at 9.6%. We also have the best defensive assist to turnover ratio in the league. Our defense literally rules the SEC.

Grant has taught the big guys how to play defense.

Engstrom, Gueye, and Jacobs have developed into quality defenders out of nearly nothing and this is mostly due to Grant's coaching. Teaching offense to a big guy takes more time. Offense in college ball is all about recruiting. We thought Lacey was going to take us to 3-point Promised Land, but while he has improved over last year (nearly 10 percentage points), he is nowhere near the shooter we had hoped he would be. But he is only a sophomore; maybe he will keep improving. We had also hoped that Pollard would be a significant contributor on offense in his freshman year. That has not panned out at all. I'm not giving up on the kid because he is still very young but a disappointing freshman campaign nonetheless. Jacobs struggled early with injuries, Steele was out for most of our early losses, and the Swede went down just as he was beginning to become an impact player. When you are trying to build a team, as Grant is, you need some luck to get to the next level. We haven't had that kind of luck. We have created our own luck with stellar defensive play but that's about it.

Bamabrave4:

The win the other night really helped alleviate concerns about where the program is headed.

It seems that the team is determined to prove that the Auburn game was in fact a fluke, and not a sign of things to come. This mentality is pivitol for our team to move on and right the ship. As I have said before, the NIT is a near lock. The NCAA isn't completely out of the question but it would take a 7-1 finish with our only blemish being on the road to Florida, as well as some wins in the SEC tournament. I have no expectations of a NCAA invite, but I would like to see us keep winning ball games and finish high in conference play. Hopefully a #1 seed in the NIT would follow a 6-2 finish coming up. This game is probably the 3rd toughest of the 8 remaining.

5026:

There is always a shot due to having an automatic for the SECT winner. I think a few years a go a really bad UGA team caught fire and won the SEC and got in out of nowhere. However, I think that UGA team would always put up at least 50 points. So, they had a chance if they could hold their opponents down.

My point is...we have no offense and no offensive plan. Playing great D is not an offensive plan. Therefore, even though we could potentially win a game in the SECT, I think the odds of a no offense team winning the whole thing is about 1 in 200, not 1 in 10. You see, in Basketball, even a great D will occasionally run into a hot team that puts up 60-65 points on them. If they have no O they will lose that game. Thus to win 4 straight games, each being harder than the one before,with no offense is just nearly impossible. We would have to hope that UGA, Miss, Mizzou and UF were all off on the night we played them and we held each of them to 45 points and somehow mustered up 46 in each game on our own.

Bottom line, as Kelley said at the half time of the NCG, "Maybe they won't show up."

Elroy Jenkins (I lol'd):

Never seen anything like it

Even when this team WINS it is torture to watch. It was so ugly tonight I threw myself off the roof of Coleman Coliseum. The bloody pile of broken bones and flesh still looked better than the Bama offense. Roll Tide.

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