"Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself."
Those words may sound like they were spoken by the man who currently sits alone atop the current collection of college football coaches, Alabama's own Nick Saban, but they were actually delivered decades ago by the most famous former resident of Oxford, Mississippi, Mr. William Faulkner. Despite the many setbacks (ten, to be exact) of this year's Alabama basketball team -- including Saturday's disappointing loss at Florida -- we must hope that the young men from the Capstone still have their focus on thoughts such as these from Faulkner. For this team desperately needs to be better than itself Tuesday night in Oxford, or it will almost certainly find itself locked out of the Big Dance.
Thankfully, regardless of recent road losses in the past two weeks, the Tide has shown signs of shooting higher than they knew they could. The defense has continued to hold opponents well below their average (minus the triple overtime shenanigans at Baton Rouge), and the recent venture to Gainesville was no exception. Yes, the offense did revert to form in the closing minutes of Saturday's game, but it had shown signs of improvement before that funky finale.
Most noticeable to everyone who is still paying attention has been the play of junior point guard Trevor Releford. He put up two of the best performances of his career in crimson against LSU and Auburn, and although he struggled a bit more against the conference-leading Gators, he was still the most important player on the floor for Alabama, as he has been for most of the year. To be certain, Releford will have to continue to shine if the Tide hopes to pull off the upset against Ole Miss.
Want stats? Follow this link to statsheet.com (thanks for turning us on to this site, toofull) to learn more about the good guys, and this one to find out more about the Rebels/Black Bears/Akbars. There's also a very good write-up at rolltide.com where you can learn more about both teams heading into tonight's game.
Long story short: on paper, Ole Miss should win the game by three to six points. However, they have lost recent games to both Mississippi State and South Carolina, which combine with their SEC record to create a worse conference performance than our one ugly SEC loss to the barn. Outside the conference, we have a few worse losses than their worst loss, but we also have a couple of better victories than their best win. We stand today exactly one spot above them in RPI, and while both teams may miss the NCAAs, the loser of this one definitely heads to the NIT barring a miracle SEC tourney trip next week. It should also be noted that, with a win, Alabama would clinch a top four seed in the SEC Tournament, which would mean an automatic berth into Friday’s quarterfinals.
Although Alabama's 2012-13 basketball team stands tied with Kentucky for second in the SEC with one week to play, they have received a lion's share of criticism from both the fan base and beyond, and much of it is warranted. The offensive ineptitude that has been displayed too often this season combined with Coach Grant's system of grinding out minutes to reduce scoring by the opponent and his own team have provided many frustrating periods of viewing for even the most faithful follower of Bama basketball.
Still, considering the absence of depth on the inside and the lack of experience on the outside, the fact that this team stands where it does today should be viewed as a success. And while we would all love to have a better record and be spared such painful moments, to quote Faulkner again, "Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain." There's a long list of teams in the SEC today who would choose our pain than the nothing of a chance they currently have at advancing. If we do manage to walk out of Oxford with a victory tomorrow night, at least one more team will be added to that list.
Hope for the best, people. Roll Tide.